Your patience is slowly being rewarded. In less than a month, there will be college football. Real, live actual football — played in stadiums with helmets and pads and everything.
To get prepared for yet another season of our most beloved sport, I’ve compiled 10 of the most interesting storylines to watch. There are more than 10 things to watch in any given year, of course, but we’re going with items that are unique to the 2016 season — things that make this year the special little snowflake that it is.
From high expectations for
‘s football team post-scandal, here are the 10 things to watch from August through January.
10. College football experiments with collaborative replay. Instant replay can be an important part of college football. It can also be controversial, especially when targeting is involved. Starting this season, though, the sport is experimenting with a “collaborative approach” to instant replay. The experiment is summarized by the National Football Foundation as follows:
This means that the replay official will be in communication with observers who are watching the game on television at a site other than the instant replay booth. The replay official will be in consultation with the remote observers while reviewing a play. The purpose is to allow for a second observer in addition to this replay official to assist in making the decisions about a review.
Not every conference has to use collaborative replay, but if the experiment proves successful, this could be the future of replay in college football. When it comes to the crossroads of getting the correct call on the field and disrupting the rhythm of the game, collaborative replay is something to watch closely.
9. Is Tennessee finally back? Yes, this question feels repetitive. No, this is not the same ol’ Vols preseason hype. As Bleacher Report’s SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee has pointed out, Tennessee isn’t actually the king of offseason puffery. That has changed this year, though, with the Vols being named as the preseason SEC East champs.
Can they live up to the high bar that’s been set? An appearance in Atlanta would validate the direction of the program and there’s more than enough talent to get the job done. Couple that with a down year for the East and this should be Tennessee’s division to lose. If — somehow, some way — Tennessee doesn’t win the East, it could be the biggest missed opportunity of the year. How coach Butch Jones would survive that is beyond me.
‘s offense has a chance to be historically great. If you like points, Clemson should be your adopted team of choice because the Tigers are going to be nearly unstoppable. The offense that put up 38.5 points per game a season ago returns basically intact — plus it gets receiver
back from a neck injury that knocked him out for all of last year. It’s not just experience Clemson has, though. It’s talent, too. With Williams, quarterback
; running back
; tight end
and offensive lineman
, there are a lot of future pros on this unit.
Florida State Seminoles
hold the single-season FBS record with 723 points. At most — assuming Clemson plays only 13 games — the Tigers need 55.7 points per game to top that. If preseason expectations are realized, that number goes down to 48.3. With this offense, achieving those gaudy numbers are certainly possible.
7. The topsy-turvy coaching landscape. The days of the long-time head coach in college football are nearly at an end. The likes of Bob Stoops, who is entering his 18th season with
, are few and far between. Realistically, a nice tenure at one stop is somewhere between 6-9 years.
Some big-name coaches are starting their first years at new locations. Mark Richt is at Miami (FL) following a long stint at
. Bronco Mendenhall is at
after several years with BYU. Former NFL coach Lovie Smith is with
Illinois Fighting Illini
. Even at the assistant level, there are big acquisitions. Brady Hoke is now the defensive coordinator at
while Greg Schiano holds the same title at
Ohio State Buckeyes
. Meanwhile, as CBS Sports’ own Jon Solomon wrote previously, the SEC has its most inexperienced group of head coaches in 52 years.
6. Who will the Big 12 invite? (Will it invite anyone at all?) After what feels like an infinite debate, the Big 12 is finally expanding … maybe … depending on what ESPN and Fox Sports have to say. Who makes the cut?
Brigham Young Cougars
? UConn? Pick two. Or four. If the conference’s TV partners are going to fight about extending their deal, they’re all the same choice.
The conference plans on wrapping up this decision process before the start of the season, but who knows if it will. You know what they say: Time is a flat circle. You are reborn, but into the same life that you’ve always been born into. Everything that has happened will happen again. It was all just a dream, a dream that you had about being a Power Five conference.
5. A Heisman race for the ages. Star power fluctuates in college football, typically by position. It’s never absent, per se, but it’s more abundant in some seasons. This is one of those years.
Take one look at the preseason Heisman race and you’ll see why: Watson,
, Oklahoma quarterback
, Florida State running back
— that could be your Heisman top-five right there, and it wouldn’t include Ohio State quarterback
or a number of other realistic candidates.
The point being, this year’s Heisman race has a chance to be all-time fascinating. That would be refreshing, since the Heisman race can get buried behind the playoff conversation. Additionally, three of the last four Heisman races have been sure things.
4. A Texas-sized bidding war for Tom Herman? On July 14, a report surfaced that Houston coach Tom Herman “met with Baylor in regards to their head football coaching position.” On the surface, the connection made sense. Baylor had just brought on new athletic director Mack Rhoades, who previously hired Herman at Houston. However, Herman quickly debunked the rumor, calling it “completely ridiculous and absolutely false.”
Still, welcome to the Tom Herman sweepstakes. Get used to it, because it’s about to dominate your news feed for the next four months. Herman could go anywhere he wants, including staying at Houston if the Cougars have another big season. But the projection is that the chips might fall in such a way that it could come down to
and Texas A&M if Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin, respectively, fail to live up to expectations in critical years.
Who says the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is dead?
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan and the ‘next step.’ Harbaugh is a talker. He’s a savage sub-tweeter. He’s enjoyed by some because he’s 247/365 content. He’s hated by many others. He’s also one hell of a football coach. If Michigan takes the next step this season, that last descriptor is going to rise above everything else.
What’s the next step? The Wolverines are picked to finish second in the Big Ten East behind Ohio State, per the annual Cleveland.com preseason poll. Leapfrogging the Buckeyes, who were major winners in the NFL draft, and making the Big Ten championship game would be a good place to start. A playoff appearance would be even better. A national championship, while perhaps a stretch at this point in time, would elevate Harbaugh to mayor of Ann Arbor.
Michigan has the defense to carry this team a long way and the offense has enough playmakers to take it further. If Harbaugh keeps batting 1.000 on quarterback selections, this can be the most complete team in the Big Ten, as well as one of the most talented. It’s only Harbaugh’s second year, but it’s already approaching put up or shut up time.
2. Nick Saban tries to win his sixth national title overall, tying Bear Bryant. Back in April, our own Dennis Dodd wrote about the best question Alabama fans will hate answering: Is Nick Saban better than Bear Bryant? It’s an uncomfortable question, to be sure. How many people ever thought they’d legitimately be posed with it? If Saban wins another national title with the Tide this season, it will be his fifth with Alabama and sixth overall. It’s not a perfect comparison — Bryant has six with Alabama and
‘s title in 1950 isn’t a consensus — but as Dodd noted, Saban “will have won six overall (one at LSU) in a 14-year period. Bryant won his six in 19 years.”
Good luck picking a side in what would be the greatest debate in Alabama football history.
1. Football will be played at Baylor. Nothing that happens with Baylor’s football program this year will come close to matching the significance of its sexual and physical assault scandals. How, exactly, the university plans to rectify its egregious and numerous wrongdoings is far more important — and forcing assistant coaches to take a vow of silence isn’t a good look. Football shouldn’t even be considered a return to normalcy, either, if for no other reason than the victims of these crimes weren’t awarded such conveniences.
But … football will be played at Baylor, regardless of whether it should be or not. The attention then shifts to how the
perform on the field. Coach Art Briles is out and acting coach Jim Grobe, formerly of
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
, is in. However, the assistant coaching staff has largely remained intact and a handful of big names, including quarterback
, return. The biggest concern remains the turnover in the trenches, where the Bears have dominated recently.
Does Baylor take the expected step back immediately, or does continuity save the season? It stands to reason Baylor’s biggest hurdles lie in the next two or three years, when the current roster attrition could stand out the most. Either way, more eyes will be on Baylor than ever early in the season. And a lot of them will be rooting for the Bears to fail.