The 19 compelling storylines that will lead us through the 2019 college football season
With fall camp underway, Dennis Dodd takes a look at the key storylines coming up in a few weeks
All that sweat equity, so little time. Year 150 of college football commences this week with 130 teams in camp competing for four spots in the College Football Playoff.
Are two of those slots already filled?
That's just one subject we will explore as we look ahead to the 19 top storylines of 2019. The offseason has been filled with more money (to be broken).), more freedom ( ) and talk about more records (
Does all of it mean a lot more of the same? Clemson and Alabama start out the season ranked 1-2 in some order. But a century and half after those roustabouts from Princeton and Rutgers scrummed, some basics still apply.
Primarily, you have to play the games.
1. A parody of parity: Let's get this out of the way early. For the second straight season (at least), Alabama and Clemson have separated themselves from the pack. Clemson is an SEC power that just happens to reside in the shallowest ACC in recent memory. Alabama and Georgia have transformed the SEC into a two-team league. One or the other between the Tigers and Crimson Tide has won the last four national championships. But that's not the scariest thing. No league that plays nine conference games (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) has won a championship in the CFP era. So yeah, it might be a good idea to take Bama-Clemson vs. the field. The SEC and ACC are the only Power Fives that continue to play eight-game conference seasons.
2. Alabama-Clemson V? It sure looks like it. Clemson has a quarterback who looks like he could play in the NFL (Trevor Lawrence). Alabama has a quarterback who led FBS in passer rating in his first full year as a starter (Tua Tagovailoa). Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have combined for seven of the last 10 national championships. Clemson's regular-season schedule seems so Charmin soft that the Tigers not running the slate undefeated at 13-0 should be considered an upset. Bama has the revenge motive. If the two teams don't meet in the postseason for the fifth year in a row, consider that an upset as well.
3. Alabama-Georgia III? Before the Tide and Tigers match up again, it seems likely the Dawgs and Tide will renew their new rivalry. That got stoked when Kirby Smart went to Georgia to instill and install everything Alabama. In the last two seasons, the teams have met for the national and SEC titles. Georgia has blown multiple double-digit leads in those meetings, leading to the obvious question:Saban isn't going anywhere.
4. Jim Harbaugh's reckoning: Michigan's coach isn't on the hot seat. But if his Wolverines don't at least beat Ohio State and reach the Big Ten Championship Game this season, his time at his alma mater must be reevaluated. Harbaugh is still quirky, even controversial. Now, armed with his best team in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it's time for Harbs to win a championship of some kind. It's one thing losing to Urban Meyer. It's another losing to a 40-year-old rookie coach. Such is the situation Harbaugh is in entering his fifth season at Michigan. He comes into 2019 carrying the weight of a record-breaking loss to Ohio State from 2018. In his four seasons, Harbaugh is 2-7 against Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame -- basically the Wolverines biggest rivals. Nov. 30 is already circled every Michigan Man's calendar. That's the date the Wolverines host that 40-year-old coach (Ryan Day). If Harbaugh can't win in that setting, the heat will be turned up significantly.
5. Old guys rule, plus a massive coaching turnover: More than a fifth of the FBS (27 teams) changed coaches in the offseason. The moves ranged from senior citizens (Les Miles to Kansas, Mack Brown to North Carolina) to newbies. Day takes over a football factory at Ohio State; he is the program's first coach without previous head coaching experience in 74 years. Dana Holgorsen left a Power Five team in West Virginia for a Group of Five team in Houston. Manny Diaz got his second head-coaching gig in the space of 18 days (leaving Temple for Miami). Watch 34-year-old Will Healy at Charlotte; he took Austin Peay from a 1-45 run to 8-4 in 2017. The biggest upheaval was in the Sun Belt, ACC and Big 12 (four coaching changes each). Those 27 hirings were the most nationally since 2015.
6. A massive quarterback transfer class: Alabama's Jalen Hurts replaces a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma after losing his starting job to a near-Heisman winner at Bama. Oklahoma's Austin Kendall is the leader at West Virginia. Georgia's Justin Fields replaces the Big Ten's single-season passing leader at Ohio State. OSU's Tate Martell is eligible right away at Miami. Clemson's Kelly Bryant is taking his last-year snaps at Missouri. Georgia's Jacob Eason is eligible at Washington after sitting out a season per NCAA rules. Clemson's Hunter Johnson becomes the highest-rated quarterback at Northwestern in the Pat Fitzgerald era.
Due to injuries, Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush looks like he's got the job at UCF. Virginia Tech's Josh Jackson is at Maryland. SMU's Ben Hicks goes into the season at Arkansas as the second-leading returning career passer. He'll have to beat out Nick Starkel, who transferred from Texas A&M. Texas' Shane Buechele is at SMU. Wisconsin's Alex Hornibrook took his 33 career interceptions to Florida State. Catch your breath yet?
7. Urban Meyer, free agent retiree: Ohio State's former coach has kept himself busy teaching, assistant athletic directing, running a restaurant and starring every week on the Fox pregame show. For a guy whose done with the game, it sure doesn't look like it. Until Meyer positively, absolutely says he's done, well, he's not. If USC and/or Auburn open, Meyer will have a decision to make with loads of money thrown at him.
8. Which way will the Pac-12 go? The best conference the CFP never heard of needs to win -- now. For the second year in a row, it has a chance to make a national statement in Auburn-Oregon to start the season in a major way at the Jerry Dome. Last season, Washington lost a narrow season opener to Auburn. Perception-wise, it was easy to dismiss the league after that. The same applies for Oregon. The Ducks carry the Pac-12's banner in an early-season statement game. The league can talk about 9 a.m. PT starts and private equity shares all it wants, but sooner or later the Pac-12 has to smack someone in the mouth.
9. A birthday like no other: The game turns 150 this year at the height of its popularity. Consider that college football started in the Ulysses S. Grant administration. It didn't recognize a formal champion for 67 years (1936, the beginning of the wire service era). It didn't decide a champion on the field until 62 years after that (1998, the BCS era). It has survived World Wars, scandals and scores of deaths that have put the game itself in peril. In 1869, Clemson as a city wouldn't exist for another 20 years. Bear Bryant wouldn't be born for another 44 years. A little Midwest school named Notre Dame had just turned 27. Consider that -- in the history of officially recognized national championships -- only 30 teams have won it all. Since 1998, only 16 teams have played for a championship. Yes, it's an exclusive club -- this sport -- but we still love watching every darn minute.
10. The longest season ever: The 2019 season begins on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, with two games and ends Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, with the CFP National Championship in New Orleans. That's 143 days from start through finish, believed to be -- by far -- the longest major-college season in history, encompassing 39.2 percent of a calendar year.
11. The Magnificent Seven: There are seven schools favored in every regular-season game they will play this season as the 2019 campaign commences. Four of them are easy to figure out: Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma. Michigan? Not so much but still favored in every game. How about Washington? In the parity-wracked Pac-12, that is somewhat of a surprise. But what about Memphis? The Tigers are dark horse for the Group of Five New Year's Six berth in Mike Norvell's fourth season. Memphis kicks off at home against Ole Miss and doesn't play a team all season projected to be ranked in the preseason. A 12-0 regular season is certainly possible.
12. Another rushing champion … or more controversy? Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor is very quietly within 2,235 yards of becoming the NCAA career rushing leader. That comes with a huge asterisk. NCAA has continued to paint itself into an increasingly shrinking corner when it comes to its statistics. In 2002, the NCAA decided to count bowl stats in season totals without retroactively counting all previous bowl games. That means -- counting bowl games -- Wisconsin's Ron Dayne is nearly untouchable as the career rushing leader with 7,125 yards. Except the NCAA doesn't see it that way. Dayne completed his career three years before the NCAA changed its statistical accounting (2002). That means Taylor this season is chasing San Diego State's Donnell Pumphrey, who ran for 6,405 yards from 2013-16.
13. Parity, ACC style: If Virginia wins the ACC Coastal, each of the seven teams in the division would have won its crown over the last seven years. The previous six winners are Pittsburgh (2018), Miami (2017), Virginia Tech (2016), North Carolina (2015), Georgia Tech (2014) and Duke (2013). With Clemson looming in the ACC Atlantic, does it even matter?
14. Embarrassment, Big Ten style: Since Jan. 12, 2015, the Big Ten has not scored a single point in the College Football Playoff. That includes semifinal shutout losses by Michigan State (38-0 to Alabama in 2016) and Ohio State (31-0 to Clemson in 2017). The Big Ten has missed each of the last two playoffs.
15. Money cures all ills: It will now take about 2.5 days for Swinney to make as much in salary as the average U.S. household makes in a year ($59,000). That's another way of putting in perspective Swinney's new 10-year, $93 million contract, the largest in the sport's history. Whether Dabo is properly compensated is less an issue than those who aren't compensated at all. The players who helped Swinney earn that money. As long as the NCAA pulls in $1 billion in annual revenue and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany gets a $20 million bonus, the plight of those players and amateurism itself will continue to be an issue.
16. Heisman Trophy early lines: Odds per the Las Vegas SuperBook …
- Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama – 11/4
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – 11/4
- Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma – 10-1
- Justin Fields, Ohio State – 10-1
- Adrian Martinez, Nebraska – 10-1
- Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin – 18-1
- Sam Ehlinger, Texas – 20-1
- Jake Fromm, Georgia – 20-1
- Justin Herbert, Oregon – 20-1
- Shea Patterson, Michigan – 20-1
17. Didn't you used to be … The Pac-12 is now looking at starting games at 9 a.m. PT just to get more TV attention … Florida State is looking to begin a new bowl streak after seeing their prior mark of 36 straight bowl games end last season … USC is coming off only its 13th losing season in the last 85 years … UCLA (3-9) is coming off its worst season in half a century … UConn is now floating in midair as a football program after leaving the AAC … Navy (3-10) is coming off its first 10-loss season in more than a quarter century … UAB was left for dead a few years ago but is now the defending Conference USA champs
18. On the hottest seat, Part I: Lynn Swann. Forget Clay Helton for the moment. USC's athletic director may be the most pivotal figure looking for work by the end of the season. Sure, Helton must rebound from a 5-7 season. But if he doesn't, do you trust Swann to pick USC's next coach? With the school embroiled in an admissions scandal, Swann was cross-country signing autographs at a memorabilia show. And until Meyer absolutely says he's done (he absolutely has not … yet), Swann can't be trusted to mess this one up.
19. On the hot seat, Part II: Last month, we. Here's a look at five of the most notable names on the hottest seats.
- Clay Helton, USC: A decent man and better coach who has to win now. Helton is all-in with RPOs with the hiring of Graham Harrell after the loss of Kliff Kingsbury. Question: Can the Trojans run the ball? They have finished in the top four in the Pac-12 once since 2012 and were 10th in 2018.
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn: Although we had him in a neutral position last month in the Hot Seat Rankings, the temperature on Gus' seat could change quickly. Lose to Oregon in the opener and a bowl game might be in jeopardy.
- Lovie Smith, Illinois: Despite the contract extension and new facilities going up, 9-27 is 9-27. AD Josh Whitman's reputation is on the line. He is the one who went outside the box on this hire.
- Chris Ash, Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights played in the first college football game. They're currently last in the Big Ten. Will Rutgers be any better than 1-11? Ash gets Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State to end the season.
- Willie Taggart, Florida State: OK, Jimbo Fisher may have been lax. There won't be any more excuses if the Noles get back to bowling.
- Randy Edsall, UConn: The Huskies don't have a conference, and since Edsall returned, they haven't had many wins either (4-20).
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