25 Things for Spring: The college football names, battles and storylines you need to know
Spring (practice) can’t come quick enough. It’s been too cold, too chaotic and too devoid of football.
Who would have thought a year ago that Texas Tech’s coach would be in the NFL right now in a position to consider drafting Oklahoma’s centerfielder No. 1 overall?
Who knows what craziness awaits this offseason. Whatever the case, ’tis time celebrate college football once again.
We’re kicking off our spring coverage this week with the annual 25 Things for Spring. It’s only been a couple of months since the 2018 season ended, but aren’t we are looking forward to 2019 already?
1. Where does Clemson go from here? The likely preseason No. 1 has now knocked off Alabama for the national championship twice in the last three years. Is it time consider a burgeoning dynasty at Clemson? This spring opens with the Tigers as the team to beat. There’s a big reason why …
2. The Tao of Trevor: Clemson’s sophomore quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, enters the spring as the game’s biggest star — a prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite who many believe is already good enough to be in the NFL. When was the last time you could say that about a true freshman quarterback? It’s hard to believe it took Lawrence until Game 5 to become Clemson’s starter in 2018. For the next two seasons, he’s all ours.
3. Alabama rebuilding: Those words have never been written in the Nick Saban era —. The Crimson Tide are picking up the pieces after their worst loss under Saban. Fourteen starters return from a group that lost by four touchdowns to Clemson and looked bad doing it. When Tua Tagovailoa is one of those starters and when he is throwing to the deepest set of wide receivers in the country, something tells me the Tide will have a chance.
4. A new Day at Ohio State: The Urban Meyer drama is finally over. It says something that Ohio State turned immediately to their 39-year-old offensive coordinator. Ryan Day came to Meyer highly recommended after a couple stops with Chip Kelly in the NFL. That after coming up as an offensive coordinator at Temple and Boston College in the first half of the decade. The Buckeyes should be favored to win the Big Ten with a rookie coach because the Ohio State football has proven to be bigger than whoever is coaching it.
5. Portal bros: So far this year, the transfer portal has been the dominant topic of college football conversation. 247Sports is currently listing 400 FBS players as having placed their name in the portal created last year by the NCAA for player freedom. While some coaches have complained about issues with roster management, this is what the sport needs to become — as close to the normal student experience as possible. Meanwhile, the biggest names to make moves …
6. Justin Fields, Ohio State: The nation’s former No. 1 recruit makes the transition from Dwayne Haskins at quarterback simpler. Fields won his waiver appeal to become eligible immediately after leaving Georgia following his true freshman season. Do the Buckeyes skip a beat?
7. Kelly Bryant, Missouri: Bryant was arguably the difference in Clemson’s national championship. Before Lawrence won the job, Bryant played the last six series of the Tigers’ closest result last season — a 28-26 win in Week 3 at Texas A&M. Missouri gets a ready-made playoff-caliber QB to replace Drew Lock. Bryant is getting extra love for sticking around through a bowl ban.
8. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: OU got one of the best football citizens in the country. Hurts didn’t complain when he lost the starting job at Alabama. He actually got better backing up Tagovailoa. He couldn’t have made a better graduate transfer choice than to a place that has produced the last two Heisman winners.
9. The Irish wish for a playoff repeat: Two things were proven in South Bend, Indiana, last season. 1. Just about the only way the Irish can lock in a playoff berth is to go undefeated. 2. They’ve still got a long way to go after College Football Playoff smackdown to Clemson. There’s lots of work to be done, but Brian Kelly suggested in a Yahoo interview this week that he’s committed.So much so that Kelly hinted he may retire in five years.
10. He’s baaaack: Hugh Freeze restarts his career at Liberty. The two seem to fit. A faith-based institution took a leap of faith. There’s no doubt Freeze can coach. It’s just that Liberty is probably one of the few FBS programs that would hire Freeze as its coach. An uncomfortable exit at Ole Miss still made him a bit radioactive. Best-case for Hugh: Liberty becomes a quick stepping stone back to the big time.
11. Five coaches who have to win now:
- Clay Helton, USC — (see below)
- Willie Taggart, Florida State — After a disastrous Year 1, Taggart has to win big in 2019
- Lovie Smith, Illinois — 9-27 in three seasons
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn — Second year of big contract signed under previous administration adds even more pressure; plus, it’s Auburn
- Chris Ash, Rutgers — Red-ink stained bottom line in athletic department gives Ash a weird sort of security
12. Reemergence of the SEC East: While you weren’t looking, the SEC’s other division got its manhood back. Three SEC East teams finished ranked in the top 15 (Florida, Georgia, Kentucky). Two finished in the top 10 (Florida, Georgia). Missouri gets a championship quarterback in Bryant. Dan Mullen brought hope back to Gainesville, Florida, with 10 wins in his first season. Georgia will continue to be a factor despite consecutive heart-breaking losses to Alabama. The division that has lived in the shadow of the SEC West for about a decade is capable of matching and surpassing it. The East finished 9-5 against the West last season after going 3-11 in 2017. From 2010-16 the West winner played in what is known a New Year’s Six bowl each year. Don’t call it a power shift, maybe a power balance.
13. The confusing algorithm that is Jim Harbaugh: He has won at least 10 in three of his four seasons … but he is coming off an. The Wolverines got better on offense with Shea Patterson at QB but now lose a load on defense. Overall, Harbaugh has to develop more dynamic athletes. The depth and breadth of the Ohio State loss proved that. Harbs is now 2-7 against Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame, 36-7 otherwise.
14. The next batch of defensive linemen: Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver and Quinnen Williams are gone. The NFL Combine proved the position might be the most important in football after quarterback. Watch these studs this spring
- Xavier Thomas, Clemson
- Rashard Lawrence, LSU
- Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
- LaBryan Ray, Alabama
- A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
15. Aggie hotness: As spring opens, Texas A&M is ascending. In Year 2, Jimbo Fisher has momentum after a 9-4 debut. He has returning a go-to quarterback (Kellen Mond), four offensive line starters and every meaningful receiver. Throw in a top-three recruiting class and notably demanding Aggies fans will be expecting more than nine wins.
16. Is Texas back? Quarterback Sam Ehlinger sure thinks so. “Longhorn Nation, weeeee’re back!” the quarterback boasted after the Sugar Bowl over Georgia. We’ll see. A win over Oklahoma in New Year’s Six victory and Ehlinger’s emergence made the question worth asking. “They’re not back until they’re consistently good,” former coach Mack Brown said. “Tom [Herman] has a really good feel for where it is. They’ve done a tremendous job with Sam. He can run it and throw it. He’s a great leader, passionate. To me, he’s been a huge difference.”
17. Blindside block — eliminated? By April 17, we’ll know if a series of rules changes for 2019 will be approved. Among them, very quietly, is a proposal to turn any blindside hit made with “forcible contact” into a penalty. By its definition, a blindside block, if executed properly, is a brutally beautiful part of football. Get your shots in boys, they may be your last legal ones on an opponent who doesn’t have his head on a swivel.
18. Change is in the air: A late rush after the early signing day made it 27 total coaching changes — more than a fifth of FBS. Ten of those are first-time college head coaches. Eleven of the 27 have prior FBS head coaching experience. Among the notable retreads: Jim McElwain (Central Michigan), Dana Holgerson (Houston) and Gary Andersen (Utah State). But there are also interesting upward moves by Matt Wells (Utah State to Texas Tech), Geoff Collins (Temple to Georgia Tech) and Chris Klieman (North Dakota State to Kansas State).
19. Old guys rule: Les Miles is back at Kansas at age 63. Mack Brown is back at North Carolina at age 67. At 64, Herm Edwards went to a bowl after 29 years out of the college game last year at Arizona State. That’s a nicer way of saying experience still matters.
20. Falling off a Kliff: Not much has gone right for USC in the offseason. Coming off a tie for the program’s worst record in 28 years (5-7), athletic director Lynn Swann retained coach Clay Helton in a curious letter to fans that seemed to disparage his coach. Kingsbury was hired as offensive coordinator and a de facto coach-in-waiting only to bolt to the Arizona Cardinals. Helton went out and got the next best former Texas Tech quarterback/offensive coordinator he could find — North Texas’ Graham Harrell. Meanwhile, five Trojans receivers have entered the transfer portal. Actual football in spring practice should provide a needed distraction.
21. Elsewhere in the Pac-12: The Conference of, ahem, Champions could really use one in the College Football Playoff. The bad news just keeps piling on the league that hasn’t won a national championship in 15 years. On a positive note, Cristobal landed a top-five recruiting class and has QB Justin Herbert back. Washington has to replace some generational offensive players. Stanford has won at least nine eight of the last nine years. What the league can’t afford — a repeat of the last two seasons in which only one team (2018 Washington State) lost less than three games.
22. It’s all about Transfer U: Technically, Miami is Manny Diaz’s second head-coaching job. He left Temple after 18 days to take over after Mark Richt retired. Whatever, Diaz definitely has a philosophy at The U. He has harvested the portal for at least six top 25-ranked transfers, including QB Tate Martell, who is still waiting on his waiver.
23. Playoff expansion push: In April, the FBS commissioners will gather for the annual CFP meetings. Outgoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany isn’t going quietly on the subject. At the end of last year, he pushed for more consideration of conference champions in the CFP. The Big Ten champion has been left out each of the last three years. “In some unusual, ironic ways when we had a 1-2 game [BCS], you didn’t really feel left out if you weren’t involved. There are five or six of seven major interests in college football right now. I don’t think the majority of them are being served right now.”
24. Prayers for McKenzie: UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton recently revealed it was 50-50 whether his leg would be amputated after a gruesome knee injury last season.There are doubts whether Milton will play again. The Knights’ former firestarter will be around during the spring. The best-case scenario is that coach Josh Heupel redshirts Milton in 2019 in hopes he can somehow play again in 2020. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush is in the mix to replace him.
25. From post-spring to preseason: If Florida and Miami get their waiver approved to move up the season opener to Aug. 24, we’re only 170 days away from what is believed to be the longest college football season ever. There would be 142 days from Florida-Miami to the 2020 CFP National Championship on Jan. 13, 2020.