The 4 preseason contenders who are most likely to enter October with 2 losses
It happens every year.
Teams in the preseason top 15 go into October with multiple losses. Eight months of being considered at least a fringe Playoff contender goes up in smoke in the first month of the season.
Last year, Iowa State, UNC, Wisconsin, USC and Miami all started as preseason top-15 teams in the AP Poll. By October, all of them had multiple losses.
In 2022, we’ll probably see a handful of preseason top-15 teams follow suit. To be clear, that’s the caveat. Based on surveying post-spring rankings, the teams listed are all expected to start in that top-15 range. You can’t be a borderline Top 25 team and be considered a “contender.”
These are the 4 teams who could have their “contender” status revoked by the time the calendar flips to October:
The potential September landmines — vs. Cincinnati, vs. South Carolina, vs. Texas A&M (in Dallas)
For what it’s worth, I’m high on the Hogs. It’s incredible to even be considered a dark-horse Playoff contender this early in the Sam Pittman era. I’m a KJ Jefferson enthusiast, I believe that the Razorbacks will again have the top rushing attack in the SEC and I love the transfer portal additions on defense, especially future All-SEC linebacker Drew Sanders.
But man, that’s a brutal September. Cincinnati has a ton of production to replace, but it’s still a team that made the Playoff. That’s far from a gimme, and neither is a matchup with an experienced, on-the-rise South Carolina team. Make your Spencer Rattler jokes if you will, but if the Razorbacks can’t get pressure on him, he’s plenty capable of picking them apart and leading the Gamecocks to their biggest road win of the Shane Beamer era so far.
The A&M matchup looks different now that Arkansas finally won in Dallas for the first time in a decade. While I’m a believer that A&M is going to be the most overrated team in the country entering the 2022 season, I still think the idea of an improved Aggies passing game could prove troubling this time around. Haynes King or Max Johnson should both be an upgrade from Zach Calzada.
Arkansas should be feeling excellent if it can get 2 out of 3 wins there. Among the contenders, the Hogs might have the toughest September of them all.
The potential September landmines — at BYU, at Iowa State
Believe it or not, I’m a Baylor believer. I have no problem with giving the Bears preseason top-5 or 6 love. Dave Aranda took the next step last year, and anybody sleeping on Baylor to become the new force in the Big 12 in a post-Oklahoma/Texas world has another thing coming.
But when I close my eyes, I get potential 2021 Iowa State vibes. Speaking of Iowa State, guess who Baylor closes September with? Iowa State. Yes, I realize the Cyclones have to replace their 3 big offensive cornerstones. Actually, Iowa State has the lowest percentage of returning production among Power 5 teams. But it feels like every year, Matt Campbell always wins one of those games against a team trying to close a Big 12 title. Baylor, the defending champs playing in what could be a sleepy early start in Ames, would be a prime candidate.
There’s also the possibility that Baylor’s new-look secondary struggles a few weeks earlier in that trip to BYU. Last year, Baylor took care of business against the Cougars in Waco. Still, BYU actually threw the ball all over that loaded Bears defense (11 yards per attempt, 342 yards) and still lost. BYU returns 80% of that offensive production and it ranks No. 1 in FBS in percentage of returning defensive production. In other words, that’s an extremely experienced group that already showed it could have some success attacking downfield against Aranda’s secondary, and that was with Jalen Pitre.
Baylor is coming off its best AP finish in program history, but it wouldn’t be stunning to see a slow start to 2022.
The potential September landmines — at Washington, vs. Minnesota
Let’s remember the dynamics at play here. MSU lost one of its most prolific skill-players ever in Kenneth Walker III. There’s going to be some time needed to figure out what the offensive identity is in a post-Walker world. Something tells me that won’t happen against Western Michigan or Akron in the first 2 weeks of the season.
Facing an elite offensive mind in Kalen DeBoer, there’s a chance that the Spartans will need to light up the scoreboard to stay alive against Washington offense that’s destined for improvement with 81% of its production back. Bad 2021 Washington season aside, that’ll be a tricky cross-country trip, especially if Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed are tasked with doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the second half.
Minnesota, on the other hand, is coming off a 9-win season in which it quietly posted the No. 6 defense in FBS. The Gophers have some key pieces to replace on that defensive line, but that still seems like a tough crossover matchup if Thorne doesn’t take the next step. Minnesota is built to control the time of possession. The Gophers could easily grind their way to a 21-17 win in East Lansing that all but crashes the Spartans’ hopes at Playoff contention.
Mel Tucker’s Year 2 got Michigan State back into the national spotlight. It also raised the bar to a level that could be tough to live up to in 2022.
The potential September landmines — at Ohio State, at UNC
You can believe in Marcus Freeman and still think that he has a brutal first September to navigate. Opening the season against Ohio State obviously won’t be a picnic for a Notre Dame team that is 0-10 in its last 10 major bowl games and is 2-21 vs. AP top-5 teams since 1999. That’s right. Against a probable preseason top-2 team, with a Year 1 coach, do we expect the Irish to rewrite history in Week 1? I don’t, especially not on the road against what could be the No. 1 offense in America.
That UNC game is a bit more of a coin flip. We forget that was a 1-possession game with 2 minutes left last year in South Bend. In the same way that we overrated UNC last year for returning Sam Howell, we’re probably underrating the Heels for losing Howell. UNC is going to be better defensively after Mack Brown hired his old friend Gene Chizik to return to the sidelines. That unit returns 78% of last year’s production and could present problems for what’ll be an extremely inexperienced Irish offense, led by coordinator Tommy Rees, who has full offensive autonomy for the first time in his coaching career.
Most first-year coaches aren’t taking multiple road trips to face Power 5 bowl teams in September. If Freeman can get out of that stretch 3-1 with just a road loss to the Buckeyes, there are a lot of positives to take from that.
And if we’re including this team as a “contender” … Texas
Death, taxes and Texas losing a September nonconference game. Oh, you think that’s just some media narrative? Here are all the instances in which Texas lost a September nonconference game since 2013:
- 2013 — at BYU
- 2013 — vs. Ole Miss
- 2014 — vs. BYU
- 2014 — vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Tex.)
- 2015 — at Notre Dame
- 2015 — vs. California
- 2016 — at California
- 2017 — vs. Maryland
- 2017 — at USC
- 2018 — vs. Maryland (in Landover, Md.)
- 2019 — vs. LSU
- 2021 — at Arkansas
To recap, since 2013, Texas has as many nonconference losses in September (12) as Alabama has total losses. Take that as my way of saying, no, I’m not banking on the Longhorns pulling off an upset against the Tide, who could be a unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the AP Poll.
So if that’s 1 loss, where might the other come from? Well, let’s not forget that UTSA is right after what’s sure to be a physical Alabama game. Let me clarify that because you probably just laughed at that. A 12-win UTSA team that returns 77% of its total production (No. 22 in FBS) is up after that physical Alabama game. Don’t sleep on that.
And then to close the month, Texas travels to take on Texas Tech. Ask Will Rogers about that Texas Tech defense. That won’t be an easy matchup for Quinn Ewers in what figures to be his first career road start. Remember Bryce Young’s first career road start in 2021? It was that grind of a game at Florida. What about Caleb Williams? His first career road start was that thriller at … Kansas.
Yeah, don’t be surprised if Texas can’t get out of Lubbock without avoiding that second (or third?) landmine.