2022 will be the first “normal” college football season in three years, as a pair of pandemic-ravaged campaigns in 2020-21 upended everything we think of as normal to the game.
But having a regular 12-game schedule and no COVID-19 testing will be a drop in the bucket, as the real change is coming from the transfer portal. An oh boy, is it coming. Some stats:
- A total of 2,069 scholarship players, and more than 3,000 players overall, put their name in the portal. That’s about 20 percent of FBS football players.
- Of the 131 projected starting quarterbacks in FBS college football, 58 will be transfers (44.3%).
- And now players will be able to transfer as many times as they’d like, with no restrictions except only being able to play for one school a year. And the traditional 25-new-players per-class limit for schools is gone as well.
Welcome to the Soon-to-be-Post-NCAA Era of college football, where everything goes. However you feel about virtually unlimited player movement, it’s here to stay and it’s not changing.
But there is one thing a near-constant ingress and egress of talent won’t be able to change quickly: The ability to find a rhythm and timing of an offense. While plug-and-play transfers on defense should be able to jump into roles much more quickly, being successful while possessing the football simply takes longer.
And there is less time than ever for offensive players and coaches to be on a field finding that sought-after rhythm. Two-a-days aren’t allowed in college football, as those have been banned by the NCAA just like the Oklahoma drill. Preseason practices have been reduced from 29 to 25, and only 18 of those are allowed to have contact. Even on days teams can “full-go,” they can only hit for 75 minutes.
While 7v7 drills organized by the players during the summer, or after practice throws in shorts are great, they’re not the best way to build chemistry in moving the ball. It simply takes reps and reps and more reps. “On-air” drills are needed too, but they simply can’t replicate what teams will see against an opposing defense that wants to be as violent as possible while taking the ball away.
With apologies to the many intellectually-talented defensive players in the NCAA, it simply doesn’t take as long to learn the playbook and keys when you’re stopping someone. It’s less about timing, and more about read-and-react. That’s easier to pick up in a limited practice set.
When you see a quarterback throwing one route and the receiver running another, that tends to happen due to a lack of reps. A lack of practice can also manifest in a running back failing to find the right hole, or an offensive lineman reaching for the wrong defender in a zone scheme. And generally the ensuing punt or turnover means more time off the clock, and less scoring overall.
Plus since everyone is new, most of those new offensive players that will be starting and playing most snaps are going against the second-string in practice every day. College teams tend to limit the amount of “1’s vs. 1’s” in practice for injury protection, so it’s a whole other level of speed offenses will see when they get on the field against their first opponent.
So while the rules on the field will continue to heavily favor the offense in college football (despite a total ban on blocking below the waist outside the tackle box in 2022), the preparation to get to opening kickoff should mean the defenses will have the upper hand early.
Take this opportunity to find games with teams that have plenty of new players, and use it to find unders that could be profitable early in the season. Two teams that fit this category in Week 0 would be Nebraska and Northwestern, who play in Dublin, Ireland. Nebraska brought in 16 new players this cycle, including former Texas quarterback Casey Thompson.
The total is set at 50.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook, but that might be too high. While Northwestern only added six transfers, their quarterback situation with the returning Ryan Hilinski is certainly questionable, and they finished 2022 109th in SP+ offensively anyway. This might be a spot where going short could be the play, especially with practice schedules disrupted by playing the game abroad.