The college football season is over. I know, it’s tragic. Let us all take a moment of silence to mourn as we are forced to enter the long off-season where we hope to hear as little about our favorite program as possible. Summer news is usually bad news. There were a lot of great moments and fantastic games in the 2018 season. Tip a glass to them. Celebrate that joy that is and was the college football season. But it is now over. What can we take from this year?
We began the season with most predicting a national championship matchup between Alabama and Clemson. We ended it with a national championship matchup between Alabama and Clemson. For all the pining over who should have been the fourth team in the playoff and poor little red-headed stepbrother UCF, the simple truth is that we didn’t need an expanded playoff this year. In fact, the old BCS would have gotten it right this year. I do believe the playoff will eventually expand to eight teams, but I do not see it happening in the next couple of years. And I’m not convinced it is truly needed.
The season played out almost exactly as expected. These predictions proved to be accurate: Georgia won the SEC East and lost to Alabama in the SEC Champsionship Game to be knocked out of the playoffs. Notre Dame navigated a schedule that seemed tough on paper but was not as difficult in reality (as FSU, USC and Stanford all turned out to be poor football teams in 2018) only to get thumped AGAIN in the post-season. For all the claims of Notre Dame’s difficult schedule, the Irish played two teams in the regular season that finished in the final AP top 25 with the highest ranked of those being Michigan at 14th. The ACC is now a one team league, Clemson. The Big 12 plays fun football but continues to lack the defense it takes to win the playoff. It is time to debate whether the PAC 12 should really be considered a Power 5 conference. Next 5 conferenced are called that for a reason.
The single huge surprise was the absolute dismantling of what was considered to be Nick Saban’s best team ever at Alabama by Dabo Swinney and Clemson. Over the last few seasons, Saban has proved to be capable of change as he left his long-time philosophy of smothering defense and a power running game for a more wide-open and fast-tempo offense. Don’t be surprised if the Tide goes back to their old ways in 2019. Change is not always for the better and sometimes you just need to be who you are. I was vocally skeptical whether the skinny, lanky kid from Cartersville would hold up as a quarterback in big time college football, but Trevor Lawrence lived up to the hype and then some. Lawrence was poised and dominant in the championship game. The Clemson offense should be just as good next season and it will not be at all surprising if the Tigers are in next year’s national championship game.
We are now firmly entrenched in the transfer era of college football. Nothing reveals this more than the quarterback trail this offseason. Highly rated quarterback recruit Justin Fields began the merry-go-round when he began talking about transferring to Ohio State. This prompted current back-up for the Buckeyes, Tate Martell, to tweet a challenge and warning to Fields not to “swing and miss a second time”. Clearly, Martell was mostly mouth (or fingers) in this challenge since he immediately announced his intent to transfer from Ohio State when Fields confirmed he was leaving Georgia for the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts has tired of being Tua’s backup at Alabama and has entered his name in the transfer portal. With the hiring of Alabama’s quarterback coach to be the new offensive coordinator at Miami, it is likely that Hurts will end up with the Hurricanes. Then there is the issue of NCAA rules requiring a player to sit out a year after transferring to another school. This would not apply to Hurts as he has graduated and can take advantage of the “grad transfer” clause. For the others, they would have to prove a foundation for a waiver by the NCAA. Fields looks poised to use racism as his “reason” for transferring. There has been an incident that he can cite as evidence and I do not fault him a bit for
using it to his advantage. However, his sister is set to attend Georgia without apparent hesitation and anyone familiar with the situation knows that the REAL reason Fields is transferring is to get off the bench. He simply could not beat out Jake Fromm. The NCAA will have to decide between taking the heat for ignoring a racism claim and setting a precedent that might spiral out of control. Should be interesting. I predict Fields will be cleared to play next season. After sitting out his mandatory one season, former Georgia QB Jacob Eason will try to take the starting spot in Washington. Maybe he will work harder there than he did in Athens GA.
So now, we endure the off-season. With the early signing period and most of the elite recruits already locked in to the college of their choice, the first Wednesday in February is not the last great moment before the off-season as it once was. Yes, there are still some blue-chip players out there to be lured in by your favorite team but most of the ink has already dried on this year’s recruiting classes. It is true that you will not win national championships without signing elite talent. However, it is worth noting that the two teams with the best class averages over the last four years overall are Alabama and Ohio State. The Buckeyes failed to make the playoff again this season. And as dominating as Alabama seems to be it is worth noting that the Tide lost in the championship game this season and did not even win their division in the SEC last season although they did manage to win the national championship anyway.
So, what does all this mean for 2019?
Clemson is likely to be back in the playoff as no other ACC team looks up to the challenge of dethroning them.
Alabama and Georgia will likely enter the season as the favorites to meet in the SEC Championship again, but neither are locks to fulfill that prediction. Jimbo Fischer has Texas A&M breathing down Alabama’s throat and there are chinks appearing in the armor of Saban’s empire. Again this year, he has openings to fill on his staff. Meanwhile, Dan Mullen has Florida tied with Georgia in the final AP Poll and ahead of the Bulldogs in the Coaches’ Poll. The SEC will once again be a bloodbath.
It should be fun to see what new head coach Geoff Collins can do at Georgia Tech. It was absolutely time for the Paul Johnson Experience to end. Collins will bring energy back both on the field and the recruiting trail. I predict Collins will have the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game in his first three or four years on North Avenue. But, Tech fans must be patient. Paul Johnson seemed to detest recruiting and the roster Collins inherits is short on big-time talent. He will need a couple of recruiting classes to bring the roster up to anything close to Power 5 standards.
There will be a lot of focus on Florida State as Nole fans hope Willie Taggart’s first season was an aberration. Perhaps current Buckeye quarterback Martell will transfer to FSU to replace Deondre Francois. That was not a good football team in 2018.
And then there is UCF. The Knights are Rick Moranis with a Napoleon complex. They play a mediocre strength of schedule (at best) and cry like a school girl when they do not get what they perceive to be their due respect. Meanwhile, they bailed on a game with Texas and turned down an offer from Florida which would have included the Gators in three of UCF’s upcoming seasons. Now that the “winning streak” is over will they regroup and build up their schedule or will they dwindle away into the mirk they emerged from a few years ago? I think I speak for most college football fans when I say, “Thank you LSU”.
I can hardly wait for September.