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College football picks 2022: Predicting winners for every Power Five game

Alabama players are introduced before the College Football Playoff championship football game.
Alabama players are introduced before the College Football Playoff championship game against Georgia in January. Will the Crimson Tide be the team to beat in 2022? (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

If you’re like me, August is the longest month of the year. That has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with college football being so close that you can practically feel Ralphie running onto the field in the Rocky Mountains or hear the different renditions of “Tiger Rag” trumpeting across the Southeast.

Ten years ago, to get through this month, a friend who shares my disgust for August joined me in picking the winner of every single Power Five football game. No matter how much we disagreed on a game, we had to come to a consensus and go with it. It was a way of checking each other and, we hoped, coming to a greater place of understanding.

Well, after a few years, we stopped doing this. Life moved on. I got married and happened to honeymoon in August. The next year, my wife and I had our daughter in August. (Those are definitely two recommended ways to get through this month, if you’re so lucky).

But then, in 2019, my friend Sam and I decided it was time to get the band (of mostly faulty predictions) back together. We had Georgia winning the national championship — hey, we were only two years off on that one.

Here's our forecast for the 2022 season and which two schools will be facing off at SoFi Stadium in January at the College Football Playoff national championship.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, walks with his players onto the field.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, walks with his players onto the field before the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

The biggest storyline in the ACC is obvious: Can Clemson return to the dominance that defined its run of six straight conference titles from 2015 to 2020? We expect Dabo Swinney's program to respond and take back the league crown, but the Tigers will fall just short of the playoff. The ACC Atlantic Division should be much more competitive than it has been in recent years — North Carolina State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Louisville and Florida State could hang with Clemson on any given Saturday, and three of those are on the road. Plus, the Tigers play at Notre Dame, where they lost in 2020. Based on what we saw last year from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, the St. John Bosco High product, we simply don't see 11 wins on the schedule.

ACC championship game

Clemson (11-2) defeats Miami (8-5)

Big Ten Conference

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud looks to pass against Utah in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud looks to pass against Utah in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

For the first time in a decade, Ohio State had to live with a loss to Michigan for an entire offseason. And, since the 2020 game was canceled because of Covid-19 issues within Michigan's program, the faithful in Columbus are going to be downright rabid Thanksgiving weekend when the Wolverines come to town. That should be another top-five showdown, but it's hard to imagine Michigan winning at Ohio State for the first time since 2000 when the Buckeyes should feature one of the most powerful offenses in school history, led by quarterback CJ Stroud of Rancho Cucamonga. Who will Ohio State face in the Big Ten title game? We've got Nebraska having a big year under embattled Scott Frost but falling at Iowa in the season finale to give the nod to Wisconsin.

Big Ten championship game

Ohio State (13-0) defeats Wisconsin (9-4)

Big 12 Conference

Oklahoma State's Stephon Johnson Jr. catches a pass in practice.
Oklahoma State's Stephon Johnson Jr. catches a pass in practice. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Baylor blew up the Big 12 last year, becoming one of the best stories in college football. Will Oklahoma restore order in its first year under Brent Venables, who left as Clemson's longtime defensive coordinator to return to Norman as Lincoln Riley's replacement? The Sooners will be good, but the Big 12 has enough teams legitimately nipping at their heels for them to put together a playoff resume. We've got a three-way tie at the top with Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys winning a "Bedlam" rematch at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Big 12 championship Game

Oklahoma State (11-2) defeats Oklahoma (9-4)

Pac-12 Conference

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham raises the Pac-12 championship trophy after beating Oregon in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham raises the Pac-12 championship trophy after beating Oregon in Las Vegas on Dec. 3. (Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

The hype surrounding Lincoln Riley's first USC team is warranted. Sure, there are questions about the Trojans' depth on defense, particularly up front, but the star power of offensive transfers Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison, Mario Williams and Travis Dye brings enough positive mojo to believe this team could win a conference title. But it won't. USC will be just good enough to start 6-0 and turn Utah's ultimate victory in Salt Lake City into a top-10 win that boosts the Utes into the playoff discussion. Utah has the best team in the league, and Kyle Whittingham can keep the Utes focused week to week. The Pac-12's five-year playoff drought will finally end in 2022. As for USC, the Trojans will start 9-1 but drop their last two games in disappointing fashion to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, showing that Riley has much more work to do to get USC back to the top of college football. The Bruins will have a chance at 10 wins but blow it at California, which will take out its anger over UCLA's Big Ten move and enjoy some sweet revenge.

Pac-12 championship game

Utah (12-1) defeats Oregon (9-4)

Southeastern Conference

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs with the ball against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs with the ball against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

Alabama and Georgia remain on another level from the rest of the SEC. The Crimson Tide return quarterback Bryce Young, a Heisman Trophy winner with something still to prove after losing to the Bulldogs in the national championship game. Alabama is loaded on both sides of the ball and will have a Heisman contender on defense as well in edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. Georgia loses 10 of its top 15 tacklers from its historically dominant defense, but the Bulldogs reload quickly on that side of the ball, and the schedule feels perfectly designed for another undefeated regular season in Athens.

SEC championship game

Alabama (13-0) defeats Georgia (12-1)

Independents

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner passes against Toledo in September 2021
Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner passes against Toledo in September 2021 (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

The winner of Notre Dame-Brigham Young on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas will have an outside shot at a playoff berth. We think BYU wins that one, but the Cougars schedule is tough. If they somehow get to 11-1, they're likely in.

College Football Playoff

Alabama coach Nick Saban watches quarterback Bryce Young warm up before a game against Mississippi State in October.
Alabama coach Nick Saban watches quarterback Bryce Young warm up before a game against Mississippi State in October. (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

Alabama and Ohio State will be the top seeds, and the committee will seed Utah and Georgia to avoid an SEC championship game rematch in the national semifinal. Alabama will diplomatically put an end to Utah's dream season, and Ohio State will edge Georgia, setting up a matchup of Southern California quarterbacks Young and Stroud dueling it out at SoFi Stadium. Young will lead the Crimson Tide to Nick Saban's seventh national championship at Alabama and eighth in total.

Semifinals

No. 1. Alabama defeats No. 4 Utah

No. 2 Ohio State defeats No. 3 Georgia

Finals

No. 1 Alabama defeats No. 2 Ohio State

National champion: Alabama

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.