People who know me know that I rather enjoy my sports, particularly college football.
However, if you live a life that encourages you to go outside instead of hitting refresh on some sort of news aggregator or don’t receive three push notifications about sports news (yes, I typically receive about three), then you might be a bit out of the loop for the fast-incoming college football season. In order to help you back up to speed, I created this little primer for you. I hope you enjoy!
are garbage. While it’s easy to pick teams like Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia to be good, they really, truly don’t have any bearing on final results. Florida State started at #3 and ended up unranked while Central Florida went from unranked to #6. Last year was not an anomaly either: every season since 2004 has seen a team from the Preseason Top 10 fall to unranked by the end. It’s totally fine to use to trash talk your friends until the season starts but keep in mind your team might be the one that gets embarrassed.
The Coaching Carousel
The Coaching Carousel refers to the hiring and firing routine that occurs in college football. One domino at the top falls and the shockwave ripples all the way down into the depths of D-II and D-III.
Let’s start with the big one. Tennessee fired their polarizing coach, Butch Jones. He had a knack for doing and saying things that he thought were motivational but ended up falling very, very flat. This would draw derision from fans and media across the country and quickly became a meme. The coaching search that ensued was nothing less than riveting and, at times, simply, literally, unebelievable.
If you want to go down the rabbit hole, I suggest clicking here. I will try to sum it up.
After a poor season at Tennessee, fans threatened to boycott football there until Butch Jones was fired. Tennessee finally gave in to the pressure and relieved Butch of duty. (Fun fact, he is now effectively an intern at Alabama now.) As it seems to be every season, Tennessee fans were abuzz with the idea that John Gruden would come to Tennessee…he did not. Gruden would go on to sign a contract with the Oakland Raiders. Here is the list of other coaches who were linked to the opening:
Former Mississippi State coach, Dan Mullen, who ended up going to rival Florida.
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson
Interim coach, and equally as meme-worthy, Brady Hoke.
Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen
Purdue Head Coach Jeff Brohm
Former Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly, he went to UCLA
Former Tennessee, and now FAU, Head Coach Lane Kiffin. He had a rather poor departure from Tennessee the first time which shows how desperate things got.
Former Tennessee legend and now-USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin
Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe
Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy
Former LSU Head Coach Les Miles
Former Texas A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. He would go on to Arizona.
NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren
Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach
Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano
When Tennessee was on the brink of hiring Greg Schiano, all hell broke loose. The fanbase, which had broken into Game of Thrones-style factions at this point, started rioting. a Freedom of Information Act request to Tennessee whould show that Athletic Director John Currie’s emails and texts were absolutely blown up with messages of discontent. Schiano was on Joe Paterno’s staff at Penn State while the infamous Jerry Sandusky was coaching and there were concerns about his complicitness, however real or fake the idea was. It was around this time that Currie’s phone number was leaked online and those conversations started getting really weird.
Back to the factions that had formed: one side was led by Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam (which should surprise no one considering how much of a circus this became) and former head coach Phil Fulmer (he will come back into play later).
A social media firestorm ensued that included fans, former players, former WWE star Kane (Glenn Jacobs, who actually went on to win a mayoral campaign in Tennessee), and state politicians. Currie apparently was inches away from hiring Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach before the Tennessee President fired Currie. The text messages and emails that released a few months later showed that Leach was just about as good as gone before Currie’s firing.
Phil Fulmer was eventually hired as AD and the Athletic Department that had more press leaks than the White House quickly went radio silent, leading some of the conspiracy theorists to believe the commotion was created and cultivated by Phil Fulmer behind the scenes to get Currie fired. When the dust settled, the Volunteers ended up with Alabama Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
This was the first domino to fall, so to speak. Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for a 10-year, $75MM deal, all of which is guaranteed. This was the spark to the powder keg of what turned out to be one of the most ridiculous coaching carousels in recent memory.
Less than one year after the University of Oregon hired Willie Taggart from the University of South Florida, he left to take the newly vacated job at Florida State. Taggart grew up a Seminoles fan but that did not excuse him to the Oregon faithful who felt severely slighted by a move that rarely happens by coaches at high profile jobs.
Unfortunately for Oregon, Willie Taggart’s departure came very, very late in the hiring season. This left them with very few options for a replacement. After a relatively silent interview process, Oregon landed on hiring Offensive Coordinator Mario Cristobal. Cristobal was previously the OL coach at Alabama and was well known for his recruiting.
Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost led the University of Central Florida to an undefeated 13-0 season that culminated in a New Years Six bowl win over Auburn and a claim to the 2017-2018 National Championship. After the win, Frost left UCF for Nebraska who hope that he can bring that magic back to his alma mater.
After parting ways with Jim Mora, UCLA quietly went on to make what could be the best hire of the offseason: Former Oregon Coach Chip Kelly. Kelly famously burned out at Philadelphia (which I found to be an unwarranted characterization of the situation) and was given only a year at well-known dumpster fire San Francisco. It was unclear whether Chip would ever come back to CFB considering his disdain for recruiting. At UCLA, he will only have to take short road trips to visit some of the top talent in the country as Los Angeles is a well-known hotbed of recruiting gems.
For as great of a hire as UCLA made, Arizona State might have made the worst one. After firing a coach who won the Territorial Cup, the Arizona vs. Arizona State trophy, and went to a bowl game, ASU decided to bring ESPN analyst Herm Edwards out of retirement. Edwards had not coached a football game since his time at the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Further, Edwards had not coached college football since the 90s, his lone stint in college at San Jose State as an assistant.
The “Power Five” Conferences
Clemson will be very good again. QB Kelly Bryant returns but Trevor Lawrence, one of the highest rated QBs in CFB recruiting history, is his backup. Their defense is as mean as ever.
Florida State has lots of talent but a new head coach who famously has poor first years.
Miami returns a lot of talent and has a head coach who neither has bad seasons nor incredible ones in his history.
The rest of the ACC falls into an amorphous blob of who will get to lose to the teams going to the ACC Championship.
Ohio State will be very good again as long as Urban Meyer can keep his mouth shut and his Twitter silent.
Michigan welcomed former Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson into the fold. Jim Harbaugh’s tenure here has been maligned by below average quarterback play (my Michigan fans might say that is a generous characterization). Can he finally get over the hump?
Penn State brings back their star QB Trace McSorley but lost apparent demi-god running back Saquon Barkley.
Michigan State is returning tons of talent from a squad that was very young last year. While they might not be in contention for the Big 10 Championship, they’re sure to make some waves.
Wisconsin also brings back a ton of talent but, unlike the four teams above, they have a rather unimpeded road to the conference championship as the four teams above are in the same divison.
The other teams in the conference fall into a mish-mash.
Also, Rutgers isn’t the joke of the nation anymore, that’s Illinois.
Oklahoma is going to be very good. Their quarterback was recently drafted #9 in the MLB draft to Oakland. He received a $5MM signing bonus and is allowed to come back to play football for some reason. You will undoubtedly hear about it this year.
TCU, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State will all be good this year and could make some noise in ruining Oklahoma’s dash to the playoff.
Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Baylor should be less good.
Kansas actually might be the joke of the nation. Maybe more so because I completely forgot about them when I mentioned Illinois above.
Washington will be really good. The question mark is whether QB Jake Browning is actually good or if he was a product of having John Ross and Dante Pettis as his main receivers.
USC will be USC because they have always been USC. They have a true freshman at QB this year which has sometimes worked out for them. They’re oozing with talent everywhere else.
Stanford will be the Stanford we have always known: conservative, smart offense with a strong defense.
Oregon has started making noise again. QB Justin Herbert is garnering Heisman buzz and is being considered as a first round pick for the NFL draft. The defense went from absolutely horrific to actually quite decent. If they can keep shoring up the defense, expect them to make a run for the Conference Championship.
Every other school falls into a blob while Oregon State wallows in the mud at the bottom of the conference.
Alabama and Georgia didn’t fall off the face of the Earth.
Auburn is going to be very, very good returning a star QB of their own.
Mississippi State and LSU have lots of talent but have question marks at head coach.
Everyone else will be fighting for bowl positioning.
Notre Dame is returning their QB from last year, Brandon Wimbush, but similar to Clemson, they have a youngster who the fans are very excited about. The Irish start ranked #12 and have a fairly tough schedule. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see them in the playoff.
Army should be competitive again.
BYU shouldn’t be, again.
The “Group of Five” Conferences
UCF went undefeated last year and returns a lot of talent. They do have a new head coach but hiring a coordinator from Oklahoma is not a bad look at all.
Memphis and Houston have enough talent and continuity to upset UCF’s season but the Golden Knights remain favorites until that time.
FAU is going to be very, very good. Lane Kiffin had a surprisingly good Year 1 in Boca Raton last year and the Owls are only supposed to get better.
There used to be a time where the MAC had teams who looked like they could give a run with the big boys of CFB. That era seems to have been left in the 2000s. Ohio, Toledo, and NIU are apparently the front runners for the conference but I don’t anticipate any of them to make waves on the national scene.
Boise State is still Boise State. Everyone else is just fighting for second.
With that said, San Diego State is coming off back-to-back conference titles and Fresno State is suddenly really good again. Throw in a plucky Utah State and Colorado State and you have a very interesting division to watch.
The Sun Belt is perhaps the worst conference in FBS football, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any allure to the dynamics here. Arkansas State, Appalachian State, and Troy have had very good seasons lately and have each given power programs runs for their money. It wouldn’t be out of the question for one of these teams to catch fire and make noise by the end of the season.
Boring prediction this year, but:
I really hate this because it has two teams from the SEC and it includes the four teams who are basically the frontrunners for the playoff. That said, these four teams are just oozing with talent and it would require at least a 12 win season and a conference championship from Washington and/or Oklahoma to upset this list. If I were betting, I’d assume that both teams drop a weird game and lost to another power program.
Or we can pray the chaos gods strike.