We’re just 11 days away from the start of the college football season but hey, who’s counting? It’s step one in starting the process for the 2023 NFL Draft but it’s also the best time of the year. Nothing beats college football on a Saturday afternoon and I look forward to spending the fall like a couch potato watching every game that my heart desires. As we approach the season, I thought it would be good to discuss three storylines that I’ll be paying attention to do for this upcoming college football season!
How can we not start with the most important position on the football field? All off-season, there’s been plenty of discussion on who the top quarterback in college football will be. Some will say Bryce Young from Alabama and others will say C.J. Stroud from Ohio State. Seems like the safe bet would be on Bryce Young, especially since he’s the reigning and defending Heisman Trophy winner from 2021. That said, we haven’t seen a player win the Heisman multiple times other than Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.
One thing to consider is that Young lost key weapons in Jameson Williams and John Metchie III to the NFL. Fortunately for the talented QB, the Crimson Tide took advantage of the transfer portal by adding former Georgia receiver Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell from Louisville. I’d expect both receivers to make an impact early and often for the Alabama offense. If all goes well, Bryce Young could easily establish himself as the top quarterback in college football.
Shifting gears to C.J Stroud from Ohio State, it’s easy to see the talent on tape. He has a big arm and as the season went on last year, he started to get better and better. In the first game against Minnesota, Stroud missed plenty of easy throws by just putting too much on the football. In fact, he had an interception in three straight games to start the 2021 season.
This is one hell of a throw from Ohio State QB CJ Stroud. Also, props to WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba for making the grab despite multiple defenders in the area. pic.twitter.com/tdGAE150ak
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) June 16, 2022
While throwing with plenty of zip, it’s evident that Stroud has great rapport with receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and they could easily be the best duo in college football. If there’s a quarterback that could trump Bryce Young as QB1 or as the Heisman Trophy winner, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stroud was that player. He’ll look to build off his 2021 season where he threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Lastly, it seems evident that there will be a quarterback that emerges from the shadows. The two signal callers that come to mind are Anthony Richardson from Florida and Will Levis from Kentucky. Starting with Levis, he’s been commonly labeled as the player with ‘all of the tools’ at the position. He can throw at all three levels of the field and he shows great toughness and mobility in the open field. However, he’s got to become a better decision maker overall. It’ll be interesting to see if Levis puts it all together this season or if it’ll take an NFL coach to sharpen his skill-set.
Wrapping up the quarterbacks, there’s plenty of summer buzz around Anthony Richardson from Florida. He stands 6-4 and weighs around 230 pounds. There’s a small sample size from his college career so far but he did make an impressive throw against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl two years ago and had some great throws against South Florida last season. That said, he starts every game with a back-flip and if all goes right, teams in the NFL might be doing back-flips to try and land a big bodied quarterback that has the arm and mobility of Richardson’s. It’s been rumored that he runs a sub 4.50 time in the 40-yard dash. There’s certainly QB1 potential there.
What happens out west in the Pac-12?
Rightfully so, all eyes will be on the USC Trojans. They essentially gave head coach Lincoln Reilly his own continent in Los Angeles and they landed talented quarterback Caleb Williams from the portal. While landing Williams wasn’t a surprise, his NIL deals have certainly been eye-opening. He became part-owner of the brand, Faculty, and then he got a deal with Beats by Dre. Overall, he’s up to at least four NIL deals and has helped change the landscape for college athletes and how they get paid.
On the field, could USC emerge as the top team out of the Pac-12? They’ve got a small window left in the conference before they emerge in battle with the Big Ten. To try and become the champions of the west, not only will they get help from quarterback Caleb Williams, they’ll also get immediate help at receiver with Jordan Addison. Last season for the Pitt Panthers, Addison recorded 100 receptions for 1593 yards and 17 touchdowns. It will also be interesting to see what running back Travis Dye does for the Trojans. He surprisingly transferred to USC and is coming off a season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 16 touchdowns.
If you’re a betting man, the odds of USC (current favorites) winning the Pac-12 is at +220 and that’s not a bad price for a team that returns only 8 starters between the offense and defense but they also grabbed some of the most talented offensive players through the portal. Keep in mind, Reilly states that his current roster is the most unique roster in USC history.
One player I’m excited to watch more of this year is Tavion Thomas (RB 9) for Utah. Junior RB listed at 6-2 238 lbs – ran over 1100 yards & had 21 TDs last season. Per @PFF_College, he had 62 forced missed tackles last season (2nd most in the Pac-12). pic.twitter.com/lzhzEvgusy
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 27, 2022
Talking about unique — that team will always be the Utah Utes. They always seem to find a way near the top of the conference under head coach Kyle Whittingham. They’re coming off their first-ever Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl appearance. They bring back 17 starters and could be tough to beat. Offensively, they’re led by quarterback Cameron Rising and running back Tavion Thomas. Both players are tough runners and are absolute gamers. They’re not fancy but they’re experienced and are great overall fits for the Utes offense. That could be the difference maker when the game is on the line.
Aside from the offense for Utah, they tend to have a talented defense every year. Led by Clark Phillips III at defensive back, he’s started in 19 games and has been labeled as the “anchor” of the secondary. Last year, their defensive line was led by 2021 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Junior Tafuna. Look for both players to have major contributions. Once you consider the changes made at head coach for both USC and Oregon and the experience returning on the field for the Utes, there seems to be a strong chance of them repeating as conference champions.
Defense wins championships so is Clemson back?
Look I’m a betting man and as we approach the season, the Clemson win total is set at 10.5 and I’d gladly take the over. You think I’m crazy?
Sure, plenty of their season rests on the shoulders of their quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei but this team is built off their defense. Losing defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma might scare plenty of bettors away from that 10.5 number but not me. This unit has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the country.
Starting with their defensive line, it’ll be hard to find a unit as strong or with more potential than the one that Clemson has. Starting with Myles Murphy, he returns after a season where he recorded 14.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. He plays with power and speed and could find his way into a top-5 pick for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Myles Murphy with a push-pull and rip move before to swat the ball out of the hands of the QB. pic.twitter.com/NUi42hQWpe
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) May 19, 2022
Alongside Murphy is a former 5-star recruit and number one player in the nation, Bryan Bresee. He was limited to only four games this past year but if his true freshman season was any indication of what type of player he is, I think he’ll be just fine. If healthy, the 6-5 and 300 pound defensive tackle will provide a great impact.
Lastly, we’ll see a trio of defensive lineman find their way onto the field for Clemson. That’ll be Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry. All three are interchangeable off the edge and while Davis will take the field on the interior during most running downs, it’ll be Thomas and Henry on the field to rush the passer with Murphy and Bresee. Keep tabs on Ruke Orhorhoro at defensive tackle as well. The 6-4 and 295 pound junior played in 13 games last fall and had 8 tackles for loss. He could emerge as a sleeper for this team.
*Please note that Xavier Thomas hurt his foot and will be out at least six weeks*
Aside from the defensive line being a huge strength, the Tigers bring back one of the top linebackers in the country with Trenton Simpson. The 6-3 and 225 pound backer is yoked up and recorded 65 total tackles and 6.5 sacks a season ago. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he was the “do-it all” player that this defense will lean on when games have their biggest moments.
Defensively the biggest question marks will occur in the secondary. The Tigers lose Andrew Booth Jr., Mario Goodrich and Nolan Turner. Someone will have to step up in the defensive backfield. While they have talent back there, there’s not a ton of experience. It wouldn’t be surprising if both safeties R.J. Mickens and Andrew Mukuba relieve some of the pressure that’ll be on the shoulders of the cornerbacks.
Guessing that the passing game on offense improves, look to the Clemson defense to get them back in the National Championship spotlight.