Ten Things - Season Preview
Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL Tags:
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My, my, my, how the offseason has flown by. Seems like just yesterday Jadaveon Clowney was clownin’ on the Wolverines, Manziel was making headlines for all the right reasons, and Manti T’eo was as nonexistent as his girlfriend at the national championship game. But the page has turned. The final chapter of the BCS comes to a close this year, as will the college careers of those who returned for their senior seasons (we’re looking at you, Tahj Boyd and Aaron Murray). But before we move ahead to the euphoric hallucination that is the playoff next season, let’s take some time to savor the moment and look at ten must-follow storylines of the 2013 season. So fire up the grills, paint the faces, and smack-talk the rivals – it’s football time!
1. Johnny Part II - By far the most dominant storyline of the offseason has been the off-field activities of one Johnny Manziel. Did he get money for autograph signings? Does he have issues with alcohol and anger? While those questions will have answers, Ten Things prefers to focus on the present and the positive. Assuming he pulls a Cam Newton and is absolved of all charges in every court except public opinion, he will get the honor of defending his Heisman win last season, where he racked up over 5,000 yards, 47 touchdowns, and most notably led the way for the lone defeat of eventual national champion Alabama. Will he be able to replicate his Heisman performance? History says no. Past underclassmen who have won (Mark Ingram, Tim Tebow, and Sam Bradford) never found favor with Heisman voters the second time around. But a player like Manziel is special. Many believe that if Cam Newton had stuck around another season he had a chance. Well, Johnny Football is back, and his style is similar. Let’s see if he can get the job done. An early season grudge match with the visiting Tide should (and will) be the standard by which the remainder of the season is measured.
2. BCS Finale - In the 15 year existence of the BCS, I can only recall a handful of times where the general feeling was that the system did its job (Miami-Ohio State and USC-Texas come to mind). Every other year it seemed there was some sort of controversy surrounding the two participants in the championship game – to say nothing of the other bowl participants. But with all of its faults, the BCS brought stability to a very volatile postseason process. No more were the days where a #1 team would play #6 and #2 play #4 with a poll selecting the champion later. The BCS conformed the entire season into one big crescendo that culminated into two teams at the top of the college football world playing on the game’s largest stage. It’s no coincidence that in the last 15 years college football has experienced growth that would exceed the previous century of the sport before it. The BCS was not perfect, but let’s give it a fair hearing. As its swan song plays out, let’s recognize that it helped elevate the game we all love so much. It bridged the gap between a haphazard selection process and a playoff. At the very least, it was a step in the right direction.
3. Three-Peat? - Nick Saban is the king of college football. Okay, maybe he shares the throne with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. But after becoming the first coach to win BCS titles at two different schools and the first to win back-to-back BCS titles, he has the chance to be the first coach of the modern era to win three straight national titles (Pete Carroll and Tom Osborne came close). Not even The Bear managed that feat in his 25 years at the helm. Alabama’s toughest three games (Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and LSU) are all preceded by a game free Saturday. That means the stars could not have aligned in any better formation for the Tide to close the BCS era with the most successful run in one of the most storied histories of the sport.
4. Annual Darkhorse - Every year there’s a team that jumps out of nowhere to make waves in the upper tier of the college football universe. Last year, Kansas State started outside the top 20 and finished with a Fiesta Bowl birth (ignore the blowout result of said Fiesta Bowl). In 2011, USC was at the bottom of the AP poll, but finished 10-2 and #6 (though they were banned from the postseason). 2010 saw Auburn go from the bottom of the preseason rankings to hoisting the crystal football. What does all that mean? Maybe nothing. Or it may mean that out of this year’s bottom 5, there’s a team poised for a similar run to the BCS (since none of them are on probation, at least right now). My pick – Northwestern. A solid 10-3 team from last season returns a substantial core for 2013. While they have to travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin and have a tricky opener at Cal, the Wildcats have been a steady team in a very unstable conference. Don’t be surprised if they reach Indianapolis for a shot at Pasadena.
5. Do The Shuffle - It doesn’t have the same ring as “do the hustle”, but that’s exactly what conference commissioners have done. Again. It seems like the entire Conference-USA of ten years ago has become the Big East American Athletic Conference, with additions of SMU, Memphis, and UCF. The Big 12 Ten continues its ridiculous denial of what actually constitutes ten teams, adding Maryland and Rutgers (and increasing to 14 teams total, for those lesser SEC fans who don’t math so good). Louisville is preparing to skip town and join the ACC next year, securing probably the best upgrade over the past ten years (going from non-AQ Conference USA to the Big East, and ending at one of the premier conferences in the country). It seems like there’s a hole in the heart of the sport now, since the Worst Athletic Conference won’t have the convenient acronym the WAC once sported. That moniker now likely goes to CUSA, just for its sheer number of subpar teams.
6. How do you improve perfection? You win more. And Urban Meyer has a history of improving the win column in year two. He helped Bowling Green improve from 8-3 to 9-3. Utah improved from 10-2 to 12-0 and became the first non AQ team to win a BCS bowl. Florida jumped from 9-3 to 12-1 with a national title. Ohio State finished 12-0 last year, but were kept out of the Big Ten title game and a bowl game due to probation stemming from former coach Jim Tressel and Tattoogate. If history is any indication, then the Buckeyes might be the first non SEC team to hoist a crystal football since Vince Young and the Longhorns did it in 2006. Even with the recent struggles of the conference, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, and even Northwestern are all formidable opponents that stand in the way of their first conference title since winning five in a row from 2005-09.
7. Revenge of the Nerds - Can we just take a moment to reflect how Vanderbilt, Stanford, and Northwestern all won 9 games or more? Throw in Duke, who went to their first bowl game in nearly 20 years, and one can see a trend of academic and gridiron success. Stanford has become a mainstay on the national stage, going 2-1 in three straight BCS bowls. Northwestern has been on the cusp for awhile now, as coach Pat Fitzgerald has turned the once maligned program into a perennial bowl team. Meanwhile, James Franklin has been making waves with the Commodores. When the annual doormat of the SEC goes 5-3 in conference, people tend to take notice. Both the ‘Dores and the Wildcats have now set their sights on conference championship games – and yes, I say that with a straight face.
8. To Pay or Not To Pay? - Much has been said of whether or not college athletes should be allowed to profit from their image and likeness, as well as who would provide such compensation. Recent stories such as the Manziel signings, the Ed O’Bannon case, and Grand Canyon University have fueled the discussion. Regardless of your position (and Ten Things remains a neutral party), it’s not an easy decision. If you allow an active player to profit from public appearances, how long before boosters promise a blue chip recruit $100K once they sign with their school of choice? If players receive royalties from other companies using their likenesses (such as NCAA Football and March Madness video games), do all players receive equal compensation? Does the cover begin to feature active college athletes? And Grand Canyon University creates a totally new wrinkle. What becomes of the college amateur rules when a for-profit college joins Division I? We may not figure out the right answer, but there will be progress made over the next six months. Just wait and see.
9. Freshman Coaches - Last offseason saw 31 schools hire new head football coaches – the most in a single year that Ten Things has seen in quite some time. Probably the most perplexing hire was back-to-back Rose Bowl coach Brett Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas amidst yet another Rose Bowl season. Or Dave Doeren leaving Northern Illinois prior to its first BSC bowl to join the staff at…NC State. Bobby Petrino returns to the coaching ranks, taking over a Western Kentucky team coming off its first bowl appearance (though, they have twice won seven games without a bowl invitation). Mark Helfrich and Gary Anderson step up to Oregon and Wisconsin, respectively, and try to maintain success at two of the most successful programs over the last three seasons. The coach to watch, though, will be Cincinnati’s Tommy Tubberville. The Bearcats have been a solid defense away from having a team that can compete with anyone – and Tubbs has proven at Auburn and Texas Tech that he can build a defense without sacrificing the offense.
10. Three to See:
North Carolina at South Carolina (6:00, Aug 29th) – Quite honestly, this shouldn’t be the most competitive game of the weekend, but it’ the FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON! Seriously, between this and Liberty at Kent State which also starts at 6 pm EST on August 29th, football has officially returned. Plus, who doesn’t want a chance to see the best player in the nation take the field? Really.
Georgia at Clemson (8:00, Aug 31st) - This game has been circled all year by both programs, and in the only matchup of two top-10 teams, it will certainly be must see viewing for any fan regardless of team or conference preference. Clemson looks to ride the momentum from toppling LSU on New Year’s Eve last year into their first national title since the Reagan administration (1981). Georgia, who last won the national championship in 1980, looks to take avenge two disappointing losses to South Carolina and Alabama. To be blinded by thoughts of revenge, though, may derail their hopes of a national title before they begin.
LSU vs TCU (9:15, Aug 31st) - The only other game of the opening weekend features the Mad Hatter traveling to JerryWorld to square off against the Horned Frogs. LSU, who will include recently arrested star running back Jeremy Hill, would like to have a solid nonconference win to start their season. Meanwhile, Gary Patterson and Co would love to have a win against the SEC to boost its confidence in capturing the Big Twelve conference in its second year in the conference.
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