College Football’s ‘Super Seniors’ to Watch in 2022 | Bleacher Report

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    Andres Leighton / Associated Press

    The COVID-19 pandemic may not have felt like it had as big of an impact in 2021 as it did in 2020. But one thing that came from COVID-19 that’s still in place is the NCAA’s eligibility rules from the 2020 season.

    Prior to that season, the NCAA announced that players wouldn’t use a year of eligibility if they played in 2020. So a junior in 2020 would still be classified as a junior in 2021.

    That means that for the 2022 season, there are a number of guys who will be returning for a fifth, “super senior” year of sorts.

    There were plenty of talented seniors in 2021, and a number of them opted to return for another season in 2022. Let’s run through college football’s top “super seniors” to watch next season.

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    Mark Humphrey / Associated Press

    Hendon Hooker was a former 4-star QB prospect out of Greensboro, North Carolina. He spent the first three seasons of his career at Virginia Tech, where he played in 21 games over three seasons.

    But transferring to Tennessee after the 2020 season turned out to be a good decision for the QB. Hooker had the best season of his collegiate career with the Vols in 2021. He threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns with just three interceptions and rushed for another five scores, as well.

    Hooker may have an even bigger season in 2022. Returning players alongside the Tennessee QB include leading rusher Jabari Small, Hooker’s go-to receiver in Cedric Tillman and four offensive linemen.

    Tennessee will be looking to improve on its 7-6 mark from 2021. Having Hooker come back next season is a great first step to do just that.

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    The Georgia Bulldogs will be looking to defend their 2021 national title next season. Having Christopher Smith return for the Dawgs’ defense will be a big key for UGA to do just that.

    Smith started just five games for Georgia during his first three seasons in Athens. But he had a breakout season in 2021, getting 34 total tackles and three interceptions last season in 11 starts. During Georgia’s Week 1 game against Clemson, Smith’s 74-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the Dawgs’ 10-3 win.

    His best game of the season came against Alabama in the CFP National Championship. Smith finished the game with seven total tackles, a third-quarter interception and helped block for Kelee Ringo on a game-sealing pick returned 70 yards for a touchdown.

    “What went into my decision to come back [was] ultimately I wanted to be able to have an opportunity to better myself as a player and as a leader, “Smith told 247Sports’ Jordan D. Hill of his decision to return in 2022.” That was one of my main reasons to come back. “

    Georgia will have to replace a lot of talent on defense next season. But Smith returning alongside William Poole and linebacker Nolan Smith is good veteran experience for a Dawgs unit that will experience some turnover.

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    Adam Bettcher / Associated Press

    Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim will return in 2022 after his 2021 season was cut short. In Week 1 of the season against Ohio State, Ibrahim rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns before rupturing his Achilles. The injury kept him out for the whole season.

    The Baltimore native has had a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Minnesota. As a freshman in 2018, he had 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns, the second-most for a Gopher freshman. But in his sophomore year, he had just 604 yards and seven touchdowns while splitting carries with Rodney Smith.

    As a junior in 2020 with Smith having departed, Ibrahim rushed for 1,076 yards and 15 scores. He put up those numbers despite playing in just seven games during the Big Ten’s shortened season. He finished the year as the conference’s leader in rushing yards, rush yards per game (153.7) and rushing touchdowns.

    When Ibrahim can stay healthy, he’s among the best running backs in the nation. 2022 might just be his best season of him yet.

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    Jacob Kupferman / Associated Press

    Wake Forest signal-caller Sam Hartman could have justifiably declared for the NFL draft after his 2021 season. Last season he threw for 4,228 yards, 39 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while leading the Demon Deacons to an 11-3 season. His 4,228 yards di lui were the fifth-most in ACC history and ranked seventh nationally, and 2021 was by far the best season statistically of his career di lui. The QB also led Wake to an ACC Championship Game appearance for the first time since 2006.

    Instead, Hartman opted to return to Wake for one more season as a super senior in 2022. That’s good news for Wake Forest, which will also get back leading receiver AT Perry. Perry finished the year with 1,293 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021. Wake Forest’s offensive line will be led by another super senior, Je’Vionte ‘Nash, in 2022.

    Maybe Hartman would have benefited from joining a 2022 NFL draft class that’s pretty low on quality QBs. But if he can put up similar numbers next season, Wake Forest should be fun to watch yet again.

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    Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has been in Happy Valley since starting his career in 2018 as a true freshman.

    Although Penn State had a down year in 2021, finishing 7-6 and fourth in the Big Ten East, Clifford had the best season of his Nittany Lion career. The QB threw for 3,107 yards and 21 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Clifford also became the only quarterback in Penn State history to have three games with 250 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in two separate seasons (2021 and 2019).

    The Cincinnati native has a chance to move up even further in Penn State’s school record books in 2022. Here’s more from Penn Live’s Daniel Gallen:

    “Another season will also allow Sean Clifford to build on some impressive career statistics and move up Penn State leaderboards. In his career, Clifford has 593 completions (No. 4 in program history) in 973 attempts (No. 4) for 7,644 yards ( No. 3) and 61 touchdowns (No. 2). He also ranks No. 3 all-time in career rushing yards by a quarterback (851 yards). “

    Clifford will have to deal with some key losses next season, though. Gone will be leading receiver Jahan Dotson, as well as running back Noah Cain.

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    I promise I am not including Arkansas’ linebacker Bumper Pool just because of his awesome name alone. But would you blame me if I did? Names aside, Pool returns to Arkansas’ defense in 2022 after having his best season in 2021. The linebacker finished with 125 total tackles, which led the defense, including 7.5 for loss.

    A two-time All-SEC linebacker, Pool had a breakout season as a junior in 2020 with 101 total tackles and 6.5 for loss.

    Pool returning to Fayetteville in 2022 is good news for Arkansas’ linebacking corps. Gone are Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry, who combined for 202 total tackles for the Razorbacks last season, so it’ll be Pool to lead the group as a super senior.

    “It’s weird just not having some of your closest friends at practice,” Pool told reporters earlier this month. “But now that I’m like the older guy it’s fun because I get to step into a leadership role and I’m kind of doing my best to work on that and continue to lead these young guys.”

    With Pool having the most experience of Arkansas’ linebackers in 2022, don’t be surprised if he has another huge season.

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    Similar to Sam Hartman on this list, Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec could have declared for the 2022 NFL draft. In fact, Mel Kiper Jr. listed the BC quarterback as the year’s No. 6 QB draft prospect (h / t the Boston Globe‘s Matt Doherty).

    But Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native, has decided to return for one more year at Chestnut Hill.

    In 2021, Jurkovec suffered a hand injury during the Eagles’ Week 2 game vs. UMass that required surgery. But he did get healthy enough to start in BC’s last four games of the season. On the year, he threw for 914 yards and seven touchdowns.

    During his 2020 season, his first season as the Eagles starter after transferring from Notre Dame, he threw for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

    Jurkovec, who checks in at 6’5 “, 226 pounds, has a chance to improve his draft stock with a full season in 2022.

    Also good news for Boston College and Jurkovec is that he’ll get his leading receiver, Zay Flowers, back next season. In Jurkovec’s full season as a starter in 2020, Flowers had 56 catches for 892 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

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    Penn State’s defense will get a boost in 2022 thanks to the return of safety Ji’Ayir Brown. The Trenton, New Jersey, native had a breakout year last season with 73 total tackles and six interceptions, a number that led the Big Ten. He had an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown against Maryland, which was the fifth-longest pick -six in Penn State school history. He had a game-sealing interception in Week 1 vs. Wisconsin, too.

    Brown’s collegiate career didn’t start with a lot of hype. 247Sports didn’t even have a rating for him in the class of 2018. His college football career began at JUCO Lackawanna Community College before he landed at Penn State in 2020. Brown has talked in the past about how being overlooked in the past has motivated him on the field.

    “It’s more of a mindset now — like a mentality thing,” he told 247Sports’ Tyler Donohue. “So I go into practice, I go into places I’ve never been before with just that mentality, mindset — like I’m an underdog here. Nobody expects me to do anything. I have to earn everything I get. So that’s been my mentality since high school — before I got to Lackawanna — just earn everything you get. Nothing is given. “

    Brown’s name could quickly climb up NFL draft boards if he builds on his 2021 performance.

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    Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Keytaon Thompson will be back in 2022. His quarterback, Brennan Armstrong is returning too, so the Cavs should have a big year on offense.

    Thompson has had an interesting career. He started at Mississippi State, where he was recruited as a quarterback. In Starkville, he played in just 17 games over three seasons, registering just 40 career completions.

    After graduating from Mississippi State, he transferred to Virginia in 2020, where he’s found success at wideout. Thompson was initially competing for the starting QB job during fall camp, but when a shoulder injury sidelined him, UVA coaches floated the idea of ​​him playing wideout.

    Thompson’s acceptance of the idea paid off. Through two seasons in Charlottesville, he has 84 receptions for 1,071 yards and five touchdowns. He’s taken carries out of the backfield and as a wildcat QB, too, rushing for 481 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Pro Football Reference ranks Thompson as the No. 7 returning wide receiver for 2022. Here’s what PFF says about what makes Thompson so great:

    “Thompson is also a versatile weapon who took some carries out of the backfield and as a wildcat quarterback. He produced seven explosive runs of 10 or more yards, broke 22 tackles and averaged 4.67 yards after contact per attempt on 39 designed runs this past season . Thompson’s new offensive coordinator Desmond Kitchings – who was the Atlanta Falcons running backs coach this past year – won’t be shy about using his versatility, given his experience with Cordarrelle Patterson. “

    For PFF, Thompson caught 14 of his 25 contested balls and broke 22 tackles. If the UVA coaches can figure out even more creative ways to get Thompson the ball, he could have a huge year in 2022.

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    If you don’t know Jake Haener’s name by now, you may want to get to know the Fresno State quarterback before next season. Haener will return for the Bulldogs in 2022 after throwing for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He finished ninth nationally in passing yards and was 11th in touchdowns thrown.

    He can air the ball out pretty well, too. On his career, Haener averages 8.5 yards per attempt.

    Haener arrived in Fresno in 2020 after starting his career in Washington, and it briefly looked like Haener was going to end his career there, too. He entered the transfer portal after the 2021 season, and it appeared he would follow his Bulldog head coach Kalen DeBoer to Washington. Ultimately Haener removed his name di lui from the portal and announced he’d be returning to Fresno State in 2022, though.

    If Haener puts up even bigger numbers in 2022, his NFL draft stock for 2023 could soar.

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