By Scott Hamilton, WRAL Sports contributor
Here is your preseason, A-to-Z guide for the 2021 college football season as we head into the opening weekend.
Alabama –– The defending champion Crimson Tide must replace a starting quarterback (a top-15 NFL Draft pick), a Heisman Trophy-winning receiver (a top-10 NFL Draft pick) and five other starters (all now pros) who contributed to rewriting the program’s record book. And yet Alabama is first in both preseason polls and the Las Vegas favorite to win its seventh title since 2009. Yeah, that’s about right.
Big games –– The importance of scheduling looms larger each year that the College Football Playoff is a four-team affair. The best way to get the attention of the selection committee and the media is by stepping out to play quality non-conference foes.
Exhibit ‘A’: Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame on Oct. 2
Exhibit ‘B’: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte on Sept. 4
For the usual powers, a big non-conference game offers a win-win opportunity. A victory can pad a resume and be the difference in seeding, while a defeat –– unless delivered in blowout fashion –– can be labeled as the proverbial “good loss” and nearly wiped from existence come the first week of December.
Coastal Carolina –– Respectable Group of 5 conference that can provide enough opportunities for quality wins? Check.
A non-conference Power 5 opponent on the schedule? Check.
Chances to draw plenty of eyeballs by also playing games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights? Yep.
A quarterback who was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year as a true freshman and has now had a full year of Division I offseason workouts? Check.
A mullet-sporting coach who led his team from a predicted last-place finish in its division to the best season in school history? Yep, the Chanticleers have that, too.
And maybe enough momentum and goodwill nationally to be the first G5 team to crack the CFP.
Domination –– Clemson has won six straight ACC titles. Yet plenty of Dabo haters will say “Clemsoning” remains a thing and point to the Tigers’ 49-28 semifinal loss to Ohio State.
Expansion –– Did you hear the one about Oklahoma and Texas chasing and securing membership in the Southeastern Conference? So did I. And folks from Morgantown to Stillwater to Lubbock don’t think it’s very funny.
Freshwater, Joey –– Google him. Trust me.
Golden child –– Scott Frost was the Chosen One, he who was to return Nebraska football to its 1990s glory. He went 24-2 while quarterbacking the Cornhuskers, including when they won a share of the 1997 national title. As a coach he went 19-7 in two seasons at Central Florida highlighted by a 13-0 mark in 2018 that was capped off with a Peach Bowl win over No. 7 Auburn and a self-proclaimed national championship. But he’s 12-20 since returning home to Lincoln, is battling reports that he tried to get Nebraska out of its game this season at Oklahoma, and the program is under investigation for possible NCAA violations. Oh, where have you gone Dr. Tom Osborne?
Howell, Sam –– The North Carolina junior was named second team AP All-American, has more touchdown passes at this point in his career than any player in ACC history, and he’s expected to go early in the 2022 NFL Draft. Howell also has a name, image, likeness deal with Bojangles. He’s winning for sure.
Iowa State –– The Cyclones are ranked in the preseason for the third straight year, this time with a school-best eighth-place ranking. They also tied Notre Dame by landing a national-most three players on the Associated Press Preseason All-America team. Oh, and Iowa State plays in the Big 12, a conference in which all but two other members are frantically looking for liferafts. So, yeah, this could be a huge season for the Cyclones if things work out Nov. 20 in Norman, Okla.
Job security –– Southern Cal went 5-1 in that thing called 2020, its only loss being a 31-24 defeat to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Coach Clay Helton has won three division titles since 2015 despite massive staff changes and yet his job again seems in jeopardy. In other words, things are normal in Los Angeles.
Kansas –– Lance Leipold is the new coach at Kansas, taking over for the fired Les Miles. He’s the Jayhawks’ ninth head coach this century and the 40th in the 131-year history of Kansas football. To put into perspective: Ohio State and Michigan have combined to have 45 head coaches since 1890. Even woeful Rutgers –– the Kansas of the Big Ten –– has had only 29 coaches since it began play in 1891. Twenty-eight men have coached Vanderbilt (yes, the Kansas of the SEC) since 1890.
LSU –– Remember when the Tigers reeled off a perfect 15-0 season and won the national championship in 2019? Or is last season’s 5-5 record more indicative of Ed Orgeron’s coaching acumen? Remember: He went 10-25 at Ole Miss before going 6-2 as interim coach at Southern Cal and again when LSU fired Les Miles in 2016. He’s 45-12 overall with the Tigers –– a good-but-not-great record that sparkles thanks to 2019’s fairy dust. We’ll learn the truth this year when Coach O has to perform under the shadow of last year’s debacle and lingering Title IX allegations. He’s also working under an athletics director who didn’t hire him.
Miami –– “The U” plays host to Appalachian State on Sept. 11. It’s been 14 years since the Mountaineers’ 34-32 win at then-No. 5 Michigan. Just sayin’.
New coaches –– Four of 14 SEC teams have new coaches this season: Brian Harsin, Auburn; Shane Beamer, South Carolina; Josh Heupel, Tennessee; Clark Lea, Vanderbilt. That quartet could be around awhile, too, if they have success. The average age among the four is 39.5 years.
Onside kick –– They’re practicing this often in Clinton, S.C., where the Presbyterian Blue Hose are now coached by Kevin Kelley. He was named head coach in April after 17 years at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., where he won nine state championships. Six of those titles came over the past seven years during which his teams regularly attempted on-side kicks and rarely punted thanks to a belief that possession trumps field position. Among his biggest supporters? The hoodie himself, Bill Belichick, has admitted to following Kelley’s career and described him “as probably the best high school coach in the country.” How the go-for-broke strategy plays out at the Football Championship Subdivision level remains to be seen.
Points per possession –– If you’re not scoring 40 points a game, then you’re not one of the cool kids. And you’re not winning many games, either.
Quarterbacks –– Don’t think football is a quarterback-driven sport? A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy 24 times since Doug Flutie locked things up with an iconic Hail Mary in 1984. And 17 of those winners have come since 2000, including nine of 10 winners between 2010-2019.
Alabama’s DeVonta Smith ended a run of four straight wins by a quarterback last year when he became just the third pure receiver to capture the award. Just don’t be fooled. Smith’s win could start a minor trend, yet it won’t cause a seismic shift in voting patterns.
Quarterbacks will increasingly put up videogame-like numbers as college football continues to evolve at a faster pace than at any other time in its 150-plus-year history. Punts will go the way of the Dodo bird as teams’ focus shifts from field position to points per possession and snaps per game.
Rich Rodriguez –– December will mark 15 years since Rich Rod, then West Virginia’s coach, allegedly backed out of a verbal agreement to replace Mike Shula as Alabama’s coach.
Rodriguez was Bama’s third choice after being rebuffed by Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier of South Carolina. The Crimson Tide became frantic when Rodriguez didn’t take the joband made another run at Saban, who accepted. Things obviously worked out well for ‘Bama, and Rodriguez positioned himself to be the head coach of another blueblood program when he was hired by Michigan in December 2007. A hectic tenure ended three years later when he was fired. He was also fired following a six-year run at Arizona. Rodriguez was hired in January of this year to be the offensive coordinator for Terry Bowden at Louisiana-Monroe.
Sweet schedule –– We see you, Kentucky, making the most of the SEC’s current scheduling model in which you play eight usually killer league games and then a less-than-challenging non-conference docket. The Wildcats play in-state rival Louisville to wrap up the regular season on Nov. 27. But before that, its non-SEC foes are: Chattanooga, which has gone 15-19 the last three seasons playing in the FCS; a Louisiana-Monroe team that was outscored 420-163 en route to going 0-10; and New Mexico State, which has traditionally been one of the worst programs in Division I football. It did, however, go 1-1 against FCS teams after opting out of playing in 2020 –– beating good ol’ Dixie State, 36-29, and losing to Tarleton State, 43-17.
Tougher schedule –– A tip of the cap to Stanford for having all Power 5 teams on its non-conference schedule. It’s not exactly a minefield, what with an opening game against a Kansas State team picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 and later a trip to Vanderbilt. But the Cardinal wraps up a regular season with no Group of 5 or FCS opponents by hosting Notre Dame. And that’s just cool to see.
Underwhelming –– Since returning to Ann Arbor after the 2014 season, Jim Harbaugh has drunk more gallons of milk and climbed more trees in recruits’ backyards than he has secured wins over Michigan State (3-3) top 10 teams (1-8) or in bowl games (1-4). Oh, and he’s winless in five games against Ohio State. He would likely be 0-for-6 against the Buckeyes, but last year’s game was abruptly canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak at Michigan.
Venues –– In addition to the normal rivalry games such as Oklahoma vs. Texas, Georgia vs. Florida and the Army-Navy game, there are plenty of neutral-site contests on the 2021 docket. Among them are: Appalachian State vs. East Carolina (Sept. 2, Charlotte); Alabama vs. Miami (Sept. 4, Atlanta); Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 25, Chicago); Army vs. Air Force (Nov. 6, Arlington, Texas). Did I mention Georgia and Clemson? (Sept. 4, Charlotte).
Walk-ons –– There are no such things any longer at BYU. That was taken care of earlier this month when Built Bar, a Utah-based nutrition company, dramatically announced it would pick up the tab for BYU’s football non-scholarship players. Apparently, Walk-on’s Bistreaux & Bar –– the sports-themed restaurant with 100 locations across 15 states –– saw this coming. It ended its relations with the Independence Bowl in 2019 after serving as title sponsor for three years.
X-rays –– Georgia has already lost two potentially important pieces –– tight end Darnell Washington and Tykee Smith, a defensive back transfer from West Virginia –– for up to a month because of ankle injuries. Several other players have missed multiple practices as the Bulldogs’ opener with Clemson creeps closer. All is well in Athens, however, as quarterback J.T. Daniels has signed a name, image, likeness deal with Zaxby’s. And he’s smartly sharing his appearance money with his linemen.
Young buck –– Lincoln Riley will turn 38 the day after Oklahoma opens up its season at Tulane. But it will be Riley’s fifth season opener as the Sooners’ head coach. During his first four years since replacing Bob Stoops he’s gone 45-8, won four Big 12 titles, made the college football playoff three times and produced two Heisman Trophy winners. Of course, replicating that success in the SEC will be the biggest challenge of his young career.
Zion Johnson –– What an interesting career path for the grad student offensive lineman who was named an AP preseason first-team all-American. Now in his third season at Boston College, the 6-3, 318-pound Johnson started his career at Davidson College where he made 19 starts in two years.
He was named first team all-conference before transferring out of the Pioneer League. Johnson started seven games at left guard as a junior in 2018 and was named a team captain last season while grading out as BC’s top offensive lineman. He was the only ACC offensive lineman to make the AP’s preseason first or second team.
Source : https://www.wralsportsfan.com/hamilton-here-s-what-you-need-to-know-about-college-football-season-from-a-to-z/19840436/2174