2022 National Championship contenders: The Midwest
Which teams have the athletes and tactics to actually win the National Championship?
Before we wrap up the South with the SEC West, the toughest division in football, let’s trek up to the North where there are a lot of interesting title contenders in 2022.
If you’re new to this series, we judge based on the following criteria.
Space force theory: The gist here is that elite athletes at left tackle, deep threat receiver, man cornerback, and Edge rusher can have an outsized impact on a game. Their matchups are routinely 1-on-1 battles in space with high stakes for winning or losing (touchdowns, turnovers, etc), so having elite athletes at those positions will matter more than other personnel, save perhaps for having really good decision-making at quarterback.
The rule of three in pass defense: To play elite, modern pass defense you need to be able to handle one of two requirements. To rush the quarterback with only three or to be able to cover a team’s top three receivers in man/match coverage without getting burned. Rushing with only three allows you to get help to defenders anywhere in the secondary, playing three capable man coverage defenders allows you to survive without needing help everywhere.
Pro-style passing wins titles: The most difficult level of college offense to master or to defend is a pro-style, spread passing game. Teams who can execute it with high level personnel will beat other high level teams executing a different style of offense.
Combine those three metrics with our currently limited but not useless sense of the rosters in the game and we can do some decent guesswork on who can really win the title this year. By the time the playoffs are settling into focus, we should have a decent idea of who can win the title.
Last year I was pretty sour on the Midwest in terms of having many true contenders. Notre Dame was rebuilding, Michigan lacked the right space force components, Ohio State had a suspect defense, and I actually thought Penn State could surprise. Several teams surprised though and this coming year? It’s quite a bit different.
The Ohio State Buckeyes (+250)
The Buckeyes took some major lessons from having their faces stuffed into the snow by Michigan in Ann Arbor last season. 15.893 million people watched the Buckeyes get bullied by their rivals, that’s more people than watched any other college football game last season save for the playoff bouts. It’s not a program that loses their edge very often and I doubt they lose it for long after that humiliation.
Michigan got their turn to get a swirly in the playoffs, but it can’t have helped Buckeye nation feel better to see how far away their team was from contending with the big boys. So they hired Jim Knowles to fix the defense and fired old Urban Meyer offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to promote Justin Frye, who was also a former Urbanite but had worked with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day’s old boss Chip Kelly out in UCLA.
The Buckeyes need get back to playing sound, physical ball in the trenches. Otherwise, the important pieces look pretty good…