The coaching carousel always churns out fascinating changes, but never more so than this year. Both Florida and Florida State have new coaches, Chip Kelly is back in the college game at UCLA, Arizona State jumped completely outside the box in hiring Herm Edwards and Texas A&M bet a whole bunch of money — $75 million to be exact — that Jimbo Fisher will bring championships to College Station.
Speaking of coaches, think Nebraska fans are fired up for Scott Frost’s homecoming? A program record 86,818 fans showed up for the spring game. Mark it down: Frost will reward that loyalty by elevating the Cornhuskers back to national prominence, although probably not immediately. The Cornhuskers road schedule includes games at Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. Yikes.
As an offseason of coaching drama fades and the games begin, here are the story lines I’ll be watching closely:
Great change: Awesome openers
The first few weeks of the season used to serve as a tune-up, a way to ease into things with cream-puff matchups. Luckily for fans, the playoff has changed scheduling philosophy. Enjoy this opening week slate: Washington vs. Auburn; Michigan vs. Notre Dame; Miami vs. LSU; Virginia Tech vs. Florida State.
Great change, II: Fresh faces
The NCAA got it right with the new redshirt rule that allows players to appear in four games without losing a year of eligibility. The new rule will have a significant impact by allowing players to gain experience without burning their redshirt.
A contender, or a backup?
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, hero of the national championship game, has been tabbed as a Heisman Trophy contender, even though he hasn’t started a game in college … or even been named the starter. On Monday, Coach Nick Saban declined to say whether Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts will start Saturday against Louisville.
Bigger is better?
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told CBS Sports that he wants the playoff expanded to six teams. I waffle on whether I prefer four teams or a larger field. More entrants likely would prevent a situation like last season when Central Florida went undefeated and was left out. An eight-team playoff would mean more excitement. But I also love the drama of the regular season and the importance placed on every single game.
Nick The Great
Amazing stat courtesy of Lindy’s annual preview magazine: Saban has produced 30 consensus All-Americans in 11 seasons at Alabama — that’s the same number as Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Georgia, Auburn, UCLA and Nebraska COMBINED.
Best division, conference
Take your pick: Big Ten East vs. SEC West. I give the slight edge to the Big Ten East now for best division. Here are my annual Power Five Conference rankings: 1. SEC. 2. Big Ten. 3. ACC. 4. Big 12. 5. Pac-12.
Uneven ticket sales
Average attendance in Football Bowl Subdivision last season dropped to 42,203, the lowest mark since 1997. The Big Ten was the only Power Five conference that saw an increase, a minimal gain of 76 fans per game on average. Purdue had the largest increase in FBS: 13,433 more fans per game.
Go, go, go
Here’s how much tempo offense — playing fast — has grown in popularity: In 2017, 64 teams in FBS ran 900 plays, with 13 eclipsing 1,000. In 2008, 35 teams reached 900, and only five hit 1,000.
My Heisman watch list
We’re willing to bet a nickel the winner comes from this list:
• Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: The Heisman runner-up opted to return for his senior season, making him the early favorite. He finished second in rushing last season with 2,118 yards, despite playing with an ankle injury down the stretch.
• Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona: Started last season as a backup but put up 3,002 total yards and 26 TDs after being promoted. He should be an ideal fit in new coach Kevin Sumlin’s system.
• Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Taylor was the nation’s third-leading rusher and averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a freshman.
• Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: He has a talented receiving corps, but his inexperienced offensive line could be a problem.
• Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: OK, the odds are not great obviously, but Oliver deserves to be mentioned since he might be the best player in college football. Outland Trophy winner and consensus All-America, he has collected 39.5 tackles for loss in 25 career games.
See ya in Santa Clara
Prediction time ...
Semifinals (Dec. 29):
• Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Georgia. Clemson’s defense will be too much for Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm.
• Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Wisconsin. Nick Saban has talent and scheme to neutralize Badgers’ power rushing attack.
National championship (Levi’s Stadium, Jan. 7):
• Alabama vs. Clemson: Surprise, surprise. Dabo Swinney has built a powerhouse program at Clemson and his team will add another championship.