Can defenses catch up to quick-hitting offenses? Will Jameis match Archie? How far can signal-callers take the Pac-12? College football season starts this week and the veteran Post-Gazette sports writer is watching five top story lines that will play themselves out over the next four months.
1. No more BCS
Yes, Division I college football finally has a national playoff and while no one is quite sure what to expect in this first year, it is going to be a lot of fun as teams jockey for one of the four playoff spots. A committee will decide which four teams will advance to the playoffs and while that isn't ideal, it is a step better than the old BCS system. The selection process will no doubt be monitored and tweaked in the next few years, but for now there will be a heavy weight placed on winning a conference championship. That virtually ensures the SEC champ will be in the field of four, but the other three spots should be up for grabs.
2. Will Jame is be famous again?
Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only player to win the Heisman Trophy twice and he did it in 1974-75. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was the latest player to have a chance to do it and fail. Next up is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who won the award last season. Winston has had quite an offseason off the field, but his talent and supporting cast are not in question. The key will be how well the Seminoles do as a team. If they are in the mix for the national championship, their superstar will clearly be a heavy favorite to repeat.
3. Possible power shift
The SEC is, for good reason, considered the strongest football conference in the nation and has been for quite some time. But last year the invincible aura of the conference was dimmed when Auburn and Alabama lost BCS bowl games. This year, every SEC team appears to face some major questions. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 appears to be loaded and may indeed be the best conference this year. The Pac-12 clearly has the best stable of quarterbacks of any of the leagues and there are no fewer than four teams from that conference that could get into the playoff.
4. Going for a repeat
Much like Winston, Florida State will take the best shot of every team it faces because the Seminoles are defending national champions. The ACC should provide them with a path of least resistance this year because there doesn't appear to be a team capable of challenging them for the conference crown. But non-conference games against Notre Dame, Florida and Oklahoma State could be troublesome. Alabama repeated as champs in 2011 and 2012 so it can be done, but it won't be easy. Winston will be one key, the other key will be how quickly the talented but young defense grows up.
5. Tempo offenses
A group of coaches, led by Alabama's Nick Saban, openly complained about up-tempo, no-huddle offenses, arguing that they put players at greater risk of injury. They contended that with so many more plays in a game, there are many more opportunities for players to get hurt. The NCAA heard the complaints and even proposed changing rules to try and slow down these fast-tempo offenses. Common sense prevailed -- for now -- and the rules will remain the same, but this debate figures to continue as old-school coaches will continue to make it an issue.