Sports

Your complete college football primer 100 days before Week 1 kicks off

After 10 FBS games (plus HowardAlabama State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge) kick things off in Week 0, everyone will start getting in on the action when Week 1 kicks off exactly 100 days from now, on Sept. 1.

The arrival of the 100-day mark to the beginning of the college football season carries with it both excitement and panic.

On the one hand, the clock is ticking down for the return of the greatest sport on the planet, along with the bands, mascots and fans that make it so. On the other hand, this means we have to get everything else done now. Yard work? Home-improvement projects? Vacations? Weddings? You’ve got just 14 Saturdays left until we’re locked in.

It’s been quite an offseason. A new rivalry has dawned between Southern California and Oklahoma — at least among their fans on Twitter — after the defection of Lincoln Riley (and Caleb Williams) to the West Coast. The Trojans added a few haters to the bandwagon recently with the addition of Pitt star Jordan Addison.

Texas A&M and Alabama have thrown a whole bunch of kerosene on the already combustible SEC West. Speaking of, Bryan Harsin is still at Auburn after a soap opera enveloped his spring vacation. He is probably ready to get back to some football too.

And what better way to kick off Week 1 than with a good ol’ Thursday night Backyard Brawl, with West Virginia traveling to Pitt for their 105th meeting.

But before we get started, this has been an offseason of change, on and off the field. And you’ll be forgiven if you can’t quite remember all that’s happened. So here’s a rundown of the key coaches in new places, elite transfers on new teams, position battles still to be determined and a whole lot more.

— Dave Wilson

Jump to: State of the game | Coaches
Transfers |
Top players | Position battles
Offseason sights & sounds | September games

What happened with CFP expansion and realignment again?

College Football Playoff expansion discussions were put on pause after the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in February cast an 8-3 vote that will keep the four-team format in place for four more years. The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC voted against expansion at the time for various reasons. The CFP is expected to revisit the topic in the next six to 12 months, as a plan is still needed for after the 2025 season, when the current 12-year contract expires. The CFP also has to announce sites for the national championship games in 2025 and 2026.

While the postseason format remains in limbo, the realignment shuffle is on track.

Big 12 co-founders Oklahoma and Texas are still expected to join the SEC in 2025.

Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are leaving the American Athletic Conference and heading to the Big 12 (along with BYU), but the exact timing is still in question. AAC bylaws require the schools to stay until July 1, 2024; but in good faith, the conference has been willing to try to negotiate an earlier exit. Sources told ESPN recently no agreement has been reached. (BYU will join in July 2023.) With those schools leaving the AAC, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA will join the conference on July 1, 2023.

James Madison will join the Sun Belt no later than July 1, 2023, along with new additions Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall.

And what’s coming next with the state of CFB?

A complete restructuring of the collegiate landscape is on the horizon, with the NCAA rewriting its constitution, restructuring the way it is governed and searching for a new president to replace Mark Emmert.

Ultimately, the NCAA will cede more power to the schools and conferences, but there are varying views on what that should look like. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN recently the 10 FBS conferences should operate under the umbrella of the College Football Playoff. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics also has recommended creating a separate organization to manage the 10 conferences and 130 schools that compete at the FBS level. It’s an idea that only recently has been garnering traction among university presidents and the sport’s decision-makers, but there are far more questions than answers at this stage.

Some feel it’s best to wait until the NCAA’s transformation committee, which is co-chaired by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Ohio University athletic director Julie Cromer, finishes its work.

While the NCAA undergoes its most significant changes since 1996, the rich continue to get richer. The Big Ten’s new blockbuster media rights deal, which is reportedly expected to be worth up to $1 billion, should be in place near the end of May. Conference commissioner Kevin Warren told ESPN he soon expects a “memorandum of understanding” to be agreed upon around Memorial Day. The Big Ten’s lucrative new deal, coupled with the SEC’s eventual growth to 16 teams with the additions of Oklahoma and Texas in 2025, will further separate those two leagues as the wealthiest and most powerful in college athletics. The Pac-12 should feel comfortable in third place, as the league’s media rights expire in the summer of 2024, and a new deal will at least position the conference ahead of the redesigned Big 12 and the ACC, which is locked into its current contract with ESPN until 2036.

— Heather Dinich

Update on key first-year coaches

After a wild coaching carousel over the winter, the list of first-year coaches features both established front men and notable assistants making their debuts. Brian Kelly and Lincoln Riley, who have 221 combined FBS wins, enter new roles at LSU and USC, respectively. Each coach’s stunning exit in late November puts his first season under especially bright spotlights. The same goes for their replacements: Marcus Freeman, the 36-year-old who took over for Kelly after only one season as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator; and Brent Venables, 51, the career coordinator who finally left Clemson to return to Oklahoma, where he worked from 1999 to 2011.

Venables isn’t the only longtime Clemson assistant to begin his head-coaching journey. Tony Elliott, the offensive playcaller for Clemson’s national championship teams in 2016 and 2018, takes over at Virginia. Most of the ACC intrigue will be at Miami, where Mario Cristobal tries to recapture national prominence with newfound resources behind him. Cristobal leaves Oregon in the hands of Dan Lanning, a first-time head coach who coordinated Georgia‘s national championship defense last year and will open the season against the Bulldogs. Billy Napier begins his Power 5 head-coaching quest at Florida, while the Group of 5 features several first-year coaches with Power 5 experience, including Clay Helton (Georgia Southern), Jim Mora (UConn), Joe Moorhead (Akron) and Jerry Kill (New Mexico State).

Coaches under pressure for 2022

The number of moves and prominent teams involved in last year’s carousel could lighten the next cycle, but several coaches are in desperation mode. Will Arizona State‘s Herm Edwards even make it to the season? His staff has been gutted during an NCAA investigation, and an overhaul in Tempe appears inevitable. Edwards has support from top ASU administrators, but NCAA sanctions or other attrition could accelerate change. Nebraska‘s Scott Frost survived his fourth straight losing season in Lincoln, but he had to revamp his offensive staff and take a reduced contract and buyout amount. Anything less than a bowl appearance will guarantee his departure from his alma mater.

Auburn’s Bryan Harsin made it through an internal review in February, and he has gained a second wind on the Plains, but a poor record and any internal strife could trigger a change. The ACC might be a carousel hotspot, as Syracuse‘s Dino Babers, Louisville‘s Scott Satterfield, Florida State‘s Mike Norvell and Georgia Tech‘s Geoff Collins all need to win. Colorado‘s Karl Dorrell also likely must deliver, while UCLA‘s Chip Kelly aims to build on progress from 2021. Group of 5 hot spots include Memphis (Ryan Silverfield), North Texas (Seth Littrell) and UNLV (Marcus Arroyo).

— Adam Rittenberg

Biggest transfers of the offseason

​​1. QB Caleb Williams: This transfer made headlines for weeks after Williams entered the transfer portal and announced he was leaving Oklahoma. He transferred to USC to follow coach Lincoln Riley and immediately upgraded the offense for the Trojans.

2. QB Quinn Ewers: Leaving Ohio State came as a surprise to some, but Ewers had been committed to Texas out of high school at one point and transferred to play for the Longhorns after only one season with the Buckeyes.

3. DB Eli Ricks: Ricks was a freshman All-American, then dealt with injuries this past season for LSU. He is a former five-star prospect and should be able to contribute immediately to the Alabama secondary. He was one of the biggest gets this offseason.

4. WR Jordan Addison: When it was reported that Addison would enter the transfer portal, it brought quite a bit of surprise at Pittsburgh and beyond. USC was mentioned as a leader, then Addison took a visit to Texas. But the Trojans got the former Biletnikoff Award winner, and they are adding another offensive option to a completely revamped roster.

5. QB Jaxson Dart: Lane Kiffin needed a replacement for Matt Corral at quarterback at Ole Miss, and Dart is an excellent option. He attempted 189 passes last season for USC, completing 117 for 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns.

Best transfers still available

1. WR Marcus Washington: As a junior, Washington had 277 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season for the Longhorns.

2. LB Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey: At James Madison, Tucker-Dorsey tallied 116 tackles, 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. He is a grad transfer and should have plenty of options.

3. QB Carlos Del Rio-Wilson: The former Florida quarterback was the No. 58 prospect in the 2021 class out of Georgia. He redshirted his first season, and he is now looking elsewhere to play out the rest of his eligibility.

4. OL/DL Jonah Miller: Miller was an ESPN 300 recruit out of high school who converted to the defensive line at Oregon. He could play on offense or defense at his new destination.

5. OL Chris Akporoghene: An offensive lineman with SEC experience is tough to come by. Akporoghene was mainly a backup for Tennessee, but he could make a good option for a team looking for some help up front.

–Tom VanHaaren

Hello Heisman? Meet CFB’s top returning players

1. OLB Will Anderson Jr.: He was the most dominant player in college football a season ago (even though he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy), and he returns to Alabama in 2022 as the game’s most dominant player. Unblockable as a pass-rusher and a run-stopper, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Anderson is one of the best defenders Nick Saban has ever coached.

2. QB Bryce Young: Looking to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, Young was the essence of calm in his first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback. He passed for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns and was intercepted just seven times. He will be without his top two wide receivers from a year ago, but Young and Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will be together for a second straight year.

3. QB C.J. Stroud: There were a few hiccups early in his 2021 campaign at Ohio State, but there’s no reason Stroud shouldn’t pick up right where he left off a year ago with 573 passing yards and six touchdown passes in the Rose Bowl win over Utah. Keep in mind that he put up those numbers with eventual first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave sitting out the game.

4. DT Jalen Carter: Georgia produced a record five NFL first-round draft picks on defense last month, including top overall pick Travon Walker. More than one opposing coach told ESPN last year that the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Carter was the Dawgs’ most disruptive defender on their 2021 national championship team. Carter finished second on the team with 33 quarterback pressures, and his production will only increase in 2022.

5. WR Jordan Addison: He won the Biletnikoff Award last season at Pittsburgh as the country’s best receiver while tying for the lead nationally with 17 touchdown catches. He is one of the premier playmakers in college football and brings his talents to the Trojans.

The true freshmen we can’t wait to see

1. WR Luther Burden III: Ranked as the top wide receiver prospect in the 2022 class, Burden looked the part this spring with an array of big plays, quickness and the ability to make defenders look helpless in the open field. Getting “LB3” out of St. Louis was a huge recruiting win for Eliah Drinkwitz and Missouri, and if you’re going to win big in the SEC, you better have dynamic playmakers like Burden.

2. RB Nicholas Singleton: Penn State needs to run the ball better than it did a year ago, and Singleton was a key part of a 2022 signing class that was ranked sixth nationally by ESPN. He was one of eight true freshmen who went through spring practice. Already weighing 215 pounds, Singleton showed the kind of explosiveness, strength and quickness that should get him on the field early.

3. DT Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy: One of 11 early enrollees in Texas A&M’s blockbuster 2022 signing class, the 6-foot-3, 276-pound Brownlow-Dindy missed spring practice after injuring his knee in the Under Armour All-America Game. Originally an Oklahoma commitment, Brownlow-Dindy has everything it takes to make an immediate impact and could be especially effective as an interior pass-rusher.

4. CB Domani Jackson: He showed up on USC’s campus this spring with an NFL body (6-foot-1, 190 pounds and long arms), and he should be a welcome addition to a Trojans defense that ranked 90th nationally against the pass last season. Jackson was limited this spring after injuring his knee last fall as a senior in high school. USC beat Alabama to get Jackson, who has track speed and excels in press coverage.

5. S Kye Stokes: He was hardly the Buckeyes’ highest-ranked signee in the 2022 class, but Stokes was easily the most impressive of the 11 early enrollees this spring. The coaches raved about his cover skills, range and energy, and even though Ohio State returns several veterans in the secondary, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Stokes has the versatility to help in a number of different spots.

— Chris Low

Top position battles resolved in spring

There aren’t too many high-profile positional decisions set in stone during spring ball, but Dave Aranda didn’t need to wait until the fall to decide who would be under center for Baylor. On paper, Aranda had a tough decision to make. Gerry Bohanon was an All-Big 12 selection who started 12 of 14 games last year, threw for 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 323 yards and another nine scores. Bohanon was a crucial part of the Bears’ 12-2 season. But last month, Aranda named Bohanon’s backup Blake Shapen (who started two games and completed 17 straight passes in one of them) as the starter, giving Bohanon the opportunity to enter the transfer portal, which he has. Despite Bohanon’s steadiness, there’s an expectation that Shapen’s ceiling could be higher.

In Eugene, Oregon, the situation isn’t as resolved as it is in Waco, Texas, but Bo Nix‘s arrival (alongside his former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham) has put him in the driver’s seat for the starting quarterback job. New head coach Dan Lanning hasn’t made a formal decision for the Ducks, and Ty Thompson also has impressed plenty, but even as the competition will continue in fall camp, Nix looks primed to get the first crack at the job. Whether he’ll keep it during the season is another question.

While Ohio State has breakout wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba returning and taking the top wide receiver spot, it has become evident that Marvin Harrison Jr. is primed to be the Buckeyes No. 2 wideout. After an impressive three-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl, Harrison has continued his strong play into spring. “The expectations have always been there for him, and it’s not been easy,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said of Harrison. “Some guys are blessed with a tremendous amount of talent, but they have a hard time finding that skill and that discipline. He has both.”

Most intriguing position battles for fall

Quarterbacks, quarterbacks and more quarterbacks. From South Carolina to College Station and Baton Rouge to Austin, the quarterback battles to come will be the talk of college football — outside of name, image and likeness (NIL) — until kickoff.

At Texas, Quinn Ewers’ return to the state has garnered a lot of excitement, but Hudson Card has shown he is more than up to the challenge. Card has impressed in spring, and while Ewers was a highly touted five-star recruit, it seems he has his work cut out for him to overtake Card in the fall.

Texas A&M has a lot of exciting prospects arriving this year, but questions remain at quarterback. Haynes King dealt with injuries last season, but familiarity with Jimbo Fisher’s system is his advantage over LSU transfer Max Johnson, who is coming off a 2,800-yard, 27-touchdown season. Rounding out the battle is Connor Weigman, a five-star prospect from this vaunted 2022 class who could start to make his way up the depth chart if opportunities break his way.

Johnson’s old team is dealing with a quarterback battle of its own, after Jayden Daniels made a spring transfer move from Arizona State to LSU. Myles Brennan was expected to be the leader in the clubhouse (with Garrett Nussmeier trying to chase him), but Daniels’ arrival as a dynamic option for Brian Kelly’s new challenge puts pressure on Brennan to stave off Daniels, who left a surefire starting job in Tempe for this opportunity.

Finally, Clemson could be facing a tough decision. After an up-and-down year for D.J. Uiagalelei, Dabo Swinney has a quarterback battle on his hands with Cade Klubnik, the top quarterback in the 2022 class who as an early enrollee brought the heat in spring. With new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter handling not just the quarterbacks but the whole offense and Clemson trying to bounce back from a down season, there will be a lot of pressure on the Tigers to make the right call. This one could go down to the wire and might end up with more twists and turns as the season progresses.

— Paolo Uggetti

The strangest sights and sounds of the offseason

After some Auburn boosters attempted to oust Bryan Harsin, he arrived at SEC meetings and came in through the back door to avoid the spectacle outside.

Sam Pittman debuted an incredible new “slobbering hog” statue at his house.

Caleb Williams made his way to his first USC practice… eventually.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson‘s newest NIL perk is even faster than he is …

Lane Kiffin dubbed himself the “Portal King.”

Then he attempted to transfer the title to another transfer portal enthusiast, Lincoln Riley.

Brian Kelly got a lot of attention for his dance moves, even with a recruit who eventually signed with Alabama.

Seeing Gary Patterson in burnt orange will take some getting used to.

And then we got this new feud between Nick Saban and Fisher to make us look forward to Oct. 8, when Texas A&M will face Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

September games we can’t wait to see

1. Notre Dame at Ohio State (Sept. 3, 7:30 p.m., ABC and ESPN app): There aren’t many matchups you could come up with to open up the season better than this one. Two of the most storied programs in college football are coming off appearances in New Year’s Six bowls and looking to compete again in 2022. Marcus Freeman enters his first full season as Notre Dame’s head coach, and he will have his hands full with Ohio State’s prolific offense, led by Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud.

2. Georgia vs. Oregon (Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN app): The defending national champions open up their season in Atlanta (probably the closest you can get to a neutral-site home game) against a Pac-12 favorite in Oregon. The Ducks will have some familiarity with the Bulldogs with Dan Lanning as their head coach, who just left Georgia after leading an all-time great defense that produced five first-round NFL draft picks.

3. Alabama at Texas (Sept. 10): The Crimson Tide are going to be one of the best football teams you will watch all season long. They’ll once again be equipped with two of the best players in the country in Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., along with a cast of other future NFL players. Texas enters its second campaign under Steve Sarkisian with rising expectations. No matter your personal expectations, watching Bijan Robinson against the Tide’s defense will be a spectacle of physical skills. No matter the result of this game, it is sure to provide us with entertainment.

4. Florida State vs. LSU (Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN app): The Seminoles are 8-13 over the past two seasons, including an 0-6 record in September. A win against a name brand like LSU (even if not the Tigers’ best team) would feel big for FSU given where it’s at. LSU, on the other hand, is coming off of a 6-7 season and has high expectations under Brian Kelly.

5. Utah at Florida (Sept. 3): The Utes are coming off arguably one of the most exciting Rose Bowl matchups we have ever seen. They’ll have some rebuilding to do defensively, but they are expected to be one of the contenders out of the Pac-12, along with Oregon. They’ll be a great opening test for first-year Gators coach Billy Napier, who went 33-5 in his last three seasons at Louisiana.

— Harry Lyles Jr.

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