Despite what the numbers say, only 1 Big Ten team can win it all in 2022
This week, Bud Elliott of 247Sports unveiled his formula to narrow the field of 2022 national championship contenders down to 15 teams.
That theory: a national championship can only be won by a team whose roster consists of more 4- and 5-star recruits than 3-stars or lower. He terms it the Blue-Chip Ratio, and it’s proven true every year Elliott has been tracking the data since 2011.
Every recent national champion has had more “blue-chip” recruits on its roster than “regular” talent. Others have come close — Cincinnati reached the CFP without meeting those parameters last season, as did Oregon and Michigan State in the mid-2010s. But none of those teams finished the deal.
When it comes to the upcoming season, Elliott found 15 teams that meet the talent requirement, including 3 in the Big Ten: Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
— 247Sports (@247Sports) July 13, 2022
The data doesn’t lie, but in this case, it’s certainly deceptive. Mathematically speaking, Michigan and Penn State qualify as contenders.
But Ohio State is the only Big Ten team capable of winning a national championship this season.
Wolverines’ defense missing teeth
Michigan is the defending Big Ten champ, but the Wolverines are not constructed to mount a successful title defense.
Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Daxton Hill were all taken within the first 45 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft. Only Georgia’s record-setting defense is losing more NFL talent next season. Beyond that, all 7 Michigan players who recorded at least 3 tackles for loss last season need replacing.
Michigan’s offense should be less vanilla than its 2021 version. The return of Ronnie Bell and the potential development of Andrel Anthony could make Michigan a more dangerous downfield passing team than expected.
But it was Michigan’s defense that was primarily responsible for beating Ohio State for the first time in a decade. And that star-studded defense was totally overwhelmed against Georgia’s offense in the CFP. Even if more pieces were returning, the Wolverines are clearly a step behind the CFP’s true contenders in recruiting.
Penn State can’t block
James Franklin recruited the nation’s No. 6 signing class in 2022, and Penn State’s group of 2023 commits currently rank 5th according to 247 Sports. Come 2024, the Nittany Lions may be squarely in the discussion of legitimate national championship contenders.
On the other hand, Penn State may well be in the same discussion as Texas and Texas A&M.
“What do you have to show for all this talent?”
In order to prevent that outcome, Franklin needs to find some offensive linemen. Or an offensive line coach. Quite possibly both.
Penn State ranked 113th nationally in 2021 with 92 tackles for loss allowed. The Nittany Lions were an even worse 117th in yards per carry. And it’s not a running back issue — Penn State was dead last in the B1G with 34 sacks allowed. Just as it was in 2020.
Penn State is poised to go beyond its current 55% blue-chip ratio moving forward. The Nittany Lions are likely to climb into the 60th percentile or above next season. As noted, it should make them formidable in years to come. But there’s no way Penn State is a title contender in 2022.
The Buckeyes have all the pieces
It’s Buckeyes or bust for the Big Ten’s 2022 national title hopes.
Based on Elliott’s formula, Ohio State is 2nd behind Alabama with an 80% blue-chip ratio. So that’s already a significant leg up on the majority of the competition.
But this year’s Buckeyes will be a rare combination of talent and experience. Ohio State is the Big Ten leader in returning production. With the exception of wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, pretty much every key Buckeye is back from last season. That includes Heisman finalist CJ Stroud at quarterback.
— The OHIO Podcast (@TheOHIOPod) July 4, 2022
If new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles can plug the leaks Ohio State’s defense sprung against Oregon and Michigan, the Buckeyes will be in the CFP. And they’ll be capable of winning it.
Can Mel Tucker break the formula?
There is a potential Achilles’ heel to the blue-chip ratio formula. In his article discussing the ratio, Elliott admits that the transfer portal creates a wrinkle that could affect the calculation in the future.
As he notes, USC’s blue-chip ratio for 2022 actually went down because not enough members of its touted transfer class were 4- or 5-star recruits when they signed. Despite that being the case, no one is disputing that Lincoln Riley’s first USC team is better than last year’s Trojans on paper.
And when it comes to potentially beating the system, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker has a leg up on Riley. Tucker hit the transfer portal liberally in Year 2 and the Spartans finished 9th in the country. He went back to the well this offseason to bolster multiple spots on the roster.
Michigan State is also just a hair behind Ohio State in terms of returning production, with 72% of contributors back.
Could it be enough to sneak the Spartans into this year’s national championship discussion?
It certainly feels unlikely without dramatic improvement in the secondary. Michigan State was the first college defense since Oklahoma in 2018 to allow more than 4,000 passing yards in a season — and the Sooners played 14 games that year.
But even if Michigan State is drastically improved against the pass, there’s a perception the Spartans are due to come back to earth this season.
According to the analytics, Michigan State was 2.48 wins above what its team stats would typically produce.
Biggest over-performers in 2021: pic.twitter.com/QzeLZ11W9D
— parker (@statsowar) July 11, 2022
Maybe it was luck. Or maybe it was Tucker pushing the right buttons at the right time, every time. But the numbers suggest Michigan State was more like an 8-4 team last season.
So if the Spartans are going to be a dark-horse title contender, Tucker has 2 sets of formulas to break.