Now that recruiting and Spring games are (for the most part) over and schedules are being announced, it is starting to feel like people can reasonably make predictions about the season with a modicum of comfort. Which can only mean one thing.
It’s HOT TAKE SEASON!!!
A lot of people have been spouting off their takes on Twitter, which is fine. But I wanted to go a little more in-depth than 260 characters allows. And while the heat level on these takes may range from “July in Alaska” to “the core of the Earth”, every prediction goes out on a limb to some degree.
So here are five Hot Takes for your reading pleasure heading into the summer before the 2022 season.
1. Leary about the Wolfpack’s chances.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the NC State Wolfpack this year. On the surface, it makes sense. They bring back a very good quarterback and carry a lot of momentum from last year. But do you know who else brought back a very good quarterback and a ton of momentum from the previous year? Their rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2021. And we all remember how that worked out for them last year. The Tar Heel hype train was derailed Week One at Virginia Tech, and the very same thing could happen this year for NC State. Just like their rivals last year, the Wolfpack begin their season on the road against a dangerous foe, the East Carolina Pirates. If they win that and their other tricky non-conference game at home against Texas Tech two weeks later, then they will likely be undefeated heading into their conference opener at Clemson. Talk to me then. But if they lose a non-conference game, then they are likely looking at a 3-2 record after their Death Valley visit and suddenly that Preseason Top 10 looks like just another decent ACC team.
2. Arkansas is the second best team in the SEC West.
I don’t think it is suspending too much disbelief to say that Alabama will be the best team in the SEC West. But who is second best is a valid question. Teams like Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and even LSU may have a better-than-decent argument, but the real answer is Arkansas. KJ Jefferson returns to lead a balanced Razorback offense, while Bumper Pool and Jalen Catalon return to lead the Razorback D. Also….have you seen their schedule? They don’t play a true road game until October 8. (They do play Texas A&M in September in Jerry World, but that game is always a crapshoot and I think A&M is a year away.) If things break right, there’s no reason to think that they can’t go 10-2. With that record, a decent non-conference schedule (games at home against Cincinnati and Liberty and at BYU) and one of their two losses to Alabama, that may be good enough for them to garner playoff consideration.
Turn that damn jukebox on.
3. Will Levis is giving off Sam Howell vibes.
Confession time: I enjoy Way-Too-Early Mock Drafts as much as the next guy. Another confession: I low-key like Kentucky football. But the idea that Will Levis could be the #1 overall pick like I have seen on some mocks is crazy. To be the #1 overall pick as quarterback, you have to show both the physical attributes AND a certain intangible. I just don’t know if Levis has it or not. If he leads the Wildcats to something resembling a 10-2 record, then we can revisit the discussion. But in an improving SEC East, I just don’t see it. I didn’t intend for this column to turn into North Carolina slander, but he reminds me a lot of Sam Howell, and we saw how that ended up in the NFL Draft a couple weeks ago.
4. Houston is running the table.
I had to throw a Group of 5 take in here.
It’s pretty obvious that Cincinnati is going to fall back to the pack with all their personnel losses. And it may be obvious that Houston is the favorite in the American. Losing Alton McCaskill, who tore his ACL in April, is a huge blow, as he had a chance to be one of the top running backs in the nation. But Houston, behind sixth-year senior quarterback Clayton Tune, does have options to replace him without missing a beat offensively.
The hot take is that they are running the table.
While I haven’t broken down their schedule in great detail, if this is the Cougars last year before entering the Big XII, it stands to reason that they are going to want to send a message to their future conference. While Cincinnati and UCF might feel the same way, this is just one of those Texas things that they don’t understand. Houston is no longer little brother, and this is the year they prove it. So let the Houston Cougar Destruction Tour 2022 begin. Let’s see who their first victim is.
Last year’s G5 darling UTSA.
5. USC is a playoff team.
So let me get this straight.
You are going to take the quarterback, best receiver and head coach from a Top 15 team and put them in a market that will be easy to recruit (both freshmen and transfers), in a conference that is pretty wide open and not exactly top heavy? That’s an easy recipe for success.
Forget everything you knew about USC during the Clay Helton years. This team is going to look completely different, with or without last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison. And while their September is not easy (with games at perennial thorn-in-their-side Stanford, at home against a high-powered Fresno St. and at Oregon St.), I think their talent is enough to overwhelm most of their opponents. If they get through that unscathed, then they have a margin for error when they travel to Utah in October. (A game they could lose but win in a conference title rematch.) They end the season hosting Notre Dame in a game that could be very important for both teams. It just feels like USC is going to be one of the four most talented teams in the nation when all is said and done. And in college football, that matters.