Schwartz: College Football’s Top 2017 Storylines
Last weekend we detailed five college football storylines that have run their course. Today, we look at those whose time has come, whose narratives will play a big part in this year’s college football season, which effectively begins Thursday night.
Five college football storylines to get you ready for this season:
Midseason recruiting news
This fall is when new NCAA rules take effect that will allow college football programs to make scholarship offers in December instead of February.
The six-week bump up the schedule strips (a little bit of) power from schools and gives it to the players. Now, instead of players receiving verbal offers in the fall only to find out in February they don’t have a spot because a school (Say, Alabama) has over-offered, college programs have to put up or shut up before Christmas.
That’s good for the players, many of whom will get to go into the holidays with their college futures secure. But it’s not good for schools that liked to blow a lot of smoke at high school kids and string them along for a couple of months hoping for something better to come along. That’s how Alabama, Michigan and others manage to pick off four-star athletes at the last minute.
It’s also good for schools such as Iowa, occasional victims off the pickoff. The Hawkeyes have made only 98 scholarship offers for the 2018 class, which means when a high school player gets an Iowa offer, he knows it means something. A program can only have 85 players under scholarship each year.
Compare Iowa to the University of Tennessee. The Volunteers coaching staff has made an unholy 332 scholarship offers for 2018, according to 247Sports. Ole Miss sits at 282.
In the Big Ten, Rutgers (276), Indiana (273) and Maryland (237) all cracked the national Top 10. None of those three programs have had sustained success, so they have to make that many offers to secure players who might slip through the cracks. Basically, it’s a big fishing net. How else would you explain that the team that has made the second-most 2018 offers in the country – 331 – is Iowa State?
J.T. Barrett’s stats
It feels like Barrett has spent the better part of a decade quarterbacking Ohio State. That’s what happens when you take over the starting gig as a freshman and don’t let go, except for a handful of games as a sophomore.
Finally a senior, Barrett this season will be most intriguing from a stats perspective. He’s already thrown for nearly 6,400 career yards and 69 touchdowns. He’s rushed for another 2,500 and 31 TDs.
He’s been remarkably consistent, which means if things play out as they should, Barrett will finish his career with about 13,000 all-purpose yards and 130 combined touchdowns, which means he’ll finish as the Buckeyes’ career passing yards leader in addition to already holding the passing touchdowns mark. He also should crack Ohio State’s top five all-time in rushing yards, an impressive mark at a school that produced Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Ezekial Elliott and Keith Byars, among others.
Plus, he’s got an outside chance of overtaking Tim Tebow as the most productive college quarterback ever coached by Urban Meyer.
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Josh Rosen, unleashed
Rosen, UCLA’s quarterback, ignited controversy (in a college sports context) earlier this month when he said college football and college academics don’t mix.
“Look, football and school don’t go together. They just don’t,” he told Bleacher Report.
Forget whether he’s right or wrong and instead focus on the fact that he said it, period.
This matters. What we’re witnessing with Rosen is an exercise in power. He’s UCLA’s starting quarterback, potentially one of the top college quarterbacks in the country. Unless he starts committing crimes, insults teammates over Twitter or suffers an injury, he won’t lose his job.
To the NCAA and the college-football world, that makes Rosen dangerous. ESPN asked “Can Josh Rosen’s play catch up to his voice?” Already his coach, Jim Mora Jr., made the media rounds to declare, don’t worry, he had a talk with Rosen and has him under control.
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Uh huh. Sure he does.
Rosen, who comes from an affluent family, has previously spoken out on subjects such as class and white privilege. He’s got a microphone and big ideas and confidence and he’s not afraid to use them all.
Rosen is instigating conversations that college sports need to have. That’s what makes him interesting. Or, in the eyes of college football, a little too interesting.
Ferentz x 2 (with an O’Keefe kicker)
Kirk Ferentz, the most tenured coach in college football, hired his son Brian to coach the offense. Then he brought back a previous offensive coordinator, Ken O’Keefe, to tutor quarterbacks.
In the Big Ten this season, a lot of eyes will be directed toward new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. Others will turn toward Nebraska’s Mike Riley and Illinois’ Lovie Smith, both of who will be expected to coach teams ready to make “The Leap” during their respective third and second seasons with their programs.
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But the most intriguing Big Ten personnel transition is happening in Iowa City, where the older Ferentz is finally getting a coordinator who understands his pro-style philosophy. Everything builds off the run.
Most importantly, we know Brian will debate his father when he needs to, while O’Keefe – Kirk’s security binky – will provide him the comfort that former OC Greg Davis never could.
Chemistry matters. Kirk Ferentz and Davis, both talented professionals, went together like ice cream and motor oil. The Hawkeyes may be unproven at quarterback and rickety at wide receiver, but at least you can be fairly certain that the coaches, finally, will all be on the same page.
Is Penn State “back?” (And what does that mean?)
We’ll know by the last weekend of October, if not sooner, whether Penn State’s preseason No. 6 ranking was deserved. The Nittany Lions’ three October games feature their toughest stretch: at Northwestern, home against Michigan, at Ohio State.
If they can escape October 8-0 overall or 7-1, we’ll begin to also understand what America’s tolerance is for having Penn State back in its life. The university will never – and should never – escape the Sandusky scandal.
Sports in America, however, are our Great Distraction. If Penn State parks itself in the national dialogue this fall, college football fans will no doubt grow tired of hearing about how Penn State “overcame” its challenges and returned to national prominence. Some fans just want football, which is fine.
Other fans will neither forget nor forgive the larger Penn State structure for the cover up of potentially decades of sexual attacks against children. Nor should they forgive.
Although Penn State football accomplished a lot in 2016, they have a shot this season at the National Championship. If the Nittany Lions fulfill their expectations, and if they become part of the season-long national conversation, watch out, because we’re going to see Penn State’s crimes litigated once again – except this time it will be in a court of public opinion that in the years since the scandal has become much more volatile and divisive than it was in 2011.
* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.