Well, we're almost there. The college football season technically started last weekend with Hawaii and Cal in Australia, but it gets going in earnest this weekend. I couldn't be happier or more excited. Part of what makes college football so great is that you enter every season with so much uncertainty and so many questions. The handicappers who can accurately answer more of those questions before the season are the ones more likely to show a profit at the end of the season.
Here are seven big questions that loom on the eve of another year of college football:
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Is Baylor going to be competitive?: It's not often that a school goes through as much turmoil as the Bears have in a single offseason. As scandal ripped through the program, the long-time head coach was gone, an uninspiring interim coach was hired, players were kicked out, a recruiting class was ripped apart, and distractions were everywhere. It could be fatal for a fragile team. On the other hand, the injuries that robbed them of good quarterback play last year is hopefully past, and there is some decent talent to work with. The Big 12 feels pretty wide open, and this team feels like they could win 10 games or four - and neither would be any more surprising than the other. What do you expect? That's a question you need to ask yourself.
Can you trust new quarterbacks?: Turnover is an ongoing factor in college football. We know that. As circumstances have it, though, a lot of teams that at least imagine themselves playoff contenders will be starting new quarterbacks this year. Alabama has two youngsters, and they are hoping one steps up and claims the job. Florida State is going with a redshirt freshman. USC will start a redshirt junior who finally won the starting job after being the top QB recruit in his class. Michigan needs a new starter and will either have a raw junior or a former Houston starter well removed from previous action. Will these guys, and others like them, thrive or shine in the high pressure roles they are stepping into?
How many new starters is too many?: The Buckeyes were very good last year. And they recruit as well as anyone. Since last season, though, they have said farewell to 16 starters. Sixteen! We're not talking about fringe starters, either - 12 were drafted, including five in the first round. The team also welcomes a new defensive coordinator on top of it all. The new players are very talented, but that is a whole lot of change to absorb. With most teams and most coaching staffs you would be highly skeptical - especially early on. Ohio State is not most teams, though, and Urban Meyer is definitely not most coaches. How quickly can they look good enough to be a national contender again? Will there be growing pains?
Is the Pac-12 any good?: What we do know is that the league is wide open - USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington and Oregon are all legitimate conference title contenders, and Utah, Washington State, Arizona State and even Arizona are lurking on the fringes. What is far less clear, though, is whether this will be a battle of the titans or if it will be a slap fight between weaklings. We could see a very good team or two emerge from this group as we have in recent years, or we could see a nine-win team limp to conference supremacy.
Is Alabama Alabama again?: Everyone assumes that Alabama will be great again because, hey, they always are. They are going through some big changes, though - a new QB, several personnel moves, the loss of a long-time defensive coordinator, and so on. I'm reasonably optimistic they will be as we expect, but it's important to question and not just assume in a case like this.
Any superstars among the relocated coordinators?: We've seen some pretty high-profile shifts among coordinators this year. Don Brown ran one of the top defenses in the country at Boston College last year and now has dramatically better talent to work with at Michigan. DC Dave Aranda left the recent gong show of Wisconsin for LSU - and those teams meet in the first week. OC Noel Mazzone left UCLA for Texas A&M - another first-week matchup. DC Bob Shoop went from Penn State to Tennessee. Some of these guys will make massive and immediate impacts at their new schools. Others will never recapture former magic and will disappoint mightily. High-stakes hires like these are always worth looking at closely.
Can Watson handle the hype?: At +350 at BetOnline, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is the heavy Heisman favorite heading into the season. He led his squad to the national title game last year, and many expect the team to go one step further this year. In the past we have seen guys shine under immense pressure like this. More often, though, we have seen guys struggle with it. How much faith do you have in the supremely-talented Watson?
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