Congratulations to 2017 national champion Alabama. While the Crimson Tide celebrates, it’s on to 2018 for the rest of college football. Here are some of the numerous story lines to follow next season:
HEAT ON HARBAUGH
The offseason’s most interesting coach needs to start having a bigger impact during the season. Part of Michigan’s problem in 2017 was the expectations were a bit out of whack, but that doesn’t let Harbaugh off the hook. The Wolverines’ offense was bad and if you’re a great coach who supposedly has a skill for developing quarterbacks – and Harbaugh is being paid as such — you need to do better than 109th in the country in yards per pass attempt.
No excuses next season. Harbaugh will have four of his own recruiting classes. The defense should be loaded again. The Wolverines could have Shea Patterson at quarterback if the Ole Miss transfer gets eligible, but even if they don’t, either Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey should provide at least competency.
Harbaugh needs to start winning big things: rivalry games, division titles, conference championships, playoff spots.
This is as much a story of the offseason as the season, but no doubt the ramifications will be felt all the way through 2018.
Three playoff teams, including the two that played for the national title, will have returning starting quarterbacks. None of those players are locks to start next season.
Jalen Hurts has led Alabama to two straight championship games in his first two college seasons, but it was Tua Tagovailoa who came off the bench Monday night to beat Georgia for the national championship.
Jake Fromm led Georgia to the national title game as a freshman, but five-star recruit Justin Fields will be practicing with the Bulldogs this spring. And where does that leave Jacob Eason, the former five-star who was relegated to backup-up behind Fromm?
At Clemson, Kelly Bryant will have to fend off both sophomore Hunter Johnson and five-star incoming freshman Trevor Lawrence. Miami’s Malik Rosier is also likely to face a challenge from N’Kosi Perry, who will be a redshirt freshman, and Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush will have to reclaim his job after Ian Book led the Fighting Irish to a bowl victory.
Elsewhere, Ohio State likely will turn the team over to Dwayne Haskins. Can incoming freshman Tate Martell be a factor. Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray is the heir apparent to Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma.
WHO FOR HEISMAN?
Baker Mayfield is gone. So is Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley and Rashaad Penny. That’s four of the top five Heisman Trophy vote-getters.
Also, flashy quarterbacks such as San Darnold and Josh Rosen, who were trendy picks going in this past season, are on their way to the NFL.
So who is the favorite going into 2018? Runner-up Bryce Love of Stanford would be good pick, though the junior could go pro. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a freshman, could easily surpass that in 2018. Still, it’s become a quarterbacks’ award, with 15 of the last 18 going to QBs.
The top quarterbacks? Keep an eye out for some of those newcomers and possible first-year starters. Of the established players, Penn State’s Trace McSorley steps out of Barkley’s shadow and Oregon’s Justin Herbert could be the guy with the NFL draft buzz.
JIMBO IN AGGIELAND
It has been 40 years since a coach with a national championship on his resume left one college job for another. Texas A&M paid $75 million for Jimbo Fisher and his championship ring. The Aggies have been stuck in neutral for the past few years under Kevin Sumlin.
A&M is not bereft of talent, but it would be normal for Year 1 to hit some bumps as the program transitions. Thing is, $75 million doesn’t buy patience. A good measuring stick? Georgia was 8-5 in its first season and then took off in year two. That’s not to suggest A&M will be in the playoff in 2019, but an underwhelming 2018 is no reason to panic. Still, $75 million.
Other new coaches who will be getting a lot of attention: Chip Kelly at UCLA, Scott Frost at Nebraska and Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.
Michigan is not firing Jim Harbaugh, so let’s just end that right here. But which coach does enter next season very much in need of a change in trajectory?
Not a lot of really obvious choices, though this is probably Kliff Kingsbury’s last chance to get past mediocre at Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt needs to show some improvement under Derek Mason after four seasons that have produced an 18-31 record. The most fascinating coaching situation will be at Kansas State, where 78-year-old Hall of Famer Bill Snyder is back with no exit plan in sight.
CAN THE PAC-12 REBOUND?
The West Coast’s conference was a dud in 2017, missing out on the playoff for the second time and then crashing in the postseason with a 1-8 bowl record. Bowl records can be deceiving, but it is compounded by the fact that the conference is having a hard time keeping pace with the other Power Five conferences in revenue and exposure.
Washington should still be a national contender and Stanford can be relied upon for consistent top-20 performance. But coaching changes at UCLA, Oregon and the Arizona schools, in addition to USC trying to replace Darnold, means the Pac-12 could again have a hard time putting a team in the playoff.