By Jim Weber
The 2012 college football season ended in anticlimactic fashion, but it’s never too early to look forward to next fall and who might be facing off in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena.
Alabama and Notre Dame should both open this fall in the top five as each brings back lots of talent back and will reload with the top two recruiting classes in the country.
Can the Crimson Tide win the school’s fourth national title in five years and the SEC’s eighth straight BCS crown? They are certainly the favorite. Alabama loses a bunch in the trenches but QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon and WR Amari Cooper will keep the offense churning and the defense should reload as usual. Keep in mind, four of the first 35 picks in last year’s NFL draft came from the Alabama defense and this year’s unit turned out alright.
The other teams most likely to reach the title game are Ohio State, Stanford and Oregon – if, you know, the Ducks are eligible.
Let’s start with the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller and the OSU offense will only be even more explosive in Year Two under Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes’ defense brings back plenty of talent after showing a lot of progress toward the end of the season. Another Saban-Meyer clash with a national title on the line would be a treat.
As for the Pac-12, Stanford brings back almost everyone off a team that went 12-2, beat Oregon in Eugene and won the Rose Bowl. After three straight BCS bowls, the Cardinal might be ready to break through for a berth in the national title game. Meanwhile, Oregon’s go-go gadget offense will be back, led by QB Marcus Mariota and RB De’Anthony Thomas. But the big question on everyone’s minds is whether Oregon will be eligible for a bowl with NCAA sanctions looming. If they escape a bowl ban, the Ducks’ game at Stanford could very easily decide which team advances to play for the crystal ball.
Looking for a dark horse? How about Louisville? The Cardinals crushed Florida in the Sugar Bowl and return an incredible amount of starters, including star QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater. Plus, Louisville’s schedule this fall should be a cakewalk.
Heisman Watch: As for the 2013 Heisman watch, it has to start with Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, who is looking to become the second ever two-time winner of the award ever Archie Griffin (1974, ’75). While many don’t think it’s possible because of the new obstacles Johny Football will face, Manziel’s monster Cotton Bowl performance vs. Oklahoma only cemented his status as the front runner for next season’s bronze statue. Nine other leading candidates include: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Miller, Bridgewater, McCarron, Georgia QB Aaron Murray, Yeldon, Thomas, Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey and USC WR Marqise Lee.
Year of Jadeveon: Speaking of Clowney, it appears the 6-foot-6, 260-pound freak of nature will become the most prized defensive end prospect in NFL history this fall, as pundits are already in universal agreement that he will be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The rising junior already had a monster 2012 season with 13 sacks. But his dismembering of Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl – which will be known in South Carolina forever as simply “The Hit” – just took expectations to an entirely different level. What will Clowney do to top himself next season? SEC offensive coordinators are already losing sleep over it.
Judgment Day Looming: The Willie Lyles Scandal at Oregon that has dragged on for nearly two years appears close to Judgment Day with the NCAA. Sanctions will surely be handed down for Oregon paying the scout $25,000 for what appears to be bogus recruiting information in order to gain access to top recruits. Given the history of NCAA president Mark Emmert hammering other programs (i.e. Penn State), it appears the Ducks will at least receive a one-year bowl ban. It would be a crushing blow to a team that will start the season among the national title favorites.
New Head Coaches Galore: There will be a staggering 29 new head coaches this fall. That’s nearly one-fourth of all FBS schools. The best hire, in my opinion, is Auburn bringing back former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to The Plains after leading the Tigers to the 2010 national title as the team’s offensive coordinator. He, not Gene Chizik, should have been the head coach all along. The worst hire? Cincinnati dishing out $2.2 million a year for Tommy Tuberville, who easily could have been fired at Texas Tech several weeks ago for his under-performance there. It’s never a good sign when another school’s fans are glad you hired their coach.
Hot Seats Rising: No head coach will be under more scrutiny next fall than USC head coach and Public Enemy No. 1 Lane Kiffin. The Trojans had all the talent in the world last fall as the preseason No. 1 team in the country, yet finished the year just 7-6. Kiffin needs a back bounce-back year to keep his job, but will it happen without QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, RB Curtis McNeal and C Khaled Holmes on offense and a defense that collapsed in the second half of the season? There’s still plenty of talent in SoCal, so anything less than nine wins will probably lead to Kiffin’s ouster.
Another head coaching hot seat to keep an eye on: Dana Holgorsen’s. No one has gone from the penthouse to the dog house quicker than the West Virginia head coach. After five games, it appeared the high-scoring Mountaineers were destined to play in the national title game. Instead, they also finished 7-6 after getting hammered by Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. With WVU’s best playmakers (QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey) gone and a pitiful defense, things could get ugly in Morgantown.
Big Least: Louisville saved face for the Big East by winning the Sugar Bowl, but the conference could be a disaster next season. Boise State reneged on its move to the Big East and is staying in the Mountain West. Pittsburgh and Syracuse, two bowl teams this season, are off to the ACC. The replacements are Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis and San Diego State – not exactly a Murderer’s Row of football powers. Oh, and there’s still a chance Louisville gets out of the league early to join the ACC this fall. If that happens, commissioner Mike Aresco might want to bury his head in the sand.
Needless to say, there won’t be any shortage of storylines or drama when college football resumes eight months from now.
Clowney photo credit: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images