We’re about a week away from the start of the 2015 college football season, so I thought it would be useful to preview the upcoming year for the Breslanta following. Here are some of the storylines you should be following as the best time of the year gets going again.
Yet again, the Clemson Tigers start the season with a legitimate chance to be a national champion. Will quarterback Deshaun Watson stay healthy and lead the Tigers to an ACC title and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff, or will we see yet another example of Clemsoning™?
And then there’s Florida State. The young Seminoles might be a year off, but they return plenty of talent. They start the year as the highest-ranked ACC team at No. 10 in the AP Poll.
With some pretty hefty allegations swirling around head coach Art Briles, the Bears will have to avoid distractions if they want to make it to the Promised Land. After getting left out of last year’s College Football Playoff, Baylor starts the 2015 season ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Poll, so expectations are high.
Controversy in Columbus
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones may very well win the Heisman Trophy in 2015, or he might not start a single game. Head coach Urban Meyer hasn’t said whether Jones or J.T. Barrett will be named the Buckeyes’ starter, but Cleveland.com seems to think it won’t be the guy who led OSU to its first national title since 2002.
Don’t look for UAB
The University of Alabama-Birmingham ended its football program at the end of last season, so don’t look for the Blazers on the field. But the absence will be short-lived; after a public outcry, the program announced it would return in 2017.
Many experts believe the SEC East will be among the weakest divisions in the nation, alongside the ACC Coastal and Big Ten West, at least if you believe Vegas’ predictions. What happens if Missouri backs off, Tennessee disappoints and Florida stays bad? That could leave Georgia as the lone dog (pun intended) in a sea of mediocrity.
A rule change: players who attempt to push or pull opponents off a pile during a fumble will be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of 15 yards.
Gus Bus refuels
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn learned the hard way last year that life in the SEC West isn’t always a cakewalk, and after a disappointing 8-5 season in 2014, the Tigers are looking to get back on top of the conference. Despite losing a starting quarterback, running back, center and wide receiver, Auburn starts the year ranked No. 6, suggesting it’s more likely that the Tigers will reload than rebuild.
Another new rule change: if a defensive player loses his helmet in the final minute of a half, there will be a 10-second runoff of the game clock. Also, the play clock will be set at 40 seconds, as opposed to the old rule of 25 seconds.
Many believe that the winner of this year’s Iron Bowl – Auburn vs. Alabama – will be the winner of the highly competitive SEC West. If you’re keeping score at home, Alabama has won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams.
How long will it take Michigan’s new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, to return the Wolverines to glory? After a 5-7 season in 2014, it might take some time.
Florida State got huge news in the offseason when kicker Roberto Aguayo announced he’d return to campus for his redshirt junior (fourth) season. In his first three years as a Seminole, Aguayo was an unbelievable 48-for-52 in field goal attempts, a success rate of 92.3 percent. He has never missed an extra point in his college career, going 149-for-149.
LSU’s head coach, believe it or not, is rumored to be on the hot seat, and may need a solid 2015 campaign to keep his job. Since the Tigers went to the BCS Championship game at the end of the 2011 season, LSU has turned in SEC records of 6-2, 5-3 and 4-4. Any further downturn would likely lead to fans demanding a change in the Bayou.
The Magnolia State was the darling of college football for much of the 2014 season after spending decades on the SEC’s back burner. But both Ole Miss and Mississippi State faded hard down the stretch, and despite chatter that both were destined for the playoff, neither made it. Now, both teams will hope to regroup and give it another shot, but neither starts the year ranked higher than No. 17.
Georgia’s star running back will be expected to shoulder the load of the Bulldogs’ running game in 2015 with Todd Gurley now departed to the NFL. As UGA continues to wrestle with a quarterback controversy, Chubb’s dominance over lowly SEC East opponents will be in the spotlight, and his good health will be crucial if the Dawgs are to make a title run.
Losing quarterback Marcus Mariota to the pros will likely lessen the chances of the Oregon Ducks getting back to the College Football Playoff, and a massive game against Michigan State on Sept. 12 looms large. If they can win that big test, however, Oregon might be off to the races again.
Put away the booze
Southern California head coach Steve Sarkisian used several dirty words at the Trojans’ kickoff event, getting him in trouble and inspiring this comical tweet about the alcohol-inspired outburst. At least I hope that tweet was a joke.
By the way, the Trojans are expected to be pretty good this year – they debuted at No. 8 in the AP preseason poll.
Quality of schedules
The marquee nonconference game is a dying breed, and that’s extremely evident in strength-of-schedule rankings. College Spun says Alabama has the toughest schedule in 2015, and while there’s no doubt that the difficulty of playing in the SEC West is a large factor in the Crimson Tide being No. 1 on this list, their non-con game against Wisconsin may have been the tilt that put them over the top.
Ohio State has a tall task ahead: since the BCS era began in 1998 and a national champion was decided on the field, rather than in the polls, only one school has won consecutive national titles. That was Alabama, in 2011 and ’12.
Sooner or later
It has been 14 seasons since Oklahoma won a national championship, and Sooner fans are getting impatient. They won’t exactly have momentum on their side to start the year – OU finished 8-5 in 2014 and had their doors blown off in the Russell Athletic Bowl by Clemson, 40-6.
This may be one of the most shocking stats of the decade: Texas Football hasn’t had double-digit wins in any season in the 2010s. They had nine consecutive seasons with double-digit win totals before that. Charlie Strong is still building the program back, but they’ll start the 2015 season unranked.
Last year, Northwestern University’s football players won the right to form a union, but that ruling was overturned earlier this month by the National Labor Relations Board. SB Nation says this would have given players the chance to obtain medical benefits through collective bargaining, and, among other benefits, the ability to negotiate pay for members of the football team.
Virginia Tech: spoilers again?
Ohio State would’ve had a perfect 2014 season if the Hokies hadn’t rolled into Columbus and stunned ’em in Week 2. Now, the Buckeyes have a chance to return the favor when they go to Blacksburg on Sept. 7. Leave work early and make sure you’re watching as soon as the broadcast begins, because when “Enter Sandman” starts blaring at Lane Stadium at exactly 8 p.m., it may be the most raucous rendition of that famed tradition you’ll ever see.
Why not TCU?
There won’t be an angrier team in college football this season, and that makes the Horned Frogs really dangerous. They start the year ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and have All-American quarterback Trevone Boykin back and leading that high-powered offense, so the offense that scored 46.5 points per game a year ago will be clicking and looking for a berth in the playoff.
X’ed out of the playoff
Many experts believe that the selection committee will take one team from four separate “Power 5” conferences for the four-team playoff, as long as circumstances allow it. Last year, the Big 12 was shut out. Who will it be this year? Early money is on the ACC, but if Florida State, Georgia Tech or Clemson can run the table, it’ll be hard to leave them out.
After turning in seven consecutive 9-win seasons – second-best of any school in the FBS subdivision during that time-span – Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was shown the door. He’ll start fresh with the Penguins this year, a team that will likely have lower expectations than he saw in Lincoln.
Zeke for Heisman
Vegas says Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy this season, and that star power will be valuable in the Buckeyes’ backfield as they work on that quarterback controversy (see, “C”). The junior carried the ball 273 times for 1,878 yards in 2014, and he’ll need another stellar season if OSU will repeat in 2015.
Image via mhermher.blogspot.com