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Boardroom Predicts the Biggest College Football Trends of the 2022 Season

From NIL to the transfer portal to NFT activations to third-party collectives, we don our college football predictions hat to project every breakout trend we’ll see in 2022.

The past year in college sports has uploaded an entirely new vocabulary into the lexicon — NIL, pay to play, third-party collectives — forcing all of us to reckon with the shifting sands of an amateur sports landscape whose intrigue goes far, far beyond the mysteries of the transfer portal.

With that in mind, Boardroom convened for a heady brainstorm about what the next wave of innovations might look like specifically in college football, be they related to money, technology, conference realignment, luxury automobiles, awards season, or absolutely none of the above.

Behold, a host of college football predictions — from the plausible to the brazen to the patently utterly absurd — as the 2022 season catches fire.

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MICHAEL EHRLICH: Private jets and luxury cars will become the new norm in recruiting content wars.

In years past, programs would flex on their hosted recruits with tours of their state-of-the-art athlete lounges and training facilities — equipped with perks like personal TVs in every locker, gaming consoles, barber shops, massage chairs, and more — but as recruiting, the transfer portal and name, image, and likeness opportunities are leveling up the off-field competition between programs, so will the content wars.

This offseason, for instance, the Louisville Cardinals hosted their biggest recruiting weekend in program history, treating prospects and their families to a dinner in a private jet hangar with content captured on planes and in luxury cars for recruits to post on their own social media channels. Perception is reality — especially as athletes continue to build their personal brands via social media — so prepare to watch as more programs follow suit and offer new levels of premium content-capture opportunities in luxury vehicles, whether on land, air, or sea.

SAM DUNN: We’re getting NFT helmet stickers.

Starting in 2022, programs like Ohio State will supplement the traditional use of helmet stickers with a public database of virtual NFT helmets for each player authenticated and maintained on a blockchain network. Each helmet sticker — 3D-scanned and verified with laser imaging technology to reflect its correct position on the player’s helmet down to the millimeter — will be an interactive NFT in itself, explaining to the user what the player did to earn it and when.

As usage rights allow, the plays that earned the sticker will be packaged with each Helmet Sticker NFT as multimedia collectibles similar to the format of NBA Top Shot and NFL All Day.

RUSSELL STEINBERG: At least two more Power 5 teams will announce conference changes by the end of the season.

Brett McMurphy has already reported that Oregon and Washington have had discussions with the Big Ten, though nothing formal seems imminent, but at this point, we all know how fast this conference realignment stuff moves. Out west, the UCLA and USC news broke seemingly out of nowhere. With a report earlier this week that Texas and Oklahoma may leave the Big 12 early for the SEC, the wheels of realignment may once again kick into overdrive.

It might be the Ducks and Huskies headed to the Big Ten. It might be the SEC poaching from the ACC. It might be something entirely unforeseen. It just feels like things are really about to pick up.

EHRLICH: NIL will allow more athletes will retire to focus on physical and mental health.

Prior to the season, LSU quarterback Myles Brennan retired after a string of injuries derailed his past two seasons spent trying to fill the shoes of Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, and reigning AFC champion Joe Burrow. Last summer, Brennan signed multiple NIL deals (Raising Canes, Smoothie King, and GameCoin, among others) that saw no on-field return on their investment — but since NIL deals cannot have “pay to play” requirements or incentives, the now-former Bayou Bengals signal-caller gets to keep his earnings, helping to jump-start his next chapter after football.

NIL will allow more athletes across all sports — but especially football — to prioritize their physical and mental health with the opportunity to retire and focus on off-the-field opportunities. The question is whether brands will be more hesitant to sign deals as a result, or whether they’d consider mounting lobbying efforts to get laws on the books that would serve to protect their investments therein.

DUNN: Countless players will follow in the footsteps of Kool-Aid McKinstry and DeColdest Crawford and ink NIL deals related directly to their names and/or nicknames.

Seriously, a man named Decoldest joining forces with an HVAC company is the most perfect, natural team-up since Bunk and McNulty.

This season, I humbly predict literally every single one of these deals taking place:

  • Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong and Planet Fitness
  • UCF TE Kemore Gamble and FanDuel Sportsbook
  • Auburn DE/DT Colby Wooden and Lumber Liquidators
  • Boston College WR Zay Flowers and FTD Florists
  • Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and Goorin Bros. Hat Shop
  • Boston College OL Christian Mahogany and Wayfair
  • Iowa State WR Xavier Hutchinson and the X-Men franchise
  • Kansas State OL Cooper Beebe and Daisy Outdoor Products
  • Auburn RB Tank Bigsby and General Dynamics
  • Notre Dame OL Blake Fisher and Bass Pro Shops
  • USC WR Mario Williams and Nintendo
  • Oregon OL TJ Bass and Legal Sea Foods
  • Houston QB Clayton Tune and Guitar Center
  • Ole Miss RB Ulysses Bentley IV and Rolls Royce (gotta keep ’em guessing)
  • Michigan WR Ronnie Bell and Amazon Ring
  • Ohio State OL Dawand Jones and Ollivander’s Wand Shop (the actual retail store at Universal Studios’ “Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” not the fictional place from the books)
  • USC OL Andrew Vorhees and the Friday the 13th franchise
  • Clemson DT Bryan Reese and Reese’s, duh!
  • NC State LB Drake Thomas and OVO Sound
  • Kentucky OL Kenneth Horsey and Churchill Downs
  • LSU DT Laquelin Roy and HBO’s Succession
  • Washington OL Jaxson Kirkland and Costco

As Mitch Hedberg prophesied, this would be like watching a forklift lifting a crate of forks.

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STEINBERG: We will have a more orderly transfer season this year.

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced it was adding transfer windows to all sports — two periods of time per year during which athletes may enter the portal with the intent to transfer to another school. For football, the windows will be in the first 45 days after (1) the College Football Playoff selections are made and (2) after spring practices end.

With the “one-year no-sit rule” in effect for transfers, there will still be plenty of players in the portal, but don’t expect as many as last year with these set, limited periods in place.

While talking heads scream about a transfer epidemic across sports, many ignore that last year was truly unique. First, it was the very first year of NIL monetization; that means many athletes made their college decisions without NIL in mind — it didn’t exist when they signed their letters of intent. With football being the most lucrative of all college sports by several orders of magnitude, that has to factor into elite players’ decisions. They could not make their college decisions fully informed. 

Secondly, look at the timeline. Last year’s freshmen entered college in Fall 2021, which means most of them committed sometime in the middle of 2020 when the pandemic was at its height. Countless players committed to schools without visiting them and countless coaches offered scholarships to players without ever seeing them live. Put together, that made for a lot of bad matches.

The portal wave of 2021 was the system self-correcting. Don’t expect this to be another record year for transfers.

EHRLICH: A non-QB will win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Before DeVonta Smith earned the honor in 2020, it had been five years since a non-QB won the Heisman (Derrick Henry, 2015). This year’s crop of signal callers is quite strong — headlined by reigning winner Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Caleb Williams — but there are a plethora of non-QBs who could make a run at the trophy. Alabama LB Will Anderson Jr. is probably the best overall player in the country and has the best shot to become the first full-time defensive player (sorry Charles Woodson) to win; however, watch out for Texas RB Bijan Robinson, Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen and Kansas State RB Deuce Vaughn to make some Heisman noise this season.

DUNN: Fired coaches will earn exponentially more in buyout money than athletes will earn in NIL money.

This might be true literally forever unless something gives. But here’s a hail mary — it will come to be considered completely normal for schools to pay structured buyouts to three different fired coaches at the same time.

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