What we learned about col­lege foot­ball in the past sea­son

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS - By Marc Tracy

The 2018 col­lege foot­ball sea­son is over. Clem­son is the cham­pion. There are a few mile­stones to tide us over — na­tional sign­ing day (which is not what it used to be), spring games, sum­mer me­dia days — but the cold re­al­ity is, we are about eight months from the next game.

Even col­lege foot­ball ad­dicts are likely to need a break after this whirl­wind sea­son, which be­gan with coach­ing tur­moil and ended with a sur­prise blud­geon­ing of Alabama. Along the way, Cen­tral Flor­ida nearly got to claim an­other share of the na­tional ti­tle be­fore it lost the Fi­esta Bowl to No. 11 Louisiana State — al­beit by a mere 8 points while play­ing with­out their start­ing quar­ter­back.

Alas, as we while away our time with work, fam­ily and wor­ry­ing about where Bryce Harper will sign, here are seven ob­ser­va­tions and thoughts in­spired by the 2018 sea­son to guide us to the 2019 sea­son’s kick­off.

OK, not quite. Veter­ans still mat­ter and im­prove year-to-year — no coach brags about hav­ing a young de­fense — and, of course, NFL rules still ef­fec­tively keep un­der­class­men in the col­lege game. But more than ever, and par­tic­u­larly at the most im­por­tant po­si­tion, it seems you are only as good as your lat­est re­cruit­ing class. The top five Heis­man Tro­phy vote-get­ters were quar­ter­backs who were ei­ther trans­fers or in their first sea­son as the starter, or both, and four of the five are en­ter­ing the NFL draft. And none of them was Clem­son fresh­man Trevor Lawrence, who on Mon­day night proved to be per­haps the most valu­able quar­ter­back of all.

Who could ben­e­fit from this dy­namic next sea­son? Ohio State, be­cause highly rated Ge­or­gia backup Justin Fields is trans­fer­ring there and re­port­edly seek­ing NCAA per­mis­sion to com­pete im­me­di­ately; and Ok­la­homa, which se­cured the com­mit­ment of the sole class of 2019 quar­ter­back

who was given five stars in 247Sports’s com­pos­ite rat­ings.

The Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off as we know it will re­main. After more cred­i­ble talk than ever that changes to the four-team for­mat were im­mi­nent — or, at least, that dis­cus­sions of changes to the fourteam for­mat were im­mi­nent — the play­off board chair­man re­leased a state­ment hours be­fore Mon­day’s game push­ing back strongly against such talk (and even talk of such talk).

“As far as ex­pand­ing the num­ber

of teams in the Play­off, it’s way too soon — much too soon — to know if that is even a pos­si­bil­ity,” said the chair­man, Mark Keenum, Mis­sis­sippi State’s pres­i­dent. “It’s fair to say the spec­u­la­tion about ex­pan­sion has out­dis­tanced the re­al­ity of what the com­mis­sion­ers and the pres­i­dents have dis­cussed.” There are seven more years on the cur­rent play­off con­tract, so brace your­self for more wor­thy con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons like

Ohio State get­ting left on the out­side look­ing in.

For coaches, bad be­hav­ior mat­ters. Mary­land’s D.J. Durkin, as prom­i­nent a coach as that pro­gram has had in decades, was sus­pended and then fired (after a one-day re­in­state­ment) for, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal re­port, pre­sid­ing over a flawed pro­gram at which an ath­lete died after a gru­el­ing prac­tice. And Ohio State’s Ur­ban Meyer, the only coach not named Nick Sa­ban to win na­tional ti­tles at two pro­grams, was sus­pended for three games for mis­han­dling al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence against a for­mer as­sis­tant, cre­at­ing a rup­ture that most likely con­trib­uted to his de­ci­sion to re­tire.

It would be easy to think such de­ci­sions were ob­vi­ous, even in­evitable. But in re­cent col­lege sports his­tory, ex­cuses were rou­tinely made for suc­cess­ful coaches. How­ever much that may still be true, it is less true now than it used to be.

Sta­sis is worse than los­ing. Would you rather be South­ern Cal­i­for­nia or Arkansas? The Tro­jans were 5-7, while the Ra­zor­backs were 2-10. But USC is keep­ing the four-year head coach who presided over that sea­son, the one who just lost his prospec­tive of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, Kliff Kings­bury, to the NFL. Arkansas can gen­uinely claim it is re­build­ing: that 2-10 cam­paign came the first year after it re­placed its ath­letic di­rec­tor and head coach with re­spected tal­ents from Group of Five col­leges. Some­how it is on pace to haul in its best re­cruit­ing class in nearly a decade.

Col­lege foot­ball may not have quite the tank-and-im­prove in­fra­struc­ture of the pro­fes­sional leagues, and yet pro­grams are more likely to un­der­per­form be­cause a change has not been made than be­cause one has.

The Big Ten is wide open again. In Ur­ban Meyer’s seven sea­sons, the Buck­eyes won only (“only”) three cham­pi­onships. Even that is de­cep­tive, though, be­cause in the other four sea­sons, Ohio State ei­ther was un­de­feated but ineligible for the cham­pi­onship be­cause of sanc­tions, or suf­fered its sole con­fer­ence loss to the even­tual cham­pion. In other words, the road to the Big Ten ti­tle ran through Colum­bus.

But now Meyer is gone. First­time head coach Ryan Day, who filled in ably while Meyer was on leave, is re­plac­ing him. Wis­con­sin looks likely to move on, fi­nally, from Alex Horni­brook at quar­ter­back, while Michi­gan will get an­other year of Shea Pat­ter­son un­der cen­ter. Ne­braska is in Year 2 un­der Scott Frost. Penn State is still re­cruit­ing well un­der James Franklin. Michi­gan State still has Mark Dan­to­nio, Iowa Kirk Fer­entz. Pur­due held on to Jeff Brohm! It is any­one’s league.

Texas may be back. Be­fore the Sugar Bowl, one could have dis­missed the Longhorns, who were 9-4, their sig­na­ture win com­ing in a close and weird game against Ok­la­homa, which re­turned to de­feat them soundly in the Big 12 cham­pi­onship game.

Then Texas out­played Ge­or­gia, last year’s run­ner-up, 28-21, giv­ing the Longhorns their first 10-win sea­son since they were the na­tional run­ners-up in 2009. The third year tends to be a big one for the best coaches, and 2019 is Tom Her­man’s.

Bama will be back. Alabama’s loss to Clem­son on Mon­day night was not close. It was not even close to close. Alabama did not score in the game’s fi­nal 44 min­utes. You could change each of Tua Tago­v­ailoa’s in­ter­cep­tions to touch­downs, giv­ing Alabama the ex­tra points and eras­ing the 7 points Clem­son scored by re­turn­ing the first in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down, and Clem­son would have still won by 7.

Now Alabama will have to go back to the draw­ing board, with only … its Heis­man run­nerup quar­ter­back, its all-Amer­i­cans at wide re­ceiver and on the de­fen­sive line, the top-ranked re­cruit­ing class and Nick Sa­ban, still the win­ner of five of the past 10 na­tional cham­pi­onships.

It is not true that the Tide’s dom­i­nance will last as long as the ac­tual tide does. But it some­times feels that way.

BEN MAR­GOT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Col­lege foot­ball is now col­lege bas­ket­ball. Nick Sa­ban’s Crim­son Tide may have lost badly, but next sea­son they will still have their Heis­man run­ner-up quar­ter­back, their al­lAmer­i­cans at wide re­ceiver and on the de­fen­sive line and the topranked re­cruit­ing class.

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