Each season, a handful of school soccer groups shock on varied ranges. Vital enchancment in wins, a convention contender, and even within the combine for a nationwide championship. As we method the 2022 season, listed here are 20 groups that would flip heads — for the higher.
All statistics in parenthesis are from 2021 except famous in any other case.
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The shock isn’t that Arkansas will probably be good in 2022; it is that the Razorbacks is likely to be able to take the subsequent step. In 2021, Arkansas went 9-4 for its first profitable season since 2016, and received a bowl recreation. This season, the Razorbacks host Alabama and LSU, and will really feel assured of beating Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, for a second consecutive season. Almost all of Arkansas’ offensive line returns, and quarterback KJ Jefferson appears to construct on a robust 2021, when he threw for two,676 with 24 touchdowns and simply 4 interceptions. Whereas additionally dashing for a team-leading 664 and 6 scores. Is second place within the SEC West a stretch?
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In 2021, Cal misplaced 5 of its first six video games, however completed 4-2 with wins over Stanford and USC. In the meantime, the Bears misplaced 5 video games by seven factors or fewer a 12 months in the past. Now, it will not be straightforward, however there’s motive to imagine Justin Wilcox’s group can discover another victory than it had final season, qualify for a bowl and maybe tussle with Washington, Washington State and Oregon State for a top-three spot within the Pac-12 North behind front-runner Utah. Former It is going to be fascinating to see if former Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer (3,405 profession passing yards, 26 touchdowns) can declare the beginning job.
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There’s an argument to be made that Seminoles coach Mike Norvell is on the new seat along with his 8-13 mark over two seasons. He inherited a multitude, although, and going from three wins on a nine-game season from 2020 to 5-7 in 2021, is progress. In response to ESPN author Invoice Connelly , FSU returns practically 80 p.c of its manufacturing from final 12 months, when it beat Miami, and received at North Carolina and Boston School. With Jordan Travis (1,539 yards, 15 touchdowns; 530 dashing yards, seven TDs) again below middle and virtually all their complete offensive line returning, together with Jammie Robinson and a veteran secondary, at the least seven wins and a bowl bid sounds about proper for the Seminoles.
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Sure, Kansas. We’re severe. Properly, perhaps not bowl-eligible severe. However maybe severe sufficient to imagine that the Jayhawks can win greater than two video games. Which was progress in 2021, particularly with that memorable extra time victory at Texas. In response to ESPN, Kansas ranks fourth in returning manufacturing (84 p.c) and returns 14 projected starters on both facet of the ball. If the Jayhawks can handle another victory than 2021 in Lance Leipold’s second season as coach, rejoice like they only received a nationwide title.
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Inconsistency has plagued the Kansas State program of late. The Wildcats have not posted back-to-back profitable seasons since 2016 and ’17. They received eight video games final season and return star working again Deuce Vaughn (1,404 yards, 18 touchdowns; 49 receptions, 468 receiving yards) and welcome former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez (8,491 profession passing yards; 2,301 dashing yards, 80 complete touchdowns). There’s additionally some strong returning defensive expertise that would make Kansas State a severe contender for a high three or 4 end within the Huge 12.
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In all honesty, the trail of LSU’s 2022 season can go in varied instructions. Brian Kelly left a soft job at Notre Dame to take over a Tigers’ program that is 11-12 since going 15-0 and profitable its fourth official nationwide championship to conclude the 2019 season. The Tigers additionally noticed an exodus of gamers, however defensive linemen Masson Smith and Ali Gaye (mixed 6 1/2 sacks in 2021) and linebacker BJ Ojulari (55 tackles, seven sacks, 11 1/2 tackles for loss) tempo a protection that allowed 26.6 factors per recreation final season. All that stated, a 5-0 begin is feasible for a program that at the least believes it is in a greater place than a 12 months in the past.
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After seven straight seasons of profitable at the least eight video games, Memphis went 6-6 in 2021 — with half of these victories coming within the first three video games. The Tigers struggled with turnovers (19) final season, however Seth Henigan was undoubtedly a vibrant spot as a freshman, throwing for 3,332 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That have, plus a deep and gifted backfield and All-American Athletic Convention security Quindell Johnson (243 complete tackles, six interceptions in three seasons), ought to have the Tigers optimistic about returning to their profitable methods. Seven dwelling video games must also assist.
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Say what one will about how Mario Cristobal left Oregon for Miami, and the way during which he did. However, there’s loads of buzz surrounding the Hurricanes, and what Cristobal returning to his teaching roots can imply for this system. Particularly relating to recruiting, that stated, do not anticipate Miami to win a nationwide title this season. However with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (2,931 yards, 25 touchdowns, six interceptions) and a number of gifted talent gamers again, the Hurricanes must be within the hunt to win a comparatively wide-open ACC Coastal Division.
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Final season, it was Northern Illinois who shocked by returning to Mid-American prominence by going from zero to 9 wins for a league title. Miami, in the meantime, completed second within the MAC East Division for a fourth straight profitable marketing campaign. Count on the RedHawks to be the favourite within the league this season, even forward of NIU. A complete of 11 projected starters return, highlighted by quarterback Brett Gabbert, who in 26 collegiate video games, has thrown for five,443 yards with 41 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. A good dwelling schedule will assist, and the Nov. 16 assembly at NIU might be a MAC title-game preview.
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The Bulldogs actually have expertise on their facet in 2022. In response to ESPN, Mississippi State returns 80 p.c of its manufacturing or 16 projected starters from final 12 months’s group that went 7-6. Positive, the SEC West Division is top-heavy with Alabama and Texas A&M, however the Bulldogs might very a lot be within the combine for a top-three end with beforehand talked about Arkansas and LSU. In the meantime, versatile junior Jo’quavious Marks (416 dashing yards; 83 receptions, 502 receiving yards; 9 complete touchdowns) is a reputation to recollect.
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Sure, we’re going there. This is likely to be the 12 months Scott Frost enjoys success along with his beloved Cornhuskers. Whether or not will probably be too little, or too late stays to be seen. He is 15-29 and not using a bowl look throughout his 5 seasons at Nebraska, has been on the new seat for some time and has the fan base in tatters. So why now? For starters, Frost is working with a comparatively new offensive teaching workers, and ex-Texas quarterback Casey Thompson (2,113 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) to enhance a unit that scored 23 or fewer factors seven occasions in 2021. In the meantime, stud linebacker Garrett Nelson (102 profession tackles, 17 1/2 tackles for loss, 6 1/2 sacks) and TCU-transfer defensive finish Ochaun Mathis (15 1/2 profession sacks 30 1/2 tackles for loss) ought to anchor a probably stout protection.
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The Tar Heels had their moments throughout Sam Howell’s three seasons at quarterback. Nonetheless, they by no means received greater than eight video games in any of these years, and had been a disappointing 6-7 in 2021. Now, changing Howell will not be straightforward, however Carolina ought to profit from three straight robust recruiting courses, and the return of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator — a spot he held in 2015, when this system went 11-3 and it held seven opponents to fewer than 20 factors. Plus, the ACC’s Coastal Division would not have a transparent favourite, leaving Mack Brown’s group a possible sleeper.
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We’ll save the way forward for the Pac 12 discuss for later, and give attention to the sector this season. Oregon State is coming off its first profitable season (7-6) in eight years, and has sufficient skilled expertise to construct on that success, and make severe noise within the North Division. Washington, Washington State and Oregon have new coaches, Stanford is struggling as a program and the aforementioned Cal is a wild card. The important thing for the Beavers is enhancing a protection that allowed opponents to transform on 50.3 p.c of their third-down performs. On the opposite facet of the ball, Oregon State boasts three of the league’s greatest offensive linemen in deal with Joshua Grey, middle Jake Levengood and guard Brandon Kipper.
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The Boilermakers are poised to construct on final season’s 9-4 marketing campaign (greatest since 2003), which concluded with three straight wins, together with a bowl victory over Tennessee. The following step? How about difficult Wisconsin and Iowa for the highest spot within the Huge Ten West Division? With Aidan O’Connell (3,712 yards, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and tight finish Payne Durham (45 catches, 467 yards, six touchdowns) again, plus a gifted defensive entrance that helped maintain 5 Huge Ten opponents to twenty or fewer factors, the Boilermakers are actually a workforce to look at.
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Shane Beamer took the Gamecocks’ program in the proper path with a 7-6 document in 2021 — after profitable six video games the earlier two seasons. There’s much more pleasure with former Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Spencer Rattler (4,595 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 9 dashing TDs). To not point out a veteran offensive line again within the combine for a South Carolina squad that might be adequate to complete among the many high three groups in SEC East Division if issues fall into place.
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Sticking with SEC East. Reigning nationwide champion Georgia is the clear-cut favourite once more in 2022. However after that, issues get fascinating. Tennessee expects to be within the dialog for second place after Josh Heupel led a seemingly dysfunctional program to a 7-6 document in 2021. In response to ESPN, the Volunteers return 77 p.c of their manufacturing (13 mixed projected starters). Hendon Hooker (2,945 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, three interceptions) is likely to be one of the best SEC quarterback not named Bryce Younger and cross rusher Byron Younger (5 1/2 sacks, 11 1/2 tackles for loss) is a beast to cease.
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It is solely 12 months 2 of the Steve Sarkisian experiment at Texas, however desperation mode has set in. A six-game shedding streak — which included that defeat to Kansas — led to a extremely disappointing 5-8 2021 for the Longhorns. But, there’s motive to imagine they are going to be a lot better in 2022. Working again Bijon Robinson (1,127 yards, 11 touchdowns) is a possible Heisman Trophy candidate and Xavier Worthy (62 receptions, 981 yards, 12 TDs) is among the many nation’s high receivers. Nonetheless, the Longhorns’ protection, which allowed 31. factors and 201.6 dashing yards final 12 months, have to be higher. Baylor is assured, Oklahoma State has excessive expectations, however Oklahoma has questions. These Longhorns are nine-win good, however must dwell as much as the hype lastly.
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With Lincoln Riley in cost and elite transfers in quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh) and veteran working again Travis Dye (Oregon) it will appear fashionable to suppose the Trojans is not going to solely high their nine-win complete from the previous two seasons, however maybe problem for a School Soccer Playoff berth. Sure, USC must be higher. And, it makes this record as a result of enchancment appears destined, however the Trojans’ protection is a query mark and so they should face Utah, UCLA and Oregon State on the highway.
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In 2019. Virginia reached the ACC Championship recreation, then two .500 seasons adopted and longtime coach Bronco Mendenhall opted to retire. Nonetheless, hope isn’t misplaced for the Cavaliers. Former Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott lastly will get his shot at a head-coaching gig , and Brennan Armstrong (4,449 yards, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 9 dashing touchdowns) simply may find yourself being the most efficient quarterback within the ACC — or at the least the up-for-grabs ACC Coastal Division — this season.
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There’s actually nowhere for the Huskies to go however up after that extremely disappointing 4-8 season of 2021. It was unhappy that issues with Jimmy Lake did not work out, however new coach Kalen DeBoer, whose 10-3 2021 Fresno State squad averaged 33.4 factors, looks like a superb selection to assist to revive a Washington offense that scored simply 21.5 per contest final season. The addition of switch quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is intriguing, whereas dynamic linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui is likely one of the nation’s greatest — if he can keep wholesome.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports activities and leisure on-line and for print for greater than 25 years. He grew up within the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Corridor of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s additionally the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine Faculty in Chicago. You may comply with Jeff at @jeffm401.