Five biggest story lines from the 2014 college football season
▪ 1. As Jameis Winston turns: The controversy never seemed to end with Winston. A sexual-assault allegation followed him through his Heisman Trophy and national championship run during his freshman season. This season, his vulgar comments at the school’s student union got him suspended for the Clemson game, and later Florida State announced it was investigating reports of him taking money for autographs. Never a dull moment for Winston, who finally lost a college game to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
▪ 2. Mississippi rising: The Magnolia State burst with pride as Mississippi State and Mississippi powered to seasons that rank with the best in their histories.
▪ 3. Marcus Mariota: The Heisman Trophy was won by Winston in 2013 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012 — not exactly model citizens. Oregon’s Mariota changed that trend. He delivered a sensational season, responsible for 56 touchdowns with six turnovers entering the College Football Playoff title game, and brought the Ducks to the brink of their greatest season.
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▪ 4. Ohio State quarterbacks: They’re calling Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer the quarterback whisperer. Three-year starter Braxton Miller went down in the preseason, and J.T. Barrett had a season that placed him fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the season finale against Michigan, and Cardale Jones finished that game and led Ohio State to victories over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to reach the title game. The “next man up” mantra is real in Columbus.
▪ 5. College Football Playoff: Weekly rankings built suspense, the Sunday selection show packed drama, the national semifinals were loaded with storylines and the first College Football Playoff dispelled the notion that only teams from warm-weather climates can win a national championship by cranking out Oregon and Ohio State. By nearly any measure, the new system was a success.
Five college football stories to watch in 2015
▪ 1. Big Ten coaches: Three Big Ten powers are starting over. Nebraska bounced Bo Pelini, despite his consistent nine- and ten-victory seasons, and replaced him with Oregon State coach Mike Riley. Gary Andersen stunned Wisconsin by taking Riley’s spot in Corvallis, and the Badgers hired Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst. But Michigan made the biggest move. The firing of Brady Hoke was expected. Landing Jim Harbaugh wasn’t. Harbaugh, two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance with the 49ers, returned to his alma mater to restore national relevancy … and challenge Ohio State.
▪ 2. Big 12 race: For decades, football in the Southwest was defined by the Red River Rivalry. Oklahoma-Texas at the Cotton Bowl was usually part of the national conversation. But a new rivalry has emerged in the Big 12, and it’s nasty: TCU vs. Baylor. The teams tied for first place this year, with the Bears winning a wild encounter in Waco, and both should be at the top again this season. The team meet on the Friday after Thanksgiving in Fort Worth.
▪ 3. Autonomy’s coming: For the first time, representatives of the 65 power-five conference schools and 15 voting student-athletes will meet at the NCAA Convention later this week, and the change that’s been discussed for months involving additional benefits for student-athletes will be voted into existence. Full cost-of-attendance is a given. Other possibilities are lifetime scholarship benefits and expanded medical coverage. The purse strings have already loosened with a waiver allowing schools to reimburse travel expenses for the parents of players involved in the College Football Playoff title game up to $1,250 per parent.
▪ 4. Heisman watch: A few more underclassmen, such as Mariota, are expected to announce their intention to enter the NFL Draft before Thursday’s deadline, but of those we believe are returning, here are some early favorites for the Heisman:
1. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
3. Cody Kessler, QB, Southern California
4. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
5. Ohio State quarterback*
*J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller or Cardale Jones
▪ 5. CFP Rockin’ New Year’s Eve: This year’s national semifinals had the benefit of the four other bowls leading in. ESPN covered the Peach, Cotton, Fiesta and Orange while talking up the Rose and Sugar bowls. That won’t happen in 2015. The national semifinals are the Orange and Cotton Bowls, played on New Year’s Eve. The Rose and Sugar remain on Jan. 1. Will the response be as robust?
2015 preseason top 10
1. Ohio State
5. Florida State
6. Michigan State
10. Boise State