Certain things tend to stick out whenever the college football season approaches as the major talking points. They’ll be the lead stories on ESPN, the most frequent discussions on team message boards and yes, the topics most blogged about in writeups like this one. From now until the end of the season we’ll be hearing about these storylines and following the updates that go along with them. In the meantime, lets recap what we’ve done so far this off-season for any new readers…
Post National Signing Day Top 25
Also Parts 1-5 of the offseason preview that preceded this one can be found below:
Part 1: Ten Teams on the Rise
Part 2: Ten Teams Due For a Fall
Part 3: New Coaching Faces
Part 4: Replacing 2011′s Stars (CFB Replacements)
Part 5: Top 5 Non-AQs Not Named Boise St.
Part 6: Coaches Feeling The Heat
The Major Storylines of 2012 and a few others I am most intrigued by:
After a 2 year bowl ban in response to the Reggie Bush sanctions, the USC Trojans are back in the fold and figure to jump right back into the national championship chase. Matt Barkley, their senior quarterback who figured to be among the top picks in this spring’s NFL draft had he come out made it clear there was extra motivation in this bunch to “revenge” for their sanctions. A year ago the Trojans won 10 games and would have played for the PAC-12 title game if not for their ineligibility. Instead they’ll come back in 2012 with Barkley, arguably the best wide receivers core in America and an improving defense with a number of starters coming back from last year. Already they’re being considered the favorites to win the PAC-12 conference and there’s a good chance we could be treated to two Oregon-USC games this year if no upsets occur in the divisions. The sanctions posted against USC were supposed to hold them down for a couple years and there’s still a chance they could. USC has recruited well but in Barkley’s collegiate swan song, this has to be considered the Trojans best chance to win a national title in a while. All eyes will be on the Trojans to see if they can live up to the hype and get back to the juggernaut status they carried for the past decade. Buckle up America, the Trojans are back and coming with a vengeance.
TCU Steps Into the Big Leagues
One of the more popular debates in recent years has been the back and forth on the place in college football for non-AQ programs such as TCU and Boise St. who have seemingly found ways to allude a system designed to benefit the big 6 conferences. Both programs have made their name beating power conference (and often top 25 caliber) AQ teams in order to propel themselves up the national rankings and into position for BCS bowls. In fact both have claimed BCS wins over traditional power programs and may each have two if they weren’t forced to play one another in a Fiesta Bowl another year. Still, depending on which side of the fence you fall, many feel they simply don’t encounter enough on a week to week basis to warrant serious consideration for a national championship. Many in the sport feel that these two programs couldn’t hold up against power conference teams week after week. Boise St. will find out next year in all likelihood but TCU will get their crack at silencing the doubters this year in their debut season of the Big 12. TCU made headlines in the offseason for a drug raid that led to the dismissal of multiple players from their program. The loss of Ed Wesley to personal reasons also takes a little luster off their team. However, Gary Patterson has been considered an elite coach in the country for years and his defenses almost always have been potent. In perhaps the most prolific offensive league in America, TCU will face much more of a climb to the top of the league than they ever had in the Mountain West. As someone who has argued for TCU’s place for a number of years, I’m very excited to see them in action in one of the best league’s in the country.
New Sheriff In Columbus, Ohio
The last we saw of Urban Meyer he was patrolling the sidelines at Florida where he won two national championships, maintaining a national power and even won a BCS title over his current Buckeyes program. However now he’s back and ready to build Ohio St. back up after a less than stellar campaign in 2011. The Buckeyes will have a USC-type season from last year in 2012 as the punishment stemming from the Pryor/Tressel regime will go into effect this year with the Buckeyes exempt from postseason play which includes the ability to play in the Big Ten title game. However, that isn’t taming expectations from many, including myself , on the abilities of this Ohio St. team in 2012. Meyer came in guns a blazing right away tearing up the recruiting trail in his first offseason with an SEC-mentality, exhibiting relentless pressure on recruits which didn’t sit well with some other Big Ten coaches as he swooped in and scooped up recruits who weren’t firm in their commitments. The Buckeyes will have a lot back in the fold in 2012 with an experienced defense and a quarterback in Braxton Miller who though may cause headaches at times is unquestionably talented enough to make big strides in Urban Meyers’ offense. With no championships or banners to play for in 2012, expect Urban Meyer to really test the character of his players this season as they try and capture the Leaders division of the Big Ten. Frankly, the more and more I look at things, the less and less comfortable I would feel picking against them.
From Big 6 to Big 4?
With the introduction of a new four-team playoff system being implemented in 2014-2015, the biggest discussion beyond the selection committee and the criteria for them was who this system would favor. Immediately critics pointed out the lack of access it granted to smaller-conference schools who prior to this change could earn automatic status if they rose high enough in the BCS. However, with strength of schedule considered a key element in the discussion of selecting the four teams, many feel that smaller conference schools will have an almost impossible climb into the playoffs. With that said, some feel that not only were the smaller leagues punched in the gut with this new system but also the Big East and ACC. One concept discussed when a playoff format was being settled on was the idea of a champions-only model (one I never favored) in which the four highest ranked conference champs would earn automatic bids to the postseason. That ultimately was voted against though allowing leagues to earn multiple bids in a given year if they earned them. Not since the Pat White/Steve Slaton West Virginia teams has either conference put a team firmly in the national championship chase and the wide-spread speculation is that the quickly fading reputation of these two leagues could resort to them sliding in the context of fielding teams in the playoffs. With the each of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC-12 being candidates to have multiple teams in the playoff discussion in a given year, it really appears that only the Big East and ACC champ will be given any look when it comes to the field of four. What was once the “big six AQ conferences” has started to ever so slightly shift to four power leagues and unless proud programs such as Miami, FL, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and to a lesser extent Clemson and Louisville can find a way to put together an 11-1 or 12-0 campaign, they may find themselves out of the discussion in the early years of the new playoff format.
Same Faces, New Places
The on-going saga of conference realignment comes up again in 2012 as we see a number of teams changing leagues. We already touched on TCU a bit with their move to the Big 12 where they’ll be joined by West Virginia who comes over from the Big East. Temple returns to the Big East after a hiatus while Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State move to the Mountain West Conference this upcoming season. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst and The University of Texas-San Antonio both make their FBS debuts in 2012 as well with Umass joining in on the #MACtion fun while UTSA goes to the WAC conference. The two most high-profile moves were Texas A&M and Missouri’s exit from the Big 12 to the SEC making the SEC the first conference to move to 14 teams among the power conferences and raising expectations that we may in the short future be heading to four 16 team conferences. Beyond just the new change of scenery, A&M and Mizzou’s arrival also signaled a new format to SEC scheduling with only 2 cross-division games in league play and new “rivalries” between East and West teams that will be played annually. It will be interesting to see how these new arrivals across the country not only impact the programs but also the conference races they’ll be in the middle of.
Can Anyone Stop The SEC?
Starting with Florida over Ohio St. in 2006 up until last season with Alabama revenging a regular season loss to LSU, the SEC has laid claim to an unprecedented six consecutive national championships. From Tim Tebow to Mark Ingram to Cam Newton, there’s been a number of stars who have carried their programs to national championships. Despite the PAC-12, Big 12 and Big Ten all getting cracks at the SEC during that time frame, nobody has been able to overcome them in the title game which has only added to the boastful attitude of the conference. Last season was perhaps the breaking point for other conferences when (deservingly in my opinion) two SEC teams squared off in a rematch for the title. With some of the best coaches in the country, some of the nation’s best athletes and rabid fanbases that pack in the stadiums, it may take the league killing off each other for two non-SEC teams to get a shot at cracking the streak. Evidence has shown in recent years that the SEC doesn’t lose often in their big games and even going back to their non-title years, it’s been a decade since the SEC champ lost its BCS game to a non-SEC team. In 2012 Alabama and LSU are again the two favorites to compete for a national championship though Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia are perhaps outsiders with long shots to get there. One way or another, the college football world is ready to see this conference dynasty put to rest and teams such as Oregon, USC and Oklahoma may stand the best chance to finally do just that. I asked the question last year and the answer was “No.” I’ll probably ask it until I get a “Yes.”
Next Chapter at Penn State
After a nightmare year in 2011 that saw the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, firing of legendary head coach Joe Paterno and ousting of a number of high ranking school officials, Penn St. is ready to move on and change the course of conversation when their name comes up. With Jerry Sandusky’s conviction and pending jail sentence, the case is all but closed from a legal standpoint and now it’s just a matter of how long it lingers over the Nittany Lion program. Most of the people involved with the team last year have moved on as Bill O’Brien has come in to try and move Penn St. out of the dark shadows. Still one has to expect that this story won’t just fade away immediately and for at least a few years they’ll hear the whispers from around the college football world. Coach O’Brien has some work to do after Penn St. lost out on some prized recruits amid the investigation and the team that nearly played for the Big Ten title last year has some major turnover on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the first priority will be finding a quarterback to stick with as neither Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden did much to earn the coaches’ respect a year ago and neither could hold down the job consistently. The sex scandal was a major hit to the Penn St. program both on and off the field and many will see how they start the healing process under a new regime.
New Impact Freshman
De’Anthony Thomas. Sammy Watkins. Jadeveon Clowney. Marquise Lee. Across the country last year there were numerous freshman making major contributions to their teams’ success. With the amount of time, resources and energy that goes into recruiting, getting those freshman that can play right away has been what can separate the elite programs from those who fluctuate up and down. In 2012 there will be a new class of freshman coming in looking to make a name for themselves. Dorial Green-Beckham for one was on almost every major program’s radar coming into the season as the top WR prospect. While many thought he may end up at Arkansas, he ultimately decided to go to Missouri where he’d join a talented WR core with T.J Moe. With James Franklin developing into an emerging QB, Green-Beckham will be one to watch. Another freshman I’ll have my eye on is Wes Lunt. The Oklahoma St quarterback will take over for Brandon Weeden and look to continue the run of prolific offenses under Mike Gundy. He won’t have the talent at WR that Weeden had but he’s the most ready QB in camp to run Gundy’s up-tempo offense. These are just two of the many freshman this year to keep an eye on. By the end of the year we’re sure to learn plenty of new names.
Have any storylines you felt were left out? Share them in the comment section below. Check back in a week or so as we look at the five most appealing weekends of the college football season.