Another college football season is upon us. After seeing Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide machine pummel the cinderella Fighting Irish 42-14 last year in the BCS Championship, the question is will Alabama three-peat? Will Notre Dame bring back the mojo from 2012 without their “number 5’s” (Manti T’eo and Everett Golson)? How about Johnny Football and Texas A&M? Are the distractions too much? What about Ohio State as they return from their posteason exile? Can Oregon win without Chip Kelly? Is everyone excited the BCS is having their swan song this year? We here at Place to Be Nation have a crack staff of writers who will break it all down for you with conference previews, predictions and everything in between to get you ready for the first weekend of games on Labor Day weekend. Today, Chad Campbell and Scott Criscuolo will grab the six most important topics heading into this season, topics that will make you think. Let’s break it down!
1) Death of the BCS: For years there’s been all the griping and complaining and crying by that “third undefeated team” who seemed to be pushed out of the National Championship game by computers and equations. It’s compounded by the fact that the SEC has won the Title game every year since 2006, which rankles those Big 10, Pac-12 and ACC schools that never seem to get that extra point needed to pass an Alabama, Florida or Auburn in the standings. Last year it looked like it might happen, as three undefeated schools were ahead of Alabama. Then, as if Nick Saban was waving a magic wand with an elephant at the end of it, two of those undefeated teams lose ON THE SAME NIGHT. The Tide then win the SEC Championship game over Georgia, head to the BCS Title game and throttle Notre Dame to win their third title in four years. Most of that team returns and a three-peat is possible. Of course Alabama does have unfinished business with Texas A&M after their lone loss last year at home. That game is early, September 14 in College Station. So after they possibly exorcise that demon, they could go on to win the rest and play in the last title game linked to those ugly letters. We’ll have more on Alabama and the rest of the SEC later in the week here at Place to Be Nation. Next year we as fans get what most of us wanted: Some sort of a playoff system. Four teams will be chosen by a committee and there will be semifinals and a final game with top bowl games rotating those slots. Now of course there could still be a fifth team that thinks they are getting stiffed but instead of calculations and computers, people will be blamed. We’ll see in 2014 if that becomes an issue. Right now we have one more year to swear at that “Harris” guy and his stupid numbers. Many feel that fifth team will be Charlie Strong’s Louisville team, who should roll in the re-vamped Big East conference known as the AAC. Will going 12-0 in that conference carry more weight than an 11-1 or 10-1 SEC team like say Georgia? Or a one-loss Big 10 team? Time will tell. Let’s enjoy the regular season before we have to cry and throw things.
2) Stranglehold in the South: We have a great SEC Conference preview coming up later this week but we will touch on what was mentioned above and if it will change. The SEC has won seven straight BCS National Championships since 2005. Remember that epic one-man show that Vince Young put on in the Rose Bowl to lead Texas over USC in one of the greatest games ever played? Seems like an eternity ago that a team other than one from the SEC won it all. Since then we’ve had Alabama, Florida, Auburn and LSU win all the big games, and not many of them have been pretty. The average margin of victory in the BCS Title game from 2006-2012 has been 17 points. Only Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon after the 2010 season had any drama. Can that change this year? Well clearly it’s still the overall best conference in the country, but this time that may actually be their downfall. The conference is so balanced on top and in the middle that no one has any real advantage. Every team could conceivably have one loss, which opens the door for another team to take one (or both) of the BCS spots. If both teams that play in the SEC Championship game have one loss each, but there’s already two undefeated teams whose seasons finished, that could shut the door on Commissioner Mike Slive’s precious conference. Time will tell. Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are definitely hungry after going undefeated last year but being shut out of the National Championship due to an NCAA penance for past sins. Braxton Miller is a clear Heisman candidate and their defense is nasty, but there are still some pitfalls on that schedule, like Wisconsin and Michigan. We’ve touched on Louisville, and then there’s David Shaw’s Stanford squad that’s the class of the Pac-12. Let’s let the games play out, but clearly this is a season that the SEC’s grip on being #1 may come to an end. Then again, it would be fitting that the conference known for being the BCS’s best, win the last BCS Title.
3) Money for something: With this Johnny Manziel saga blowing up with every day, the question continues to be asked: Should student-athletes be paid for playing? On the surface, that sounds ridiculous. They are students first. Football (or any sport for that matter) is an extra-curricular activity like working for the school paper or the yearbook. Why should athletes get paid? Most have scholarships anyway so their education is free and no loans to pay off when they graduate. Now of course that opinion is incredibly naïve considering what the NCAA makes for themselves using the sports of football and basketball in particular, and those that play for them. Being close to student-athletes when I worked for my school radio station in the early-90’s, I found out that athletes are not allowed to make money working in a job during their respective season. That’s ludicrous. Now in the bigger sports like football and basketball it’s probably tough, but this affects all student-athletes. Athletes that play lacrosse, golf, swimming, and all the other sports that don’t have the glamour or cache of men’s hoops or football are getting pinched. The NCAA is a corporation like any other, making millions from schools all across the country. Can they throw a bone back to the athletes they’re making the money off of? That probably depends on your point of view and how such a program could be implemented. Do you give them a check? Do you add points on their meal card? Who knows, but issues like Manziel’s autograph problem or past transgressions involving players, cash and gifts was a problem even back in the early 1980’s. Watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 special “Pony Excess” for a prime example of this problem. Will this issue affect you watching games this season? Probably not, but it is something to think about as we move on to a new era of college football pertaining to the National Championship, and the changes made to the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament.
4) Johnny Football: Any college football preview in 2013 is incomplete without talking about the person that is the biggest star in the sport since Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel. On August 16, 2012, first year head coach announced that the starting quarterback for the upcoming season would be redshirt freshman, Manziel. College Station had some buzz around this news and big time college football fans earmarked the decision as something to check out once the season begun, but not a whole lot of national or casual fan attention was made to this move. Why should they have been? Manziel was only a three star Rivals recruit, the 14th ranked quarterback, and always a foregone conclusion to be going to Texas A&M. This is a stark contrast to the other high profile underclassman that have exceeded expectations as at least most were heavily recruited. Everyone knows how the story plays out. Manziel is the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, redshirted or not. He then has made a bevy of decisions that has put what will undoubtedly be his last year of college competition in jeopardy. Arguments have been raged on just how innocent we should treat Manziel. Some feel that ESPN is unjustedly giving Manziel an easy break because of their strong relationship with the SEC and the desire to have multiple high profile Texas A&M games. John Kinkade argued on his radio show that it is irresponsible to be treating someone like Johnny Manziel like a kid. Others argue that most people can use a track record of their own lives as enough example that the best decisions are generally not made when you leave your home for the first time. Regardless of the social ramifications (and possible on field suspensions with the autograph saga), if Manziel does play he will have extreme expectations. Mark Ingram returned after winning the Heisman and had a decent season for a starting running back in the SEC, but disappointing considering the expectations. Manziel will have to face those odds on a team that has a huge road test at LSU and a home game the third week of the season versus Alabama. It’s nearly certain that Johnny Manziel will be the most talked about player this season, and his handling of the extreme pressure he faces on and off the field will be fascinating to watch.
5) Senior Leadership: College football has always been a young man’s game, but the marquee stars have been getting younger. Yet, this year there is some senior quarterbacks that could possibly lead their teams to a National Championship. The first name to mention is obviously A J McCarron. Alabama has to be one of the favorites to repeat and without a clear heir apparent to the Ingram, Richardson, Lacy running back program, Alabama looks to be more pass heavy this year than in year’s past. A J was certainly serviceable last year 67% completion percentage but only had a little over 200 average yards per game. Look for those yardage averages to increase this year as McCarron will be one of the key cogs as to whether Alabama will three peat. Aaron Murray is a rare college football player you just don’t see anymore. He has nothing left to accomplish except get UGA over the hump and into the National Championship game. He has the most TD passes in SEC history, already has a college degree, and is a good enough player that he will be drafted by a team in the NFL. His stats from 2012 were his best year yet with a QB rating of 174 and averaging over 275 yards per game. I would expect those numbers to either remain the same or dwindle a little this season due to the duel threat at running back of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. However, Murray will be called upon to make a tough pass in a key situation and to eradicate the demons of the past. He has something to prove this season and welcomes the chance to do it. Similarly to Murray, Tajh Boyd at Clemson has achieved a lot of success, but still has more to prove. Boyd is another perennial Heisman candidate who was a first team All –American in 2012. Boyd will be looking to insert Clemson into a National Championship contender and they do have a favorable schedule if they get past Georgia on August 31. Boyd graded his overall performance last year as a “B” so Tiger fans should be extremely excited about what the upcoming season could bring.
6) Making the Leap: The top of the heap in college football the past 5-7 years has generally contained the same common names (Oregon, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State). However, one team is usually off the radar and able to play for the National Championship. Notre Dame was ranked 24th in the USA Today Poll and unranked heading into last season. Who are some candidates to make that leap this year and play the spoiler role? My pick is USC. We all know about their disastrous season last year from preseason #1 to mediocrity. However, this year they have retained most of those key components and can fly under the radar. Their big showdown with Stanford is at home and they won’t cross paths with Oregon until the conference championship. Silas Redd is a great running back and Cody Kessler could be a proficient quarterback. However, I wouldn’t’ count out Max Browne, the five star recruit quarterback. I can envision a scenario where after two unspectacular performances in victories over inferior competition the decision is made to give the job to Browne. Make no mistake about it, this is a critical year for Lane Kiffin and he has to pull out all the stops to ensure he is around the USC campus in the Fall of 2014. USC has all the talents to be a contender; they just have to have the right mixture to make it work on the football field. Other potential teams I see fitting in this scenario is Texas and Michigan.
This promises to be an exciting college football season. Most people assume that Alabama and Ohio State and Oregon will be very strong, but besides those three consistencies, many other opinions are wide open. Will Louisville or Clemson be legit contenders? Can anyone else in the SEC breakthrough? Will we have a Northern Illinois mid major team go on a Cinderella run? We hope you enjoy our conference previews will be running every weekday from her until the season begins and culminating in our Heisman preview. Place to Be Nation will be your source for college football analysis in what promises to be a captivating season.