National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with teams expected to be most improved in the Power Five, predicting the defensive stats leaders for the 2022 season, and five true freshmen wide receivers to watch in today’s 3-Point Stance.
— Which teams will be the most improved in each Power Five conference? Here you go.
Pac 12: USC
This is easily the most obvious choice among the five, as the Trojans completely loaded up in the transfer portal after poaching Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. They’ve added playmakers at every position, and if they can get everyone on the same page quickly they should be back at the top of the conference in no time.
Big 12: Texas
Steve Sarkisian brought in one of the biggest gets in the portal by bringing former five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers back to his home state. Ewers’ presence alone makes the Longhorns much better, but they also made a great hire in adding former TCU coach Gary Patterson to their analyst staff and that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Big Ten: Nebraska
I don’t know why, but my gut tells me that Nebraska will be very competitive this season. They brought in two highly recruited quarterbacks via the portal in Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy, as well as potential starters in Tommi Hill and Omar Brown to shore up the cornerback spot. And don’t sleep on former LSU wide receiver Trey Palmer – the staff thinks he could be even better than Samori Touré was last year.
SEC: South Carolina
The Gamecocks had a lot of momentum coming into the offseason, and they rode that to adding Spencer Rattler and many others via the portal. Shane Beamer seems to have a lot of mojo right now, which sets them up well for the future.
Mario Cristobal is already paying huge dividends back at his alma mater, landing impact defensive players in the portal while already showing a huge uptick in recruiting. The U really is back.
— We turn to the defensive side of the football for some 2022 season statistical predictions.
Sacks, Tackles for Loss: Will Anderson, Alabama
How Anderson didn’t even get invited to the Heisman ceremony last season is beyond me at this point. He was as dominant an edge rusher as we’ve seen and better than last year’s runner-up Aidan Hutchinson. With another season under his belt and the emergence of Dallas Turner across from him, he will get more one-on-one opportunities. Terrell Suggs’ single-season record of 24 sacks is not out of the question by any means.
Tackles: Jack Campbell, Iowa
Campbell was the runner-up to Chad Muma in this category last season, but expect a jump from him in 2022. The Hawkeyes’ defense is set up for guys like him to simply rack up the tackles while their linemen occupy blockers. Josey Jewell, Abdul Hodge, and others over the years have put up huge tackle numbers in Phil Parker’s defense, and it would not surprise me if he was in the 160-170 range this season.
Forced Fumbles: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
After a breakout 2021 campaign, Anudike should be one of the best defenders in the Big 12 this season. He had six forced fumbles last year, which was good for best in the country, and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down at all.
Interceptions: Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame
Back in 2020, Joseph was arguably the best safety in the entire country at Northwestern, where he picked off six balls in the COVID-shortened season. Now in South Bend, he looks to return to form and pick up where Kyle Hamilton left off. Joseph plays as much center field as Hamilton did, allowing him to roam and make more plays on the ball.
Passes Defended: Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
One of the most versatile defensive backs in the country, Johnson can lineup literally anywhere from outside corner to in the slot to deep safety and be among the best at that position. Because of that versatility, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to cover some of the best receivers in the country, which means lots of opportunities for the tall, rangy defensive back to make plays on the ball.
Aaron Anderson, Alabama
This will be the next great wide receiver at Alabama and he will impact early as a Jaylen Waddle type.
Tetairoa McMillan, Arizona
The big and rangy receiver will get a lot of chances to make an impact early on an Arizona team lacking playmakers.
Luther Burden, Missouri
He’s a massive get for Mizzou and as a local kid, he will be utilized early and often.
Kaden Saunders, Penn State
Speed is the name of his game and with Jahan Dotson gone he has a chance to step up as a deep threat.
Evan Stewart, Texas A&M
He’s a speed guy and dynamic after the catch and the Aggies will get him on the field to open up things for others at the very least.