- Week 1 is approaching, and we're starting to get a little more clarity on how the 2017 season will shake out. Here are the biggest storylines to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses.
With fall camps well underway, speculation about the 2017 college football season has made way for actual news—albeit not too much. It’s been a relatively uneventful first week of college football, but with every passing day, we learn a bit more about the teams and players who will make an impact come fall. Some things we read will be long-forgotten come October—Josh Rosen, I’m looking at you and your pontificating—but other headlines from late July and early August have a chance to persist throughout the season. With that in mind, here are 10 nuggets from the lead-up to the season that could have long-ranging effects.
1. The fallout at Ole Miss continues
Hugh Freeze is gone, interim coach Matt Luke is installed and sanctions are still looming. Sure, the Rebels self-imposed a bowl ban for 2017 and don’t look likely to figure in the SEC conversation, but the next few months will go a long way in determining the future of the program. What will be the school’s ultimate punishment in a case where it’s now maintaining the innocence of a man it no longer employs? Which coach will stake his career on the Ole Miss job come winter? Will any star players defect?
2. Multiple schools are restricting media access
This preseason has seen plenty of teams make headlines by attempting to prevent them, and though we, the media, likely care more about this than you do, dear readers, it’s definitely a trend to follow. LSU, under new coach Ed Orgeron, closed all preseason practices. Texas banned social media during post-practice interviews, and Notre Dame handed out a flier full of “coverage notes” (read: media restrictions), banning media from reporting essentially anything they see during practices.
First, a caveat: I take exactly zero issue with not being able to attend a practice, especially in August when the majority of the United States is wilting under clouds of humidity. Maybe I’m a wimp, or maybe this makes me lazy, but what LSU is doing at least makes sense. Don’t want tidbits from practices getting out as you install a new offense? It’s simple: Don’t let media into practice. However, the policies Texas and Notre Dame implemented are another story. They’re letting reporters in but trying to control what they put out, which rankles me. In an age where teams are fielding pretty sophisticated in-house media operations, it seems like they want increasing control over what their fans and the general public know—and they believe they can establish that control.
3. Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman are the best thing to happen to the Big 12 in a long time
ESPN’s Jake Trotter wrote a great piece this week about the two new coaches and the impact they may have on the struggling conference. It’s been a long time since the Big 12 has made waves with a coaching hire of this level, much less two, leaving alone the fact that they’re at the conference’s flagship programs. Both men are young, energetic and can recruit, and that’ll be crucial as more and more of the top players from their territory slip off to other conferences. (That’s in some part due to the SEC’s move into Texas in 2012.) Trotter points out in his story that the last time the Red River Rivalry game featured two top-10 teams was 2008, nearly a decade ago. Under Herman and Riley, that could change—due in more part of the improvements Herman will make at Texas than whatever Riley does at a program that was sitting pretty when he inherited it.
4. Oklahoma receiver Nick Basquine is out for the season
We’ll stay in the Sooner State for this nugget, which is far smaller in scope than any of the previous but could have big implications this season. There haven’t been tons of camp injuries yet, and fewer still to major players, but Basquine was poised to be just that this year for Riley’s team. After losing receiver Dede Westbrook and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to the NFL, Oklahoma lacked experienced offensive playmakers this summer, and Basquine was its leading returning receiver. He was expected to compete for a starting job and factor into the team’s passing attack.
5. Keller Chryst is on track with his recovery from a knee injury
Stanford’s quarterback hurt his knee in the Cardinal’s Sun Bowl win last season and underwent surgery to repair ligament damage. The turnaround to get healthy for opening day is a quick one, and it doesn’t help that Stanford starts its season a week early, against Rice on Aug. 26 in Australia. Still, at Pac-12 media days coach David Shaw said Chryst is perhaps even a bit ahead of schedule with his recovery, and if he can be ready to open the season, that’ll go a long way toward providing some experience on an offense that lost its biggest playmaker to the NFL. Last season, Chryst threw for 905 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Stanford was undefeated in the six games he started.
6. Josh Allen is the real deal
Wyoming’s junior quarterback is already being talked about as a potential first-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft, but don’t expect his season to follow the Mitch Trubisky path that doesn’t hit the national spotlight until November. Wyoming should contend in the Mountain West, and Allen looks poised to pick up where he left off last season, when he threw for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns.
The quarterback didn’t receive a scholarship when he finished high school in 2014 and after one season at Reedley College in California, only Wyoming offered. He was a complete unknown before last year, but this offseason he was able to mingle with some of the game’s best quarterbacks at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana.
7. UCF kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible
I’ve written about De La Haye’s story in this space before, and on July 31, UCF announced that the revenue De La Haye receives from his YouTube channel had rendered him ineligible. The ex-kicker hasn’t been quiet since, dropping a music video critical of the NCAA on Monday. That may be where his story ends, but the bigger issue here will continue to nag at college sports going forward. As more and more people are able to profit off of social media, how does the NCAA accommodate for that in its regulations?
8. Sam Darnold is good, and everyone knows it now
Rather than waste your time with my thoughts, I’ll instruct you to go check out Lee Jenkins’s excellent story in Sports Illustrated’s college football preview issue. Darnold is the real deal, and you’ll be reading about his exploits all season.
9. Malik Zaire is the new blood in Florida’s quarterback battle
Zaire arrived on campus this summer after the SEC tweaked a rule on graduate transfers and he’s now competing with Felipe Franks, a redshirt freshman, and Luke Del Rio, who started last season before injuring his shoulder. The former Notre Dame quarterback is expected to get the eventual starting nod, but he has two talented players to beat out. Plus, if this is a close competition, there will be even more of a push for the Gators to make a change if their offense underperforms early.
10. Penn State is good—and still underrated
According to OddsShark.com, the Nittany Lions have the third-highest odds to win the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Wisconsin. Last year, Penn State won the conference’s championship game but lost out on a playoff nod; Ohio State was the committee’s pick instead. Coach James Franklin wasn’t shy about his feelings on the snub when he spoke at Big Ten Media Days in July, but this season, expect big things from his team coming off a thrilling Rose Bowl loss to USC.