Skimming through the college football annuals that come out in the summer is one of the better ways to ease into the season, a sort of trial run for the coming onslaught of predictions, sound bytes, analyses and hot takes — so many hot takes — that are about to come as soon as the conference Media Days take center stage next week.
Most indicate the same ending for the 2019 season: Alabama-Clemson V for the championship, Tua vs. Trevor for the Heisman Trophy. (Jalen Hurts winning it for Oklahoma, giving the Sooners three Heismans in three years is probably the sentimental favorite of all the story lines out there, though, and remember that emotion and momentum play as much of a part for many Heisman voters as performance does.)
It doesn’t appear college football is headed for a major overhaul. There will be the usual outcry for an expanded (eight-team) playoff but four teams seems to work well enough, when it’s hard to see more than six or seven legitimate contenders. Going to eight teams might expand college football’s geographic base — guaranteeing Pac-12 inclusion, for one thing — and it might placate the Group of Five institutions.
But neither of those things really accomplish the mission of including the best eight teams. The two teams who were passed over last year with an actual chance to win were Georgia and Ohio State, and it is hard to argue that Washington or a Group of Five team would be better. And the year would come (maybe this year, although the point is moot) when three SEC teams would be clearly deserving.
In the long run, the ACC needs to improve to make the season more interesting. Yes, Clemson is outstanding. But they are far less likely to lose a conference game than Alabama (which will have to play LSU, at Texas A&M, at Auburn and then either Georgia or possibly Florida) does.
After Clemson plays Texas A&M in Week 3, what obstacle do the Tigers face? And while it’s not Clemson’s job to make Virginia Tech or Miami or Florida State better, the rest of the league is in a brutal down cycle. No one in college football is talking officially about the next cycle of realignment yet, but if the ACC is going to want its television future to be as lucrative as the SEC or the Big Ten, it has to have more than one feature team.
Not everyone in the SEC, not every game, is elite, but unless someone resuscitates Miami or Florida State soon, what is the draw of a steady diet of Wake Forest-Boston College or Virginia-Pitt? The Big Ten can offer Ohio State-Michigan. The Big 12 can feature Oklahoma-Texas (if Tom Herman can put the luster back on the Longhorns.)
Those are games that factor into the playoff picture. The ACC this year can counter with Clemson against … who exactly? That’s not to say Clemson isn’t great or won’t defend its CFP title. The Tigers appear more than capable.
It’s more of a long-term issue, but it is one that people are watching.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cecilhurt