College football is a one-sided sport in the upper stratosphere of title contenders with the Southeastern Conference winning 12 of the last 16 national championships since Tim Tebow and Florida helped kick off the league's reign at the top in 2006. Picking teams capable of taking out the SEC in 2022, for the most part, feels futile considering the league's annual vice grip on recruiting and the conference producing many of college football's top coaches.
However, it's the offseason — and with that comes renewed optimism from other elite programs that have enjoyed recent success at the highest level and could be capable of standing alone at the top of the polls next season, should everything go according to plan with a few desirable bounces here and there.
Who are the teams in 2022 with enough firepower to hang with Alabama, Georgia and others at the top of the rankings and perhaps out-gun the annual favorites in the CFB Playoff?
Let's take a look at the options on which teams could dethrone the SEC and put a halt to the league's dominance at the top of college football this fall.
USC makes the Playoff if: The Trojans' widespread changes within their two-deep immediately pays off and Caleb Williams is Heisman-caliber at quarterback.
Likelihood USC follows through on heightened projection: 10% — There are quite a bit of unknowns entering Year 1 for Lincoln Riley out West.
Why the Trojans could dethrone the SEC: Admittedly, here's the long shot on the list that sort of feels like putting the cart before the horse. With the utmost optimistic view of USC's potential in 2022, the Trojans could surprise as a final four contender in a wide-open Pac-12. It takes a special season with oftentimes the best player on the field to take down the SEC champion — and in some cases, the runner-up — in the postseason, and the Trojans feel they have that level of difference-maker at quarterback in 2022. The playbook's not going to change for Williams and he's backed by the nation's top-ranked transfer class under Riley who has completely overhauled USC's roster.
Speaking of Riley, he appeared in three consecutive semifinal games at Oklahoma and did so with top-end quarterback play. He lost to Georgia, Alabama and LSU each of those seasons, but managed to do something only one other active coach has been able to accomplish outside of the SEC in terms of playoff appearances. When picking teams who could dethrone the SEC in 2022, you have to realistically look at coaches capable of doing so as well and Riley fits the bill. He's one of the nation's best and could be next on the list of first-time national champions in the not-so-distant future, unless Ohio State's Ryan Day has gets there first. More on him in a moment.
Michigan makes the Playoff if: The Wolverines take a similar path through the Big Ten gauntlet they did during the 2021 season and uncover more dominant players defensively.
Likelihood Michigan follows through on heightened projection: 30% — Jim Harbaugh's team has unfinished business in the Playoff following last season's blowout loss to Georgia.