Football is back! College ball is, anyway. The NCAA Football season is right around the corner (sorry, Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State, but we’re looking at mostly FBS teams here). This is going to be a big year in college football, headlined by the brand new playoff system being used to determine the National Champions instead of the BCS. Who will make it to the playoffs? Who are some teams to look out for?
Just in the first week of the season, there are plenty of storylines to get interested in. Florida State will be leading off the season in Jerry World against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, although when you compare the two teams, it should be pretty apparent who the likely winner is (we’ll get to bigger Florida State stories later on). There are some good match-ups though, including South Carolina hosting the Manziel-less Texas A&M Aggies in Columbia on Thursday night. The Gamecocks are entering the post-Clowney/post-Shaw era, but Steve Spurrier is an amazing coach and they are still in better shape than an Aggies team without Johnny Football and Mike Evans. Wisconsin will be facing off against LSU, pitting two strong teams against each other in Houston. Of course the SEC is the strongest conference in the land, but LSU’s quarterbacking issues are even more apparent than the Badgers’, who will be starting Tanner McEvoy over last year’s starter, Joel Stave (in my opinion, a great call by Gary Andersen). Just a tip, LSU, two quarterback systems almost NEVER work.
The playoff system will of course, as previously mentioned, be the biggest story of this college football season. The BCS, while I was a supporter of it, was much maligned and the people demanded a playoff, and now the people have what they want (even though I believe it is not going to work out). Multiple subplots play into the overall College Football Playoff storyline, including who is going to be picked to be a semifinalist, and of course who will be the eventual national champion. There is a great deal of fear that certain conferences will be getting preferential treatment over others when it comes to being selected for the playoffs (we’re looking at you, SEC). If a one-loss SEC team were to be selected over a potentially undefeated Big 12 team, there is going to be an outcry like none other, even during the BCS era (I’ll be calling shenanigans, at least). The SEC may be the best conference, but if they’re going to get two teams in at the end of the season, there had better be no competition even close to that second team for the last spot.
The eventual National Champions? There is truly no way to accurately prognosticate that this early on without guessing and getting it correct by pure luck. Of course, some teams are already better than others (Florida State comes to mind, as does Alabama), but strange things happen every week in college football, upsets can ruin a chance at a title game and make a season for someone else. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that Florida State, while they did lose several key players from last year, including Devonta Freeman, Kelvin Benjamin and Lamarcus Joyner, still have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner on their side, has to be the favorite heading into the season, but there are some sleeper teams who I think could shock the world (the Baylor Bears come to mind). Alabama of course is the SEC favorite right now, but as we’ve seen in the last few years, they can be prone to upsets. It wouldn’t completely shock me if another team from the SEC won the conference, although I will admit that it is hard to count out any team coached by Nick Saban (unless, of course, you’re the 2006 Miami Dolphins).
Every year, Heisman Trophy watch lists are made and people speculate which player will end up winning, but it’s incredibly difficult to try to guess the winner, similarly to trying to pick the National Champion in college sports (remember when
the media ESPN was hyping up Jadeveon Clowney as a possible Heisman winner?), but there are clearly some good bets for who will win it this season, and unsurprisingly, they’re all quarterbacks. The aforementioned Winston was the 2013 winner, but no player has ever won twice other than Archie Griffin, and when you consider everything that Famous Jameis has gone through, you would not expect him to win again. There’s Marcus Mariota at Oregon, who has actually been considered by some to be a better NFL prospect at this point than Winston. I like Mariota, but Oregon is going to need to have a really good season (i.e. Pac-12 Champions type season) for Mariota to have a shot. UCLA’s Brett Hundley has been mentioned plenty of times as a candidate as well throughout the sports world, and I think he is a dark horse contender to win the Heisman. I personally believe he is going to be star one day in the NFL, although he is still somewhat green at this point in his career. It would not surprise me, however, to see Hundley take the world by storm this season, I truly believe he can be that good (for those of you not acquainted with Hundley’s game, here is a highlight tape for you).
There are a few teams to definitely keep an eye on this season. As I’ve mentioned here and over on Rock Chalk Talk, I truly believe that Baylor is the best team in the Big 12, better than Oklahoma, and will win the conference. They have a high powered offense and a steady defense, watch out for them to make it to the College Football Playoff. As was previously mentioned, Wisconsin will be starting a new quarterback this season, and with one of the nation’s better running backs in Melvin Gordon, in a conference where Ohio State will be missing their star quarterback and the two Michigan schools are question marks, they could win the Big Ten. It will not be an easy road, but it would not surprise me at all to see Wisconsin come out on top of the Big Ten this season. One team that you can expect to regress in 2014 is UCF, who lost Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson to the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL in this year’s draft. No top-tier QB and lacking a true play-making running back (at this point) is going to be very tough for the Knights to over come. They are on the way up overall, but this looks to be a down year for George O’Leary’s squad.
That is it for our very brief season preview for the 2014 college football season. There is a lot we did not touch on, however I’ll be covering the season from kickoff until the national champion is crowned right here on Press Box Opinions. It’s been a long wait, but football is finally back, and not a minute too soon.