As we look ahead to the upcoming 2022 college football season, it’s time to analyze the best game of Week 1. The Georgia Bulldogs will meet the Oregon Ducks in Atlanta to take part in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic Game on Sept. 3, and fans can’t wait for this matchup. The defending national champions, Georgia, are favored to win this one, as they are currently a massive 18.5-point favorite. Oregon vs. Georgia has been chosen as the prime-time clash on ABC and it will kick off at 3:30 PM. Before a prediction is made, however, we must first assess the two teams and their respective situations.
Fresh off beating Alabama in the national title game, Georgia will set their sights on repeating last season’s feat. A record 15 Georgia players were drafted to the NFL, displaying the talent that a school like Georgia can attract. However, the losses of defensive stars such as Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Lewis Cine could result in a weakened defense for the Bulldogs. Reinforcements were brought in through recruiting as they landed the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, behind only Texas A&M and Alabama.
In total, 30 players committed to come play football in Athens this fall, with five 5-star recruits and 17 4-star recruits. The headliners of the class are all 5-star defensive players: defensive lineman Mykel Williams, safety Malaki Starks, edge rusher Marvin Jones Jr, and cornerbacks Jaheim Singletary and Daylen Everette.
Luckily for head coach Kirby Smart, he won’t face the selection headache of a training camp quarterback battle because veteran quarterback Stetson Bennett will be returning to the team as a redshirt senior in 2022. Bennett, a largely unknown prospect prior to last season, guided the Bulldogs to the national championship after previous starting quarterback JT Daniels went down with an injury early in the season. Daniels has since transferred to West Virginia University, meaning Bennett should face relatively little competition to be named the starter for Week 1.
Bennett’s receiving personnel did, however, take a slight blow when top receiver Jermaine Burton switched allegiances to rivals, Alabama. Burton’s supporting cast from last season, Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell, will undoubtedly carve out a larger role for themselves in Georgia’s offense.
The receivers are not expected to be the focus of the Bulldogs’ attack through the air, though, since the tight end corps has the potential to become one of the most successful in college football history. Brock Bowers led the team in receptions last year with 56 and he will be accompanied by Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington. All three tight ends are exceptionally talented and will be looking to make a name for themselves as the 2023 NFL Draft looms next April.
After losing Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs will turn to multi talented defensive lineman Jalen Carter to anchor the defense. The secondary seems just fine, as future NFL prospects Christopher Smith and Kelee Ringo will return. The Bulldogs will have enough returning talents and exceptional prospects to make another run at the title come fall.
Following their opening week against Oregon, Georgia will have a tuneup game against the vastly inferior Samford Bulldogs where one can expect Georgia’s reserves to get plenty of run time. South Carolina will be up next on the schedule, and that will prove to be a much tougher matchup.
South Carolina notably picked up former Oklahoma quarterback and presumptive starter Spencer Rattler. Rattler entered his freshman season at Oklahoma as one of the most hyped up prospects in recent memory and as the Heisman trophy preseason favorite, but lackluster play led to fellow freshman and 5-star recruit Caleb Williams taking over starting duties. Rattler will have a chip on his shoulder in his bounce-back season, and that could mean trouble for Georgia in Week 3.
The next four games against Kent State, Missouri, Auburn, and Vanderbilt should present no trouble for the Bulldogs, and they could very well find themselves 7-0 before a showdown with Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 29. Although Georgia will be the favorite in every regular season matchup, it doesn’t get any easier from there: Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Kentucky are all formidable opponents who have the ability to pull off a major upset on any given day. The regular season will draw to a close on Nov. 26, where Georgia will take on major rivals Georgia Tech in what should be a comfortable win heading into the playoffs.
Turning our attention to the underdogs, the Oregon Ducks will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 campaign in which they lost out on both the Pac-12 championship game and the Alamo Bowl to Utah and Oklahoma, respectively. While reaching the championship game and making a bowl appearance sounds like a successful season for most programs, the Ducks have loftier expectations.
Newly appointed Oregon head coach Dan Lanning will be looking forward to going up against his former colleague, Kirby Smart, after having served as Georgia’s outside linebacker coach and defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2021.
Unlike Smart, Lanning’s starting quarterback decision is not a certainty. Last year’s starter, Anthony Brown, left questions unanswered with his inconsistency and has now moved on to the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. The former ninth best rated player in the country, Ty Thompson, will get a chance to compete for the position, and Ducks fans are hopeful that he can deliver on the promise he showed in high school. It won’t be an easy task to beat out the more experienced Bo Nix, a recent transfer and former starting quarterback of the Auburn Tigers. Nix will also have the advantage of working with an offensive coordinator that he is familiar with, as he played for Kenny Dillingham in 2019.
The running back positions also contain an air of uncertainty, as Byron Cardwell and Sean Dollars will be asked to fill in for the departures of veterans, CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.
Dan Lanning made his name at Georgia thanks to his dominant defenses, and he’ll be looking to implement more of the same at Oregon. Replacing a linebacker as multi-talented as Kayvon Thibodeaux is a daunting proposition for any team, but Oregon has the emerging talent at the linebacker position to do so. If Justin Flowe can stay healthy, his partnership alongside Noah Sewell is a scary sight for opposing offenses and could propel Oregon to further heights than expected.
That is a big if, however, since Flowe has only played two games in two seasons for the Ducks. Popo Amuave and Brandon Dorlus will spearhead the defensive line. The cornerback position will be in a period of transition, as last year’s starter Mykael Wright pursued a professional career, ultimately signing a training camp deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
The potential is there in the secondary, thanks to freshmen Jahlil Florence, Jalil Tucker, and Cole Martin — all of them 4-star recruits. New cornerbacks coaching hire Demetrice Martin is also the aforementioned Cole’s father. Oregon’s roster has the potential to deliver a surprise and make a run at the College Football Playoffs, but whether or not the quarterback play is good enough to take this team over the edge remains to be seen.
After the showdown with Georgia in Atlanta, the Ducks will take on Eastern Washington in what should be a relatively straightforward victory. To round out non-conference play, Oregon will face a tricky test at home to BYU. Washington State, Arizona, and Stanford await before a massive Pac-12 showdown against UCLA on Oct. 22. The home stretch of the regular season features matchups at Colorado and California in addition to a home game against Washington.
The biggest game of the season might well be on Nov. 19 when the Ducks will host their fellow Pac-12 title favorites, the Utah Utes. Dan Lanning and his squad will be hoping that they can get revenge from last year’s title game loss to Utah, before taking on intra-state rivals Oregon State to close out the regular season.
Although Oregon fans can be hopeful of an upset given the unpredictable nature of college football, all signs point to a Georgia blowout victory. Georgia simply has too much returning talent with a wealth of experience on the biggest stage, while Oregon’s potential is yet to be unearthed. On paper, Georgia’s newcomers are also much stronger than Oregon’s, with the former’s recruiting class ranked third nationally compared to the latter’s 16th place.
The battle for best coaching personnel also swings in favor of Georgia, as Kirby Smart’s coaching staff has the edge on first time head coach Dan Lanning’s. Despite being thoroughly outmatched, Oregon may well have some positive takeaways from this game and perhaps foreshadow a successful 2022 season.
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