Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Clemson Wins Title, What's Next For College Football

Clemson won the national championship game over Alabama 35-31, meaning that the 2016 season is now completely in the books. With the season now closed out, what is next for the game in these turbulent times in this sport? Plenty. Here are the most pressing story lines as we head into the offseason and into 2017...

More Changes In Conference Lineups
The changes for 2017 will not be earth shattering as they have been in the past. What one of these changes will be, however, is unprecedented. Idaho and New Mexico State were essentially kicked out of the Sun Belt Conference when the standard was dropped from 12 to 10 teams to hold a conference title game. This fact is not shocking, as the SBC has decided that they would rather have a viable geographical footprint in one region, rather than spreading themselves thin across the nation. Idaho and NMSU did not fit that footprint. This event is not unprecedented, as just last season, U Mass was given the booth from the MAC. Temple was nearly kicked out of the old Big East.
What is unprecedented, in recent memory, anyway, was the decision by Idaho to drop out of FBS football rather than play as an FBS Independent, to return to their FCS (1-AA) roots and the Big Sky Conference.
Coastal Carolina will enter the Sun Belt from the FCS ranks as a full member in 2017, and that will get the Sun Belt to where they need to be for their conference title game beginning this fall. Coastal Carolina has ben a rising program in the FCS ranks, and when their opportunity came to jump, they took it. Jus this week, they hired rising coaching star Jamey Chadwell from Charleston Southern to the staff, making the Chanticleers an intriguing addition to the league in 2017.
New Mexico State is also looking for a home, but while they had a few options to go the way Idaho did, they have chosen the almost impossible task of remaining in FBS as a football independent (the Aggies still participate in the WAC in all other sports), a choice that may end up being very painful long term for the program. New Mexico State had options to likely join the Southland or Big Sky conferences should they have chosen to have stepped down to FCS as Idaho did. The Aggies may be holding on for a spot in the Mountain West eventually should the Group of Five make their split from the Power Five to form their own division and playoff, and that move could pay off, as some of the top tier Mountain West programs could get poached before that move is complete, creating an opening for New Mexico State, but there is no telling what a time frame would be on a move such as that, and how long can the Aggies afford to wait it out?
The final change coming in 2017, is the return of UAB football to Conference USA. The Blazers did not participate in college football for the last two seasons after what now seems like a presumptive move to shut down the football program for reasons that now seem more personal than business based. Bill Clark remains as the head coach of the program, despite having options to leave, and that is good news for what will still be a brand new program building from the ashes.

Does the Alabama Dynasty Still Live?
The answer is simply a massive yes. The Crimson Tide will be alive and well, despite a 4th quarter collapse in the game last night. The most dominant FBS program ever will still be very much in the middle of the national title conversation in 2017, despite what will certainly be some sufficient losses on the defensive side of the football for the NFL. Alabama does not rebuild, it reloads. As long as Nick Saban is in charge, you can expect the Tide to be in the middle of the mess. Alabama may even be a consensus number one team in the nation when preseason polls start making their way out in June. There is still a massive amount of talent on that roster, and the SEC, after the Tide, is just not that good. Remember, no team other than the Tide won 10 games or more, and no other SEC team won more than 8 games, not counting bowls. That's not very good, and the East looks to continue to be average to bad next season. In short, if Alabama ends up right back in the final 4 next season, it would not come as much of a shock.

Can Clemson repeat?
I won't say never, but it is extremely doubtful. Every key member of this offense is gone as of today. Deshaun Watson is gone. Wayne Gallman is gone. Mike Williams is gone. The defense is losing some key components as well. Winning last night was highly important for the Tigers, because it would now appear that the window for them to have done so could be closing.
This is not to say that the Tigers don't have talent returning, but that talent is highly unproven at key positions. There is no real experience coming back at QB, and after Gallman, there was no real star at RB, and Gallman was certainly not a star most of the time. As great as Williams was at WR, there are several key components, but not one real stand out in the receiving game after that. The offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters, but who do they have around them?
Remember that Watson was a once every 25 year kind of QB, and they had Tahj Boyd before that. Right now, they have some very highly rated kids coming up behind that, but remember, more than 50% of 4 and 5 star players don't pan out. That is a historical fact.
I believe that in the right environment, Clemson can compete in the ACC again, but I would say the odds of another title run are very low indeed.

What Happened to the Big 10?
The Big 10 was touted as the best conference in the nation all season long. It certainly had some moments where that looked like it could be true, but the wheels really fell off of the wagon late in the season, and Penn State, the least likely participant, won the conference and fell just short in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan is in an interesting crossroads right now. Jim Harbaugh came in and shocked everyone in year one. He then, mostly because of key injuries, fell short of expectations in year two. Harbaugh almost has to push the Wolverines to win the conference in year three, because if he does not, people are going to get restless. The media will start painting him as a coach who can do good things, but can't win big.
Ohio State was shut out for the first time in Urban Meyer's entire career in the loss to Clemson. That cannot be tolerated in Columbus. JT Barrett returns (like he had any real choice), but the Buckeyes lose some other key pieces. A loss like this tends to reverberate, and Urban Meyer has lost Luke Fickell and Tim Beck from his staff. These are some items that bear watching moving forward, despite the hiring of Kevin Wilson to replace Beck.
Can Penn State get back to at least the Rose Bowl or even push for a final 4 spot themselves? Yes they can. With McSorley and Barkley both back in the backfield for the Nittany Lions, and Joe Moorhead spurning every offer to become a head coach that was thrown his way, the offense should be even better in 2017. The defense is better than the unit that completely folded in the 4th quarter of the Rose Bowl loss.
Will Michigan State come back from their dysmal 2016, or will that blip become a blob? My guess at this point is that Mark Dantonio will start getting the Spartans back into the win column, but it may take a couple of years to get fully back into the big boy spot in the conference. Dantonio is too good a coach to let the Spartans flounder in the Big 10 basement too long.
Will the West continue to beat themselves up? Probably. Wisconsin will be amazing if they can find a QB, Nebraska is still capable of winning those 9 games per year that got Bo Pelini fired, Iowa is making major changes to fix the offensive woes that plagued them, and Minnesota hired PJ Fleck, which clicked recruiting into major high gear. I think the West will be fine.

Will There Really Be an Eventual Power 5/Group of 5 Split?
You can bet your ass there will be, and it won't be when the current TV deal ends. It will be much sooner, and my guess is that it will happen within the next five years. The G5 administrators are sick and tired of being treated like also rans, only to be handed down crumbs from the current power table. Anyone who believes that the G5 schools have a realistic shot at getting into the closed door club that is the current "playoff" structure is lying to themselves. There is a zero % chance that any school from the G5 conferences will get into the playoffs at any point in the near future without a major expansion of that structure, and I do not mean to 8 teams. ESPN and their power greedy partners will simply not allow it, and that complete myopia that everything is good the way it is will create a super storm that will tear college football apart.
The best concept currently would be for the two groups to split apart and create two completely different football divisions. There would be some blood letting in the process, with some schools jumping ship into the Power 5 leagues. That cannot be helped. The G5 conferences would then form a new division that would likely suck in some power conferences from the current FCS group, and that new group of conferences could go back to being called 1-AA, or the new Division 2. LOwer tiered conference could then fall back into alignment with the power conferences from the current D2 to form another division, and lower tiered D2 conferences join with D3.
As I spoke on my weekly appearance on the Mitch and Pritch show last week on ESPN 1100 in Las Vegas, I explained that this would remove some scheduling options of some schools playing against major FBS programs for a paycheck, which they use to fund their programs. That being the case, several smaller programs may be forced to close up their football programs. I am good with that, as anyone should be. Removal of the financially weaker programs for the health of the larger picture is a good thing. It will be necessary to move forward into this bold, if not chaotic new world.

Will Bowl Games Continue to Lose Influence With the Casual Fan?
Do they have any now? Most college football fans, die hard or not, believe that the current bowl system is completely broken and really is no longer worth saving. A handful of these games still have meaning for folks, as evidenced by attendance at  the major bowls and by a continued solid showing by the Las Vegas Bowl. In short, bowls have to be shaved down, not increased. Bowls that are not producing anything (looking at you, Bahamas Bowl) need to go way. We currently have 40 bowls. We need to shave that number down to around 24.
Remember, too much of anything is bad. If you over indulge in anything, it loses value. Bowls used to be special because you had to be very good to earn them. Now, 5 win teams are going bowling, and that has zero value. I know we live in a society where everyone gets a trophy now, but that just makes that trophy completely useless. Throw it in the trash, because nobody cares that you won the freaking Camellia Bowl.
TV ratings are crashing for most bowls. TV ratings are in the dumpster for NFL Thursday night games, and why? Because the more you put the product out there, the more you deluge the market, the less special something is. Believe that.

Shortened Games
A movement has been brought about this week to shorten the length of college football games, as game times have increased exponentially over the last several years. We are still early in this process, but this will be a conversation that will increase in intensity over the next several months.
Some ideas to shorten games include eliminating clock stoppage after 1st downs (something I have been a fan of for years), severely limiting replay opportunities (I'd be OK with getting rid of them altogether and letting referees call games without big brother interference), cutting down halftime (again, something I would be good with), shortening commercial breaks, or reducing their number (who wouldn't want that?), and there are other options which have not yet been discussed. One way or the other, games must be shortened, or fewer games must be televised, as games later in the day often have their opening quarter not televised due to late running earlier games, and that is simply intolerable.

More Chaos
If the playoff system is not expanded severely, we will continue to have arguments about how schools are getting snubbed, and conferences are being ignored. This system was put together to be more inclusive and eliminate these arguments, not drag them on, and it is simply not working. The current playoff system is a stupid mess, and it is doing nothing to clear things up, and to make matters worse, the committee allowed a non champion of a conference into the fold this season, which completely was the wrong way to go, setting an awful precedent. It did not help matters when that team, Ohio State, was simply destroyed by Clemson in the semifinal 31-0.
ESPN and their partners are destroying the game systematically by first introducing the BCS, and now by bringing about this ridiculous and non-inclusive playoff system that they completely control. This can no longer be tolerated by the college football fans that care, because everything that was done was supposed to eliminate the perceived issues from the old days (there really were not very many), and this system has not only failed to do that, but it has created a world of chaos and mayhem never before seen. Rules are set by the seat of their pants, and we end up with a system composed of nonsense and stupidity, or, as we call it, the current national championship system.

Who Could We See In the 2017 Playoffs?
I certainly would not count out Alabama from making it back again. I would also not count out Michigan or Penn State from joining them, but what we likely will not see is another team get in without winning a conference title. The backlash was severe, and although the precedent was set, wrongly, I don't see them going there again.
I also would not rule out Washington winning the PAC-12 again, but USC is right there pushing them. Oklahoma loses their top two running backs, but look for West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and the Sooners to push for a spot out of the Big 12. From the ACC, Clemson will likely fall back a bit, but Florida State and Louisville both look ready to make a push.

With another season completely in the books, it is time to look forward to 2017 and what recruiting and spring ball will bring. One thing will be for certain, there will be the unexpected, and that is why we come back for more.

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