This article is part of our College Football Best Bets series.
The 2021 season is in the books and we're already looking ahead to 2022. The board hasn't fully filled out just yet, but we do have national title futures to pore over. This will be a two-part series with this article focusing on the odds-on favorites and Part II analyzing some worthwhile longshots. Without further adieu, let's look at the four teams with the best odds at winning it all next January
Unsurprisingly, the Tide enter the offseason as the odds-on favorites to win the natty. They return Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and he'll have a full offseason to develop a rapport with the young receivers who were pressed into action late in the year after John Metchie and Jameson Williams went down with injuries. Alabama's run game should also be on the upswing with the addition of Jahmyr Gibbs from Georgia Tech. Gibbs doesn't have the power element to his game that Brian Robinson offered, but he's a more explosive playmaker who also has polished pass-catching skills. Alabama's transfer portal haul didn't stop there, either, as it has brought in rising junior receiver Jermaine Burton from Georgia and a lockdown corner in Eli Ricks from LSU. In other words, Alabama should be even better next season, and this is a team that held a lead in the fourth quarter of the National Title game just a few weeks ago. Game-wreckers Will Anderson and Dallas Turner will also be back on defense, which should give the Tide the type of dominant defense that we're accustomed to seeing from them.
Chasing the team with the shortest odds isn't always the best route to a big payout, but at the same time, it's difficult to bet against Alabama as it's currently constructed. The toughest non-conference game is Week 2 in Austin, but we know how Nick Saban's matchups with former assistants usually go. The Tide's SEC schedule isn't terrible relative to what we usually see. They get the toughest matchup, Texas A&M, at home and other quality teams from the West, like Mississippi and Arkansas, will be rebuilding in all likelihood. I don't see Georgia being as good next year (more on that in a second) and Ohio State and Clemson have flaws that need to be addressed before they can be considered true threats to the Tide. Even if +225 isn't the best value, Alabama is still clearly the favorite to win it all and it's rarely a bad idea to back the Tide as they've made the playoff in seven out of the eight years of its existence.
The defending national champions will have their work cut out for them in terms of staying atop the mountain. Stetson Bennett returns, as do promising young skill players like Brock Bowers and Adonai Mitchell. There's also a chance that LSU transfer Arik Gilbert re-enters the fold after being away from the team this past season, and the combination of him and Bowers would create matchup problems for nearly every defense Georgia faces. The problem comes with reloading on defense. Losing Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall, Quay Walker, Jordan Davis, Derion Kendrick, Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Lewis Cine will have an impact on Georgia's defensive approach even if Kirby Smart has stocked the cupboard with elite defenders over the last few recruiting cycles. It's impossible to replicate the experience that Georgia had on that side of the ball in 2021 and the 2022 unit will take time to jell. The offense should be about as good as it was in 2021 despite losing Zamir White, James Cook, George Pickens, Jermaine Burton and some pieces along the offensive line, but the step back defensively could be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome even if that doesn't get exposed during the regular season.
I'd be interested to see Georgia's win total when that opens and would fire on the over if it's 10.5. I tend to leave 11.5 totals alone and win totals generally don't offer a ton of upside as Georgia's odds will likely be anywhere between -150 to +150. Georgia has a good chance to get back to the playoff thanks to a favorable schedule, and a one-loss Bulldog team with a SECCG appearance would be tough to keep out of the field. The step back on defense will likely be the team's undoing, however.
Ohio State +550
Now we're talking. Ohio State was a team whose "A-Game" was as good as anyone's in the country in 2021. Of course, the Buckeyes didn't always come with its "A-Game" this past year and it came back to bite them against Oregon and Michigan. Though Ohio State loses Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave to the NFL, it brings back C.J. Stroud at quarterback and we caught a sneak peek at what the passing game could look like in 2022 in the Rose Bowl when Jaxon Smith-Njigba was unstoppable and freshmen Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka showed significant promise. Oh, and Ohio State also returns arguably the best running back in the country in TreVeyon Henderson.
What needs to be fixed is the defense. It's not often you see the Buckeyes rank in the same neighborhood as Middle Tennessee and UTSA in total defense but the fact of the matter is Ohio State's defense was middle-of-the-pack nationally each of the last two years and there's no excuse for that when you're a program that recruits on this level. The Buckeyes made the proactive choice and moved on from Kerry Coombs to hire former Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles, who turned the 'Pokes into a defensive force in 2021 that ranked in the Top 5 in total defense. If Knowles is the man to fix the defense, then the Buckeyes have a legitimate title shot. The offense will be, at worst, in the Top 3 in the country and we've seen a trend in college football (other than this year) where great offense trumps everything else.
I view Ohio State as the biggest threat to Alabama in 2022 and getting the Buckeyes at 2x the value as the Tide makes them an appealing target. The schedule is tough with draws against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, but those games will all be played at The Shoe. Ohio State also has to travel to Happy Valley in late October for what will likely be the Whiteout Game there, and that's always a tough environment for the road team. Still, Ohio State has to be viewed as the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and that will give it a seat at the playoff table. Can Ryan Day and Jim Knowles get the most out of this immensely talented roster? I'm willing to bet they can.
Only three teams are inside 10/1 odds for the title and the dropoff from Ohio State to Clemson is significant. It makes sense, too. On the one hand, a "down year" for Clemson still ended in 10 wins and this is a program this is built for sustained success given the way Dabo Swinney has recruited. Clemson had made the playoff in six consecutive years before the downturn in 2021. A lot of that downturn was fueled by the offense stalling out completely. It was never fair to expect D.J. Uiagalelei to be Trevor Lawrence 2.0 but nobody saw this offense ranking 82nd in scoring and 99th in total offense. There almost has to be a dead cat bounce from this unit in 2022 whether it's DJU or blue-chip freshman Cade Klubnik running the show. Clemson's receiving corps can't have worse injury luck than it did in 2021, so even though Justyn Ross (NFL) and Frank Ladson (Miami) are gone, getting full seasons from talented players like E.J. Williams and Beaux Collins will be a boon to the passing game. Will Shipley also has the look of a future star in the Clemson backfield. Perhaps the change at OC from Tony Elliott will also have a positive effect, too.
Losing Brent Venables and some talent in the secondary will sting on defense, but Clemson is still loaded in the front seven and should have an advantage on that side of the ball most weeks. If Brian Bresee returns to his pre-injury form, the combo of him, Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas will be overwhelming.
While I don't expect Clemson to have another down year, there are more unknowns with this team than what we've seen in a long time. Clemson has staff turnover in a way it simply hasn't under Swinney and there could be some growing pains in the early going. Maybe Clemson can get it rolling by the time the schedule toughens up with a road game at Notre Dame in November.
The elephant in the room is the quarterback situation. Uiagalelei showed immense promise as a true freshman in relief of Trevor Lawrence, but his regression as the starter in 2021 was significant. He completed just 55 percent of his passes at 6.0 YPA and he had a TD:INT of 9:10. I literally thought that was a typo when I looked it up. Either Uiagalelei takes a major step forward in spring ball or Clemson has to seriously entertain the idea of rolling with Klubnik, which sets up something similar to the Kelly Bryant-Trevor Lawrence conundrum when Lawrence was a freshman.
Either way, this Clemson team doesn't have as much obvious talent as it has in recent years and the questions surrounding the quarterback situation and the new coordinators make it tough to feel great about the Tigers' title chances. We can even acknowledge that Clemson is still the favorite to win the ACC, which puts them in position to secure a playoff spot, while still questioning the program's overall ability to reach the mountain top this year.