Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Bob Holt's 2018 college football primer
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) throws a pass against Florida in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
WHICH PLAYER ARE AMONG THE FAVORITES TO WIN THE HEISMAN TROPHY?
Stanford senior running back Bryce Love goes into the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite after he finished second in last season’s voting to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is now playing for the Cleveland Browns after being the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Love rushed 263 times for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, when he set an NCAA record with 13 runs of 50 or more yards.
The Cardinal play Southern Cal and Notre Dame in September, so Love will have an opportunity early in the season to impress voters against marquee opponents.
Wisconsin sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor (sixth) and Central Florida junior quarterback McKenzie Milton (eighth) are the other returning players who finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting last season.
If Central Florida can go undefeated in back-to-back seasons, Milton might have a shot to be the first Heisman Trophy winner from a school not currently in one of the Power 5 conferences since BYU quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990.
Other top candidates include Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (a transfer from Florida), Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Yes, Tagovailoa, a sophomore, has never started a game, but after he came off the bench and rallied the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory against Georgia in the national title game, he’s become a popular Heisman choice.
Bovada, an online gambling website, lists the odds of Tagoviloa winning the Heisman Trophy at 15-1.
If voters decide they want to back a defensive player, Houston tackle Ed Oliver is a likely choice. Oliver has 39 tackles for lost yards the past two seasons, an astounding number for an interior lineman.
Darkhorse candidates from the SEC include Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
WHAT TEAMS FIGURE TO MAKE THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF?
Alabama, and Alabama’s second team are expected to take two of the four spots.
OK, picking the Crimson Tide’s backups is a joke.
But Alabama is the only team to play in all four of the first playoff foursomes, and the Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 going into the season.
There is no NCAA rule Alabama has to be in the playoff. It just seems that way considering the Tide won national championships in 2011 — under the old Bowl Championship Series format — and last season without even winning the SEC West.
Other top playoff contenders based on preseason polls are Clemson (which has been in the past three playoffs), Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Miami, Penn State and Auburn.
SPEAKING OF PLAYOFFS, IS JEFF LONG STILL ON THE SELECTION COMMITTEE ?
Nope. Long, the University of Arkansas athletic director the previous 10 years who now holds the same position at Kansas, served his four-year term in 2014-2017 and no longer is a committee member.
The committee still has an Arkansas tie with Ken Hatfield. The former Razorbacks star defensive back, punt returner and head coach who now lives in Northwest Arkansas was added to the committee this season.
Also on the committee are Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens, who is the chairman; former college coaches Frank Beamer, Jeff Bower, Bobby Johnson and Herb Deromedi; Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin; Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione; Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith; Georgia Tech Athletic Director Todd Stansbury; Ronnie Lott, a former star defensive back at Southern Cal and in the NFL; Robert Morris University President Chris Howard; and Paola Boivin, a professor at Arizona State who is a former reporter and columnist at the Arizona Republic newspaper. She is the only female member of the committee.
WHERE ARE THE PLAYOFF GAMES THIS SEASON? AND THEY’RE NOT ON NEW YEAR’S EVE ARE THEY?
Thankfully, no. The semifinals will be played on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas, and Orange Bowl at Miami. The winners will advance to play for the national championship on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., in the San Francisco 49ers’ home stadium.
DOES CENTRAL FLORIDA HAVE A CHANCE TO RUN THE TABLE AGAIN? AND IF SO, WOULD AN UNDEFEATED RECORD GET THE KNIGHTS INTO THE PLAYOFFS?
Yes, and probably not.
Central Florida doesn’t play a team this season that is likely to be ranked. The two Power 5 non-conference opponents on schedule are North Carolina on the road and Pittsburgh at home.
Beating the Tar Heels and Panthers likely won’t impress playoff selection committee members too much.
But what’s perceived as a fairly weak schedule should give Central Florida a good shot to go undefeated again, which if it happened should land the Knights in another major bowl game after they beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl last season.
Central Florida returns 14 starters, but also has a new coach in Josh Heupel, who was Missouri’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons.
It will be interesting to see if Heupel, the former star quarterback at Oklahoma, can build on the momentum Scott Frost created last season before he left to be the coach at Nebraska, his alma mater.
IS NICK SABAN FINALLY GOING TO LOSE TO ONE OF HIS FORMER ASSISTANT COACHES?
WHICH RETURNING PLAYER RANKED HIGHEST NATIONALLY IN TOTAL OFFENSE LAST SEASON?
It’s Arkansas State University senior quarterback Justice Hansen, who averaged 365.8 yards in total offense in 2017 to rank third behind Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (404.7 yards) and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (379.9). Jackson left Louisville after this junior season to enter the NFL Draft and Rudolph was a senior.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE BIGGER-NAME COACHING FACES IN NEW PLACES THIS SEASON?
We already mentioned Frost going to Nebraska, where Huskers fans are counting on their former quarterback to bring back the glory days.
Jimbo Fisher, who won a national title in 2013 at Florida State, was hired at Texas A&M. Willie Taggart left Oregon after just one season to replace Fisher at Texas A&M.
Chip Kelly, who led Oregon to the national title game in 2010 when the Ducks lost to Auburn, is back in the college game at UCLA after a seven-year stint in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.
Dan Mullen left Mississippi State after nine seasons to return to Florida, where he was part of two national championships as the offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer.
Arizona and Arizona State have new head coaches with Kevin Sumlin leading the Wildcats after six seasons at Texas A&M and Herm Edwards, the former NFL coach with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, landing his first college head coaching job to lead the Sun Devils.
This will be the first season Edwards has coached since his last season with Kansas City in 2008 and his first time to coach in college in 30 years since the final of three seasons as San Jose State’s defensive backs coach in 1989.
WHAT COACHES ARE ON THE HOT SEAT?
According to Dennis Dodds of CBS Sports, the Power 5 coaches on the hottest seats are David Beaty at Kansas, Lovie Smith at Illinois, Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, Chris Ash at Rutgers and Mike MacIntyre at Colorado.
Ash was Arkansas’ defensive coordinator for Bret Bielema in 2013 before going to Ohio State as its co-defensive coordinator.
WHO WILL BE THE HIGHEST PAID ASSISTANT COACH THIS SEASON?
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda tops the list at $2.5 million as a result of a raise he received after being pursued by Texas A&M.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is a close second at $2.3 million.
HOW MANY ACTIVE HEAD COACHES HAVE WON NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS?
It’s a short list. Just four, believe it or not, and that’s assuming Urban Meyer hangs onto his job at Ohio State. As of this writing, Meyer was still on paid administrative leave at Ohio State.
The other active coaches with national titles are Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher.
Saban has won six national titles (2003 at LSU and 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017 at Alabama).
Swinney beat Saban in 2016 for the Tigers’ first national championship since 1981 when Danny Ford was Clemson’s coach.
Fisher won his title at Florida State in 2013, when the Seminoles beat Auburn and Coach Gus Malzahn.
Meyer has won three national titles: two at Florida in 2006 and 2008 and at Ohio State in 2014.
Coaches who won national titles in the past 25 years either were fired, resigned or retired include Danny Ford (Clemson), Lou Holtz (Notre Dame) Joe Paterno (Penn State), Dennis Erickson (Miami), Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Steve Spurrier (Florida), Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), Bobby Bowden (Florida State), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Larry Coker (Miami), Jim Tressel (Ohio State), Pete Carroll (Southern Cal), Mack Brown (Texas), Les Miles (LSU) and Gene Chizik (Auburn).
Holtz and Ford were both head coaches at Arkansas. Carroll was a Razorbacks graduate assistant.
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