We’ve reached the midpoint of the 2022 college football season, and some new faces — both teams and players — have navigated their way to the front of the line.
Tennessee is unbeaten and ranked No. 3, the Vols’ highest in-season AP ranking since 2001. Ole Miss also is unbeaten and the No. 7 Rebels have won 11 straight regular-season games dating back to last year. TCU and UCLA cracked the AP top 10 this week. It’s the highest ranking for the Horned Frogs (No. 8) since 2017 and the highest for the Bruins (No. 9) since 2015.
The fresh faces extend to ESPN’s midseason All-America team, which includes only five players who were on our preseason team. Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee each placed two players on the team. Overall, the 26 players selected on offense, defense and special teams come from 23 teams:
QB: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are special players, but Hooker gets the nod. The fifth-year senior has been the heart and soul of Tennessee’s resurgence. He’s third nationally among Power 5 quarterbacks in total offense (350.7 yards per game) and has accounted for 18 touchdowns with just one interception, and he’s done it without his most accomplished receiver (Cedric Tillman) for much of the season.
RB: Blake Corum, Michigan
The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Corum is a dynamo. Opposing defenses know he’s going to get the ball, and it doesn’t matter. He just keeps piling up the yardage. Corum has 666 of his 901 rushing yards in his past four games and has rushed for an FBS-leading 13 touchdowns. He leads all Power 5 running backs with 11 runs of 20 yards or longer and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
RB: Bijan Robinson, Texas
One of Robinson’s many specialties is making defenders miss. Pro Football Focus has him No. 1 among Power 5 backs when it comes to creating missed tackles. The 6-foot, 222-pound junior, who is a carryover from our preseason team, also catches the ball like a wide receiver. He’s the only FBS player to have more than 700 rushing yards (780) and 200 receiving yards (239). He has 11 total touchdowns, including 10 on the ground, and has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his past five games.
WR: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
When has Ohio State not been loaded with talented receivers? Emeka Egbuka and Harrison have formed an explosive one-two punch with Jaxon Smith-Njigba slowed by a hamstring injury. Harrison, a 6-4, 205-pound sophomore, is tied for second among Power 5 players with nine touchdown catches and is averaging 17.3 yards per catch. He has the most targets (46) without a drop in the Power 5, according to Pro Football Focus.
WR: Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Hyatt has been one of college football’s most compelling stories and also one of the nation’s most improved players. He torched Alabama with a school-record five touchdown catches and has 10 touchdowns for the season. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior has elite speed and has been much more consistent in every area of his game. He had made just two career starts prior to this season and has stepped in for the injured Tillman as the Vols’ go-to receiver.
T: Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
Johnson’s move from guard to left tackle has been a big reason Ohio State’s offense has been as explosive as ever. The Buckeyes rank first nationally in scoring offense (48.8 points per game) and have given up just three sacks. The 6-6, 310-pound Johnson, one of the three offensive linemen who also made our preseason team, hasn’t allowed a sack since the 2020 season, and his tackle cohort on the right side, Dawand Jones, also is a top NFL prospect.
G: Nick Broeker, Ole Miss
This is Broeker’s third straight season as a starter, and he has blossomed as the Rebels’ starting left guard after playing left tackle as a sophomore and junior. Lane Kiffin’s offenses always run the ball effectively, and the 6-5, 315-pound Broeker has been a mauler. Ole Miss is third nationally in rushing (271.4 yards per game), and Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans have made a living running behind Broeker.
C: John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
One of college football’s most experienced and dominant interior offensive linemen, the 6-4, 320-pound Schmitz has 29 career starts. The sixth-year senior has helped clear the way for Mohamed Ibrahim, who is fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (138.8). Schmitz’s 91.2 run-block grade, according to Pro Football Focus, leads all other centers by a wide margin. Schmitz is a carryover from our preseason team.
G: Steve Avila, TCU
After starting 11 games at center a year ago, Avila shifted to left guard this season. He’s the unquestioned leader of the TCU offensive line and has played his way into being a top NFL prospect. A 6-4, 330-pound senior, Avila has made starts during his career at center, guard and tackle. His play in the interior of the TCU offensive line has helped the unbeaten Frogs move into the top 25 nationally in both rushing and passing offense.
T: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Wildcats have struggled, but Skoronski continues to play his left tackle position as well as anybody in the country. The 6-4, 315-pound junior has been a fixture in the Northwestern lineup since his true freshman season in 2020, when he stepped in for Rashawn Slater. Skoronski, who also made our preseason team, has the footwork and strength to play anywhere on the offensive line, but he has excelled at tackle.
TE: Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
There are a lot of good tight ends to choose from. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid and Georgia’s Brock Bowers are both having big years, but Mayer has been the most complete tight end to this point. He leads Notre Dame in catches (33), receiving yards (351) and touchdown catches (five). The 6-4, 265-pound junior is a good runner after the catch and more than holds his own as a blocker.
All-purpose: Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
The transfer from Georgia Tech has been invaluable for an Alabama offense that has had to rely far too much on Young. Gibbs is the only FBS player with more than 600 rushing yards (635), 200 receiving yards (268) and 150 return yards (164). He has five rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns and is one of those players who looks like he’s going to score every time he touches the ball.
DE: Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
Tuipulotu has been one of the most disruptive defenders in the Pac-12 after earning first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore. The 6-4, 290-pound Tuipulotu is athletic enough that he can do a little bit of everything. He leads all FBS defensive linemen with 12.5 tackles for loss and leads all Power 5 defensive linemen with seven sacks.
DT: Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
A dominant pass-rusher on the interior, Kancey had 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Georgia Tech and heads into the second half of the season with a total of 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks while generating six quarterback hurries. The 6-foot, 280-pound Kancey has also freed up other teammates to make plays because he’s constantly facing double teams and crushing the pocket.
DE: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
Chris Klieman’s Wildcats (5-1) are contending in the Big 12 and their defense has led the way. They’re ranked 14th nationally in scoring defense (16.7 points per game), and the 6-4, 255-pound Anudike-Uzomah has picked up right where he left off a year ago. He has 6.5 sacks (11 last season) and two forced fumbles (six last season), and his constant pressure off the edge has fueled Kansas State’s stifling defense.
LB: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. returns interception 25 yards to the house.
Alabama used Anderson a little differently in the loss to Tennessee, and he didn’t have big numbers, but he’s still one of the most feared defenders in college football and a player who must be accounted for on every play. The 6-4, 243-pound junior, the final carryover from our preseason team, is tied for sixth nationally with 10.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks. He has nine quarterback hurries, an interception return for a touchdown and blocked a field goal attempt in the 1-point win over Texas.
LB: Jack Campbell, Iowa
Campbell is a fierce leader and competitor and has been one of college football’s most productive defenders from his middle linebacker position the past two years. The 6-5, 246-pound senior has 63 tackles, including three for loss, and recorded a safety in Iowa’s 7-3 win over South Dakota State. Campbell’s presence in the middle is a big reason the Hawkeyes have held opponents to just two rushing TDs this season.
LB: Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
Pace didn’t have to look far for his new home, and his transfer from Miami (Ohio) has paid dividends for both him and Cincinnati. After opening the season at outside linebacker, the 6-foot, 235-pound senior has created havoc from his middle linebacker position and is tied for the FBS lead with 12.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks. He’s been remarkably consistent with an average of 10.3 tackles per game.
LB: Drew Sanders, Arkansas
The Alabama transfer — and a player the Tide could use right now on defense — moved to inside linebacker at Arkansas and has been a force for the Hogs. His defensive coordinator, Barry Odom, says the 6-5, 233-pound junior is playing at an “elite” level, and Sanders’ numbers back up those words. He has 7.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, and has forced three fumbles. He ranks fourth in the SEC with 63 total tackles.
CB: Clark Phillips III, Utah
Phillips has started every game since he came to Utah, including all five games during the 2020 shortened season when he was a freshman. During that time, Phillips has developed into one of the top corners in the country and is tied for the FBS lead with five interceptions this season. He had interception returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games earlier this season against Oregon State and UCLA.
CB: Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
Wherever the ball is, you’ll find Forbes. He’s one of the best cover cornerbacks in the country and already has five interceptions this season to add to the three he had a year ago. The 6-foot, 180-pound junior has returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns this season against Texas A&M (33 yards) and Kentucky (59 yards) and has five pick-sixes in his Mississippi State career.
S: Christopher Smith, Georgia
It’s no secret how much talent the Dawgs lost on defense to the NFL last season, and they’ve also been hampered by injuries to some key players. But Smith’s consistency and experience have been vital to a Georgia defense that ranks second nationally in scoring defense (9.1 points per game) and third in total defense (247 yards per game). The 5-11, 195-pound senior has three tackles for loss, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
S: Jartavius Martin, Illinois
Illinois and Bret Bielema have something special brewing in Champaign, and it starts with a defense ranked first nationally in scoring defense (8.9 points per game). The Fighting Illini (6-1) have been especially hard on opposing passing games. They’ve allowed just two touchdown passes and collected 12 interceptions. Martin is part of a safety tandem along with Kendall Smith that has been terrific. Martin is second on the team in tackles (33) and has also intercepted two passes.
PK: Christopher Dunn, NC State
There’s perfect, and then there’s Christopher Dunn. He’s 14-of-14 on field-goal attempts and hasn’t missed an extra point this season. Eight of Dunn’s field goals have been from 40 yards or longer. The Wolfpack (5-2) would have a third loss had it not been for Dunn making all four of his field goals in the 19-17 win over Florida State. He kicked a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter of that game and the go-ahead 27-yarder with 6:33 to play.
P: Bryce Baringer, Michigan State
Baringer has been booming footballs seemingly forever in the Big Ten. He started his career at Illinois and is now in his sixth collegiate season. It’s been his best to this point, as he leads the country with a 51.4-yard average (the only FBS punter over 50 yards). He’s had seven of his 30 punts downed inside the 10-yard line and has a long of 70 yards, the best in the Big Ten this season.
KR: Eric Garror, Louisiana
Garror, a fifth-year senior cornerback, is the only FBS player with two punt returns for touchdowns. Garror had an 83-yard return for a score in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ opener against Southeastern Louisiana and took one back 69 yards for a touchdown against South Alabama. Garror is averaging 18.4 yards on 13 returns, and he also had a 34-yard return to set up a touchdown against Eastern Michigan.