sportstalk for all of us, baseball, basketball, football, fighting, UFC,soccer, video games, plus fans of OHIO: Cleveland Cavs, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians,Ohio State Buckeyes and much, much more
1. Nick Saban vs. The World: Saban has been in the playoff all four years of the system's existence and carries a 5-2 record with a pair of national titles. Admitting some recency bias, the 2018 CFP National Championship win was the most impressive of his five at Alabama and six overall -- just surpassing the 21-0 bludgeoning of LSU in New Orleans. Going to Tua Tagovailoa, sticking with him and finishing the game with a handful of freshman because the team was as banged up as its been since Saban got to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, makes it the most impressive. We can note how the CFP has broken the one-conference stranglehold with three Power Five represented among the winners but the reality of any "title picture" talk is that it's Alabama against everyone else.
2. Clemson national title potential hinges on its QB: Dabo Swinney and the braintrust of co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott have a big season ahead. There's going to be immense pressure put on the quarterback position because the rest of the Clemson roster is locked and loaded for another playoff run. Kelly Bryant has the game experience with one ACC title under his belt, and Trevor Lawrence is the true freshman that has been good enough so far to send Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson looking elsewhere for playing time. Clemson is good enough at nearly every other position to win the conference again but need some really stellar quarterback play to win it all.
4. Lincoln without Baker: One of the big takeaways from NFL Draft season was that not only Baker Mayfield, but also Lincoln Riley, made quite an impression on the football community. In breaking down the tape of Mayfield and offensive lineman Orlando Brown, NFL minds were bent with Riley's play design and the effectiveness of Oklahoma's offense in modern football. While Kyler Murray certainly has an impressive pedigree and athleticism that promises potential, the proof isn't there yet. If the Sooners don't skip a beat without Mayfield, it will be a credit to the quarterbacks (Murray or Austin Kendall) but also will say a lot about Riley continuing what has been arguably the most impressive head coaching debut in recent memory.
5. Scott Frost and the resurgence of Nebraska: The Dream of the 90s was alive in the 2018 offseason with Florida, Florida State and Nebraska all bringing a refreshed energy to their program with the respective coaching hires of Dan Mullen, Willie Taggart and Frost. Of the three, Frost has the least coaching experience and the thirstiest fan base. Cornhusker fans yearn for the success of Tom Osborne; Frost, a title-winning quarterback, represents the path to that level of winning. Frost can waste no time discussing whether UCF can or cannot claim a national championship, the only thing on his mind is delivering one to Lincoln.
6. Joe Burrow's arrival adds intrigue at LSU: Right now, if you write down the top teams in the SEC West it's tough to make a case for Ed Orgeron's group to be in the top three, and when you stack up the entire SEC, they sit in a packed middle tier. That's not good enough for LSU fans who think Burrow can save the Tigers from a run of inconsistent quarterback play that has dominated most of the 21st century.
7. Michigan can win the Big Ten with good, but not great, QB play: If you are picking Michigan to win the Big Ten, it should be because of the rest of the roster, which was very good but still one year away during the Wolverines' 2017 campaign. But the discussion around the Wolverines will continue to focus almost exclusively on Shea Patterson and the quarterback position. That's because Jim Harbaugh and quarterback play are linked, and this is a very big season for Harbaugh. But Michigan could be really good this year because of the other 21 positions, and I want to make sure that doesn't get missed.
8. Anti-Badger bias: Two things are true: (1) Wisconsin can win a national championship, and (2) the margin for error to even be considered for the playoff is razor thin. The Badgers had to win every single regular season game last season before they cracked the top four of the CFP Rankings. Strength of schedule is the official reason but packed into that is bias (which is not necessarily incorrect) against the supposed easier path in the Big Ten West. The nine-game league schedule usually calls for at least one meeting with the top teams in the league from the other division, but Wisconsin will have to not only win those but also win the Big Ten title to make the playoff. Alabama or Ohio State can make the playoff without even playing on conference championship Saturday but not Wisconsin. Zero margin for error.
9. The Lane Train will try to keep pace after a blazing start: It took a few games for everything to fall into place, but the Owls hit the gas after September and beat all eight conference opponents by an average of 22.1 points per game then hung 41 on North Texas in the conference title game and 50 on Akron in the bowl game. With star running back Devin Singletary still in the mix, FAU is the Group of Five team we'll have on watch to potentially run the table.
New faces, new places
Every year features a few big jobs changing hands, but the 2017 coaching cycle seemed like a turning of the page for the national college football landscape. Frost and Taggart are rising stars, Kelly and Edwards bring NFL notoriety (with Kelly also adding, you know, one of the most successful four-year runs in college football history during his time leading the Ducks), Fisher has a national championship to his name, and Mullen is back where he helped win two titles with the Gators as an assistant under Urban Meyer. It's a star-studded class, resetting the expectations and timelines for each of these prominent Power Five programs.
Here's the aforementioned pretty clear-cut title picture. Alabama has the team to win it all, and Clemson just needs the quarterback position settled. Then there's a drop to the tier of really talented teams could maybe beat Alabama and/or Clemson with improved play during the season and some good fortune on the injury front (title odds in parenthesis via SportsLine).
22. Alabama (7/4) 23. Clemson (5/1) 24. Ohio State (7/1) 25. Georgia (7/1) 26. Michigan (12/1) 27. Penn State (12/1)
The second tier
While the SEC broke the idea early that two from the same league can't make the playoff, chances are only two teams can emerge from that SEC-Big Ten cluster of seven contenders and sleepers. That's where I think teams like Miami, Oklahoma and Washington look particularly interesting, with favorable schedules and a good shot to join the SEC and Big Ten winners in the playoff.
Group one starts with the two superstar running backs capable of 2,000-yard seasons, the two star quarterbacks of last year's championship game (who still need to compete to even secure the QB1 role) and Tate, who spent a month torching defenses and hinting at Heisman buzz before the Wildcats hit a wall late in the year. Will Grier is the most proven quarterback in the Big 12 as it stands, and if he puts up big numbers and West Virginia makes a run, we could see him quickly move up in the race.
33. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford 34. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin 35. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia 36. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama 37. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona 38. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan 39. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma 40. JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State 41. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia 42. Trace McSorely, QB, Penn State 43. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama 44. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
Consider these your sleeper Heisman picks, with the idea not necessarily that they will definitely be the top player in college football as much as I expect them all to be very, very good and if things go their way it would make sense to see increased Heisman Trophy buzz. Cam Akers and D'Andre Swift, in particular, are heading into seasons with a ton of offensive responsibility on teams that will be in the spotlight every week.
The Heisman Trophy awards the most outstanding player in college football, but the Heisman Trophy race focuses on the players who can realistically win the award and that's going to be mostly quarterbacks and running backs. The best players in college football do not reside exclusively in the offensive backfield, so this is a space to highlights the next 22 (11 offense, 11 defense) players I'm really excited to watch on the field in 2018.
75. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1) 76. Alabama vs. Louisville (Sept. 1) 77. Auburn vs. Washington (Sept. 1) 78. Tennessee vs. West Virginia (Sept. 1) 79. Miami vs. LSU (Sept. 2) 80. Clemson at Texas A&M (Sept. 8) 81. TCU vs. Ohio State (Sept. 15) 82. USC at Texas (Sept. 15) 83. FAU at UCF (Sept. 22) 84. Texas A&M at Alabama (Sept. 22) 85. Ohio State at Penn State (Sept. 29) 86. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 6) 87. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 6) 88. Wisconsin at Michigan (Oct. 13) 89. Georgia at LSU (Oct. 13) 90. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 27) 91. Stanford at Washington (Nov. 3) 92. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 3) 93. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 10) 94. Wisconsin at Penn State (Nov. 10) 95. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 10) 96. Oklahoma at West Virginia (Nov. 23) 97. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 24) 98. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 24) 99. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 24) 100. Army-Navy (Dec. 8)