What are the tumbling blocks for CFP contenders in '22?
At some point in your life, the game of Jenga or some variant of the game was introduced to you.
The concept of the game is to remove a wooden block and stack it on top to create the craziest tower without causing the wooden tower to tumble.
As we inch closer to the 2022 season, what are the key blocks that CFP contenders can ill afford to lose that will cause their season to tumble?
Alabama - Offensive Line/Jahmyr Gibbs
This is sort of a tandem block or potentially two blocks.
I look at Alabama, they have a Heisman winning starting quarterback, they have arguably very few to no holes on defense. You could make the argument that a Bryce Young injury is the ultimate block to cause the Tide to tumble, with inexperience in the depth chart with Ty Simpson and Jalen Milroe.
However, I ultimately feel how the offensive line performs, especially in the running game, and with Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs will have the ultimate impact if the Crimson Tide win another National Championship or simply just make the College Football Playoff.
If we see another repeat of last season where Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien simply did not trust the running game or offensive line to block, that one dimensional attack can leave the Tide vulnerable in multiple contests.
Ohio State - Defensive Line
One of the biggest catalysts in the Urban Meyer and Ryan Day-led Buckeyes teams has been their consistent ability to have elite edge rushers and dominant defensive lines, something legendary Defensive Line coach Larry Johnson has done under both coaches. Last season, the Buckeyes defense had many woes - this led to the demotion and removal of Kerry Coombs and the hire of Jim Knowles.
Knowles also contends with a pass defense that was 97th in the country last season, but with no pass rush, it won't help All-Big Ten corners Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown.
If Knowles and the Buckeyes cannot get 5-star production out of former 5-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Zach Harrison, the Buckeyes will tumble again in the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff.
Clemson - Quarterback
Clemson had a very un-Clemson-like season in 2021, ending in a victory in the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State. The season was marred by injuries to key Tiger defenders, especially defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and mediocre quarterback play from former 5-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.
Uiagalelei is now a project of new Offensive Coordinator Brandon Streeter.
Clemson who seemed to have one of the more potent passing attacks with former Clemson legends Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, finished near the bottom of the country in passing gaining 191.2 yards per game which was 103rd nationally last season.
Swinney won't have the patience he had last season, and he may look to former Westlake (Texas) QB prodigy Cade Klubnik if Uiagalelei doesn't produce.
Texas A&M - Quarterback
We stick with the current block of quarterback and move to College Station as they have a different flavor of issue at quarterback.
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells said, as with probably many others, if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks.
In College Station, Jimbo Fisher has a somewhat Texas sized quarterback derby going on with 3 quarterbacks who could be the starter:
- Max Johnson - a transfer from LSU
- Haynes King - a starter last season before getting injured
- Conner Weigman - incoming 5-star quarterback as a true freshman
The Aggies have 2 manageable games early in home contests against Sam Houston State and Appalachian State.
They end the month with the competition difficulty ramping up with a home contest against Miami Hurricanes and a neutral site showdown with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Georgia - Defensive Line
Could the Bulldogs have lost too much after last season's National Championship team?
The Bulldogs are tasked to replace 3 NFL First-Round Draft choices in Trayvon Walker (No. 1), Jordan Davis (No. 13), and Devonte Wyatt (No. 28). Up to the task on the inside are Juniors Jalen Carter and Zion Logue, while senior Tramel Walthour and Freshman Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins will look to work the edge.
I profiled Carter in my Top 8 Defensive Tackles article and almost every talking head and prognosticator has indicated Carter is as good if not better than the first round exports of last season.
Notre Dame - Vertical Threats in the Passing Game
We might chalk this up just to wide receivers but can impact all pass receiving targets for Tyler Buchner.
When you look past All-American and Mackey Finalist Michael Mayer, the vertical game is very bleak for the Fighting Irish. The superlatives for Mayer are all there, he owns school records in receiving categories at his position and is easily the best tight end the Fighting Irish have had since Tyler Eifert a decade ago. He will be the focal point in the Fighting Irish passing attack, the question will be who can step up to complement him?
Lorenzo Styles capped off a freshman season with a monster Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State with 8 receptions 136 yards and touchdown asserting himself as the WR1. True freshman Tobias Merriweather, who is 6'4" 185 pounds, had a monster spring and summer and looking like the WR2 for the Irish heading into the season.
Oklahoma - Quarterback
I don't know how many programs still feel good when they lose two 5-star quarterback studs in the transfer portal in Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) and Caleb Williams (Southern California) and still feel good.
Oklahoma is one of those programs that can still feel good.
First year Head Coach Brent Venables will turn to a pair who are very familiar with each other. When Dillon Gabriel had his monster seasons at UCF, it was with former UCF Offensive Coordinator and current OU OC Jeff Lebby calling plays.
What doomed OU last season is when freshman Caleb Williams hit a late season wall where he barely completed 50% of his passes and had 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in consecutive weeks against Baylor, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State.
Gabriel plays to his UCF form and with scheduling favoring the Sooners - at home versus Baylor and Oklahoma State with WVU in between - he will be the factor if OU goes to the CFP or not.
Texas - Offensive Line
While I am not proclaiming Texas is back, à la Sam Ehlinger, someone in the Coaches Poll gave the Longhorns a first place vote. So I am taking the bait and taking the Longhorns seriously.
It would be easy to pick on a defense - finishing at or near 100th in scoring defense (99th), rushing defense (114th), and total defense (100th).
I do feel the Longhorns defense will improve with longtime former TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson working with Texas Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.
But it's Sarkisian's offense, his forte, that will justify the first-place vote they just received. When you have weapons like Quinn Ewers, Bijan Robinson, Xavier Worthy you can play with anyone in the country.
To leverage those weapons, the Longhorns offensive line must improve. They finished 110th in standard-down sack rate last season and will look to second year position coach Kyle Flood to right the ship.
If the Longhorns somehow upset Alabama in Week 2, they control their own destiny. A recipe for that upset has to include an improved offensive line.