August 19, 2022CFB Insider
One Last Talk About Talking Season
There is no “off” in college football. In today’s game, the off-season sounds more like myth than reality. The time between the last whistle in January to the first kick in late August provides as much drama as a mid-October upset. The myriad of culprits is ever evolving, but this year’s cast included recruiting, the transfer portal, NIL deals, contentious coaches, and conference realignment. Before talking season becomes a distant memory and bold projections become mocking tweets, here is a recap of a few of the biggest off-season storylines and some final predictions for how it all unfolds when the pads crash on the gridiron.
1. The Saban-Fisher Feud
The Paul Finebaum Show had phones ringing off the hook in May, an unconventional time for the popular SEC Network talk show to garner as much attention as it did. One clip of Coach Nick Saban at a luncheon with business leaders in Birmingham sent football fans into mid-season form with opinions, criticism, and calling for heads to roll. Saban was presenting his concerns on how NIL, specifically collectives, may impact the recruiting landscape. To illustrate his point, Saban referenced the approach taken at Texas A&M, going so far as to allege “A&M bought every player on their team.” As soon as the words left his mouth, the sound bite went surfing the web, ultimately finding its way across the desk of Texas A&M Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. In an attempt to fight fire with fire, Fisher made it personal by attacking the Alabama coach’s character and insinuating skeletons in the closet saying, “We build him up to be the czar of football. Go dig into his past... What he does and how he does it, it’s despicable.”
The dispute came to a head amid claims that Texas A&M senior leadership called upon SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey to punish and suspend Saban. The Commissioner stepped in with a public reprimand to both coaches, and the emotions that boiled over simmered down by the time SEC Media Days rolled around. Despite public intrigue for more fireworks at the Conference’s most public summer function, both coaches walked back their initial words in an attempt to dissuade any sort of bulletin board material lingering into the season.
Alabama linebacker and consensus pre-season All-American Will Anderson noted that it will all be handled on the field. So how does that play out?
Don’t expect a repeat of last year’s Aggieland thriller where a walk-off field goal dethroned No. 1 Alabama and snapped a streak of one-hundred straight wins over unranked opponents. The Crimson Tide will use this game to make a statement on behalf of their coach and roll over the Aggies by a four-touchdown margin.
2. Arch Goes to Austin
The age-old question: when will Texas finally be back? The return to glory may not be too far away as the No. 1 ranked QB in the class of 2023 committed to the Longhorns. Arch Manning had his pick of the litter with offers from every major college football program at his disposal. The legacy quarterback decided to forgo family ties to Ole Miss and Tennessee, along with ignoring home-state roots to LSU and blaze his own trail at soon-to-be-SEC Texas.
By the time Arch steps foot on campus, expect Head Coach Steve Sarkisian to be facing one of the hottest seats in college football. The 2022 campaign for the Horns will follow the trend of years past with some exciting wins and inexplicable losses. It is not out of the realm of possibility that UT slips up to a non-conference opponent not named Alabama and starts 1-2, while later breaking the streak in the Red River Rivalry and capturing its first win against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl since 2018.
3. Transfer of Power
Perhaps the off-season's biggest winner is the University of Southern California, where the football team finally reflects the same flashy lifestyle of the Hollywood Hills – at least on paper. Lincoln Riley, one of the hottest names in coaching, made the journey west to take the head coach role at USC, leaving behind the same position at Oklahoma. Reports circulated about his new destination buying him a 6 million dollar mansion, meanwhile on the message boards fans speculated about his fear of the SEC. One thing is for sure, the coach landed in a pasture loaded with green.
Caleb Williams, the former No. 1 QB in the 2021 recruiting class and starting QB at Oklahoma following last season’s comeback win against Texas, followed Riley westward via the transfer portal. Joining Williams is Biletnikoff Award-winning WR Jordan Addison, who transferred from Pitt. Rounding out the transfer trio of offensive firepower is WR Mario Williams, also from Oklahoma. It is evident that Riley is intent on building the same juggernaut-style power that he managed at Oklahoma and will look to bring back relevance to West Coast football.
The resounding boom atop the Trojans' fight for post-season relevance is the move to the Big 10. The Big 10 Conference sent shockwaves across the college landscape when they poached UCLA and USC from the PAC-12 this summer for a 2024 start, which matches moves made by the SEC last year. Just as a semblance of order flirted with college sports, everyone was sent back into a spiral when news broke of the realignment. It is yet to be seen what pieces will continue to unfold, if, and when additional universities opt to bring their program to a new conference.
Despite the looming changes in competition, USC opens the 2022 season at No. 14 in the AP Poll. They will have some ground to cover to catch up to No. 11 Oregon and No. 7 Utah but expect the Trojans to get hot late and find their way to Las Vegas for the PAC-12 Championship Game. A test against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season will likely make or break College Football Playoff hopes for both teams.
4. Notable NIL
Aside from the millions of dollars tied up in collectives, it appears NIL is serving its purpose for Nebraska WR Decoldest Crawford. The former LSU commit from Shreveport, La., epitomizes brand integration through his partnership with Omaha-based SOS Heating & Cooling. In the commercial, Decoldest tells viewers who to call to keep their air conditioning cool. This local partnership is a welcome respite for fans agonizing over the future of NIL.
Crawford and his fellow Cornhuskers have some work to do in helping cool down their head coach’s not-so-frosty seat. Scott Frost is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Huskers and has yet to post a winning record for the program. Once lauded as the next Tom Osborne, Lincoln has only been left with disappointment. Nebraska is hoping their luck will change as they open the season in Dublin, Ireland, during Week Zero action. A light first half of the season paves the way for bowl eligibility by the end of October and springs a program in need of positivity to their first Bowl Season since 2016.
Talking season is over. Voices will soon be lost as either faint whispers of pre-season expectations or cheers in stadiums by jubilant fans celebrating victory. Though it was never really “off,” football is finally here again.