Plenty of big questions greet each and every college football season. This year, the Nick Saban-Jimbo Fisher feud will make Alabama-Texas A&M extra spicy. Jim Harbaugh beating Ryan Day last year makes Michigan-Ohio State freshly intriguing in a way it had not been the past several seasons. Brian Kelly at LSU is a big deal. So is Mario Cristobal at Miami. So is North Carolina State, trying to make its first-ever New Year’s Six bowl game in a context which feels like now-or-never for the Wolfpack.
Yet, in most seasons, certain questions or focal points carry more resonance than others, if only because they carry a domino effect in relationship to other big college football stories.
Saban-Fisher is a deliciously nasty dust-up, but it’s a localized war which doesn’t spill into other regions or conferences. The Ohio State-Michigan dynamic is similar. It’s immensely important and interesting within the Big Ten universe, but it won’t have an immediate ripple effect throughout the national college football world.
One focal point of the 2022 season is legitimately national in scope, even though it resides in one relatively small state. That sounds fascinating, does it not?
The state of South Carolina is, in many ways, the most interesting state in the country as the 2022 college football season arrives. What originates in the Palmetto State will reshape how we think of other prominent programs and their coaches.
Some readers of The Voice of College Football – who have been following Mark Rogers’ YouTube shows every week (please subscribe to, like, and share them with your friends!) – immediately know what I am referring to. For those who don’t, here’s the very simple explanation.
The state of South Carolina contains two giant college football plot points within its borders. First, how will Dabo Swinney respond at Clemson this season? How will he perform after a shaky 2021 campaign? More centrally, how will he react to the loss of two longtime coordinators, Brent Venables on defense and Tony Elliott on offense? The continuity of Dabo’s staff at Clemson has been a big reason for his program’s success. Now, Dabo is entering a less certain landscape in 2022. He doesn’t have his two familiar coordinators. He has made it a point to not lean on the transfer portal for instant infusions of talent. The 2022 season will tell us a lot about Dabo, chiefly about his adaptability in a set of circumstances unlike anything we have seen since Clemson became an annual powerhouse in 2015.
What happens to Dabo at Clemson matters for the Tigers themselves, but it also will affect how we perceive Venables at Oklahoma and Elliott at Virginia.
There is no grace period for Venables at Oklahoma. He has recruited so well and received so much buy-in from the power brokers at OU that anything less than a Big 12 championship this year will feel like a disappointment.
Elliott doesn’t have a complete roster at Virginia, but the man who taught Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence now gets to coach Brennan Armstrong in Charlottesville. Expectations for the UVA team might be modest, but expectations for the Virginia offense in 2022 are very high. Elliott will be expected to maximize that side of the ball and make Armstrong a legitimate Heisman candidate in mid-November. Armstrong might not be a finalist, but he should at least be in the hunt if Elliott does his job reasonably well.
How Clemson handles its numerous transitions is going to affect the conversation surrounding Venables and Elliott.
Let’s turn to the other program in the Palmetto State. The South Carolina Gamecocks significantly overachieved last season. Shane Beamer was viewed as being in over his head, but showed a deft touch at the controls in Columbia. Then he made a big splash by grabbing Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma, where Beamer was an assistant coach under a guy you might have heard of.
Lincoln Riley couldn’t put the pieces together for Spencer Rattler. As Riley embarks on his new journey with the USC Trojans, which is a huge national storyline this season, Beamer’s handling of Rattler with the Gamecocks will reshape the conversation surrounding Riley, much as Dabo’s performance is going to make us reassess Brent Venables at OU.
Now you can see why the state of South Carolina – as seen in both the Tigers and Gamecocks – is so central to the 2022 college football season and how we perceive several central figures in the industry. There are other huge questions to consider, of course, but one state not named California, Florida, or Texas contains a surprising degree of centrality before another slate of fall Saturdays greets our lives.