U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle.

9 Things to You Need to Know Before College Football Returns in 99 Days

U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle.

With 99 days until the start of the college football season – here are 9 things I’m pondering as equipment managers get the players gear ready for summer camps. 

1: Baker Mayfield/ Oklahoma Sooners: Baker led the Sooners to the playoffs in 2015 behind his determination and playmaking ability. His 36 TD passes were impressive…yet, this year could be an even bigger season! OU has 2 amazing running backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Bob Stoops will again be knocking on the playoff door and Mayfield might be knocking on the Heisman door, too. 

2: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: This young man should have won the Heisman last year! As the runner-up, he’ll enter this year with name recognition and respect from east coast voters, many of which probably never watched him play last year. I expect McCaffrey to again be the best player in college football and to challenge the record he set last year for all-purpose yards of 3,864. Remarkable!! 

3: Ohio State: The Buckeyes lose 16 starters from last year. And these weren’t your regular “graduates”. Five of the first twenty players drafted in the NFL this year were Buckeyes!! They had 10 drafted in the first 3 rounds…amazing stuff. If/how Urban Meyer replaces these guys is going to be a storyline to follow. Nick Saban down in Alabama loses great guys each year but seems to have another crop ready to replenish the huddle. How ’bout you, coach Meyer? 

4: Jim Harbaugh: Michigan got their man last year with Harbaugh coming home to coach the Wolverines. As I said then…Harbaugh is good for football…period! Whether it’s college or pro, he brings an enthusisam and cockiness to the game. He reminds me of a Steve Spurrier…he’s just good for the game. Michigan went 10-3 last year and ended with a romp of Florida in the Citrus Bowl, 41-7. With Ohio State having to replace so many stars…will Harbaugh and the Wolverines win the Big Ten? 

5: Deshaun Watson: Clemson’s qb is cool, calm and collected. In 2016, he’ll also be on the short-list of Heisman preseason candidates. Watson will be one of the top picks in the 2017 draft…if not the top pick. He won the 2015 Manning award for the top qb in the nation. My mind still remembers the National title game against Alabama when Watson threw for 405 yards and ran for 73 against the Tide defense. Will this be Clemson’s year to win it all? 

6: Georgia: Specifically, how will new coach Kirby Smart do as a head coach? It’s not a given that coordinator’s can go on to become good head coaches, too. There’s no doubt that Smart learned a lot from Nick Saban while he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama. I’ll say this, my former colleague Lee Corso always said: never follow a legend and always follow a cheater. Lee’s point: you’ll be compared to a legend and the cheater will leave you with good players. Mark Richt did an amazing job at Georgia!! In years to come, Bulldogs fans will see just how good Richt was. As for players, running back Nick Chubb was arguably the best back in the SEC prior to his midseason injury last year. Can he come back? I hope so…I hear he’s a good young man. Blessings to you, Nick. 

7: South Carolina: Well, as a continuation of my thoughts on Kirby Smart…here’s Will Muschamp as the new head coach in South Carolina. I like Will and there’s no question he’s a good football coach. Yet, can he be a good head coach, remains the question. Steve Spurrier put the Gamecocks on the football map. If Muschamp does win, it won’t be this year. I’ve heard Muschamp speak of how hard he’s working the team this offseason in an attempt to see who wants to be on the field. It’s hard for SEC teams and fans to be patient. Everyone wants to win “now”! The clock is ticking in Columbia, South Carolina. 

8: Texas: Will the Texas Longhorns win under Charlie Strong? Here’s a former coordinator who proved he can win as a head coach. Strong had success as the head man in Louisville. Yet, this is the University of Texas…one of the all time storied programs in the history of college football. As a native Texan…I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for the UT football program. Mack Brown was a legend because of two guys: Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Strong doesn’t have a guy like that. Realistically, how many schools have ever had a Young/McCoy? Not many! The heat is on Strong to win this year and it won’t be easy. Baylor and TCU have replaced UT in the pecking order of Big 12 schools. That is crazy! Who’d have thunk-it…

9: Texas A&M: Specifically, qb Trevor Knight…who transferred from OU to become the man in College Station. In 2014, Knight led the Sooners to an 8-5 record before losing the job to Baker Mayfield in 2015. This is a critical season for coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin has amazing facilities and must find a way to win 9 or more games this year. If not, there will be a lot of chatter about Sumlin and his stay at A&M. Realistically, winning 9 games is a tall order for any team…let alone a team in the SEC West! In order for the Aggies to reach 9 wins, Knight will have to find his groove beginning day one. Sumlin’s a good guy and coach…but like I said earlier, teams/fans in the SEC want and demand wins “now.” 

Ninety-nine days and counting….

This column was first published on Airing It Out With Craig James (CraigJames.com).

Craig James is a Christian, a Husband, a Father, and a former Football player and Current Fan. He enjoyed success on the football gridiron at every level. A high school national running back of the year, record-breaking SMU runner, and NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Craig was also a popular analyst and commentator on national sports TV.

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