As we gear up for spring practices and start our projections for next college football season, one thing is clear: Everything is murky in the race for the College Football Playoff.

Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State should be the three best teams in the country next year, but everything else is a crapshoot beyond that. So many teams could turn into immediate contenders if they find the one final piece to their respective puzzles.

We're here to sift through those title hopefuls and what they need to rise closer to the defending champion Bulldogs, runner-up Crimson Tide and loaded Ohio State Buckeyes.

In some cases, it's a player or position. In others, it's something intangible. They're all massively important, though.


Clemson: Passing Attack

Given how sturdily Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has built his powerhouse program, there are no excuses for last year's offensive blip on the radar.

The Tigers managed to go 10-3, but they missed out on the ACC championship game because of their offense. After Trevor Lawrence left for the NFL, they couldn't get what they needed at quarterback.

Former 5-star recruit D.J. Uiagalelei looked nothing like the promising prospect he was 2020 when Lawrence missed games with COVID-19. Instead, he completed only 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Clemson had a dearth of receiving playmakers, and the running game was inconsistent at the beginning of the season, but Uiagalelei has to play better regardless. The Tigers ranked 103rd nationally in passing offense.

That won't be good enough for new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter. With former coordinator Tony Elliott now the head coach at Virginia, Streeter is tasked with authoring a massive improvement. If Uiagalelei can't do it, 5-star prospect Cade Klubnik is on campus ready to compete.

There's no questioning Uiagalelei's talent. The 6'4", 250-pound California quarterback is a big man with a big arm. If things start clicking the way they seemed to be toward the end of last season, a turnaround is likely.

If Uiagalelei plays up to his potential, Clemson should be right back in the championship mix.


Houston Cougars: Offensive Line

If you want a Cinderella candidate for 2022, look no further than Cincinnati's AAC title game foe, the Houston Cougars.

Perhaps BYU could rise to the occasion again, but Dana Holgorsen's team is built to compete for big things this season as Cincinnati rebuilds.

With veteran Clayton Tune back to run a stellar ship at quarterback and star running back Alton McCaskill IV helping to carry the load, Houston has weapons on that side of the ball. The Cougars somehow got through the offseason without another team stealing defensive coordinator Doug Belk, too.

But no matter how good Tune and McCaskill are on offense, they need the time and space to do their thing. Houston's offensive line was putrid last year, allowing 38 sacks (tied for 111th nationally).

In the ACC title game, the Cougars ran the ball 47 times and averaged less than two yards per carry. The Bearcats also sacked Tune eight times.

Even though the Cougars lost three seniors on the offensive line, a shakeup on the depth chart may be just what they need. A huge season could catapult them into preparing for their foray into the Big 12. But Holgorsen and Co. need to rebuild the O-line in a hurry, and where are the reinforcements?

Houston has only three offensive linemen entering in the 2022 class and no transfers. If the answers are in-house, they'll need to show up early.


Michigan Wolverines: Replacing Edge Presence

With its tumultuous offseason finally settled, Michigan can now turn its attention back to the field. It has just as many question marks there, too.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh flirted hard with the NFL before returning to Ann Arbor and signing a new five-year contract. Michigan also endured the PR fallout from offensive coordinator Josh Gattis heading to Miami and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald returning to the NFL.

Despite the uncertainty on the sideline, the Wolverines need to get things squared away on the field to return to the College Football Playoffs. They have a quarterback battle between the two incumbents who shared snaps last season, but the bigger issue is on the other side of the ball.

Michigan terrorized quarterbacks with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, but both of those guys are now off to the NFL. Where does that leave the Wolverines?