College Football Preview
September 3, 2015
All we heard in August was who will meet Ohio State in the National Championship Game. Borrowing the wise words of ESPN commentator, Lee Corso, ‘not so fast my friends.’ Remember, I wrote in these pages last week that none of the schools that received 90+ percent of first place votes in pre-season poll went on to win the national title. That stat likely does not dampen Buckeye fans as they enjoyed receiving 100 percent of the first place votes.
No matter if you believe Ohio State will repeat or not, the 2015 season will give us excitement every season before it has. And it all starts this weekend. Michigan-Utah, TCU-Minnesota, North Carolina-South Carolina and 15 other games will kick the season off on Thursday night, with a Week 1 celebration lasting all the way through Ohio State’s rematch with Virginia Tech on Labor Day night.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Yes the season is finally here. And we have already had a coach firing. Yes, Illinois is already in the market for a new head coach.
That is about the only negative story in the Big Ten this calendar year. Ohio State won the national title last January. Michigan State and Wisconsin are becoming perennial national powers. Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh. It appears the Big 10 is on the rise.
The SEC appears to be as wide-open as ever. Alabama, with its talent base, never rebuilds but it does have several new faces starting. Mississippi and Arkansas are looking to take the next step and Georgia could finally be ready to meet expectations. I could see a half dozen schools winning the SEC but it hard to bet against the Crimson Tide.
The Pac-12 also may be wide open for a change. Oregon will likely drop a bit and Stanford has been digressing a bit each year since Andrew Luck graduated. One-time traditional powers USC and UCLA have been taking small steps at catching the Ducks and the Cardinal. This might be the year.
Ezekial Elliot, Ohio State
Speaking of taking baby steps toward earning a conference title, Clemson might just finally do it in 2015. The Tigers will have to top Florida State and it could happen with Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
One conference that has changed a great deal in recent years is the Big 12. The rise of Baylor and TCU has coincided with the struggles of traditional powers, Oklahoma and Texas. The rise will continue again in 2015. I am not sure who will emerge, but it will be either the Bears or the Horned Frogs.
I spoke of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson being a Heisman possibility. But this could be the year of the running back.
Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State has to be considered. He became a star late last season. Elliott ran for 220 yards in the Big Ten title game, 230 in the Sugar Bowl and 246 in the national title game.
Derrick Henry, Alabama
The Buckeyes may not ever trail in a game this season which means they will often use the rushing game to run down the clock. Elliott will be running behind a huge and talented offensive line. And with Ohio State opening the season as an overwhelming No. 1, he’s a safe bet to hang around the race.
I also like Derrick Henry of Alabama. Henry is the heir apparent to T.J. Yeldon. He ran 172 times for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and now he’s clearly the top returning skill player on an offense that loses a lot of talent, including a Heisman finalist in wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Crimson Tide will likely turn back to their ground game and Henry could benefit.
College football has become more and more of an offensive game. Therefore, it only makes sense that increased scoring makes defense even more important. I can prove that statement. Eight of the last 10 national champions have finished in the top 10 nationally in defensive yards per play. I believe we have a trend.
I am looking at Mississippi as fielding one of the best defenses in the nation. Ole Miss is known for its speed and athleticism on defense, returns several starters from a defense that was the best in the country last year. Mississippi could surprise the SEC if it finds any offense.
Ohio State is as loaded on defense as it is on offense. The Buckeyes will feature linebacker Darron Lee and safety Von Bell who both became stars last season.
Each season we watch schools take steps toward ending years of mediocrity. Last year, it was Ole Miss, Arizona, Mississippi State, and TCU. Who will it be this year?
Actually, former perennial powers may recapture past glory this year. I like Texas and Florida making positive strides under new coaches Charlie Strong (Texas) and Jim McElwain (Florida). Miami has a promising young quarterback in sophomore Brad Kaaya, and has been recruiting like it did 20 years ago. The Canes are talented.
The 2015 season will be memorable. You can almost count on it. Watch and see if Ohio State can meet the expectations. It all starts this weekend.