It’s back. The magical time of year when Saturday mornings are consumed by tailgates, traffic and millions of excited fans cheering on their favorite college football teams is here once again. With it comes all of the speculation, the hooplah and the time spent in sports bars arguing with friends over which team will win what games, and which coaches should be fired, and so forth and so on.
Our team of writers is no different, because before they covered games and wrote previews they were avid sports fans like you. And in their spare time they still ask themselves the same questions, but now we’ve asked them to share their thoughts with you.
Campus Sports proudly presents our first ever roundtable, enjoy!
Who is your early favorite to win the Heisman?
Grant Mailhes: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon. If he can stay healthy, I believe this is Mariota’s year. In two years as a starter at Oregon, the junior has thrown for 6,342 yards and 63 touchdown to only ten interceptions. Oregon is primed for another run at the national championship and if he can lead the Ducks to even the College Football Playoff, while putting up the stats he is capable of, he should be raising the Heisman trophy.
Hugh Osteen: RB Mike Davis, South Carolina. Seldom mentioned in preseason discussion for the award, Davis is a serious underdog to win. Even through battling injuries last season, he compiled 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those injuries lingered and it showed on Thursday night when he came out flat and rattled against Texas A&M to start the season. But I think he can bounce back. He’s still a guy who averaged 117.5 yards a game through the first nine games of the season last year. Playing in a running back happy conference, he is constantly in the shadow of Todd Gurley and TJ Yeldon, but I think he will emerge this year.
Zach Pugh: RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. Predicting which player will raise the Heisman Trophy isn’t an exact science, especially recently. Did anyone really predict the last five players to receive the award? I really like Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah as a dark horse. He has run for over 100 yards 17 times in the last two seasons, with career totals of 2,827 yards and 20 TDs. Last season, against a great Michigan State defense, the Cornhuskers’ offensive line pushed Abdullah to 5.6 yards a carry. I’m looking for much of the same this season.
Connor Deneau: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Mariota has dominated the Pac-12 for two years now, and this season should be no different. In his career he has thrown for 6342 yards, 63 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback has also added 1467 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns. His ability to run the ball and extend plays gives him an advantage over other Heisman favorites Bryce Petty and the 2013 winner Jameis Winston. After turning down a chance to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft I fully expect Mariota to put up Johnny Manziel numbers in Eugene this year and hoist the trophy in December.
Which coach do you think is fighting for his job the most?
Mailhes: If we are talking about the major college programs, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has to be feeling some pressure this season. Although athletic director Dave Brandon has called the noise “nonsense”, Michigan fans would likely disagree if the Wolverines put up another sub-par season. After winning the Sugar Bowl in his first season, Hoke is just 15-11 in his last 26 games. Florida head coach Will Muschamp is another candidate but he had to deal with an avalanche of injuries that led to a 4-8 season, so he has a longer leash than Hoke.
Osteen: Will Muschamp is fighting for his job. Florida had an abysmal season last year, and lost to FCS Georgia Southern to cap off the embarrassment. If things don’t go well for the Gators this year, there will probably be a new head coach in Gainesville.
Pugh: Will Muschamp, Florida. Last season was highlighted by a series of unfortunate injuries for the Florida Gators. It would be unfair to expect any coach to succeed with the amount of injuries that plagued the Gators last year. However, fans want their team to win, even with a viable “excuse” like double digit injuries. Gator fans had to sit and watch Missouri jump to the top of the SEC East last season with less talent than UF. The defense has been top-notch under Muschamp, but the offense has been abysmal. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is Muschamp’s final hope of keeping a job in Gainesville. It’s Florida, you’re expected to win.
Deneau: Will Muschamp, Florida. The Gator boss is the obvious choice here. Muschamp should be feeling the heat after a 5-7 season that included losing to FCS opponent Georgia Southern. The Gators were plagued with injuries on both sides of the ball last season which led to their pitiful record, which is why Muschamp was granted some leeway. It will be interesting to see how this Florida team performs with a healthy roster. They have plenty of potential and could very easily end up in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. If Muschamp under performs in this storied program for a second year in a row with a *knock on wood* healthy roster, I don’t think he will be coming back in 2015.
What team is your sleeper pick to make it the college football playoff?
Mailhes: LSU. I am aware that the Tigers lost a TON on offense, but there is something about this freshman class that tells me they will be better than most expect. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has rejuvenated the offense and the defense will be much improved this season. LSU will trot out one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the country, which will give either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris more time to operate. They will once again have three capable running backs and a young, but talented receiving core. The Tigers get Alabama at home but have tough road games at Auburn, Texas A&M, and Florida. If they can manage to win three of those, they may sneak into the playoffs.
Osteen: Texas A&M. Especially after last nights performance, my pick is the Aggies. Originally, I would have said South Carolina, but there are too many questions last night and Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies put them on display for the world to see. Kenny Hill is the real deal. He looked like a seasoned veteran against the Gamecocks last night. His record setting coming out party showed that this offense is a powerful, high octane one, a Sumlin staple fans are growing accustomed to. I believe A&M has a chance to shock people, much like Auburn did last year.
Deneau: My dark horse for the playoff is Stanford. The Cardinal return third-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan and All-American return man and wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Their offensive line will be one of the top in the county with all of their starting linemen coming from the 2012 recruiting class which included 5-star tackle Andrus Peat. Their defense was tenth in points against last season in a speed-heavy conference. Returning secondary starters Jordan Richards and Alex Carter should lead their experienced defense to another impressive season. Their biggest test of the season will come November 1 on the road against Oregon. If Stanford can survive Oregon I think there is a great chance we will see them in the playoffs.
What freshman do you think is going to have the biggest impact.
Mailhes: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. Head coach Les Miles loves running the ball and that will not change this season.The hype surrounding Fournette is very unique and even has some college football pundits predicting him to be the first true freshman player to win the Heisman trophy. Fournette has been compared to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which has put the nation on notice. Although the Tigers like to use a stable of running backs, Fournette is expected to receive the bulk of carries during his first year on campus. Don’t be surprised to see him on an All-SEC team at the end of the season.
Osteen: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. I believe Fournette is going to have the biggest impact, anchoring a ground attack that is consistently potent year after year. Reports on his preseason are glowing, many saying he was ready to play in the SEC while still a high school athlete. He looks like the real deal, and will put that on display against Wisconsin on Saturday night.
Pugh: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. I’ll have to go with the popular pick here. There is so much hype surrounding him and for good reason. Fournette was the first player in Louisiana history to be named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year twice. Any time you’re being compared to Adrian Peterson your potential is probably in good standing. Maybe Fournette can help LSU gain more than 43 yards against Alabama in November. Believe the hype. Fournette is worth a ton of yards on the ground.
Deneau: RB Leonard Fournette, LSU. It is hard to go against the number 1 overall recruit from 2013. Fournette is steadily being compared to Adrian Peterson, and hasn’t even played a down of college football. The Tigers do return two senior running backs so Fournette will not be the immediate starter but head coach Les Miles is going to have a hard time keeping him off the field. Miles has said that he is one of the fastest players on the team. It scares me to think that a 230 pound running back can out run almost every player on the field. He may not win the Heisman like he predicted for himself, but he will be a huge part of the Tiger ground attack.
Do you think Florida State will repeat as national champions this season? Who stands in their way?
Mailhes: Yes, they will. The short answer is yes, but there are “ifs” involved. Florida State is the most talented team in the country and return the reigning Heisman trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Although Florida State lost key contributors from last season to the NFL, Jimbo Fisher has done an outstanding job recruiting since taking over for Bobby Bowden as head coach and likely won’t see a drop off in production. Knowing that they’ll likely cruise through their regular season schedule and the ACC championship, naturally you wonder if they’ll fare well against tougher competition in the College Football Playoff. But that did not seem to faze them last season, and I don’t think it will this time around either. I know it’s a popular choice, but I’ll say Florida State will defeat Alabama in the national championship.
Osteen: No, they will not. I believe the SEC will reassert its dominance and claim the college football championship once more. This league is too deep and challenging for any other conference to compete consistently. If a Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State or Oregon team played in the SEC week in and week out, they would not be getting the hype that they do. Anyone can beat an Arizona or Illinois, but to face teams in the top-25 every week is a different story. SEC teams are too deep and too good, and I think their next national championship streak starts this January.
Pugh: No, they will not. Florida State certainly will be one of the final four teams in the new College Football Playoff. The only way the Seminoles don’t make an appearance is if they hurt themselves, or Jameis Winston goes down with a season ending injury. Now, repeating is another discussion. It’s silly to speculate what will happen if they play (insert team name here), however one thing concerns me. The ‘Noles obliterated everyone on their schedule except Auburn and Boston College last season, but I wonder how the offense will do against a top five defense. Yes, they beat Florida by 30 in 2013, but that team could hardly be looked at as full strength. FSU is loaded, but I don’t see a repeat.
What conference do you think stands closest to the SEC as far as top to bottom talent?
Mailhes: The PAC-12. Everyone knows the SEC is king, but the PAC-12 has great teams across the board. In the AP preseason-poll, the PAC-12 has six teams ranked in the Top 25, second only to the SEC who has seven. Oregon and UCLA are widely considered two of the top teams in the country while Stanford and USC are not close behind. Arizona State and Washington have improved over the years and will only get better. The conference also boasts some of the best coaches in the country and the recruiting grounds on the West Coast are rich with talent.
Osteen: The PAC-12. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are two VERY good, VERY high octane players that can put up a lot of points. UCLA and Oregon are scary good teams. They may not have the defense of the SEC, but scoring that many points can lead to them competing with and elevate their conference
Pugh: The PAC-12. The Pac-12 is easily on par with the SEC. Both conferences have the best teams top to bottom. Throw out the preseason rankings. They’re useless except to measure one takeaway, national perception. Both conferences make up over half of the AP Top 25. Colorado, California and Utah are the only easy wins, and even traveling to Salt Lake City could be problematic for teams. Quarterback is the glaring strength within the Pac-12, with Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion, Taylor Kelly, Connor Halliday and Kevin Hogan, who are all capable of big numbers. All we can hope for is some bowl match ups, to go along with the top teams from the SEC and Pac-12 meeting in the four team playoff.
Deneau: The PAC-12. I think the Pac-12 is the closest competition the SEC has. They finished the season with five teams in the top 25 of the AP Poll and have six in this year’s preseason AP Poll. Oregon, UCLA and Stanford are being talked about in college football playoff discussions and other teams like USC, Washington and Arizona State are young teams that are on the rise. Even the best SEC defenses would have trouble stopping Marcus Mariota and Brent Hundley led offenses. Stanford could also hold off high powered offenses. Don’t be shocked if a Pac-12 school wins the college football playoff.
*Section Photo credit to Melina Vastola, USA Today Sports; Featured Photo (above) credit to Kim Klement – USA Today Sports