Which teams in the Power Five conferences should rise up and be sleepers in 2022? They might not win their respective conferences, but they could make a whole lot of noise.
Did anyone really see Baylor coming as a team that would take the Big 12 Championship and finish in or near the top five?
Who had Pitt winning the ACC title, or Michigan State being a Big Ten power, or Ole Miss finishing 11th in both polls?
We got the Rebels right in last year’s Power Five Sleeper Teams piece. Taking the L on Stanford, squibbed singles on Boston College and Texas Tech, and roped a triple on Purdue.
These teams almost certainly won’t win their respective conference championships, but they should be in for interesting seasons and give their fan bases a good time.
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College Football Power Five Sleeper Teams
ACC: Florida State Seminoles
There was a time not all that long ago when Florida State was automatically considered a national championship contender. It had the talent, the coaching, and everything in place to be special year after year after year.
Jimbo Fisher restored the glory, but it all fell apart in the opener against Alabama to start the 2017 season, and the program never recovered.
The Noles won 78 games, three ACC Championships, and a national title between 2010 to 2016. Since then they’ve gone a putrid 26-33.
Florida State lost 19 games from 1987 to 2000.
Head coach Mike Norvell isn’t going to put the program back into superpower territory just yet, but after years and years and years of painful offensive line play, the Noles might really have a decent front five. At least it’s full of veterans.
The ground attack and the offense should work just fine, the defense is loaded with experience – the starting 11 should be outstanding if the secondary can rise up – and the schedule works okay.
LSU is a problem in Week 2 in New Orleans, and road games against NC State and Miami are scary, but Clemson and Florida have to come to Tallahassee, and the team should be strong enough to pull off several wins in the 50/50 games.
For a proud program that hasn’t had a winning season in four years, this will seem like when it all starts to turn around.
NEXT: College Football Power Five Sleeper Teams, Big Ten
Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini
This could go two ways in Year Two under head coach Bret Bielema. It could be a complete disaster and everything could blow up – in a bad way – or it could screw up Big Ten opponents that have this game mentally circled as a win.
It’s been hard to get this dog of an Illinois program to hunt.
The excuse of being a basketball school doesn’t fly – big-time universities can walk and dribble a ball at the same time – but for a slew of reasons Illinois is having issues.
Lovie Smith couldn’t get the quick fix to fly, previous coaches couldn’t seem to find their recruiting footing, and overall, the fan base has become numb to the mediocrity.
At least Bielema did what a new head coach is supposed to – he provided hope.
Illinois went 5-7 last year to make it ten straight losing seasons. However, the running game was tough, the defense had its moments, and even though scoring was like pulling teeth – dear lord make that Penn State 43 overtime game stop already – wins over the Nittany Lions, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern were nice.
The transfer portal filled in some holes on offense, but the running game will take over behind a patched up line. The defense doesn’t have a ton of stars, but it’s going to be tough, the pass rush will be even stronger, and the secondary should be sneaky-good.
Wyoming, at Indiana, Virginia, UT Chattanooga – at least a 3-1 start is a must.
There’s no Ohio State to deal with, and Penn State is off the slate. Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Purdue all come to Champaign, and this team’s style of play travels.
NEXT: College Football Power Five Sleeper Teams, Big 12
Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Let’s try this again.
Yeah, I missed on the Baylor call – Oklahoma State wasn’t really a sleeper in 2021 – and the thought was that Texas Tech was about to finally find its footing again offensively.
It’s Texas Tech. It’s supposed to put up one million passing yards and 920 points a game.
That’s this year for that – last year’s team at least got to a bowl game after switching up coaches during the season – but there’s a twist.
Defense will matter, too.
New head coach Joey McGuire and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter know what they’re doing. This year’s D will generate a lot more pressure, the secondary concerns are being worked on, and in the end, all this group needs to do is occasionally hold serve.
Western Kentucky had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses last year after having one of the biggest snoozer attacks for a few years. And why? It brought in offensive coordinator Zach Kittley along with most of the big passing game parts.
Now Kittley is in Lubbock, the Red Raiders are about to wing it all over the yard helped by a stunningly deep quarterback group to choose from, and for most teams, you need not plan on getting off the bus unless you’re prepared to score 40 points.
The big, big problem is a too-nasty schedule with Houston possibly the year’s best Group of Five team, a trip to NC State, and with the Big 12 looking rough from top to Kansas.
However, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas are both coming to town, and again, this offense is about to give a whole lot of teams a bad day.
NEXT: College Football Power Five Sleeper Teams, Pac-12
Pac-12: Cal Golden Bears
I spent several years trying to make Michigan State happen.
The parts were there to be good, but it just couldn’t quite get over the hump – that didn’t stop me from picking it to be in the mix for the Big Ten title, and then it actually happened in 2013.
Cal isn’t going to win the Pac-12 Championship anytime soon, but I’m working way too hard to make the football program a thing.
Granted, the interest level around football in Berkeley is always at a minimum, but head coach Justin Wilcox is good, the teams put together the lines, it seems like everything is about to work, and then …
(Cue the sad trombone)
Actually, that’s not fair. Yes, the Bears have four losing seasons in the last six – and two in a row – but the 2019 team wasn’t bad and the 2018 version came up with a winning season, even if it finished with a loss in the Cheez-It Bowl to TCU, inarguably the ugliest sporting event ever played.
There were problems in last year’s 5-7 campaign, but there were a ton of close losses, the offense was among the most productive the program had in years, and Purdue transfer QB Jack Plummer should shine with a strong ground game to help the cause.
There’s too much coaching talent on the defensive side for this D to be anything but stellar. Getting hitting machine Jackson Sirmon from Washington was massive for the linebacking corps.
Cal-Davis, UNLV, at Notre Dame, Arizona, at Washington State, at Colorado. Any team worthy of thinking about going bowling needs to be at least 4-2 against that start. Washington and Oregon come to Cal, there’s no Utah to face, and closing with Stanford and UCLA isn’t bad.
If everything breaks right, there’s a real shot at winning eight regular season games for the first time since 2009.
NEXT: College Football Power Five Sleeper Teams, SEC
SEC: Missouri Tigers
Mizzou is here almost by default.
Who in the SEC is really a sleeper?
If Vanderbilt won eight games then that would qualify, but Kentucky doesn’t fit at this point. Everyone sort of likes Tennessee and Ole Miss, and Mississippi State and Arkansas are expected to be interesting, even if they live in the SEC West.
And then there’s poor, poor Missouri – the lost little lamb of the SEC.
It’s a Big 12 program that probably should be in the Big Ten, but still hangs around providing the other members a nice, long road trip.
You can set your watch to Mizzou football it’s so automatic – it wins most of the games it’s supposed to, loses most of the games it’s supposed to, finishes around .500, and then moves on.
It’s 42-43 over the last seven years.
The Armed Forces Bowl loss to Army was the only true misfire over the last few years, but it doesn’t have a victory over a Power Five team that finished with eight wins or more since shocking Florida in 2018.
However, head coach Eliah Drinkwitz has stepped up the recruiting, there’s talent on the Tigers with – potentially – the best group of skill parts in several years.
On the other side, the defense that got ripped to shreds is about to be a whole lot better thanks to experience, the transfer portal, and a phenomenal 1-2 end punch in Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire.
A 3-1 start is possible – Louisiana Tech, at Kansas State, Abilene Christian, at Auburn – by splitting those road games.
There’s no Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, or Ole Miss on the schedule, Georgia and Arkansas have to come to Columbia, and home games against Vanderbilt and New Mexico State should help the base of wins.
Asking for eight regular season wins shouldn’t be that hard, and Mizzou should be able to do it for just the second time since 2014.