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Next year's serious college football contenders

by Michael Hanich | January 12, 2022 at 4:43 p.m.

It has been a wild 2021 college football season, with fans once again able to fill the stadiums, where they have arguably seen the most chaos on the field since 2007 when everyone was ranked #1 at one point or another during the season. Many teams have risen throughout the season, and many have fallen from prime spots held at the beginning of the season as well.

Next year is bound to have just as many wild moments and thrilling matchups.

At top of the list for elite contenders next season are the Alabama Crimson Tide and the reigning champions in the Georgia Bulldogs. Alabama will be led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and Bronko Nagurski Award winner edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.

Despite losing many of their starters, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs have the depth and talent to potentially repeat as national champions.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are expected to be back in the National Championship picture after missing the College Football Playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. Ohio State will have elite playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Their rivals in the Michigan Wolverines received a lot of hype after winning the Big Ten Conference title this season for the first time since the 2004 season. Michigan's success next season as an elite contender will depend on if head coach Jim Harbaugh stays or leaves for a head coaching opportunity in the NFL, once again.

Other teams in the SEC expected to be serious contenders for the National Championship picture are the Texas A&M Aggies and the LSU Tigers. The Aggies's lone accomplishment of the 2021 season was their big 41-38 upset over the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide early in the season. While they lost some contributors throughout the season, they are expected to have an excellent recruiting class.

LSU will be the mix for their name and history, but also with their new head coach Brian Kelly. He has had success with turning Notre Dame into a playoff contending team and he will have more resources and more high-caliber recruits at LSU than he did at Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish will still be serious contenders for the playoffs even without Kelly as their new head coach. They are confident in their defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who has already coached a good game in their 37-35 loss to #7 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Baylor Bears are a team that could take over as the prime elite team in the Big 12 after winning the conference title this season. They are set to have former Camden Fairview Cardinals tackle/guard Timothy Dawn Jr. join their team.

One of the biggest surprises in the 2021 season were the Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished the season with an overall record of 9-4. Second-year head coach Sam Pittman coached the Razorbacks into a legitimate contender for postseason bowl games. He could have an even better year next season if the returning talent they have on the offensive side of the ball as well as the incoming transfers make an immediate impact. They will have a big off-season to prepare for a potentially huge 2022 season against tough SEC West opponents.

Finally, some of the other competitors looking to make a more successful run than this season are the Clemson Tigers, the Oklahoma Sooners and the USC Trojans. These are teams that were underwhelming this season with the young and inexperienced players they had that could be potential all-Americans next season.

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