2014 NCAA Football Preview

NCAA Football: BCS National Championship-Florida State vs AuburnThe NCAA Football season is back and it will look different from any other season in the past. For one the BCS Championship is no more as the BCS is out and the playoff is in. Second the SEC is no longer entering a season as the best team in the nation as a new team may just be able to end the reign of the conference. The 2014 season will come with much less controversy than it has in the past although the controversy seems to just follow college football around. After a year when it seemed like everything went wrong in the offseason the NCAA saw a relatively quiet offseason. College football lends itself to controversy as it is an institution that rivals the NFL in terms of popularity in the USA and yet it is an institution for students. Students that are supposed to be in school to learn, earn a degree, and find a job after they graduate. Yet college football players are a part of a multi-billion dollar industry and are almost to the level of pro athletes. This brings up plenty of criticism to the NCAA for any number of issues that they see throughout the years. There are the issues of academics vs. athletics in schools where athletes can sometimes have classes that will give them nothing after school. Football players are notorious for taking joke classes or getting easy marks because they are the stars of the team. That controversy has followed plenty of teams around since NCAA football became big business. Then there is the issues that have arisen recently where the NCAA makes a lot of money off of players who can sometimes barely live. NCAA players are not getting paid, aside from a small stipend, and many struggle to pay rent and pay for food along with anything else that isn’t covered by a scholarship. It has been a big story in the last few years and it continues to develop year after year. Along with the debate over paying players comes the controversy of boosters illegally recruiting players with different types of payment. It has been practiced many times over the years with boosters promising to fly families out and put them up in a home or buying cars for recruits. It is essentially paying players and it continues to be done after the players are at the school as a way to keep them happy and keep them playing. It is just another scandal that the NCAA continues to fight and continues to happen despite the amount of titles they rip away and the amount of punishment they dole out it will continue to happen. The NCAA is one of the most successful leagues in North America and yet it is a league built on an amateur player base. It is a unique league in that fact as they must try to find the balance between continuing the growth and remaining a league that involves students above athletes. It is the balancing act that the NCAA continues to fight for and one that could be argued on either side. Whether they are heading towards being successful or they are failing the fact is that the NCAA continues to be the biggest show in many places across the USA. Once again they will begin another season where the quick sprint to the National Championship begins with everyone starting relatively even and surprises sure to come.

The Playoff Arrives

pressCFNCG121613The BCS was one of the most talked about parts of NCAA football as the debate over the teams that made it into the championships raged on since 1998. When the system was created for the 1998 season it was thought to be a great way to determine the National Champion of the NCAA. Before the BCS was established the Bowl Coalition that created a game, before it was determined by the best team in the national poll, but saw many teams and conferences begin to fall off and yet were still invited to big bowls. To change the problem and allow the best teams to play for the National Championship with the inclusion of more conferences and more teams. In theory it was a great idea but in practice it saw the big five conferences dominate the polls and leave many teams that looked good out of the top of the rankings. A complicated equation decided the top two teams in the nation and for many that was not good enough when teams that seemed good enough to compete were left out. So the demand for a playoff system was called for year after year and this year everyone will get their wish. The Football playoff is here and will be tested in its first year. The College Football Playoff is a brand new system and there is no chance that controversy won’t come along with it but it will give teams a better shot of winning a National title. In the new system the BCS rankings are finished and will be replaced by a new poll that will be decided on by a new committee made up of athletic directors, coaches, and university officials. The top four teams in this poll will be placed in one of the two bowls that will be named semi-final bowls. These bowls will rotate between the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and the Peach Bowl. The winner of these two bowls will enter the National Championship Game to determine the National title. The new system takes the computer out of the equation and puts the decision in the hands of a group of humans which could make it better. Along with that there is not one game to determine the champion as teams have to win something to get into the championship game. There is sure to be debate over decisions and there will be plenty of naysayers for the new system but whether it works or not remains to be seen as teams travel into unknown territory this season.

Rise of the ACC?

1450_atlantic_coast__conference-primary-2014The Southeastern Conference may not be looking forward the end of the BCS as they ruled the old system. While in the BCS the SEC won 9 National Championships including a run of 7 straight National Championships. It seemed as though the BCS was built for the SEC as they continued to put at least one, if not, two teams into the national championship for more years than any other conference. They have been the strongest conference in the NCAA for years and for many their dominance of the BCS was a major reason that the system didn’t work. The SEC continues to contain some of the strongest teams in the nation but there are plenty of challengers to that crown. There have been challengers before to the crown of the SEC but for once it may seem that 7-years of BCS dominance may be coming to an end. That 7-year dominant streak by the conference ended last year though and a new team took over. The Florida State Seminoles ran through the 2013 NCAA season thanks in large part to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. With Winston under centre the Seminoles took on the Auburn Tigers, of the SEC, for the 2013 National Championship and beat them in a thrilling 34-31 game. It has been said many times before but the SEC dominance was never going to last forever but is it truly finished and is the Atlantic Coast Conference the conference to end the run. It is clear that the Florida State Seminoles are once again the favourites to start the season and the leaders for a conference that had one of its best seasons last year. A total of 11 teams from the ACC made bowls last year and despite a 5-6 conference record in bowls they were still the best represented out of any other conference. Right behind them was the SEC with 10 bowl appearances and a much better record of 7-3. Based on win record it is clear that the SEC is the better conference but the fact that the ACC beat the SEC in the biggest game and had more teams in bowl games shows a potential that the ACC is trying to build on as they enter the 2014 season. With the new playoff system the SEC may have a very good shot of continuing their dominance, especially if more than one team makes it to the top 4 but the ACC will be there looking to change the pattern and make the playoff system theirs.

Independence for Power 5

SEC Championship - Alabama v GeorgiaThe power in the NCAA has always been with a group of conferences while the rest just try to catch up. These five conferences have become known as the “Power 5” and they include the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. These conferences have been around the longest and now include some of the biggest programs in the country. These conferences were recently known as the Automatic Qualification conferences who were placed in preferential rankings during the BCS era. These conferences earned automatic bids into the biggest bowls unless a team from a smaller conference could crack the very top of the rankings. The Power 5 conferences have drawn the ire of plenty of fans, unless you’re a fan of a power conference, as they always seem to get special treatment throughout the decisions of the NCAA. That trend continued this offseason when the NCAA made a massive decision that will impact the entire league but is directly associated with the Power 5. The decision by the NCAA will also be a step towards solving one of the biggest issues facing the league. For years the demand to compensate the players more and give them a chance to survive while in school has been growing. This offseason the NCAA would allow the Power 5 conferences economic autonomy. In a nutshell it means that the Power 5 conferences are above the economic restrictions of the NCAA. There is still time for the proposed changes to be struck down and they may not come into effect until 2015. It is something to watch this year though as it could allow any of the Power 5 conferences to regulate their own economic guidelines that may very well allow players to be given more money to play. That could mean that the big schools will be allowed to increase the stipend for players or cover more in the scholarships. This will allow the players to worry less about making a life for themselves and focus on school and football. It could also go a long way to eliminated the potential for boosters to illegally supply their players with incentives to stay or to go to a place. On the other hand it will only make the biggest schools bigger while it could seriously hurt the smaller schools. If big schools with billion dollar budgets can offer cash incentives to recruits or if recruits know that these big teams offer better stipends it can cause an even more lopsided recruiting catch as the best players will obviously want to go to schools where they can live a little more comfortably. It is a debate that will continue throughout the 2014 season as some teams may be preparing to get stronger than they already are.

Starting from the Bottom

6673600The football landscape will always be changing as teams will rise and fall and conferences will get strong and fall. It is just a fact of sports that not all powerful teams or conferences can last forever but while they are on top it may seem that way. This seemed to be the case in the early 2000s when two programs became the dominant schools in the nation. It seemed like USC and Texas would never give up their crown as the top teams in the nation. There were so strong with some many top players year after year that it was hard to see anyone else taking over. Then the SEC conference came along to end the reign of these two teams and shortly after the scandals broke out at USC. After winning a national championship in 2004 and having three Heisman Trophy winners in 2003, 2004 and 2005 the NCAA would announce that due to violations the 2005 National Championship and Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy would be stripped from the school. Since then USC has never been the same and at the same time Texas had followed them to the basement. The fall was surprising for the sheer speed of which both teams fell. Last year Texas expressed the fall perfectly when for the first time in school history no Texas player was drafted to the NFL. After disastrous years both teams are going in a new direction in 2014 hoping to turn things around. At USC Steve Sarkisian is looking to help the Trojans get back to national recognition after doing that exact thing to Washington. Meanwhile in Texas Charlie Strong is taking over after doing wonders in Louisville. Both programs have new coaches and re hoping that translates to a new life in the NCAA. These programs are two of the largest in the country and yet they have fallen out of the conversation for the top teams in the country. For the size of the programs that is unacceptable and there is little patience for these teams that are so used to winning. The pressure is on the new coaches and although they will not be fired this year they are not given much freedom if they start to lose. The Trojans and Longhorns are starting from unfamiliar positions this year, Texas is unranked and USC is #15, this year but they are hoping to make an impact and announce that they are back and ready to compete at the top of the rankings.

The Next One Up

os-fsu-jameis-winston-favored-win-heisman-in-2014-20140805Every year for the last few years has seen one player take over the entire league and sweep everyone up in hysteria. Last year it was taken to a new level by Johnny Manziel who became far more than a football star. The man known as Johnny Football was everywhere last year as fans and media alike made him one of the most popular college football players ever. This year Manziel is not back though as he will be looking to bring that mania to Cleveland in the NFL. After a year of Johnny Football there is a massive gap where that superstar is missing but there is one player who is hoping to fill the gap. Jameis Winston is coming into the 2014 season as the Heisman Trophy winner and amid some controversy. The story is very similar to the 2013 season when Johnny Manziel came into the season as the defending Heisman Trophy winner and amid controversy. For Manziel it was the signing of memorabilia that was reportedly for money, which was against the NCAA rules, although it was determined that no wrongdoing was done and Manziel was given a two quarter suspension. For Winston it is his theft of crab legs from Publix that has him in hot water. Winston will not receive any punishment for his transgression but it does have some wondering what type of character the young quarterback has. Still when football starts most of the off-field issues will be forgotten and Winston will be back to playing the sport that will likely make him a very high draft pick in next year’s NFL draft. Much like Manziel, Winston came out of nowhere last year starting the season with the Seminoles sitting low in the rankings. Then he went off for 354 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first game against Pittsburgh. That caught the attention of everyone in the NCAA and when he faced his toughest game of the year against Clemson a 444 yard and 3 touchdown performance he had taken over the Heisman race. Now he looks to try to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, a task that has been attempted by many before. He looks to be the best player in the NCAA while also taking a new level of media on as the face of NCAA football in 2014 in the storm that was created by Manziel and is now continued by Winston.

 

AP Preseason Poll

  1. Florida State Seminoles
  2. Alabama Crimson Tide
  3. Oregon Ducks
  4. Oklahoma Sooners
  5. Ohio State Buckeyes
  6. Auburn Tigers
  7. UCLA Bruins
  8. Michigan State Spartans
  9. South Carolina Gamecocks
  10. Baylor Bears
  11. Stanford Cardinal
  12. Georgia Bulldogs
  13. LSU Tigers
  14. Wisconsin Badgers
  15. USC Trojans
  16. Clemson Tigers
  17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  18. Ole Miss Rebels
  19. Arizona State Sun Devils
  20. Kansas State Wildcats
  21. Texas A&M Aggies
  22. Nebraska Cornhuskers
  23. North Carolina Tarheels
  24. Missouri Tigers
  25. Washington Huskies

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