Who is the most intriguing team in college football heading into the season - our writers debate
We are now a grand total of just three - count 'em - three Saturday's away from the start of college football season.
On the hand, the summer has gone by soooo fast. On the other, it feels like forever ago since Georgia beat Alabama for that first title in a generation.
And because of it, over the next few weeks, we're going to celebrate by hitting some of the most pressing questions in college football heading into the season.
On tap for today: Who is the most intriguing team in college football heading into the year?
And when we say "intriguing" we don't mean "Can Bama win their 27th national title of the season" or can "Ohio State get back to the playoff" but real intrigue. The stuff that keeps fans up at night.
The programs that are on the brink of potentially being really good... but could also be a disaster as well.
Here are our staff's answers:
Nebraska Cornhuskers (Garrett Carr)
There seem to be a lot of intriguing teams heading into the 2022 college football season. My colleagues have picked some good ones in USC and Texas, and some others like Penn State, Florida, Iowa, Auburn and Ole Miss would also be good picks.
For me, though, the most intriguing team in the nation is the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Before we get into this year, let’s talk about last year. It’s a meme now, but Nebraska really may have been the best 3-9 college football team ever. Of their nine losses, all were under double digits and eight were within one score. They had second half leads in a bunch of them and covered the spread in every game they were the underdog again, playing teams like Oklahoma, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Michigan close with opportunities to take the lead in all five of those games in the 4th quarter.
Almost doesn’t count though, and those almost wins almost got Scott Frost fired. Nebraska decided to give their native son one more season to try to turn it around, and I think that was the right decision. So many heavy hitters were looking for coaches last year that Nebraska would not have had anything close to pick of the litter.
Frost has brought in some reinforcements, most notably former Texas quarterback Casey Thompson. Thompson is a much better player and passer than the last few Nebraska quarterbacks, including Taylor and Adrian Martinez, and is also mobile, fitting Frost’s offense perfectly.
The intrigue is in the schedule. Nebraska opens up the entire college football season with Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland. I expect them to beat the Wildcats and head into their home matchup with an Oklahoma team I am not at all high on in week four. If Nebraska can win this game, and I think they can and may even be likely to, they now set up a stretch of bye, Indiana at home, Rutgers and Purdue on the road, followed by a bye and a home date with Illinois.
That, for me, makes them favored in at least seven of their first eight games, which would have them high up in the polls, riding high, before playing Minnesota at home. Imagine an 8-1 or 9-0 Nebraska going to the Big House on November 12th to play Michigan, a team that only beat them by three last year and lost a lot from the team that went to the College Football Playoff. With Wisconsin and Iowa to finish up, it’s not wild to think that Nebraska could play in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. College football is better when Nebraska is intriguing and to me, there is no doubt they will be this year.
USC Trojans (Jake Faigus)
No other team in all of college football made more noise in the off-season than USC. It started when Lincoln Riley moved from Norman, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California to be the new head coach of the Trojans. The move shocked everyone in college football and set up USC to hopefully, finally be on their way back to their winning ways.
Riley’s quarterback from Oklahoma, Caleb Williams followed him to LA, and set the stage for a big year in 2022. Williams was the biggest transfer that the Trojans landed, but right after him was the addition of Jordan Addison at wide receiver, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner, from Pitt. Mario Williams also will be a good piece at receiver, especially because Caleb Williams and he already have chemistry from Oklahoma. Brenden Rice, son of Jerry Rice, also comes over from Colorado, and should be able to almost double his production with the Trojans. Rounding out the transfers at receiver is Terrell Bynum from Washington. Transfers are the key to the offense with Oregon transfer running back, Travis Dye and Stanford transfer running back Austin Jones being the two keys for the running game this year. Travis Dye was a force at Oregon and is fifth on the all-time rushing list there. Austin Jones was also very good at Stanford and averaged 4.2 yards a carry. A question mark for the offense is the offensive line. Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon are more than capable up front, but they are the only starters returning from last year, and the depth is questionable. If the offensive line can get figured out a bit, this could be the best offense in the Pac-12, and one of the best in the country.
Alex Grinch is the defensive coordinator and he’s tasked with revamping a defense that’s struggled a bit recently especially last year when they gave up around 32 points a game. The defensive line has Tuli Tuipulotu leading the way, and the other returners are Nick Figueroa and Brandon Pili. There’s talent here, but the question is depth after only three returners, but there’s some transfers here that could help a lot too. The linebackers have the most upside with Korey Foreman leading the way off the edge after being a former No. 1 recruit. Shane Lee from Alabama and Eric Gentry from Arizona State also are a part of this unit too. The secondary probably experienced the most turnover, but Xavion Alford and Calen Bullock are great building blocks at the safety spots to have. A mix of transfers and freshmen will be competing for spots across the secondary.
I said before that I like USC to win around nine games this year, but the upgrades at skill talent and the potential of the defense could help them win more, and it’s also the biggest reason why I think they are easily the most intriguing team in college football this year.
Texas Longhorns (Aaron Torres)
Boys, boys, boys. While I appreciate the gusto with which you made your arguments, the question was: "Who is the most intriguing team heading into the college football season."
And well, the answer is Texas. It's always Texas.
That's because for all the enthusiasm that has rightly come this off-season from Steve Sarkisian's recruiting windfall, let's never forget that this team was 5-7 last year.
With a loss to Kansas. At home.
Now obviously I know no one has forgotten, but that also shows just how precarious the situation is in Austin: For all the enthusiasm that the off-season brought, it's only going to take one bad loss for the wolves to come circling around this program again.
That's because, remember, Texas isn't just cleaning up in the high school class of 2023 right now, but like both the teams mentioned above, were also winners in the transfer portal as well. They brought in the most coveted non-Caleb Williams QB available in Quinn Ewers, a star wide receiver in Isaiah Neyor from Wyoming. Not to mention a few talented, if not disgruntled former members of the Alabama Crimson Tide: Jaleel Billingsley and Agiye Hall.
That talent has also set up expectations not only for the future, but for right now. Texas needs to win. A lot. This year.
The problem is that most of this year's talent infusion came on the offensive side of the ball, and well, offense wasn't the problem last year. Instead, it was a defense that ranked 100th nationally and eighth in the Big 12. One that gave up 57 points to Kansas, 55 to Oklahoma and at least 30 in seven separate Big 12 games last year.
And to me, that's what makes Texas the most intriguing team in college football.
Look, they're going to lose to Alabama at home in Week 2. We know that. But if that defense isn't much improved, it also puts them in a position to take a weird loss at just about any other time. What happens if it again comes in traumatic fashion to Oklahoma in the Red River game. Or in a weird spot like TCU at home or Texas Tech on the road? Or in embarrassing fashion to Baylor.
And that to me is why they're so intriguing: As we saw last year, it only takes one of those losses to send Texas in a tailspin and for the program from going oh so close to being back, to being a trainwreck once again.
Steve Sarkisian will probably survive just about anything (barring a catastrophy) this year thanks to Arch Manning.
But it's only going to take one weird loss to get the fan-base riled up, and Texas back into the tailspin they've seemingly been in for over a decade now.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter - @Aaron_Torres