10 questions about the upcoming college football season

ASSOCIATED PRESS Jameis Winston is a likely Heisman Trophy contender.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Jameis Winston is a likely Heisman Trophy contender.
Posted: May 23, 2014

EVEN THOUGH the college football season - and, of course, the return of Fraud Five - is still a little over 3 months away, is it ever too early to tackle those nagging offseason questions?

1 Can Florida State's Jameis Winston win another Heisman Trophy and/or national title before heading off to the NFL as the top pick in next year's draft?

It might depend on whether he gets a hankering for any more free soda at Burger King to go with the crab legs and crawfish at Publix. I don't know whether Winston is a bad guy or not. But it sure appears as if he doesn't always think the way he probably should. Or maybe even at all. When you become a Jameis Winston, you pretty much have to relinquish your screw-up privileges. That's just the way this stuff works. Ask Johnny Manziel. You are held to a different standard from the average guy, because of the scrutiny. It's the reason you'll make zillions someday, so don't knock it. Or abuse it. Winston would have been the first choice in this draft had he been eligible. He will be favored to join Archie Griffin as the only ones to take home back-to-back Heismans. And the Seminoles will start No. 1 in the polls, even though they lost seven players to the pros. If nothing else, the encore/farewell ride doesn't figure to be boring. You just don't need to be the lead story on Keith Olbermann's show for the wrong reasons.

2 So what about this new, four-team playoff?

It's what America wanted. Actually, what the public craved was a 16-team tournament. Given how long it took to go from two teams to four, you might want to revisit maybe moving to eight in another decade or so. I think they should have kept the BCS system in place and taken the top four instead. But the BCS got blamed for all that was wrong with the sport. So now we have a 13-person selection committee. Funny, but I thought one of the reasons they went from relying on the polls to determine the national champion to the BCS formula was to lessen the influence of the human element. I think this process will only create more controversy. Take last year. Most people would agree that FSU and Auburn made sense. And most would have had Alabama as their third team. But who would have been fourth? Michigan State, two-loss Stanford and Baylor were the next three in the standings. Expanding the field might make it more entertaining, but not necessarily less complicated.

3 That said, which teams are projected to be among the usual suspects?

After FSU, there's always Alabama, even without quarterback A.J. McCarron. And the rest of the opening Top 10 could include, in no particular order, Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Baylor, UCLA and Georgia. With a next five of Stanford, Notre Dame, South Carolina, LSU and perhaps Clemson. But remember, Auburn wasn't on anyone's radar in 2010. Or 2013. Ditto Notre Dame in 2012. So there is that.

4 If Winston slips, who might be a Heisman contender?

Nobody was pointing at Cam Newton at the start of 2010. Or Manziel 2 years ago. Same with Winston. And not too many even had Robert Griffin III way up there in 2011. So you can begin with that premise. Usually, you have to be the marquee face (i.e., QB) on a team in the title hunt. That could mean Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Auburn's Nick Marshall, UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty, to list a few. Oops, almost forgot Notre Dame's Everett Golson, who's back after a self-inflicted hiatus for an academic violation. Just keep in mind that the Heisman chase can be fickle. All it takes is a bad loss on national television to go from front-runner to afterthought.

5 Which new coaches are under the most pressure?

Yo, it doesn't take a Ph.D in Lee Corso to realize that Southern California and Texas are two of the gigs in the game. So it only makes sense that Steve Sarkisian and Charlie Strong will have to produce. Maybe not immediately, but sooner would be advisable. USC is trying to put the Lane Kiffin fiasco behind it. Sarkisian, by all accounts, did a decent job at Washington. And Strong obviously got it done at Louisville. But USC and Texas want rings. And not just for winning the conference or getting to BCS bowls. Too much is never enough.

6 And which incumbent coaches are on short leashes?

Well, Nebraska's Bo Pelini seems to have the patent on that four-loss season, which usually doesn't work in Lincoln. See Frank Solich. Still, the fellow who could seriously be looking over his shoulder is Michigan's Brady Hoke, who looked as if he had most of the answers when he went 11-2 in 2011 and won the Sugar Bowl. Then Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State, and since then Hoke has gone 15-11, with losses in the Outback and Buffalo Wild Wings bowls. Not conducive. So one more 8-5 or 7-6 could maybe turn into his last season in Ann Arbor. Hey, Gene Chizik hoisted a trophy at Auburn and was toast 2 years later. It happens. It also could happen to Will Muschamp, who went 11-2 in 2012 in his second season at Florida and followed that up with a 4-8.

7 Unlike college basketball, what first-week matchups could have long-term ramifications?

It's what sets this sport apart. Every game counts. Taking that into account, on Aug. 28, Texas A & M will travel to South Carolina, which has three straight 11-win seasons for the first time in program history. Two days later, Clemson visits Georgia. The Tigers won last year's opener at home, 38-35. Too bad they're in the same division as FSU. That same day, Wisconsin plays LSU in Houston. And on Labor Day evening, Miami is at Louisville for the Cardinals' ACC debut. And that's just for starters. For those who really like to plan ahead, Week 2 has USC at Stanford, Michigan State at Oregon and Michigan at Notre Dame. Yeah, baby. My kind of appetizers.

8 So, what should we expect from Penn State?

James Franklin went 9-4 back-to-back at Vanderbilt. That's not easy to do. But the Nittany Lions are still not playing on a level field numberswise. Never underestimate what Bill O'Brien did in going 15-9 the previous 2 years. Now it looks as if the predictions of 3-9 seasons in the wake of the NCAA sanctions might never turn into reality. Perhaps the NCAA will even lift that bowl ban early. The schedule doesn't look overly demanding, so something around .500 sounds about right.

9 OK, how about Temple?

It has to be better, because 2-10 is 2-10. And the Owls still have only a handful of scholarship seniors. But they lost four games last season by three points or fewer, including two on late, long passes. And they dropped two others after leading by 21. Louisville is no longer on the schedule. Four teams that had losing records are, although the Owls lost to one of them (Connecticut). And 9-4 Navy replaces 3-9 Army, which was one of their wins. They will have sophomore QB P.J. Walker from the get-go. So right now, I'm saying four or five wins.

10 Even though it's way too early, what's your Final Four?

Since more often than not I'm likely to get this way wrong even if you ask me at Halloween, until then, I'll respectively defer to Condoleezza Rice. Sorry, couldn't resist. And it's only Memorial Day.

Email: kernm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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