It’s here. After an offseason of 6 a.m. runs on frosted roads, tedious weightlifting sessions, endless practice repetitions, punitive up-downs and stadium stairs, aching muscles, repetitive media
Playoff era begins
By The Associated Press
A new era in college football is here.
After years of deriding the BCS, fans will finally get what they — well, most of them — wanted with the new College Football Playoff.
It’s new, it’s exciting and, as was the case with the old system, will probably cause plenty of complaining since only four teams get a chance to play for the title.
It all starts with a handful of games this week before the full rollout on Saturday.
To get you ready, we’ve got some of the top teams, players and games to keep an eye on as the season hurtles toward the Final Four in January.
So how will the new playoff system work? We’ve got a quick rundown:
—Four teams get into the playoff, with the winners of the semifinals playing in the title game.
—A 13-member selection committee will pick teams for the semifinals and selected other bowls. The committee will begin releasing rankings on Oct. 21 and end with the final matchups on Dec. 7.
—The semifinals will rotate among six bowls: Rose, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach and Sugar. The Rose and Sugar bowls get the first two.
—This year’s title game will be Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Florida State. Defending national champion, reigning Heisman Trophy winner — might as well start there.
Alabama. AJ McCarron may be gone, but the Tide is still strong.
Oregon. The Pac-12 hasn’t won a national title since USC in 2004. The flying Ducks have a chance to change that.
Oklahoma. The Sooners beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and have a menacing defense that returns most of its starters.
Auburn. Tigers played in final BCS title game and are still stocked, with Heisman Trophy contender Nick Marshall back under center.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Won the Heisman and a national championship as a freshman. Can play a little.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. A Heisman finalist, orchestrator of Oregon’s version of Duck Dynasty.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor. Bears set an NCAA scoring record last season. Might top it this season with Petty back.
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA. Taking the two-way thing to a whole new level.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. He won’t start the opener after being cited for marijuana possession. Once he gets rolling, watch out.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6. Best non-conference game of the season comes early, between two teams that could be in the hunt for coveted playoff spots.
Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6. Could be the last one between these rivals until at least 2020. Should be a good one either way.
Stanford at Oregon, Nov. 1. A matchup that rarely fails to disappoint, though the Cardinal have won the past two.
Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8. Video-game offense against aggressive defense should be a fun battle of wills.
Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29. Not much chance of topping Auburn’s final-play, 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown last season, but the Iron Bowl rarely disappoints.
18-5 — Odds for Florida State to win the national championship, according to vegasinsider.com. Alabama is next best at 6-1.
8 — SEC teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, matching its own record for most teams from one conference, set in 2011.
52.4 — Points per game by Baylor last season, an NCAA record.
720 — Combined weight of Damien Mama (370) and Zach Banner (350), the projected starters on the right side of Southern Cal’s offensive line.
1,690 — Rushing yards last season by Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, the FBS’ leading returning rusher.
4,662 — Passing yards by Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, the leading returning passer in FBS.
Several big-time programs will have new coaches at the helm. Here are a few:
Charlie Strong, Texas. After four years of mediocrity under Mack Brown, the Longhorns are hoping to make a Strong push under their new leader.
Steve Sarkisian, USC. Sark made the jump from one Pac-12 school (Washington) to another. USC fans hope he can right the Trojans’ horse after four chaotic years under Lane Kiffin.
Chris Petersen, Washington. Petersen turned down numerous opportunities to leave Boise State before bolting to Washington. He had success with the Broncos and now hopes to keep the Huskies rolling in the tough Pac-12 North.
Bobby Petrino, Louisville. Petrino is back at Louisville after making the most of his second chance — remember the motorcycle accident with his mistress? — at Western Kentucky.
James Franklin, Penn State. Bill O’Brien helped get the Nittany Lions back on track after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Franklin, the former Vanderbilt coach, will be charged with leading them back into prominence.
Several teams will be counting on new players in key positions. A few of the prominent ones:
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State. Replacing a Heisman Trophy favorite (Braxton Miller) is daunting enough, more so when you’ve never taken a college snap.
South Carolina, Darius English. The sophomore gets to fill the shoes of the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Jadeveon Clowney.
Texas A&M, Kenny Hill. Takes over the reins from Johnny Football.
Alabama, (quarterback). Jacob Coker and Blake Sims are listed as the co-starters at QB. Whoever it is will have a lot to live up to after AJ McCarron led the Tide to consecutive national championships.
questions, the O’Bannon court decision and the big-school autonomy vote, it’s here.
Or does it really start next week?
Every Pac-12 football team kicks it off in a 48-hour period starting today, with only a little suspense surrounding the dozen games.
For instance, if you’re thinking upset when Idaho State visits Utah, keep in mind that ISU has a 43-game road losing streak, and Utah is 36-0 against current Big Sky members. The gamblers would consider those trends, if you could gamble on the game.
The league’s coaches would order me to run gassers for suggesting this in their presence, but next week is the one that’s going to have the nation looking toward the best coast. That’s when Oregon hosts Michigan State and Stanford entertains USC — initial glimpses into the shape of the 2014 season that christens a four-team playoff.
Ah, the playoff.
It’s out there, finally, a counterpoint to the coach’s win-the-day world, a living (well, figuratively), breathing bracket that even the guys with the headsets have to concede gives this season a unique feel.
“Absolutely, it does feel different,” Stanford coach David Shaw said on Tuesday’s first Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “The prize out there is just a little bit bigger. But the road doesn’t change.”
Back to the cave, in other words, for a little more film study. That’s the coach’s grinding existence.
Mark Helfrich, the second-year Oregon coach, wouldn’t brook the notion that Duck minds would stray to daydreaming about Michigan State when there’s the threat of South Dakota looming Saturday night over Autzen Stadium.
Referring to the practice mindset, Helfrich said, “We want every day to be the best day we’ve ever had in our life.”
No immediate word on how the Ducks scored Tuesday on that standard.
Every Pac-12 team except California, playing at Northwestern, is favored, but Stanford’s Shaw could remind you that doesn’t always count for much.
Two years before he arrived at Stanford with Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal hosted Cal-Davis, this week’s opponent, and got sideswiped, 20-17, maybe the biggest pratfall in Stanford history.
UCLA goes to Virginia, offering sort of a comparable to its division-favorite counterpart, Oregon. The Ducks traveled to UVa last September, and I was certain they were vulnerable, facing third-and-5 on their first series. Then Marcus Mariota ran 71 yards for a touchdown and they won 59-10. We’ll see if Brett Hundley can match Mariota.
Some of the other story lines: Arizona finally picked a quarterback (Anu Solomon). Washington State ticket-buyers (there’s an oxymoron) are avoiding CenturyLink Field as if it’s diseased. Colorado, which doesn’t have a rival in the Pac-12, will be done with its rivalry game for 2014 (it plays Colorado State on Friday night) before most of the rest of the sport has opened.
And in Los Angeles, Steve Sarkisian found himself in the middle of a made-for-TMZ story.
One day, USC defensive back Josh Shaw is hailed as a hero for injuring himself jumping from a second-floor window to save a 7-year-old nephew struggling in a pool.
The next, Sark is acknowledging that USC is checking out the credibility of callers alleging Shaw’s story is bogus.
And Wednesday, Shaw admitted to making the whole thing up.
At the precise moment when Sarkisian was answering those questions after USC’s workout, the college football playoff was the furthest thing from his mind.
But it’s out there, the overarching matter in college football this year, if you just take ’em one at a time.
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