From Ryan Day's debut season as Ohio State's permanent head coach to Dana Holgorsen taking over at Houston and the Pac-12's playoff chances, here are the top things to keep an eye on as summer turns to fall and college football gears up for the 2019 season.
You’re excused if you’ve been tuned out from college football for the past few weeks or months. And really, you haven’t missed much beyond a few fluctuations in the transfer portal and some administrative details—but now’s the time to tune back in. Media days begin in earnest in a matter of days, and fall camps follow soon thereafter.
In the meantime, here’s your guide to what’s been going on and what to look out for as the season approaches, beginning with a quick guide to three matters of administrative decisions that have been handed down over the past six weeks:
On June 26, the NCAA Division I Council approved a change that will make it more difficult for transfer players to gain immediate eligibility waivers. This was less a tweak to the rules as it was to the language governing the rules. Before, waivers could be granted if, per the NCAA, “documented mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control and directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.” Now should an athlete want a waiver, he or she should have “documented extenuating, extraordinary and mitigating circumstances outside of the student-athlete’s control that directly impacts the health, safety or well-being of the student-athlete.” The difference is just two words—extraordinary and extenuating—but that could have a tightening effect.
UConn is moving back to the Big East—a conference that no longer sponsors football. In June UConn announced that its athletics programs would leave the American Athletic Conference and return to the Big East. (In 2012, the AAC essentially spun off from the Big East.) It’s a basketball decision that will transform the Huskies football program into an independent—which is no help for an already-struggling team that will now have to build its schedule every year from scratch.
In May the SEC lifted its alcohol sales ban. There are going to be a lot more drunk frat boys in polo shirts (or is it drunker frat boys in polo shirts?) this fall. Schools make money, fans are happy, that’s that.
And here are the storylines to watch for in the coming days:
Dana Holgorsen will appear at his first American Athletic Conference media days on July 15 and 16. There’s been plenty of talk already about the coach’s move from a Power 5 program (West Virginia) to one in the Group of 5—Holgorsen has made it sound like a no-brainer, despite the reverse trajectory—and it’s about time he started getting questions about the football team he’ll field in the fall. Houston put on the worst bowl-game performance of any team in years in a 70-14 loss to Army, and it lost Ed Oliver to the NFL—but those facts obscure the reality that Holgorsen inherited a talented core, including a very good quarterback, D’Eriq King, who was injured for the Army game.
Also at that event, UConn and Randy Edsall will field a lot more questions about the school’s football future. This topic is fascinating. Has a football program ever been so, well, abandoned by its school? As the Huskies start to figure out their path forward, it’ll be an interesting case to keep watching.
Who will end up playing quarterback at Wisconsin? Sure, the Badgers’ run defense took a nosedive last year—from third in the country in 2017 to 50th—but more than anything, this team has been in need of a quarterback in recent seasons. Wisconsin has put up some of the most consistently elite defense in college football this decade, but it’s never been able to make the College Football Playoff, in part due to offensive stumbles. In recent seasons, quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s inconsistency and penchant for turnovers have been mostly to blame—remember, the Badgers have the country’s best running back, Jonathan Taylor—and in 2019, he’s gone, transferred to Florida State. Coach Paul Chryst hasn’t said who will replace him, but he has two strong options: junior Jack Coan, who started four games last year, and freshman Graham Mertz, whom ESPN rated the No. 1 pocket passer and No. 21 recruit in the class of 2019.
Ohio State will travel to Chicago for its first Big Ten media days (July 18-19) without Urban Meyer. Last year, Ohio State’s media availability touched barely at all on football—and rightfully so. The news about former assistant coach Zach Smith went public the morning media days began, and Meyer was questioned about how much he knew about allegations of domestic violence levied against Smith and why he’d retained the assistant. Now, Smith is gone, and so is Meyer. So, too, is Dwayne Haskins, the quarterback who helped the Buckeyes average more total yardage per game than any team but Oklahoma. New coach Ryan Day gets one of the most prized transfers in the game, Justin Fields, to run his offense, and it’ll be interesting to see how much of Meyer’s approach and culture the new coach carries on.
The most interesting storyline at ACC media days (July 17-18) will be Miami under new coach Manny Diaz. Diaz’s path to the Miami job dominated headlines last winter—he went from the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator to Temple’s new head coach to Mark Richt’s replacement in a matter of weeks—but in the end, both he and Miami won. Diaz has deep roots there, and he’ll have a decision to make at quarterback, first and foremost. Tate Martell, the Ohio State transfer who’s never started a game, is in the mix, as is N’Kosi Perry, who saw some time as a starter last year but has yet to string together much consistent play.
The Pac-12 has had a rough go of it in the College Football Playoff era; can Oregon end its two-season drought? There’s plenty of preseason hype around Oregon, thanks in large part to quarterback Justin Herbert and his decision to remain in college. No Pac-12 team has made the playoff since Washington in 2017, and no team from the conference has advanced past the semifinals since Oregon won the first championship of the playoff era. Not only would it be fun to see a new team in the mix, but also the Pac-12 needs a team in playoff contention past October. The Ducks are its best bet, and they’ll have to build off their 9-4 record from a year ago, as well as beat Auburn in Week 1, to get there.