Sep 1

Ten Things: 2016 Season Preview

Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL  Tags:

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Ten Things: 2016 Season Preview


Congratulations.  Since last year, your favorite team is right where they want to be.  Their offseason program worked like a charm.  Their star player is a Heisman contender (or at least your darkhorse pick).  This is their year to crack the playoff and bring home the trophy, vindicating your patience and the hard work of the coaching staff.  After all, they have just as good a shot as anyone, right?  Well like you, I have a few questions coming into the season.  Here are the biggest questions I have, along with a few suggestions for Saturday viewing. 


1. Is this the year of the playoff crasher? There has been no shortage of hype for the Houston Cougars.  Second year coach Tom Herman is one of the hottest names in the business and returning quarterback Greg Ward Jr is getting some preseason Heisman love.  The Cougars aren’t the only Group of Five team that might be making waves.  Out in the Mountain West, Boise State still has enough name recognition should they go undefeated and San Diego State could get some late love by knocking off that undefeated Broncos team for the conference championship.


2. Could this be the year that one conference has two playoff teams? It’s bound to happen sometime, lest we forget that 2011 rematch that would NEVER happen in the BCS system.  The question is simply when.  For some reason, there are those who would have you believe that Alabama and LSU might both make the playoff.  I think it’s more likely that we’ll see a rematch of Florida State-Clemson, though.  For one, there’s a bit of SEC fatigue.  Second, while the Tide has been the most successful program of the past decade, Florida State and Clemson both have two of the more exciting teams to watch (due in part, no doubt, to their SEC-level talent as well as their fresher feel than their SEC counterparts).  But if two teams make the playoffs….


3. What Power Five conferences would be left out of the playoff altogether?  While under the BCS system, it was understood that only two conferences at most could have their representatives battling for the crystal football.  In the playoff, there’s always an odd man out as five conferences (primarily) play for four spots.  If one conference gets two teams, however, two conferences will have all their teams watching the playoffs.  While I’m tempted to say the PAC-12 and the SEC would be left out, I think the SEC still has enough cache to guarantee a spot for a 1-loss champion.  Given the depth of the PAC-12, it’s tough to see their champion having less than two losses.  And given the number of viable contenders in the Big Twelve, if Oklahoma can’t make it through undefeated look for all ten teams to miss the playoff, too.


4. Who wins the Heisman?  If recent history is any indication, then the obvious choice is a quarterback on a team competing for a national title.  Here’s looking at you, Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), possibly even Josh Rosen (UCLA) or Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma).  I’m going to say that history smiles upon the running back again, just like last year when Derrick Henry of Alabama won it.  If Stanford makes the playoff, all-everything back Christian McCaffrey is a lock.  Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, and Oregon’s Royce Freeman also join the short list of electric backs with a shot.  Then there’s always the out-of-nowhere player that no one knows about just yet.


5. What will be the dominant story of the season?  Certainly, the decline of the SEC would rank up there if they got shut out of the playoff.  The ACC’s rise with a third appearance in the national title game in four years would be quite the turnaround story.  But none of those will hold a candle to the story that hasn’t broken yet.  College campuses are the home of an increasingly more self-aware group of students who are more and more active in politics and culture.  From the near boycott in Missouri last year to the offseason troubles at Baylor and not too far removed from Northwestern students bringing the possibility of a players union, there will no doubt be something that comes up this year that galvanizes a team and their student supporters.  On the one hand, it’s frustrating to see the bigger headlines come from off the field, but on the other hand it helps remind us fans that the players are people, too.  They are people with power and influence.


6. What’s the biggest surprise of 2016?  I’m predicting the coaching carousel gets started ridiculously early as schools try to reel in Tom Herman as soon as possible.  Tennessee and Auburn are possibilities, as both teams could begin October with a .500 record or worse.  Of course, with as many great matchups in the first weekend of the season, half of those teams will be adjusting expectations.  All it takes is one or two big name programs to make a change and the dominoes will fall.


7. What’s the best conference by season’s end?  Plenty of people would say the SEC, but they’d be wrong.  This season, the PAC-12 looks to be the toughest, deepest conference in the country.  The difference between 10-2 and 7-5 may be no more than a clutch field goal to take the lead, a first down to run out the clock, or an onside kick recovery to give just a little more hope.  Remember last year’s champion, Stanford, nearly lost to a Washington State team that couldn’t beat FCS Portland State.  Utah, a ten win program a year ago, lost to 7-6 Arizona.  This conference will eat itself, likely to the point of missing the playoff.  But woe be unto any team that finishes the season with a PAC-12 opponent in their bowl game.


8. What team has the best turnaround from last season?  I think there’s two teams that might fit this category.  If we’re talking team with a losing record making a run at the conference championship, it’s Kansas State.  As long as Bill Snyder is on the sidelines, you can’t count them out.  Even if they can’t get it done at Stanford this weekend, there’s a good chance the Wildcats get to 10 wins and challenge Oklahoma and TCU for the title.  From a perspective of simply adding wins, Oregon State is a perfect pick.  After going 2-10 in Gary Anderson’s first year coaching, the stage is set for getting to 6 or 7 wins and a bowl berth.  Starting the year at Minnesota gives a strong challenge, but a late kickoff may prove beneficial for the team from the west.  With the way the schedule plays out, the Beavers may reach that 6th win before October is done.


9. Who actually makes the playoff?  I’ve beaten around the bush, but it’s time to put it out there.  There’s four spots and close to two dozen teams with a legitimate shot.  I think Oklahoma makes good on the preseason hype to go undefeated and take the #1 seed.  Clemson rides experience and talent to #2, also with an undefeated record.  LSU wins the SEC with a loss, but a strong enough body of work to be #3.  Finally, Ohio State bounces back to go 12-1 and claim the last spot as the Big Ten champion.


10. What are the best games to watch? For the diehard football fans, start Thursday with Appalachian State at Tennessee to see if the Volunteers are legit, then stay up late with Oregon State at Minnesota to see how well my #8 might fare this season.  Tomorrow, don’t miss K-State at Stanford.  Then comes Saturday.  Start off with a game between ranked teams (and future conference rivals?) Oklahoma and Houston.  As that game winds down, you’ll want to have UCLA-Texas A&M and LSU-Wisconsin set to switch back and forth.  If either game gets out of hand, replace it in the rotation around halftime with Georgia-North Carolina. Then finish off with USC-Alabama, the last game between ranked teams for the day.  And make sure to tune in Labor Day night to finish off a fantastic opening weekend with Ole Miss at Florida State.  I’m not going to make predictions until next week because, honestly, I’m just glad football is back.  Enjoy!

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