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Bijan, bowl games and a Wildcats breakout: Here are 5 college football topics to watch in 2022

Texas running back Bijan Robinson, a Salpointe Catholic High School graduate, will be among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy next season.

Well, that was quite a ride.

The college football season came to a close Monday night, when Georgia outlasted Alabama in the SEC championship — er, national championship — to end the Bulldogs’ 41-year title drought.

The thrilling finish marked the end of a year to remember. Next season could be even more unforgettable.

Here’s a look at five topics to watch heading into the 2022 college football season:

Pac-12 in the playoffs

Since the College Football Playoff was implemented seven years ago, the Pac-12 made the four-team pool of the sport’s best just twice; Oregon (2014) and Washington (2016). Meanwhile, the SEC (10), ACC (7) Big Ten (6) and Big 12 (4) have all placed more teams in the CFP, with Notre Dame making it twice and Cincinnati qualifying as the lone Group of 5 team.

First-year Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said before the conference championship that the league was “very supportive of multiple proposals” for the CFP to expand, which would ultimately allow the Pac-12 to be a playoff regular.

“We did not indicate that we would vote against any of the proposals that are currently being discussed, both eight and 12,” Kliavkoff said.

For now, the CFP will remain at four teams. So, which team from the Pac-12 will represent the conference in the CFP?

Currently, the Conference of Champions’ flagship football programs — USC, Oregon and Washington — are in flux. USC hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma, and he seems like a good bet to return the Men of Troy to power … but will that happen in 2022? Will Dan Lanning’s championship-winning experience as Georgia’s defensive coordinator jolt Oregon back to national relevance? Can Kalen DeBoer help the Huskies after winning big at Fresno State?

Or will the reigning Pac-12 champions stay at the top?Utah checks in at No. 7 in ESPN’s way-too-early look at the 2022 poll, and Jon Wilner of the Pac-12 Hotline has the Utes ranked sixth.

So maybe Utah will be the Pac-12’s representative in the College Football Playoff.

Watch the Wildcats

It’s not bringing water to the desert, but Jedd Fisch and his around-the-clock staff seem to have revived the Arizona football program.

The Wildcats signed arguably the best recruiting class in program history for 2022, which includes six players from the uber-talented Trinity League in Los Angeles: All-American wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan (Servite), All-American running back Rayshon “Speedy” Luke (St. John Bosco), four-star tight end Keyan Burnett (Servite), defensive end Taitai Uiagalelei (Mater Dei), quarterback Noah Fifita (Servite) and linebacker Jacob Manu (Servite). Arizona’s recruiting class is rated by 247Sports.com as the second-best class in the Pac-12 and the 20th-best class in the nation.

Through the NCAA transfer portal, Arizona added former Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura, UTEP wide receiver Jacob Cowing, USC edge rusher Hunter Echols, Michigan outside linebacker Anthony Solomon and UCLA safety DJ Warnell.

Fisch and company have sold the vision to a host of talented players, but will it translate to wins? The UA’s nonconference schedule begins with a game at San Diego State before the Wildcats take on Mississippi State and FCS champion North Dakota State at home.

Big-time Bijan

Before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, Texas running back and Tucson native Bijan Robinson was among a list of names favored to win the Heisman Trophy.

Over a five-week stretch, Robinson averaged 150.4 rushing yards per game. He’ll again be the Longhorns’ focal point on offense, whether the quarterback is Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers or highly-rated freshman Maalik Murphy.

Only two Longhorns have won the Heisman: Earl Campbell (1977) and Ricky Williams (1998). A soon-to-be junior, Robinson — who will most likely be one of the favorites next season — could join them and become the first Tucsonan to win college football’s top accolade. He’ll most likely have to fend off previous winner in Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson.

NIL’s evolution

Three letters, millions of dollars. NIL, also known as name, image and likeness, allows student-athletes to make money off endorsement deals.

The first year of NIL was a lucrative one for college football’s top players: Alabama freshman cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry signed an endorsement deal with the drink company, while Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young had over 14 NIL deals worth over $1 million before even taking his first snap. Former NFL quarterback Charlie Batch recently offered Oklahoma transfer Caleb Williams a $1 million endorsement deal for his investment firm if Williams would transfer to his alma mater, Eastern Michigan.

What will NIL look like next year? It’s anyone’s guess.

A return to normal

The 2021 season college football season largely wasn’t affected by the spread of COVID-19 until the bowl season hit. The coronavirus wiped out five postseason games, including the Dec. 31 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. (Boise State backed out because of COVID-19 protocols, and Central Michigan accepted a Sun Bowl bid instead).

Hopefully by next season, college football will return to normal — traditions included. Hopefully it won’t be long until coaches are again getting doused in a product related to their bowl game’s title sponsor. Maybe the winning coach of the Arizona Bowl will get a bucket full of Eegee’s over the head.

Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter: @JustinESports


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Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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