The Star Tribune columnist and self-professed college football nut makes some observations about the upcoming season.
1. Quarterbacks always operate under a microscope, but the crop of blue-chippers this season packs a powerful punch: Trevor, Tua, Hurts, Fromm, Fields, Book, Martinez. Buckle up, defenses.
2. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wisely hired a full-time offensive coordinator when he lured Josh Gattis from Alabama. No more collaboration on play-calling. It will be interesting to see if Harbaugh gives Gattis autonomy in running a more wide-open offense that takes chances in the passing game.
3. Alabama and Clemson look a notch above everyone else again. Some complain about the lack of parity in college football, but I never tire of watching the two top heavyweights slug it out. Nothing boring about that.
4. Notre Dame returns a lot on offense and has a manageable schedule with two rather significant exceptions — at Georgia (Sept. 21) and at Michigan (Oct. 26). Hard to see the Irish returning to the playoff considering that.
5. My top 5 coaches in college football: Alabama’s Nick Saban (duh), Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (duh again), Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher. Honorable mention: Stanford’s David Shaw.
6. The most interesting man in college football is no contest: Washington State coach Mike Leach. A quirky personality who gives entertaining news conferences and offers theories on any subject, but his offensive brilliance is undeniable.
7. The Big Ten returns to the playoff after a two-year hiatus. Michigan is the pick.
8. Jalen Hurts is stepping into big shoes at Oklahoma after transferring from Alabama. The Sooners’ previous two quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — won the Heisman Trophy.
9. Texas is getting lots of preseason love after a 10-win season that include a victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for an offense led by talented quarterback Sam Ehlinger, but the Longhorns must replace eight starters on defense. That could be an issue.
10. Alabama has had 71 players drafted since 2012, including 22 in the first round. Hmm, I wonder why they win so many national championships?
11. I can’t remember the Big Ten West being this wide-open. I think Iowa is the most complete team on that side, but the Hawkeyes have road games at Iowa State, at Michigan, at Northwestern, at Wisconsin and at Nebraska. Good luck with that.
12. College basketball has the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. I’d love to see a Big Ten East vs. SEC West Challenge in football. Imagine these matchups: Alabama-Ohio State; LSU-Michigan; Auburn-Michigan State; Texas A&M-Penn State. Who ya got?
13. He probably won’t win the Heisman, but college football’s most dynamic player (non QB division) is Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. He is a threat to score every time he gets the ball.
14. Way back when, I was a cub reporter in North Carolina during Mack Brown’s tenure as Tar Heels coach. Now I have gray hair and need cheaters to read and Mack Brown is … back in Chapel Hill. I’ve long admired him as a coach, but consider me skeptical that Mack will have the same kind of success that he did in the 1990s.
15. I constantly waffle on whether the College Football Playoff would be better if left at four teams or expanded to eight. I see benefits to both. I wouldn’t want to diminish the drama and importance of the regular season, but eight teams feels like a more appropriate representation.
16. Keep an eye on Utah in the Pac-12. Top-15 defense nationally, lots of returning talent on both sides and a favorable schedule could make this a contender in November.
17. Defensive coordinators Dave Aranda (LSU) and Brent Venables (Clemson) earn more than $2 million annually in salary. That’s pretty good incentive to ignore temptations of becoming a head coach.
18. Remaining items on my personal bucket list: LSU game at night; Army-Navy; Iron Bowl; Clemson’s entrance.
19. And finally, is there a better time of the year than this? Of course not. Enjoy all the wild and wacky Saturdays to come