- Which storylines are flying under the radar this August? Our writers weigh in with their thoughts.
Fall camps are getting underway nationwide this week, and the biggest buzz-worthy stories are clear: A host of major quarterback competitions, Alabama and Clemson and their wildly talented QBs, high-profile names in new places and more. But what about the intriguing narratives that are flying more under the radar now that we've hit August and are just three weeks away from Week 0 (Miami–Florida and Arizona–Hawaii on Aug. 24)? We asked our writers to pick an overlooked storyline as we officially enter the preseason:
Laken Litman: It looks like Brandon Wimbush is poised to be a starting quarterback for a contender again. The former Notre Dame QB transferred to UCF in the offseason, but was expected to battle for his job with Darriel Mack Jr., who backed up star McKenzie Milton last fall. Mack filled in for Milton when he suffered a devasting season-ending knee injury (which will keep him out this season). He led the Knights to a 17-point comeback victory against Memphis in the AAC championship game and got experience vs. LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. But this summer Mack broke his ankle in a non-football-related activity and is out indefinitely. Coach Josh Heupel said he will not be available for training camp and there’s no specific time table slated for his return. Now it seems that Wimbush, who went 13–3 as a starter for the Irish, will most certainly get a fresh start to prove himself.
Tim Rohan: It may be getting overlooked because it’s been a storyline for a few years running now, but when will the Pac-12 return to prominence? The conference hasn’t won a national title since 2004, since the USC glory days, and it’s placed only two teams in the College Football Playoff in the five seasons that this new system has been in place. The Pac-12 should be interesting this season. Justin Herbert and Oregon could be title contenders. Washington, too. Then Stanford, Utah, and Washington State are waiting in the wings. But can any of them make a playoff run?
Michael Shapiro: Can Jacob Eason boost Washington back into the playoff conversation? Jake Browning disappointed in 2018, tossing just 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions two years removed from a 43-touchdown, 12–2 season that included a College Football Playoff appearance. The Huskies lost to Auburn in Week 1 last year, then dropped two Pac-12 games before November. The program’s hopes of a second CFP appearance ended before Halloween.
Eason should keep the Huskies in the national title chase as one of college football’s most highly-anticipated transfers. The 6’6” junior committed to Georgia as the No. 5 recruit in the country in 2016, but lost the starting gig to Jake Fromm in 2017 after a promising freshman year. Now Eason is back in his home state with the potential to parlay a strong season into an NFL draft selection in April 2020. The Huskies defense should remain fierce in 2019, and if Eason has an impressive junior year, they should be able to appear in the Pac-12 title game for the third time in the last four years.
Scooby Axson: The Pac-12 is in a bit of peril. Along with the issues of its network, the members of the league have been mostly out of the playoff debate by the time Halloween rolls around. While its status as a Power 5 conference is secure, it hasn’t played like it. This season the usual suspects (Oregon, Washington, Stanford) are expected to compete for a title, while the South is as wide open as ever, with Utah considered to be a frontrunner. The situation at USC and with head coach Clay Helton will also be monitored, as another subpar season could spell doom in Troy.
Joan Niesen: Army finished last season ranked No. 19, with an 11–2 record. It came within one overtime score of beating Oklahoma in Norman, and this fall, it faces Michigan in Week 2. Its schedule isn’t strong enough to put it in consideration for the College Football Playoff—ESPN ranks its FPI at No. 67 in the FBS, and UCF had top-25 FPIs the past two years while still being excluded from the final four—but this team is good enough that we could entertain the idea of it taking down Michigan. That would radically alter the playoff race and also be enough for Army to unseat UCF as the best team in the Group of Five.