It wasn’t just any year in college football.
We’re going to have a College Football Playoff for the first time that doesn’t include Alabama or Clemson and one that does include TCU.
There are similar surprises on ESPN’s 2022 All-America team. Some of the players on everybody’s radar when the season began didn’t make it, and some players nobody was talking about prior to the season played their way onto the team.
The only three players to make our preseason team, midseason team and postseason team were Texas’ Bijan Robinson, Alabama‘s Will Anderson Jr. and Northwestern‘s Peter Skoronski. Georgia had the most players on the postseason team with three, while Alabama, Michigan, Pittsburgh and USC each had two.
QB: Caleb Williams, USC
The lasting image of Williams from the Pac-12 championship game is him limping around after popping a hamstring and doing his best on one leg to lead USC to victory. The Trojans lost to Utah and missed out on a playoff berth, but Williams put together an amazing season in winning the Heisman Trophy. He tied for the national lead with 37 touchdown passes and threw just four interceptions while also rushing for 10 touchdowns.
RB: Bijan Robinson, Texas
Robinson is the latest to join Texas’ esteemed running back fraternity. He was the nation’s only running back this season with more than 1,500 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards. The 6-foot junior beefed up to 222 pounds and was even more explosive. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his last 10 games, including a pair of 200-yard games. Robinson had seven total plays (five rushing, two receiving) of at least 40 yards.
RB: Blake Corum, Michigan
The epitome of a go-to running back, Corum was the main cog in a Michigan offense that ranked second nationally with 38 rushing touchdowns. The only thing that derailed him was a season-ending knee injury in November. The 5-8, 210-pound junior still rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 5.92 yards per rush. Corum had eight straight 100-yard rushing games before being limited to two carries against Ohio State.
WR: Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Not only was Hyatt one of the most explosive players in college football; he also was one of the most improved. He tied for the national lead with 15 touchdown receptions after having just four touchdown catches in his first two seasons. The 6-foot, 185-pound Hyatt got bigger and stronger over the course of his career and had one of the more memorable performances of the season when he caught five touchdown passes in the Vols’ win over Alabama.
WR: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
The wide receiver pipeline at Ohio State has been unbelievable. With Jaxon Smith-Njigba injured for much of the season, Harrison stepped right into the spotlight and was spectacular. He was the nation’s highest-graded receiver, according to Pro Football Focus, and tied for fourth nationally with 12 touchdown catches. The 6-4, 205-pound true sophomore had just two drops all season and was at his best on contested catches.
TE: Brock Bowers, Georgia
Tight end was one of the hardest positions to pick this season because there were so many good ones. But Bowers gets the nod as the country’s most complete player at the position. He’s a big-play threat in the passing game, runs great routes, blocks like an offensive lineman and can make defenders miss after the catch and when the Dawgs hand the ball off to him. The true sophomore led Georgia with 52 catches, including six touchdowns, and he also rushed for three scores.
OT: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Wildcats had a disappointing 1-11 season, but there was nothing disappointing about the way the 6-4, 315-pound Skoronski played. He’s an elite pass-protector from his left tackle position and also is a physical run-blocker. Voted the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year, Skoronski was a starter from the day he stepped onto campus and has a lot of good football in front of him at the NFL level.
OG: O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
It wasn’t a lengthy stay for Torrence at Florida, but it was a successful one. The 6-5, 346-pound junior had already made a big impression at Louisiana, but he was equally impressive in his one season with the Gators after transferring. Going back to his freshman year at Louisiana, Torrence has 46 career starts. He has another year of eligibility remaining but instead has declared for the NFL draft.
C: Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan
The Wolverines’ offensive line was a juggernaut this season, one of the finalists for the Joe Moore Award as the best in college football, and right in the middle was the 6-3, 307-pound Oluwatimi. He made the most of his one season at Michigan after transferring from Virginia and spearheaded a unit that allowed just 13 sacks in 13 games and helped the Wolverines finish sixth nationally in rushing offense (243 yards per game).
OG: Cooper Beebe, Kansas State
There’s nothing like having somebody on your offensive line who is capable of playing any position. The 6-4, 322-pound Beebe has made a career of that, and after starting 13 games at left tackle in 2021, he moved to left guard this season. He’s a mauler as a run-blocker and helped Deuce Vaughn motor his way to 1,425 rushing yards for the Big 12 champion Wildcats.
OT: Joe Alt, Notre Dame
The best news for Notre Dame fans is that Alt is only going to get better. A true sophomore, the 6-7, 317-pound Alt is extremely agile at his left tackle position and a great example of a player who wasn’t the most recruited prospect coming out of high school but has quickly developed into one of the best in the game. Pro Football Focus graded Alt as the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country.
All-purpose: Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh
About the only thing Abanikanda didn’t do was kick field goals. The 5-11, 215-pound junior was the nation’s only player with more than 1,400 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards and 200 kickoff return yards. He scored an FBS-leading 21 touchdowns, was second nationally in all-purpose yards (164.1 yards per game) and broke Tony Dorsett’s school record when he rushed for 320 yards and six touchdowns in a win over Virginia Tech.
DE: Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
The nation’s leader in tackles for loss among Power 5 players, Tuipulotu leads all of college football with 12.5 sacks. At 6-4 and 290 pounds, Tuipulotu is a menace when it comes to chasing down opposing quarterbacks. He collapses pockets with his power and uses his quickness to beat offensive linemen off the edge. Even when he was double-teamed this season, which was often, Tuipulotu made his presence felt.
DT: Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Pitt has produced its share of talented defensive linemen over the years, and Kancey is the latest. He led all interior defensive linemen with 14.5 tackles for loss despite missing parts of two games with injuries. The 6-foot, 280-pound redshirt junior was the only player in the country selected as a finalist for both the Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. He won’t play in the Panthers’ bowl game because of his late-season injuries.
DT: Jalen Carter, Georgia
When healthy, Carter is the most unblockable defender in college football. Some might say he’s the best player in college football. He battled foot, ankle and knee injuries this season, but he recovered to play some of his best football in Georgia’s most important games. Few players create pressure in the pocket the way the 6-3, 300-pound Carter does. He’s the centerpiece of a Georgia defense that once again was elite.
Edge/DE: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
For the second year in a row, Anderson won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player, and for the second year in a row, he was one of those defenders every opposing offensive coordinator schemed around. The 6-4, 243-pound junior was second among Power 5 players with 17 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks.
LB: Jack Campbell, Iowa
Campbell is Iowa’s first Butkus Award winner as the top linebacker in the country. The Hawkeyes’ senior middle linebacker has been Mr. Steady the whole time he’s been on campus and will leave as one of the top defenders in school history. He had a team-leading 118 total tackles this season after collecting 143 a year ago. The 6-5, 246-pound Campbell also had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
LB: Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Georgia
Can anybody remember a time that Georgia didn’t have a dynamic linebacker? This year’s version is Dumas-Johnson, who in his first season as a starter tied for the team lead with 64 total tackles, including a team-leading eight for loss. A true sophomore, the 6-1, 245-pounder did a little bit of everything from his inside linebacker position, from making plays in space in the run game to racking up 21 quarterback hurries.
LB: Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
Pace was a tackling machine for the Bearcats. He had 107 total tackles, including 19 for loss. Seven of those were sacks, and he also forced two fumbles. The 6-foot, 235-pound senior made an immediate impact for Cincinnati from his inside position after playing his first three seasons at Miami (Ohio). Pace combined speed, strength and instincts to become one of the best big-play defenders in the sport.
CB: Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
An elite cover cornerback, Forbes was someone opposing quarterbacks did their best to avoid. He has great speed, superior ball skills and the kind of competitive fire that would make him a difference-maker on any defense. Forbes tied for second nationally with six interceptions and returned three picks for touchdowns. He also blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
CB: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU
One of the mainstays in TCU’s remarkable run to the College Football Playoff — for several years now — has been Hodges-Tomlinson. The 5-9, 180-pound senior went four straight games with a takeaway this season. The Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back, Hodges-Tomlinson intercepted three passes and broke up 11 others.
S: Brian Branch, Alabama
Alabama asked Branch to do a little bit of everything this season, and he delivered. He was versatile enough to play the nickel cornerback spot, safety and even what the Tide call their “money” linebacker spot. Branch was Alabama’s third-leading tackler with 78 stops and was second on the team to Will Anderson Jr. with 10 tackles for loss. The 6-foot, 193-pound junior also returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown.
S: Kamren Kinchens, Miami
As a true sophomore, Kinchens developed into one of the more productive defensive backs in college football. He’s smart, has good size (205 pounds) and is always around the ball, as evidenced by his six interceptions. He tied a school record with three picks in a 35-14 win over Georgia Tech and returned one of those 99 yards for a touchdown. Kinchens led the Hurricanes with 59 total tackles and also broke up six passes.
PK: Christopher Dunn, NC State
Dunn, a fifth-year senior, capped a record-setting career with his finest season yet in winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top place-kicker. He was 24-of-25 on field goal attempts and 10-of-11 on field goals of 40 yards or longer. The Wolfpack’s all-time leading scorer with 377 points, Dunn’s longest field goal this season was a 53-yarder, and he made both of his attempts from 50-plus yards.
P: Kai Kroeger, South Carolina
It’s fitting that the best punter in college football was an integral part of Beamer Ball. The Beamer name is intertwined with stellar special teams play, and Kroeger was terrific. He was second nationally in punting average (46.8 yards) and had 27 of his 52 punts downed inside the 20. In the Gamecocks’ biggest win of the season, against rival Clemson, Kroeger averaged 53 yards on seven punts, and four were downed inside the 10.
KR: Anthony Gould, Oregon State
An injury cost Gould the last two games of the season, but he still produced a pair of punt returns for touchdowns, an 80-yarder and 55-yarder. The 5-8, 165-pound redshirt sophomore led the country in punt return average (18.6 yards) and always seemed to be making big plays for the 9-3 Beavers. He also was second on the team with 27 catches and had three touchdowns, one a 74-yarder.
ESPN’s 2022 college football All-America team