It’s time to fire up the grill on gameday and wear your team’s logo and colors with pride because football season is officially back! College football is set to kick off this Labor Day weekend with a plethora of highly anticipated week one match ups. Let’s look at some of the off-season and preseason storylines heading into the 2018-2019 season.
Urban Meyer Suspended For First Three Games
In mid-August, the Ohio State University announced head coach Urban Meyer would be suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season for denying knowledge of a domestic abuse incident with his former wide receiver coach, Zach Smith, at Big Ten media day in July.
Reporter Brett McMurphy unveiled Smith’s violent past in a report on social media, which happened to be the same day Meyer fired Smith from Ohio State. McMurphy gathered information from sources and claims Meyer had known about Smith’s past without proactively reporting incidents to the university.
After a two-week investigation, Ohio State handed down the three-game suspension without pay to Meyer and a 17-day suspension for athletic director Gene Smith.
Without Meyer, Buckeyes offensive coordinator Ryan Day will lead the team out of the tunnel for their first three games against Oregon State, Rutgers, and 16th ranked TCU. Meyer is set to make his return for the Buckeye’s late-September match up with Tulane.
New Faces In Different Places
Some of the premier teams in college football have brought in new faces to help take their respective programs to the next level. One of the biggest hires of the offseason was UCLA snagging former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, which seems to be a perfect fit for both the Bruins and the New Hampshire native.
Kelly, 54, was a hot commodity in the off season. After being linked to teams such as Florida, Tennessee, and Oregon, his last head college coaching gig, Kelly decided he would take his talents to Los Angeles to help rebuild young and talented UCLA Bruins program.
Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt makes his coaching debut in the SEC this fall. After coaching defenses for Florida State, Georgia, and Alabama respectively, Tennessee has a coach that knows how to recruit the south. Not only that, but Pruitt is known for producing NFL quality players on defense. Pruitt will have a steep hill to climb in year one with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
He’s back! After nine seasons as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Dan Mullen returns to Gainesville to take over a Florida Gators program that has been in desperate need of offense. Mullen was Florida’s former Offensive Coordinator under former Gators head coach Urban Meyer, helping lead Florida to two BCS National Championships in 2006 and 2008. The Gators will take on Charleston Southern on September 1st in The Swamp.
With Mullen bolting for Florida, the Mississippi State Bulldogs hired former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead as head coach, which could be dangerous for opposing teams in the SEC West. Moorehead’s Nittany Lions offense was ranked in the top 25 in his two seasons as coordinator, averaging 41 points a game in 2017. With Heisman hopeful Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback, the Bulldogs are going to be expected to light up the scoreboard at will.
The Texas A&M Aggies stole Jimbo Fisher away from the Florida State Seminoles, paying the long-time assistant to Bobby Bowden $75 million dollars over ten years. Florida State replaced Fisher with the young and promising Willie Taggart, who has spent time at South Florida, Oregon, and Western Kentucky.
Quarterback Controversy In The SEC?
Alabama Crimson Tide
Head Coach Nick Saban has an interesting quarterback situation on his hands. Jalen Hurts has the most experience at the position and has won games for the team from individual effort multiple times in the last two seasons. However, Saban called on freshman sensation Tua Tagovailoa to lead in the second half of the Crimson Tide’s thrilling overtime comeback victory over the Georgia Bulldogs to be crowned 2018 National Champions. Hurts brings mobility to his game, but really struggles with downfield passing, which seemed to be a strength for Tagovailoa, who can also run the ball well.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Bulldogs were lead by Jacob Eason, who transferred away from the program to Washington in the early Spring 2018. After Eason suffered and injury that sidelined him for some time, true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm took the reigns and never looked back. Fromm lead the team to an impressive 11-1 record and the team's first SEC Championship since 2005 before losing in the national championship game to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
With Fromm suffering a broken hand in the off-season, the Bulldogs could look to true freshman and the number one high school quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class, Justin Fields, to step into the gauntlet if Fromm can't stay healthy.
With current Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield now at the professional level, college football will have a new Heisman Trophy winner at the end of the season. Here are three names that have been mentioned as pre-season favorite or dark horse to win the award:
Will Grier – Quarterback – West Virginia Mountaineers
The senior quarterback threw for just shy of the 3,500-yard mark, throwing 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a 64% completion percentage in 2017. After winning just seven games last season, Grier showed flashes that he could be the premier quarterback in the nation barring injury. The gunslinger will have ample opportunities to show off his arm in head coach Dana Holgorsen’s high octane offense, which could catapult him to the front of the Heisman Trophy standings at seasons end if the Mountaineers show consistency on offense.
Bryce Love – Running Back – Stanford Cardinal
When you watch Love, you see a player that can explode out of the backfield as fast as any running back in college football. After coming off an unprecedented 2,118-yard season, averaging eight yards per carry with 19 rushing touchdowns in 2017, there’s no question Love will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense. Love and company will have a daunting Pac-12 schedule to play, as well as a non-conference game against Notre Dame to help showcase the senior’s talents and cement his spot at the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in New York City at the end of the season.
Shea Patterson – Quarterback – Michigan Wolverines
After transferring from Ole Miss and being ruled eligible for the 2018-2019 season, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh might have just added the missing piece to his offensive puzzle he has been building for three prior seasons at Michigan. After being compared to former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for his ability to evade pressure from the pocket and throwing outrageous passes on the run, Patterson will have the platform at Michigan to play on national television weekly to help gain notoriety and exposure for his Heisman campaign.
Notable Week One Match Ups and Predictions
Early in the 2018 season are some match ups that have College Football Playoff implications on the line. Let’s look at some of the key games heading into week one.
With a lot of unknowns about the Volunteer program and Jeremy Pruitt in charge, we do know West Virginia will air the ball out with Will Grier at quarterback. The Volunteers secondary had some key departures to the NFL and could struggle when the Mountaineers look to pass the ball downfield.
#6 Washington Huskies vs. #9 Auburn Tigers
This contest between the Huskies and Tigers will be a classic battle of offense versus defense. Under head coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have been known for their up-tempo, no-huddle offense. The Huskies have the best defense in the Pac-12 and will be a reason why the Huskies could be playing for a national championship at seasons end.
#14 Michigan Wolverines vs. #12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
As a college football fan, starting the season with a heated rivalry game like Notre Dame and Michigan is a treat to all spectators. All focus will be shifted to how quarterback Shea Patterson adjusts to Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines offense. The real battle will take place in the trenches when Michigan’s offensive line battles an Irish defensive line that has been labeled as one of the nation’s best. Michigan have won six out of the last nine against the Irish, but as the past has shown, anything can happen in a rivalry game like this one.
#8 Miami Hurricanes vs. #25 LSU Tigers
Miami are coming off their best season in almost a decade, having ten wins to show for their success. The Hurricanes have a field general in Malik Rosier, who could find himself in the Heisman conversation over the course of the season. With Joe Burrow being named starter for Tigers, LSU will have someone with experience and the decision making to pick apart the Hurricane’s secondary. Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have running back Derrius Guice in the backfield to carry the workload.
#20 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. #19 Florida State Seminoles
Florida State have a fresh start with head coach Willie Taggart in Tallahassee. Quarterback Deondre Francois is back after tearing his patellar tendon in his left knee against Alabama in 2017, which will give their quarterback room stability. Virginia Tech will rely on quarterback Josh Jackson, who had a breakout season in 2017 as a redshirt freshman. Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster has a lot of new faces on defense, which could lead to mistakes when playing a team like Florida State on the road.