Here are some things to watch as the 2017 college football season begins in earnest:
Will Alabama win a national championship?
This is the fourth time the Crimson Tide have been ranked No. 1 in the preseason since Nick Saban took over as head coach, but they fell short of a national title the other three times – 2010, 2013 and 2016. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts performed well last season before cooling off in the two playoff games. Hurts and Bo Scarbrough lead an impressive running game, and the Tide will reload a defense that lost some fine talent from last year’s juggernaut. A College Football Playoff berth is a good bet and a fifth national championship in Saban’s Alabama tenure a distinct possibility.
Does a Big 12 championship game assure the winner a College Football Playoff berth?
After a six-year absence, the Big 12 has restored its conference championship game, which commissioner Bob Bowlsby said will give his conference a much better chance at the playoff. The league has advanced just one team – Oklahoma in 2015 – in the playoff’s three-year existence. Bowlsby said adding this 13th game is intended “100 percent on getting a team in the CFP” not the additional revenue (up to $28 million) it would generate. The 10-team Big 12 is not broken up into divisions, so the championship game will match its top two teams.
What former mid-major head coach will have the best season of a Power Five team?
That would be Tom Herman at Texas. The former Ohio State offensive coordinator led Houston to a 22-4 record (5-0 against Power Five opponents) and the 2015 American Athletic Conference championship in his two years, plus a victory in the Peach Bowl. Herman is a dynamic offensive coach and an outstanding recruiter. Given the Longhorns’ resources, it shouldn’t be long before he has Texas relevant nationally once again.
Can Notre Dame rebound from last year’s forgettable 4-8 season?
Entering his eighth season in South Bend, head coach Brian Kelly brought in two new coordinators and a new special teams coach looking to reverse what ailed the team. The Fighting Irish, who were third in the “also receiving votes” category of the AP preseason poll, are counting heavily on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a former Penn State commit who is coming off a redshirt year.
Who are the favorites, and a darkhorse, to win the Heisman Trophy?
The two stars of last January’s Rose Bowl, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold, are at the top of the list and likely to have productive seasons. Quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma is right behind them, and don’t forget two other quarterbacks – 2016 winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, twice a top-10 finisher in the balloting. As for a darkhorse, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph completed 63.4 percent of his passes last year for 4,091 yards, 28 TDs and just four interceptions.
What are the biggest games in the early part of the season?
There are some big battles in the first three weeks, led by No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State on Saturday night at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (8 p.m., 6ABC). A preseason No. 1 in the AP poll never has opened the season against another team in the top three.
How about some other big games?
Michigan vs. Florida at Arlington, Texas, 3:30 p.m., 6ABC. Two teams with aspirations of being division champs of their conferences look to see what they have.
Auburn at Clemson, 7 p.m., ESPN. Clemson will get a true test of life without Deshaun Watson against an Auburn team with a new quarterback, Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham.
Oklahoma at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., 6ABC: The Buckeyes’ 45-24 win last year in Norman impressed the College Football Playoff committee. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield seeks to reverse the outcome.
Stanford at USC, 8:30 p.m., Fox29: The Cardinal no longer have Christian McCaffrey, but their defense could hamper Sam Darnold and the Trojans offense.
Clemson at Louisville, 3:30 p.m. Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, looks to lead the Cardinals to an early-season signature win.
Miami at Florida State, 8 p.m., 6ABC: The Hurricanes have a chance to prove that their talent is at an elite level.
Who are the local players with a chance to make an impact?
Here’s a sampling:
RB Josh Adams, Jr., Notre Dame, Central Bucks South High School – He has rushed for 1,768 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
CB Anthony Averett, Sr., Alabama, Woodbury High School – He wasfourth last season with 39 unassisted tackles and led the Tide with eight passes broken up.
LB Zaire Franklin, Sr., Syracuse, La Salle College High School – He topped the Orange with 10 tackles for loss last year and finished second in total tackles.
C Eric Gallo, Sr., Virginia Tech, Council Rock South High School – He started 25 of his last 26 games for the Hokies.
WR D.J. Moore, Jr., Maryland, Imhotep Charter School – He has caught a pass in 21 straight games and led the Terps with 637 receiving yards last year.
QB Kyle Shurmur, Jr., Vanderbilt, La Salle College High School – He ended the 2016 regular season with a career-high 416 passing yards against Tennessee.
RB D’Andre Swift, Fr., Georgia, St. Joseph’s Prep – He has impressed in training camp and will look for playing time behind two seniors.
P Ryan Winslow, Sr., Pittsburgh, La Salle College High School – He is entering his fourth season as the Panthers’ punter and averaged a career-best 42.6 yards last year.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus, Jr., Virginia, St. Joseph’s Prep – He caught 51 passes for 584 yards last season with a team-high seven TD receptions.