Adam Kramer's College Football Notebook: Complete 2017 Offseason Preview

Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2017

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers (L) and linebacker Ben Boulware #10 (C) celebrate after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 to win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It comes quickly, doesn't it? The end doesn't just slosh along. It sneaks up on us as we're fully immersed in those final, tense moments. Then, suddenly, it appears.

And so here we are, smack-dab at the beginning of those dreaded words: college football offseason.

Truth is, the term "offseason" no longer seems appropriate for a sport that has calendar-ized itself rather brilliantly. There is always recruiting for those who live and breathe such things—and many of us do.

There is spring football, which has seen its popularity soar in recent years. How can a quarterback complete more passes than he throws? Just look at some of the spring scrimmage box scores, and somehow it will seem almost possible.

There are the annual talking conventions better known as conference media days. There is the celebrated release of CFB preview magazines, which is a reminder of how much paper still costs. 

And then there are the things we don't see coming, many of which are not good for the teams or the players or the sport. This is where the offseason diverges course.

The reality of the next few eight to nine months is pretty simple, really. It's a message that holds true each and every year, no matter the players or coaches involved.

Outside of a few select occasions—this article, national signing day, a team's spring game, a few sound bites here and there—a program's optimal path is silence.

When [Insert Football Team Here] is discussed in the offseason, it's likely the discussion won't be celebrated. Injuries and off-the-field matters will serve as the primary talking points over the next few months, with the occasional press release about facility upgrades or important dates sprinkled in here and there. 

As much as we cherish items to discuss, this offseason philosophy is everlasting: No news is good news. Quiet, while boring, is preferred.

With that said, there is a great deal to be dissected before the next season begins. Let us explore all that lies ahead.

     

Five Significant and Unavoidable Offseason Storylines

1. USC is Back! No, For Real This Time!

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans reacts after a fumble in the fourth quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017
Harry How/Getty Images

After USC dazzled in the Rose Bowl, this was bound to be. From now until September, brace yourselves for a constant flow of USC buzz pieces.

This is the year for USC, we will declare.

Here's the thing: It's becoming increasingly more difficult to argue against. Quarterback Sam Darnold, fresh off his 453-yard, five-touchdown performance against Penn State, feels like the new face of college football.

Running back Ronald Jones, coming off a 1,000-yard season, feels like a future star at the position. The Trojans are ripe with options at wide receiver. They have superb athletes on defense, particularly at linebacker and still in the secondary. The team has to replace production, but plenty of options are ready to step in.

We've waited for USC to be truly "back," which feels both unnecessary and somewhat unrealistic given how good Pete Carroll's teams were. But this team will be good, even if the schedule has precisely no byes until the final weekend

That could pose a problem, and we'll get to that in time. For now, prepare for the noise.

     

2. The State of 'Bama

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

No matter the end result, Alabama is always featured prominently on the offseason syllabus. Given the dramatic end to the season—both on and off the field—Nick Saban's latest roster of superhumans will once again be a familiar talking point.

First, the bad news. The staff, with the losses of Lane Kiffin and Mario Cristobal, will take a reasonable blow. Most programs would be shell-shocked by departures of this nature. Alabama will likely glide along.

Bigger than staff turnover is the loss of quality players. Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, linebacker Reuben Foster, tight end O.J. Howard, safety Eddie Jackson, linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, left tackle Cam Robinson and others are all gone.

Just look at that list. It is remarkable. Even more remarkable is the impending reality of Alabama's debut at No. 1 in the preseason, which speaks volumes to the way the machine has recruited and also developed talent.

On the positive side, quarterback Jalen Hurts will be back and likely more polished. Running back Bo Scarbrough, coming off a breakout performance and broken leg in the national championship, should be back as well.

Wideout Calvin Ridely will return and could well re-emerge after a quiet, nondescript season. The offensive line, even with the loss of Robinson, should grow into a formidable group. A defense that loses so many pieces will be rebuilt with former 4- and 5-star recruits.

And yes, Alabama has the No. 1-rated recruiting class in the country, according to Scout.

Life will go on, it seems.

    

3. Jim Harbaugh

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on prior to their Capitol One Orange Bowl game against the Florida State Seminoles at Sun Life Stadium on December 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mi
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This part is both undefined and assumed. Over the past two offseasons, no personality has generated more daily ripples and tidal waves than Jim Harbaugh has.

It's the khakis, the tweets, the long list of Harbaugh-isms, the satellite camps and all the things that make this man unique—fascinating for some and tiresome for others.

It's early, of course, but he's already go-karting.

Now perhaps that changes some this year. For starters, Harbaugh is a new dad. As a relatively new father myself, I can attest to newborns' magical abilities to make hours upon hours go poof.

Maybe Harbaugh will finally settle down. Instead of sound bites or cryptic tweeting or the endless rumblings that come with a $334,712 satellite camp tour, maybe Harbaugh will spend the offseason quietly rebuilding a roster that is losing a plethora of talent and experience.

Or maybe he won't. This seems most likely. One way or another, Harbaugh will commandeer the bulk of the college football storylines, whether you're willing to embrace it or not.

      

4. Power Slowly Swinging Back Toward the Players 

It began late last season when Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey said "No thanks" to the Sun Bowl and when LSU running back Leonard Fournette, following an injury-filled season, decided not to play in the Citrus Bowl. 

Both players had eligibility remaining. Both decided not to risk further injury—no matter the reasoning attached—and decided to focus on the NFL draft. 

The reality, however, is that it began far earlier than that. Oklahoma defensive tackle Charles Walker said farewell to Oklahoma back in November following a concussion earlier in the year.

"Quitting on your teammates is hard to take as a coach," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said, according to Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman

And so the sport has reached a rather uncomfortable zone for many: a time when players are becoming self-aware of their value and the millions at stake. 

A gruesome injury to former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith a year earlier served as a billboard. But this feels like more.

The offseason won't produce a sudden flood of startling movement. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, maybe the best defensive player in football after only one season, won't suddenly decide to sit out two years.

This trend won't work its way into the conversation until much further down the calendar.

But make no mistake about it: Players and coaches and families and (gasp) agents are having these conversations. It doesn't mean that the sport's stars will all suddenly vanish come Thanksgiving, but the movement and future decisions are being discussed right now.

If there is still something to play for, they will play. But if there isn't, and all that's left is an exhibition game and some bowl swag, players will continue to evaluate how they should protect themselves, as they should. 

The offseason won't serve as a direct launching pad for these next moves; it's more of a slow cooker.

    

5. Another Potentially Potent "Hot Seat" Season Begins…Now

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish argues a call in the first half of the game against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA.  (Photo by Jayne Kami
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Compared to recent years, even with a high-profile change at a power like Texas, 2016 was a break in the action for major coaching hirings and firings. 

Over the next 11 months, this feels destined to change. A pile of high-profile head coaches are in need of a big season: Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Jim Mora at UCLA, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Butch Jones at Tennessee and Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, just to name a few, need to win next year to find stable footing.

While some situations are more dire than others—starting with Kelly, coming off a four-win season in South Bend—the nature of this tremendous beast is simple: All of these men get paid a great deal of money to win at a rate greater than they are right now.

And if that doesn't change soon, something else will. The potential domino effect of another busy offseason, with some excellent jobs seemingly hanging in the balance, could be fascinating.

    

Speaking of "Hot Seat," Coaching Moves Are Done, Yes? 

No, actually.

In terms of head coaches changing area codes, barring something unforeseen, there shouldn't be much movement. But come Thursday, February 2, expect a slew of assistant coaches to switch schools. 

The timing is exact for one reason: It is the day following national signing day, which will mark the end of the recruiting cycle.

In what has become a ritual of sorts, coaches will wait until the class is officially signed before declaring farewell to their schools.

Players obviously don't care for it, which is understandable given the messages of "family" and "trust" and "loyalty" being sold to them during the process. That's probably putting this practice mildly. The idea that they will lose a coach who was heavily involved in their recruitment just days, weeks or months after they commit feels, well, not particularly great. 

But don't expect this to change, at least not this year. One last round of musical chairs is imminent.

     

Five Names You Need to Know (or Know Better) by Next Season

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 29:  Devin Duvernay #2 of the Texas Longhorns breaks free against the Baylor Bears during the second half on October 29, 2016 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

But first, some self-back-patting.

Last year's offseason preview highlighted these five names: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Washington quarterback Jake Browning, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, South Florida running back Marlon Mack and Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop.

Prukop was a big miss. The rest, particularly Barkley and Browning, were solid. With that small victory lap out of the way, let's attempt to recreate the success.

Brandon Wimbush (QB, Notre Dame): Here is the young man who could ultimately decide Brian Kelly's football future. No pressure. DeShone Kizer is off to the NFL, and Malik Zaire will be playing elsewhere, which means the starting quarterback opening is Wimbush's to lose. Although the redshirt sophomore has had to wait for his moment, the wait might be worth it. He is a gifted runner and passer with size (6'1", 225 lbs), so it would not be shocking to see him thrive next fall.

Jarrett Stidham (QB, Auburn): So this one is both obvious and necessary. I won't take credit for being bold here. A 5-star quarterback in the 2015 class, according to Scout, Stidham committed and flashed at Baylor before suffering an injury as a freshman and transferring. Now at Auburn, Stidham will be eligible come fall and the likely starter. He has an enormous arm that will be on display in the spring game and next season. While there still is a bit of grooming to do, he has no ceiling. If it all comes together next season, Stidham could be special.

Devin Duvernay (WR, Texas): He's not an NFL prototype in terms of size (5'11", 195 lbs), but Devin Duvernay might be one of the fastest players in the country and one of the most feared covers in all of the Big 12 by September. As a true freshman, he finished with 412 yards receiving, which was second on the team. With quarterback Shane Buechele back and likely better—not to mention Tom Herman's offensive influence—it would not be shocking to see Duvernay blossom into one of the best offensive players in the conference.  

Justice Hill (RB, Oklahoma State): On the topic of soon-to-be-sophomores in the Big 12 who are ready for liftoff, here's Justice Hill. As a true freshman, he ran for more than 1,100 yards for Oklahoma State, without many seeming to notice. And that was despite being part of a three-man rotation with outgoing seniors Chris Carson and Rennie Childs. While it's easy to be wrapped up in other positions on offense—the obvious being quarterback Mason Rudolph and wideout James Washington—Hill will be a star soon enough. To Pokes fans, he's already one. 

Bryce Love (RB, Stanford): After two years, the junior-to-be will no longer be known as Christian McCaffrey's backup. With McCaffrey's departure, Love will likely be the feature back for Stanford. Given everything we've seen, the drop-off—at least when it comes to running the ball—might not be all that significant. Through two seasons, Love has averaged more than seven yards per carry. This year, when called upon a bit more as a sophomore, he delivered three 100-yard rushing games and more than 750 yards overall. Look for all of those numbers to soar.

     

Teams I Am Buying Heading into Spring

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys prepares his team to take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Oklahoma State: Just look at that man's mullet. My goodness. As for next season, the offense should be diabolical with the Rudolph-Washington-Hill trio highlighted above. The defense, if it can replace some key pieces, should be good enough to win almost every game. It doesn't have to be brilliant, just good. This is one of my early football crushes of the offseason.

South Florida: Charlie Strong's arrival was certainly welcome, although South Florida was set to be excellent long before the change. Quarterback Quinton Flowers has become one of the most exciting players in the country. The defense returns almost everyone. While an undefeated season is difficult for anyone, the Bulls seem capable of pulling it off.

     

Teams I Am Selling (Well, Not Buying) Heading into Spring

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Phillip Lindsay #23 of the Colorado Buffaloes reacts after running in for a touchdown against the Washington Huskies during the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium on December 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Ph
Robert Reiners/Getty Images

Michigan: Overall, the job that Harbaugh is doing at Michigan is nothing short of spectacular. (I picked the Wolverines to make the championship game last season.) He is building a roster that will compete yearly. My reason for being wary of Michigan heading into next season is more about the departures and the timing.

The entire defense was essentially gutted, headlined by the loss of linebacker Jabrill Peppers. The offense will lose a great tight end (Jake Butt), a great running back (De'Veon Smith) and two great wideouts (Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh). The offensive line will lose pieces as well. In time, Michigan will be in line for a national title. That time is coming soon. But this just feels like a lot to replace for that time to be next year.

Colorado: It's not exactly a bold statement to say that this year's most surprising team will fall short of recreating the magic of last fall. What an incredible ride Colorado had, even with a lackluster close. But this is a lot to ask for a team that, like Michigan, will essentially replace its defense. The loss of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt doesn't help matters, either. The offense, even with the loss of starting QB Sefo Liufau, should still be solid. The 2017 season won't be a dramatic fall, but there will be a bit of slip.

   

The Team I Am Unsure of Heading into Spring

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Safety Isaiah Simmons #11 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 to win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Fl
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Clemson: There is so much meaningful talent departing after a national championship: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, LB Ben Boulware, WR Artavis Scott, TE Jordan Leggett, RB Wayne Gallman, DT Carlos Watkins and others have said goodbye. The offense, with the exception of an offensive line that should be one of the best in the ACC, will start over. But the defense doesn't have to rebuild completely. Wideout Deon Cain is poised to explode. There are options at the skill positions. The team will have to fill the quarterback vacancy, but there are options in place, and help is coming. Clemson isn't quite at Alabama's ridiculous level of reloading yet, but it might not be as far away as some believe.

     

A Way-Too-Early, This-Is-Entirely-Unnecessary-But-Let's-Do-It-Anyway Top 25

No piece of website #content has become more familiar in the early portion of the college football offseason than this one: a ranking of football teams that will basically sit dormant for the next nine months.

But people love it. You probably love it or love to hate it. Rankings can anger fans unlike anything else, which is why they exist. That and because it allows us a moment to think about the future and what next season might look like.

So here it is, an early top 25 that you will disagree with. After all, it's tradition.

  1. Alabama
  2. USC
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Penn State
  6. Clemson
  7. LSU
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Washington
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Oklahoma State
  12. Michigan
  13. Florida
  14. Georgia
  15. Louisville
  16. Stanford
  17. West Virginia
  18. Texas
  19. Kansas State
  20. South Florida
  21. Miami (Fla.)
  22. Colorado
  23. Auburn
  24. Mississippi State
  25. Virginia Tech

      

If I Had Only One Play To Watch This Offseason...

The correct answer is probably Deshaun Watson's two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to win the national championship. That was the most significant play.

But the play that stuck with me the longest, without question, was Noah Brown's absurd, behind-the-back touchdown catch against Oklahoma much earlier in the season.

It still doesn't make much sense, and it probably won't a few thousand viewings later.

     

Offseason Checklist Items

This is always my favorite part of the guide. It's the part when I think about this strange, unfamiliar life outside of losing Saturdays in press boxes or my basement. 

Here is what I plan to accomplish this offseason.

Tell unique, interesting stories: I love, love, love writing about the games, but one of my favorite things to do is to unearth—or attempt to unearth—unique stories about the players and coaches, both past and present, who make up this game. This long pause allows for some amazing digging and brainstorming. I look forward to sharing some of those stories with you moving forward.

Family: My wife and I had a son this season. His name is Jack, and he is pretty awesome. While this was suboptimal planning on my part, the next few months will be about diapers and bottles, not to mention chasing after our firecracker of a two-year-old. I. Cannot. Wait.

Golf: Same as every year, minus the fact that it will be much harder to play in 2017. I'm not a great golfer by any stretch, but bad golf still makes for a glorious four hours.

Become a Self-Brewer: I have become a craft beer snob over the past few years, which is not something I am proud of. In an effort to take this expensive, calorie-destructive hobby to the next level, I plan to create my own. The hope is to eventually make decent beer and not blow my house up.

    

One Final Note…

Alabama and Florida State will play Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. It will be one of the greatest opening weekend games in the history of the sport—perhaps No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the preseason polls. 

While the offseason will be long, do not lose sight of this matchup and all the others in store.

We've done this before, and we'll do it again. See you on the other side.