2013 NCAA Football Preview: Final Thoughts

August 30, 2013

Yes, the season started yesterday, but those of you that have read the Final Thoughts article in prior years know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be completed before the season begins to retain relevance. In fact, I’m writing this post a week earlier than I did last year.

Instead of separating the components into my normal segments entitled Heisman Trophy Short List , Things I Think Will Happen and BCS Bowl Predictions, I’m going to mix it up slightly. I’ll still give you a rundown of five players I think have a shot at the Heisman Trophy, but this year I’ll put them in order. I’m axing my Things I Think Will Happen section in favor of a handful of questions that I received a couple of days ago. This should work out nicely, because last year I couldn’t have been more wrong with the things I thought would occur. Lastly, I will give you my predictions for the BCS bowls, but I’ll also include my list of the ten best teams in the nation.

Hopefully you enjoy some of the changes made. If not, let me know because I’m always open to suggestions, especially for an annual article such as this one.

Heisman Trophy Short List (in reverse order)

5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M quarterback

Does No. 5 on this list seem a little low to you? Perhaps if you live in College Station it does, but otherwise you probably agree that Manziel isn’t the favorite to win back-to-back Heisman Trophies. Disregarding all of the offseason troubles, the potential re-opening of a case that could sideline the redshirt sophomore for more than just the first half of the Rice game and just a general displeasure from fans about having to hear about him every day on ESPN, Johnny Manziel would still have a hard time becoming just the second player in history to win the award twice. This is due to the fact that Texas A&M would have to live up to the extremely high expectations that have been set for the public to believe that Manziel was really the best player in college football.

To some extent it is unfair, but that’s just the way things are in college football today. At any rate, I don’t think that the Aggies will be contending for the national title as the regular season comes to a close, which means that the expectations for them at the beginning of the season will not have been met. Johnny Football may or may not be a weekly story by that time, but even if he is I don’t think it will be because he is a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Still, it doesn’t make any sense to leave him off the shortlist completely.

4. Marcus Mariota, Oregon quarterback

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too hot on Mariota when it was announced that he would be the starter for Oregon last summer. However, the sophomore from Honolulu, Hawaii completely proved me wrong and turned me into a believer for the 2013 season. Throwing for 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions in his first year with the program signaled that Mariota has the patience and maturity of a seasoned veteran and doesn’t try to force things. He also rushed for 752 yards last season, which essentially makes him a West Coast version of Braxton Miller.

Like almost anyone on this list, Mariota’s Heisman chances will rest heavily on whether the Ducks are still in title contention as the regular season comes to a close. If they are, then expect Mariota to still be on the radar of many pundits. If it looks like Oregon is heading to a non-BCS bowl for the first time since before Chip Kelly took over the program, then Mariota will have to wait until next year to have a great shot at taking home the hardware in New York City. His play at quarterback will have a lot of say in determining where the Ducks end up this year, so this makes perfect sense.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina defensive end

If he has another game like the one played last night, Jadeveon Clowney will slide down this list very quickly. But assuming that Clowney’s lackluster performance in his team’s 27-10 victory over North Carolina was more fluke than telltale sign of a star that doesn’t want to jeopardize his draft stock with an injury in games where he isn’t needed, then the monster at defensive end will have as good a shot at winning the Heisman as Ndamukong Suh did in 2009.

Clowney’s Heisman stock soared at the end of the 2012-2013 season thanks to a huge hit that I’m not going to reference again (you can refer back to the SEC preview or just turn on ESPN for 10 minutes if you want to see it), and just by watching him play it is clear that he is one of the most dominant players in college football. But it is very difficult to accurately measure just how much a defensive player contributes to the success of his team, at least compared to guys to play offensive skill positions. For Clowney to win this award, not only will his team have to be one of the best, but he will have to blow away the rest of the field with unbelievable stats and at least a handful of highlight worthy moments. Unfortunately for the probable No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Heisman Trophy has become more of a beauty pageant than most defensive players can overcome.

2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville quarterback

If Teddy Bridgewater improves as much this season as he did between his freshman and sophomore seasons, then he could become a very special player by the end of the year. As unlikely as that may be, chances are Bridgewater will continue to build on the success that he had in 2012. The junior is one of the best passers in the nation, combining a strong arm to hit the deep man with just the right amount of touch to keep the ball away from defenders. Bridgewater, surprisingly, may look better than he is thanks to a strong group of receivers that will be faster and more athletic than at least half the opponents Louisville plays this season.

The last sentence goes right along with the main reason Bridgewater is a true threat to win the Heisman: Louisville has a good chance to run the table and be a national title contender. Without that, Bridgewater would simply be an elite quarterback beating up on teams that aren’t nearly as good as the Cardinals with little to no national attention (a la Kellen Moore). As long as the Louisville Cardinals are still worth watching, Teddy Bridgewater is worth mentioning when the Heisman discussions pop up.

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State quarterback

If you live in Columbus, you were probably angry last season when Braxton Miller was not invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, at least to be recognized as one of the best players in college football if not win the award. Take a look at these stats: 58.3 percent completion rate, 15 total touchdowns and a QBR of 140.48, which ranked just below the 140.52 of Jake Medlock of Florida International. Then take a look at these: 68 percent completion rate, 26 total touchdowns and a QBR of 155.32, which was No. 16 in the country.

The first set of stats were those of Braxton Miller from last season. The second set? Johnny Manziel’s, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. It was not a mistake that Braxton Miller wasn’t invited to New York City; despite what you’d hear on WBNS 97.1 in Columbus, Miller was not the best player in college football by any stretch. He passed the eye test, but was far from passing the paper test. This year, however, Miller figures to be in the mix as one of the best players both to the naked eye and to the stat guru. His completion percentage, QBR and total yards numbers should increase thanks to maturation as a player and experience working with Urban Meyer’s offense. Check off the stat guru. And perhaps more importantly, if the Buckeyes manage to make it through the regular season undefeated, you can bet Miller will have played a large part in that success, maybe even commanding a clutch comeback as he has done the last two seasons. Check off the eye test.

Questions from the Readers (#s 1-10 submitted by Coleman Mahler, #s 11-12 submitted by Bill Hughes)

1. With Johnny Manziel getting the weakest “suspension” I’ve ever seen, is his scandal going to be the end of the NCAA?

Depending on whom you believe the case isn’t technically closed. Obviously, Texas A&M would like to believe that suspending Manziel for the first half of its first game of the 2013 season closes the book on the issue. With regards to any penalties that could have been handed down based on the knowledge about Manziel’s autograph signings that has already been leaked, it does. However, the NCAA has left a wedge in the door just in case other things come to light.

If you really want to know whether the handling of this case is the end of the NCAA, I think you’d be interested in reading an article Sports Illustrated published in June about the Miami Hurricanes scandal. It goes in-depth about the NCAA’s inability to correctly and completely close a case without taking too much time in the opinion of top officials within the organization. Thus, in an effort to take a collective approach to these issues, cases are being closed too hastily to actually come down hard on those that try to cheat the system.

The Miami case was much bigger than the Manziel case could ever be, even with new information. It’s more likely that someone like Nevin Shapiro could deliver the final blow to an organization like the NCAA than Johnny Manziel.

2. With the first playoff system coming next year, and perhaps an even bigger expansion coming in the future, which programs will be most positively or negatively affected by the change and why?

I could literally sit down and begin discussing the possibilities of writing a book on this subject, but unfortunately by the time I would finish such a book, the situation would have passed me by and no one would read it. However, I’ll try to give you a short answer.

Clearly, the big conferences are the ones being affected positively by the change. Regardless of what the college presidents used to say, everyone knows that the playoff system is what will ultimately make the conferences the most money. With TV deals being worked out or already settled between networks and the five conferences that will be the major players when the playoff era begins, the rich in college football will continue to get richer. That’s fine with me, frankly, as long as I get to see a playoff.

The biggest losers will be those teams that for some reason decided they were going to make the jump to the FBS division. Georgia State, UT-San Antonio, South Alabama, you name it. The teams that felt like they were making strides by hooking up with the Sun Belt Conference or Conference USA with the hopes that those conferences would become a “super conference” and be able to use their leverage to get a piece of the playoff pie. This isn’t going to happen. Those conferences aren’t going to combine into a 24 team conglomerate where the winner will receive an automatic bid to the playoff. Even if the playoff expands to 8 or 16 teams, the smaller conferences will still be relegated to one of the minor bowls except on the rare occasion where a team goes undefeated and snags one of the playoff spots relegated for the “Other Six”.

The money simply isn’t there for the bottom rung in the FBS division. It can’t be. How else can you explain how a team like Ohio accept a bowl bid and actually lose money by playing in the bowl?

So while I like that Georgia State wants to compete with the best, I wouldn’t be surprised if it and several other schools in a similar situation decide to go back down to the FCS level, where the cost to compete isn’t nearly as steep, in the next decade.

3. Who is going to be better, Duke Johnson or T.J. Yeldon?

I’d like to say Johnson, because I think he’s going to be a terrific player this year and could help the Hurricanes reach double-digit wins. But Yeldon ran for over 1,000 yards last season as a freshman while sharing time with Eddie Lacy as the Crimson Tide’s feature back. Without Lacy, Yeldon will be doing the majority of the heavy lifting for an offense that is predicated on the run game.

I’m going to go with Yeldon on this one.

4. Which team is the most overrated this year? Underrated?

I think that Texas A&M is getting entirely too much credit heading into this season, for three reasons. One is that the schedule is not easy, with the game against Alabama being so early in the year and a trip to LSU being incredibly difficult so late in the year. Secondly, I’m not ready to anoint Johnny Manziel the best dual threat quarterback of this generation without seeing how he does without tackle Luke Joeckel first. The Aggies still have a talented line, but Joeckel was very special. Lastly, Texas A&M will not be sneaking up on anyone in 2013, and they most definitely did in 2012. The SEC West is the best division within a conference in college football for a reason, and it’s not just because of Johnny Football. I think the Aggies might struggle with teams in their own division this season.

That being said, not enough credit is being given to the LSU Tigers. Zach Mettenberger needs to work on his consistency from game to game, but he proved to me against Alabama last year that he can step up in big games. If Mettenberger can become more consistent, LSU will be a threat to win every game this season.

5. Even if Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t win the Heisman this year, do you think it is possible that a defensive only player could ever win it? Because they can in my video game.

I think that it will happen eventually. I also think that Jadeveon Clowney has the best chance a defensive player has ever had thanks to a healthy dose of hype from the media that Ndamukong Suh didn’t have early enough in 2009.

I don’t see a Kent State linebacker winning the Heisman any time soon, though. That’ll only happen in your video game.

6.  A lot of good coaches have had multiple good years at small programs without moving on. (I’m thinking of guys like Briles at Baylor, Petersen at Boise, D’Antonio at MSU, and Franklin at Vanderbilt). Is there a trend of coaches sticking with programs because they love the programs or are there no good coaching spots that they can get?

I think that it’s a little bit of both suggestions you offered. Chris Petersen has fended off several schools in the past and seems happy at Boise State. I get the sense that guys like Art Briles and James Franklin are extremely competitive and truly believe that they can elevate their programs to elite status while competing against some schools that may have more resources. Schools such as Baylor and Vanderbilt have updated their facilities since those coaches arrived, however, suggesting that they are committed to their coaches and are giving them opportunities to continue to build better programs where they are.

D’Antonio is a little different. He chose to take the job at Michigan State after being a defensive coordinator, and a very successful one at that, at Ohio State. I think to him, Michigan State is a destination job and he’ll keep it as long as the school wants him.

But for all these coaches, the jobs they currently have are better than the jobs they could take. Most openings are for programs in disarray; none of these coaches are anywhere near that right now.

If I had to rank the coaches from least to most likely to leave their schools, this is what the ranking would look like: 4. D’Antonio 3. Petersen 2. Briles 1. Franklin. 

7. Which game are you most looking forward to this season?

Oregon vs. Stanford. I think that the winner has a great chance of ending up in the national title game.

8. How will Fox Sports One’s coverage compare to ESPN’s in your opinion?

I’m not really in a position to answer this right now, because I haven’t watched any of Fox Sports One’s broadcasting. If I had to guess though, I think that FS1 will attempt to differentiate itself from the World Wide Leader by being more of a news source and less of a news creator. That’s the area where I’ve heard the biggest complaints about ESPN in the past.

9. Who will be the best team not to make a BCS bowl?

If things play out like I predicted in my conference previews, then LSU and Georgia will be very good 10-2 teams that do not receive a BCS bid. I think that LSU is slightly better than Georgia right now.

10. How’s that Arkansas pick looking?

I’m not going to be making that mistake again, at least with the Razorbacks…

11. How many times can we expect to see the Jadeveon Clowney hit replayed this year?

I actually used a very complicated mathematic formula to figure this out. The answer is 1,476 times across all television networks throughout the regular season, plus 34 times in the SEC title game if the Gamecocks make it that far.

12. Kent State, LSU, who is gonna win?

C’mon man…LSU.

13. Boise State and San Diego State are not moving to the American Conference. Is this a good move to not move to a conference that will most likely be as competitive as C-USA? Why would they stay in the less than competitive Mountain West?

Despite the noted sarcasm, I’ll direct you towards an article I wrote in the spring about this very topic.

BCS Bowl Predictions

Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon

Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Boise State

Sugar Bowl: South Carolina vs. Oklahoma State

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Louisville

BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Stanford

The Top Ten

10. Louisville

9. Georgia

8. Texas

7. LSU

6. Clemson

5. Oregon

4. Ohio State

3. South Carolina

2. Stanford

1. Alabama

As I always do, I’ve really enjoyed writing these college football previews. Since I’m normally wrong in my predictions, please feel free to let me know what you think is going to happen, because there is a good chance it will probably be more accurate. You can comment on any one of my conference previews, send me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, shoot me a tweet @KBecks_ATC or comment on Around The Corn’s Facebook page. I truly appreciate those of you who have read even one of my posts over the past month, and I hope that you’re as ready for an entertaining season of college football as I am! Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

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