What to watch in 2017: Clem­son re­build; Kelly’s cross­roads

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph D. Russo

Alabama will be great in 2017. That’s a given. The Crim­son Tide came up just short of its fifth na­tional cham­pi­onship in eight sea­sons un­der coach Nick Sa­ban, los­ing to Clem­son 35-31 in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ti­tle game Mon­day night. But Alabama is likely start next sea­son as the No. 1 team in the coun­try as Dabo Swin­ney does some re­build­ing of the Tigers. The Tide con­tend­ing for a na­tional ti­tle is the one sure thing in col­lege foot­ball. No­body reloads bet­ter than Sa­ban. Ev­ery­thing else is up for grabs, but col­lege foot­ball fans will likely be keep­ing an eye on these de­vel­op­ing sto­ries.

RE­PLAC­ING WAT­SON: The next test for Swin­ney is to keep Clem­son in the up­per-ech­e­lon of col­lege foot­ball fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of the great­est quar­ter­back in the his­tory of the pro­gram. There is no clear re­place­ment for De­shaun Wat­son head­ing to­ward next sea­son and the Tigers are also los­ing a boat­load of other top play­ers (Mike Wil­liams, Wayne Gall­man, Ben Boul­ware, Cor­drea Tanker­s­ley, Car­los Watkins). Can Clem­son reload and still con­tend for a na­tional cham­pi­onship?

AS THE BIG TEN EAST TURNS: The bowl sea­son took the divi­sion down a peg, but there is still no more in­ter­est­ing group of pro­grams and coaches in col­lege foot­ball. Ur­ban Meyer is giv­ing his of­fense a makeover at Ohio State that might in­clude a le­git­i­mate quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion for fifth-year se­nior J.T. Bar­rett. Jim Har­baugh will en­ter year three at Michi­gan with an in­ex­pe­ri­enced team but lofty ex­pec­ta­tions. Can James Franklin keep Penn State trend­ing up­ward? Can Michi­gan State bounce back un­der Mark Dan­to­nio?

TEXAS TOM: Af­ter a sea­son of spec­u­lat­ing whether Tom Her­man would be the next Texas coach, he is now the Longhorns coach. Con­sid­er­ing all the hype about Her­man, there will not be much of a grace pe­riod for him in Austin. For­mer coach Char­lie Strong left be­hind a pretty good ros­ter and told the world that the Longhorns would win 10 games in 2017 no mat­ter who is coach­ing. Texas opens with Mary­land and plays at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in week three. No pres­sure, Herm.

RISE OF TROY: USC’s re­turn to truly elite sta­tus has been trum­peted a few

times in re­cent years so the cyn­i­cism many will have about the im­pend­ing Tro­jans hype is jus­ti­fied. Maybe it will tem­per ex­pec­ta­tions? Prob­a­bly not. USC fin­ished No. 3, has a quar­ter­back in Sam Darnold who looks like a Heis­man Tro­phy con­tender and will en­ter the sea­son rid­ing a nine-game win­ning streak. Fight on, in­deed.

KELLY’S LAST STAND?: Ev­ery Notre Dame game will be a ref­er­en­dum on Brian Kelly as he tries to bring the Fight­ing Ir­ish back from a 4-8 sea­son. Kelly will have two new co­or­di­na­tors and a new quar­ter­back in his eighth year at Notre Dame. An­other bad sea­son and Kelly is prob­a­bly gone. That’s ob­vi­ous. The real in­trigue could come if

Notre Dame has a big year. Would Kelly look to leave with his rep­u­ta­tion re­stored? So much drama. So pretty much busi­ness as usual in South Bend, In­di­ana.

HEIS­MAN RE­PEAT: Has a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner ever re­turned to school look­ing to re­build his value? Fair or not, the end of La­mar Jack­son’s sea­son — three straight losses — is go­ing be re­mem­bered more by many out­side Louisville than all the great stuff he did to win the Heis­man. Only one player has ever re­peated as a Heis­man win­ner so it is un­likely Jack­son will do it. But he will en­ter next sea­son, oddly, try­ing to re-es­tab­lish his star­dom in­stead of as the face of col­lege foot­ball.


Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly runs onto the field with his play­ers be­fore a game against Army Nov. 12 in San An­to­nio. Kelly is on the hottest of hot seats af­ter a 4-8 cam­paign in 2016.

Clem­son will have to re­place De­shaun Wat­son, who led the Tigers to the na­tional ti­tle and has de­clared for the NFL draft.


TOP RIGHT: Tom Her­man should be able to ease into his role at Texas, as for­mer coach Char­lie Strong left be­hind a pretty good ros­ter. BOT­TOM RIGHT: With quar­ter­back Sam Darnold back, USC should re­turn to the col­lege foot­ball elite in 2017.

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