[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Everyone knows the big names for all the top teams, but who are the x-factors - those under-the-radar guys - who can unlock an entire unit and make a good team great? Let's take a look at one player from each of the top six teams in the country who can put their squad over the top.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
X-Factor: WR Jermaine Burton
Jermaine Burton might be a known player. He just won the National Championship with Georgia and then transferred to the team he beat, Alabama. But I don’t think people are talking enough about the impact he will need to have for the Tide to live up to these huge expectations for this season.
Alabama’s three leading pass catchers from a year ago are all gone, and we saw struggles in the passing game in the natty last season when Metchie and Williams went out with injuries. Burton, alongside Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell, will really need to step up and help Heisman-winning QB Bryce Young.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
2. Ohio State
X-Factor: DT Taron Vincent
Ohio State’s defense was pretty bad last season, but their run defense was where they struggled the most. When they played against the four most physical teams last season, being Minnesota, Oregon, Michigan, and Utah, the Buckeyes gave up about 250 rushing yards and 38 ppg.
That's why they brought in Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. He helped the Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the country last season. A key to this new defense will be defensive tackle Taron Vincent being able to clog up the middle and make it harder for teams to run on them. Vincent is a 6-2, 300-pound senior and will need to use his strength and experience to help slow down the opposing teams rushing attacks in 2022.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
X-Factor: LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson
Jamon Dumas-Johnson is a sophomore inside linebacker for the Dawgs who didn't see much playing time last season with Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall playing ahead of him. Georgia’s defense was historically good a year ago and lost five first round picks on defense, with the first overall pick, Travon Walker, being one of them. They arguably should have had six with Nakobe Dean, but he slid to the third round.
Dumas-Johnson is expected to step up and play that Dean leadership role. They need him to be the quarterback of the defense. Even without much playing time last season, Jamon was still listed to the pre-season Butkus Award watch list, given to the best linebacker in the country.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
X-Factor: WR Beaux Collins
I could have picked a few different receivers for this one, but I chose sophomore Beaux Collins. Clemson’s offense looked horrible at times last season, and if DJ Uiagalelei is to improve this season, he will need some wide outs to help him. That is where Collins comes into play. In his true freshman season last year, Collins had 31 catches for 407 yards, joining DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain, and Justyn Ross as the only Clemson freshman receivers with at least 30 catches and 400 receiving yards. That is some elite company. If Clemson wants to get back to being ACC champs and make the College Football Playoff, Beaux Collins will need to be a huge piece of that offense for this upcoming season.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
X-Factor: LB Mohamoud Diabate, Sr.
Utah’s run defense wasn’t bad last season, but when they did get run on, they usually lost the game. San Diego State, BYU, and Oregon State all ran for over 200 yards against the Utes and those were their three regular season losses in 2021. And now with the loss of LB Devin Lloyd to the NFL, finding a replacement will be key.
That’s where Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate, Sr. comes into play. He will be looking to fill Lloyd’s shoes and make sure nobody rushes for 200 yards against them this year. He will get a great opportunity in week one against his former team when Utah travels to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]
X-Factor: RB Eric Gray
Oklahoma is going to look a lot different this year compared to last year; everyone knows that. They have key departures on both sides of the ball but especially on offense. They lost their two quarterbacks to both USC schools, but they were able to grab transfer QB Dillon Gabriel from UCF. They also lost RB Kennedy Brooks, who was a big loss.
They will need Tennessee transfer Eric Gray to step up for them this season. Gray was on the team last year, but only played every now and then behind Brooks. This year they’ll need him to carry more of the workload. In 2021, Gray carried the ball 78 times for 412 yards and 2 touchdowns. New head coach Brent Venables will need more production in order to have a balanced offensive attack and take some of the pressure off of Gabriel. If he is able to do that, I could see Oklahoma being right back in the playoff conversation, even after all the departures this past offseason.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]