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  • How tough will schedules get if the CFP is expanded? Will Florida be competitive in Dan Mullen’s first year? Answering that and more in this week’s mailbag.
By Andy Staples
July 25, 2018

One of the thorniest issues in college football is scheduling, and you have questions…

From Dan: Nick Saban says better home schedules wound improve attendance. Big Ten coaches want an expanded playoff. If conference champs got auto bids, would teams schedule tougher in the non-conference games since only conference titles would matter?

Nebraska coach Scott Frost voiced his support for an eight-team playoff this week. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would like to go to eight and then to 16. (Ohio State fans may feel free to insert their own Big Ten East standings joke here.) And yes, Alabama coach Saban has advocated for a nine-game conference schedule in the SEC and non-conference games against only Power 5 opponents.

If Frost or Harbaugh got his way, it likely would lead to tougher non-conference schedules across the board. An eight-team playoff would have wild card slots that would require excellent records, but it presumably would feature automatic bids for Power Five conference champs (or some Power Five leagues would never agree to the deal). A 16-team playoff would certainly feature automatic bids and would have so many open slots that a loss to a tough non-conference opponent probably wouldn’t keep a team out of the playoff.

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I don’t foresee any change to the College Football Playoff in the near future, but if the same Power Five leagues keep getting left out, they’ll begin pushing for expansion. Eight teams would be the next logical step if schools could solve the following issues (which they pretend are impossible now but will very quickly figure out when it’s in their best interests to figure them out):

• The first round would have to take place either during final exams or the week of Christmas.

• It wouldn’t make sense to play the semifinals at bowls anymore. Holding the first two rounds at campus sites would make seeding matter, would be better on television and ease the travel burden for fans, but schools would have to cut out the people who have been greasing their leaders for decades. They’ll act like this is a huge issue even though it would actually improve the event.

• Teams would be forced to play more games, and the optics of that will be terrible if the schools don’t slide the players a little extra for the effort. Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money.

If all this could be negotiated, it would improve scheduling across the board. SEC teams play eight conference games—and shoehorn in FCS games in November before rivalry games—because that format helps SEC teams win national titles. The eight-game league schedule wouldn’t be so helpful in an eight-team playoff universe. The FCS-opponent-in-November thing would help and would continue, but September and early October would get much more interesting. A coach such as Saban, who can be reasonably confident his team will be in the mix for the conference title every year, would be more likely to load up early to challenge his team so it will be ready for the trials of the playoff. Saban’s former co-worker Tom Izzo loves to do this for the basketball team at Michigan State. Izzo wants his team toughened in December so it’s ready for March. Football programs such as Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and Wisconsin might add one or two more tough non-conference games because the more challenging schedule would sell tickets that people actually would use and wouldn’t hurt their long-term goals.

Schools are coming to the realization that they need to offer more interesting season-ticket packages to compete with the 70-inch television, but they aren’t going to spice up their schedules at the expense of a shot at the national title. If it won’t cost them a chance at a title, then they’ll be more willing to schedule more non-conference games that we actually want to watch.

From Vince: Will the Gators be competitive in Dan Mullen’s first year? Feleipe Franks looked lost and under pressure all last year.

Define competitive. Will Florida win the SEC East? Now that Kirby Smart seems to have Georgia rolling, that’s probably a big ask for Mullen’s first season in Gainesville. Will Florida improve dramatically after going 4–7 in 2017? That seems much more likely. The Gators’ roster is better than that record, but Florida doesn’t have the same kind of depth as SEC title contenders such as Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

As for Franks, he wasn’t really supposed to be playing last season. The book on him as a recruit was that he would need a few years in a college program to refine his skills. Because the previous staff hadn’t already cultivated a starter, Franks got thrown into the mix as a redshirt freshman. With the exception of a bomb against Tennessee, it didn’t go well.

But Franks gets a clean slate with the new staff. At 6'5" and 227 pounds with a huge arm and adequate wheels, Franks looks the part of a Mullen quarterback. But the question is how fast he and the rest of Florida’s quarterbacks can absorb the offense. The fact that Mullen didn’t go after Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow—who knows an offense that shares the same DNA as Mullen’s—suggests Mullen feels he can make it work with one of the quarterbacks on the roster. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask has a great arm but lacks practical experience. He backed up current Houston starter D’Eriq King at Manvel (Texas) High, and he suffered knee and foot injuries in 2017. Meanwhile, true freshman Emory Jones got his first offer from then-Mississippi State coach Mullen and was Mullen’s first big signing day score in Gainesville, so we know Mullen believes Jones fits in the offense.

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Whoever wins the job should get help from a veteran-heavy line led by tackle Martez Ivey and center T.J. McCoy. Florida’s run game should improve with the return of Jordan Scarlett, who was suspended for all of last season for his role in a credit card fraud case. Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson, who would have been overshadowed by a freakishly talented group in Oxford, should give the quarterback a reliable target.

It will be up to Mullen to choose wisely, but that’s why Florida is paying him $6 million a year.

From @TimmyClutch: After two bowl seasons and returning all five starting offensive linemen, why is Wake Forest being picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division in the 2018 ACC preseason poll?

It could be that the reporters who cover the ACC are sleeping on the Demon Deacons, who do return an excellent offensive line and might be the best team Dave Clawson has had since he arrived in Winston-Salem. It also could be that the Atlantic is going to be pretty competitive underneath Clemson. Let’s go down the list the ACC released last week.

Clemson

This is obvious. The Tigers are the runaway favorite in the ACC and could start the season ranked No. 1.

Florida State

Yes, the Seminoles have a new coach (Willie Taggart) and are coming off a bad season. But the confidence that they’ll bounce back seems appropriate. If they don’t, then places two through seven could be packed fairly tight in this division.

NC State

This is where things get interesting. The Wolfpack lost four NFL players from the defensive line and a do-it-all offensive weapon in Jaylen Samuels, but they still have a quarterback (Ryan Finley), a deep receiver group and some talented defenders who have been waiting their turns. But NC State lost to Wake Forest last year, and any step back for the Wolfpack could mean a tumble in the standings because other division foes are on an up cycle.

Boston College

This could be Steve Addazio’s best team at BC. A Thursday game on Sept. 13 at Wake Forest could help settle this part of the argument.

Louisville

Lamar Jackson is gone, so we’re expecting less from the Cardinals. But Bobby Petrino’s track record keeps us from expecting too much less. Given where Clawson and Addazio’s programs are now, perhaps this will be a rebuilding year at Louisville.

Wake Forest

If Kendall Hinton, the presumed starting quarterback for the Demon Deacons, weren’t suspended for the first three games, Wake Forest might be getting more buzz. Even though Wake is a well coached team with a deep, veteran offensive line, that puts a bigger question mark on a position that was already an issue following the graduation of John Wolford.

Syracuse

When quarterback Eric Dungey is healthy, the Orange can beat anyone in the ACC. The problem is they’ve also shown they can lose to anyone in the ACC.

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