2015 NCAA Football Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

OSU-Celebration2NCAA football seems in no danger of slowing down as every new season brings a new hope for teams and a bigger fan base.

More teams are in the hunt every year and this along with the bigger build up to the season every year it seems like college football may soon meet the NFL as the biggest North American sports property.

The NCAA hits every place throughout the USA and in every place there are a group of diehard fans that will not miss their team no matter how good or how bad they are.

The same can’t necessarily be said for the NFL and with more interest in the league more TV coverage follows as college players are becoming superstars before they even make the NFL.

The growth of the league is perfectly seen in the schools that it has started to help as some of the biggest schools continue to build new and improved athletics centres, each one better than the next.

Even the loss of football for a D-I FCS school made headlines last year when UAB ended their football program due to revenue losses.

Investigations were launched and it was discovered that the school had invested so little in the program that they had seemingly given up before announcing the end of the team.

It was also discovered that the school was actually poised to make more money with the team than without and that if they did get rid of the team and start it up later it was going to cost far more than any losses they had reported, all of which were reported to be far over estimated.

These investigations and pressure from alumni and the general NCAA fan base caused UAB to re-establish their program for the 2015 season.

It was a perfect example of just how big and popular college football has become not only to those from the respective schools but those that are just football fans.

It continues to invade the North American sports landscape and with that there is a lot more focus on how they are doing it.

That includes all of the bad things too though and recently that has taken the focus in the majority of reports about the NCAA.

That bad news is the fact that the NCAA and its’ schools are now making millions of dollars every season with tickets sales, TV rights deals, conference owned TV networks, merchandise sales, and licensing rights to video games.football-sidebar

This money is great for schools that can use it to improve the facilities of their school but it is not so great when you realize that the players making all of the money for the schools are getting little to nothing for it.

Yes many players do get a free education for their talents on the football field but the reality of the situation is that the free education covers only a fraction of the cost it takes to go to school.

There are still books, rent if they are living off-campus, food, and other costs of living that a scholarship simply doesn’t cover.

So when someone comes along with offers to pay the rent or give these athletes cars to get around the town they live in it becomes tempting.

That is where this entire controversy started as more and more players were caught accepting money or goods from boosters of schools, a clear violation of NCAA rules.

It was becoming a serious issue but when looking closer into it the story quickly became about the NCAA and their massive earnings not going to the players that do all of the work.

The call to pay players has grown in a big way over the last few years while lawsuits have stopped the production of NCAA football video games and has provided compensation to those in the lawsuits.

For the schools paying players ruins the amateur feel of the league and enters a dangerous space where big schools get the best players because they can pay more.

Not to mention paying players ruins their bottom line as they continue to make money to pay administrators and massive coach salaries.

Paying players might not be the solution but restructuring scholarships to cover more than tuition or providing a more reasonable stipend that pays for the basics could be great solutions to the NCAA’s biggest issue.

The debate will continue and likely will not be solved for a few years as they continue to figure out how to do it and whether or not to crumble under public pressure.

As these decisions are being made the focus on the league continues to be on the players and their compensation many in the league are just happy that the new season is here.

A new season means more focus on football and less on the politics of the league giving them somewhat of a break from answering the tough questions.

It will stay on the minds of many throughout the season but the fact is football is back and it is time to talk about the new season as the NCAA enters the second year of the playoff with plenty to look forward to in 2015.

jim-harbaugh-era

He was one of the most demonstrative coaches in the NFL and that worse thin with the ownership of the San Francisco 49ers. It was not a popular decision though as Jim Harbaugh may have been loud and brash and animated on the sidelines but he brought winning back to the Niners. The loss for the Niners was the gain for Harbaugh’s alma mater in Michigan who is trying to get back on the national stage. Harbaugh is not the easiest to get along with as he is one of the most animated coaches from the sidelines in football. He constantly yells and screams at players and referees while showing every emotion he’s going through during a game. He can be a tough coach to get behind for many fans or outside observers but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The true test of a coach is whether or not he can get his players to play for him. In college the measure is also who wants to come play for him when he goes out recruiting. In both of those categories Harbaugh scores major points as players love his passion for the game. They love to play for him as he is truly a player’s coach who likes to have fun off of the field and simply loves the game of football. Meanwhile on the recruiting trail, Harbaugh has everything needed to be great for the Wolverines. He used to play for the team, he is a big name coach, and he has that passion that you can see immediately. He is also open to new techniques like using virtual reality to show prospective students what it could be like on game day. Harbaugh may have worn out his welcome with the Niners ownership but the fact that the fans and players did not want to see him go shows why he might end up being what the Wolverines need. They have been out of the national stage sitting among the bottom of the rankings for years and with Harbaugh they hope to enter into the playoff to return the program to the excellence it has known for so long. This season will be a big test for Harbaugh as he steps on the sidelines for the Maze and Blue for the first time as head coach. If he wins his passion will be seen as great but if he loses he will be told to calm down. Such is the world of college football, a world that now includes one of the most interesting coaches in football.

ny-eve-tradition

The NCAA is ready to begin its second year with a playoff to determine the next national champion. It worked out well enough for the first year with only a little controversy, then again no system will create no controversy. Although they will only enter their second year under this new system it hasn’t stopped the league from making some major changes with the games. Last year the playoff featured the traditional Rose Bowl game and the Allstate Sugar Bowl as the two semi-finals. As with the new system the six major bowl games will rotate as the semi-finals every year. Last year the games were held on New Year’s Day because the Rose Bowl has been played on January 1st for decades. This year the Rose Bowl returns to the original format as the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl will serve as the semi-finals. That has given the NCAA a lot more freedom to schedule these games whenever they want. The decision this year has been met with plenty of worry though as the semi-finals will take place on New Year’s Eve. A night when everyone goes out to New Year’s Eve parties and where traditions are held the NCAA will try to make another tradition. They will try to get people to stay home or go to a sports bar on New Year’s Eve and catch the semi-finals rather than a New Year’s Eve parties. For the sports addicts out there this is a new tradition that will be easily accepted. For the causal fan this is not a new tradition that will go down easy. It is a bold move by college football and one that expresses where they are as a league. Football has a big power in North America and the holder of that power is the NFL. They can essentially schedule games for any time and if they are big games people will watch. It is as if they can almost do no wrong when it comes to creating their own traditions. College football is growing to the point where it might eventually match the size of the NFL throughout North America and this is the first big move that shows that they know it. The NCAA will go about trying to create their own tradition and if it is successful expect this to be a new major date in the NCAA Football calendar. Of course it will only be the tradition in the years that the Rose Bowl is not a semi-final but the NCAA is trying to take control of their own day on the sports calendar and if successful they will only continue to grow.

rise-of-buckeyes

In the early 2000s the Big Ten Conference was one of the toughest in the NCAA and the champions often took home a national championship. That dominance went away as 2010 approached and the SEC took over as the dominant conference. The Big Ten has a champion again though as the Ohio State Buckeyes got past everyone in the first playoff to take home the national championship. The Buckeyes hadn’t won a title since 2002 and in recent years had fallen off of the national stage in a big way. They continued to be the school that everyone wondered about when it came to the season as they seemed to have the talent and the talent pool but could not find themselves in the top of rankings. Then came Urban Meyer who had won two National Championships with the Florida Gators before taking some time off to be with his family. He returned with a new energy and a new attitude and outlook on coaching that he brought to one of the biggest programs in the NCAA. The new coach changed the attitude of a team that had the talent to be great. The talent along with Meyer’s ability to recruit led the Buckeyes back to the top of the rankings. Still he couldn’t find his way to the National Championship until the playoff was introduced and they snuck in. With the #4 spot in the national rankings the Buckeyes were in the playoff and from there marched through Alabama and Oregon to take the National Championship. It was a perfect expression of the new playoff system as two top teams fell to the fourth place team in a thrilling run. The Buckeyes are back this year with Meyer on the sidelines again and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. The big question is whether or not they can do it again as the NCAA is always a place full of surprises. Any game can derail a season and despite their talent the Buckeyes are not immune to having an off day. The Buckeyes also have the distinction of representing the Big Ten Conference as they look to show that the conference is far from done and they hope to bring another championship to the conference. To do that they have to get through a tougher conference than usual and the rest of the league and it won’t be easy especially since they enter the new season as the defending champions. Everyone is out to get them and say they beat the champions making this season a tough one. The Buckeyes look to repeat and everyone else is looking to unseat them as the spotlight shines on Columbus this year.

the-outsiders

Last year the NCAA made a huge step towards changing the way they do things when they introduced the playoff. For years the BCS system rewarded the two best teams in the country by putting them in the National Championship Game. It also created the BCS bowls for the best of the rest in the NCAA. The system was far better than rewarding the team at the top of the rankings by naming them the national champion at the end of the year. The BCS system gave the NCAA a championship game for everyone to watch and gave two teams the opportunity to play for the title. The rankings were based off of a computer calculation that took into account the team’s record, strength of win, and strength of schedule to spit out a top 25. In this top 25 the top two teams, usually the #1 and #2 team, were given a berth into the National Championship to play for the title. The system was better than before but for many it was not good enough as it left out a lot of good teams. The Power Five conferences saw the most teams put into the championship game while teams in smaller conferences were not given the chance. The NCAA’s solution to this constant debate was to create a playoff where the top four teams in rankings determined by a committee would play in two of the six BCS bowls to earn their way to the national championship. It was a better solution than the BCS era but when the season ended the doubters came out saying that it was once again not enough. That was largely due to the fact that TCU and Baylor did not make the playoff after both only suffered one loss on the year. The members of the Big 12 conference had gone through a good year and finished in 5th and 6th at the end of the year. One of the teams should have earned a spot among other one loss teams in the top four. Because both teams didn’t get in talk of expanding to an eight-team playoff sprung up immediately as the new system still ignored smaller conferences. There will never be a system where no debate happens as in any system people will debate over the teams that didn’t make it. So for now the playoff remains at four teams and many eyes will be on Baylor and TCU to see if one of these Big 12 teams can earn a spot in the playoff during its second year.

fall-of-sec

The Southeastern Conference has long been the conference to fear in the NCAA as they ruled the BCS era. In 16 years under the old system the SEC won a total of nine national championships and only lost two national championship games, one was an all SEC matchup. They were the conference and were led by the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, and Florida Gators. All won championships during the BCS era and made up one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA. When the playoff came in many wondered if that dominance could continue as they now had to get through two teams to earn a spot in the national championship. Were those top teams going to challenge when they had more to go through than one game. The answer was not truly reached in the first year of the playoff as they both continued their dominance and didn’t. On one hand the SEC saw three of their teams make the top 10 at the end of the year including Alabama who earned a spot in the playoff as the #1 team. The conference still saw a lot of great teams come out of the conference and one of them was considered the best team in the country. Then again that one team in Alabama lost in the semi-finals to Ohio State and the first year of the playoff went by without an SEC champion. The dominance of the conference is not necessarily over yet as there are still great teams in the conference and it is still tough to get through. In that toughness in the conference though lies the problem for the SEC. There are so many teams that are so good in the conference that they tend to cancel each other out. The more a team loses in the regular season the less likely they are to move up the rankings. With the SEC only getting more parity as the years go on it is tougher for one team to emerge without a loss or with only one loss on their record. That in itself makes it tough for a committee to rank them amongst the top teams in the NCAA and so the playoff becomes hard to get. Still they produced last year’s #1 team and will head into the new season with plenty of teams that can make the playoff. Whether it is the amount of good teams or the amount of championships the debate will rage on and if they cannot win the championship this year the questions will continue as to whether or not their time is up in the NCAA.

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