Complete Guide to the 2018 College Football Offseason

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2018

Complete Guide to the 2018 College Football Offseason

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    An exciting 2017 college football campaign ended with Alabama knocking off Georgia in a riveting national championship clash, and, well, the season is officially over.

    Now what?

    First of all, hug your family. They probably missed you.

    But fortunately for football fans, the "offseason" is more like the "no games are happening but we're still here" season. National signing day is in February, the same month several teams open spring practice. Those workouts will linger into May for some programs.

    After a brief moment out of the spotlight, media days and a flurry of preseason predictions will lead into fall camp. And suddenly, it's football season again.

    We'll cover all the important storylinesand more!of the coming months in this handy, no-games-happening season preview.

Top Storylines

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    New Coaches at Major Programs

    Chip Kelly has returned to the college ranks as the head coach at UCLA. Florida missed out on him but snagged Dan Mullen, who was the Gators offensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at Mississippi State for the past nine years. Nebraska hired alum Scott Frost. Florida State lost Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M but reeled in Willie Taggart, whom Mario Cristobal replaced at Oregon. Jeremy Pruitt will lead Tennessee.

    Although each of those schools has national championship aspirations, none are one-year fixes. There will be plenty of discussion about which coach will have the most success in 2018 and overall.

         

    Potentially Significant Change in Redshirt Rule

    Not every freshman is ready to play immediately. However, many of those same athletes develop enough that they can handle game action late in the season. Coaches then must decide whether to burn a redshirt or preserve a full year of eligibility.

    If a proposed rule passes, though, that decision will be much easier. Max Olson of The Athletic notes there is "unanimous support" among coaches to allow a redshirt-eligible player to appear in four games without losing a season of eligibility.

    Other benefits include late-season injury replacements, "quarterbacks of the future" on bad teams earning starts in November and young players gaining experience during bowl season.

    The proposed rule seems like an excellent change for the sport.

         

    Will the College Football Playoff Expand?

    No. It will not be larger than four teams. Please stop asking.

    According to ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, the current 13-member CFP selection committee is unanimously opposed to expanding the field. That panel includes representation from Group of Five conferences.

    Should undefeated teams like UCF get more respect in the only meaningful poll? That's a conversation worth having. But the playoff will not expandno matter how often people contemplate if it should.

What You Need to Know for National Signing Day

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    Traditional NSD Is Becoming the "Late" NSD

    Nobody knew exactly what to expect during the early signing period. But between prospects who were eager to sign and coaches pushing for "truly committed" players to send in the paperwork, it immediately became the biggest event of the recruiting year.

    As a result, think of the first Wednesday in February as the afterparty. There are still several marquee talents availablesuch as 5-star corner Patrick Surtain Jr. and offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere—but the majority have already signed.

    This sure feels like the new normal.

         

    Last-Minute Pushes from Coaches at New Programs

    Leading up to the early signing period, Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggart, Scott Frost and Chip Kelly worked to keep the inherited classes intact. That was priority No. 1 at their new schools, since it's possible for that haul to renege when the previous boss leaves. The No. 2 focus is attracting new talent between early NSD and February.

    Although coaches don't dwell on where a recruiting class finishes, Florida State, Texas A&M, Nebraska and UCLA all sit between 27th and 37th in the current 247Sports composite rankings. It's fair to expect many of those programs to rise on NSD.

         

    Top Names Available

    In addition to Surtain and Petit-Frere, two other uncommitted 5-starsIsaac Taylor-Stuart and Tyson Campbellremain on the board. Tanner McKee, the third-rated quarterback in the country, is the only 4- or 5-star quarterback who hasn't given a verbal pledge.

    Though others have not signed, just 18 of the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite rankings are uncommitted. There are great prospects left; there simply aren't many.

Top Transfer News

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    Shea Patterson, QB

    In the wake of Ole Miss' bowl ban, Shea Patterson headed to Michigan. The former 5-star prospect will likely provide the Wolverines with a much-needed answer at quarterback, a position that caused severe headaches during an 8-5 campaign.

    However, it's unclear whether Patterson will be eligible immediately. The NCAA must grant him a waiver, and that decision should come in January or February.

         

    Jacob Eason, QB

    This could've been his year. Instead, a knee injury caused Jacob Eason to leave the regular-season opener, and Georgia rode freshman quarterback Jake Fromm all the way to the national title game.

    Eason has announced he will leave Georgia. Though his destination is not official, Easona 5-star in the same recruiting cycle as Pattersonis expected to return to his home state and attend Washington.

         

    Graduate Transfer QBs

    Several programs will be looking for short-term fixes at quarterback. Any player who has graduated (or will before next season) would be available to play immediately in 2018.

    Wilton Speight (Michigan) and Drew Barker (Kentucky) are among the signal-callers who have officially announced they will transfer, and otherssuch as Keller Chryst (Stanford), Joe Burrow (Ohio State) and Jalan McClendon (NC State)will be monitored.

Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2018

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Ed Orgeron, LSU

    For better or worse, Ed Orgeron is an old-school football guy. He wants nothing to do with fancy-schmancy motions and misdirections. No, Orgeron wants pound-the-ball offense and stout defense.

    Call it the "right way," call it stubborn, but one thing is clear: Orgeron is tying himself to a dated brand of football. That's not to say LSU cannot succeed with a run-heavy offense, but he's married to the slow-paced attack without a clear answer at quarterback that got former coach Les Miles canned.

    If the Tigers don't at least match their win total after moving on from offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Orgeron's seat will warm swiftly.

         

    Lovie Smith, Illinois

    The ex-Chicago Bears coach may be running out of time at Illinois. The program was in rough shape when Lovie Smith arrived, but 3-9 and 2-10 seasons aren't inspiring much confidence about his future.

    Illinois avoids Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in crossover play for an extremely favorable schedulerelatively speaking, of course. If Smith can't get Illinois into the bowl conversation next season, it could be time to move on.

         

    Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

    In the final week of the regular season, per Tim Vertuno of the Associated Press, quarterback Nic Shimonek told his coach he was running out of time.

    Sure, Shimonekwho started 11 games but was benched for that outingprobably meant Texas Tech's 23-13 deficit. Regardless, it was fitting for Kliff Kingsbury's tenure, too. Shimonek entered, helping the Red Raiders stun Texas and secure Kingsbury's job.

    Texas Tech made notable progress in 2017, even appearing in the Top 25 for the first time since 2013. But through five years, the program hasn't won more than eight games. Kingsbury probably needs to hit that mark next season.

Names to Learn for Next Season

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    Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

    Perhaps you're familiar with Kyler Murray, but it's time to really learn about the dual-threat quarterback.

    Murray started three games at Texas A&M in 2015 before transferring to Oklahoma. After sitting out 2016 due to NCAA rules, he served as Baker Mayfield's backup last year. Murray totaled 501 yards of offense in scattered appearances.

    Oklahoma will attempt to win its fourth consecutive Big 12 championship, and barring injury, Murray will be leading the offense.

         

    Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

    As a redshirt freshman, Dwayne Haskins connected on 40 of 57 passes for 565 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also tossed one of the most important completions in Ohio State's season, a third-down conversion that sparked a win at Michigan.

    Now that J.T. Barrett has used up his 13 years of eligibility, Haskins is the apparent front-runner to guide a Buckeyes team expected to contend for a Big Ten and national title.

         

    Jawon Pass, QB, Louisville

    Lamar Jackson rarely left the field in 2017, so Jawon Pass played sparingly during his freshman year. He ended the year 23-of-33 for 238 yards and two touchdowns, adding 62 rushing yards and a score.

    Next season, though, Louisville will be Pass' team. His prize? Opening the season against Alabama. Good luck!

Teams to Buy Heading into Spring

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Virginia Tech Hokies

    Given the nonconference schedule, go ahead and pencil in three victories for Virginia Tech. William & Mary, East Carolina and Old Dominion won't be major obstacles. Otherwise, the Hokies have eight ACC games and host Notre Dame.

    In addition to the Irish, Virginia Tech will challenge Florida State (on Labor Day) and welcome Miami to Blacksburg. The Hokies have an eight-win floor and should threaten for double digits, which would bolster an already intriguing ACC.

         

    West Virginia Mountaineers

    Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State all need a new quarterback. Conversely, West Virginia has Will Grierwho threw for at least 285 yards and two touchdowns in all 10 healthy games.

    The Mountaineers disappeared down the stretch without Grier, but they posted a 7-3 record in the 10 games he finished. All three losses happened against teams that finished in the Top 25. In other words, WVU won when it was supposed to.

    November will be brutal with Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but the 'Eers may be 7-1 heading into the final month if the secondary can retool quickly.

         

    Florida Atlantic Owls

    If you believe 11-3 was a fluke, I must warn you: Florida Atlantic might break your prediction heart in 2018. The Owls lose three offensive linemen, two wide receivers, one defensive tackle, their specialists and, well, that's about it.

    Central Florida should continue to play well under incoming coach Josh Heupel, but there are enough holes in the Knights roster to consider FAU a top Group of Five contender entering the spring. The programs will square off in mid-September, too.

    FAU is entering unfamiliar territory as a hyped offensive team, but Lane Kiffin should know how to deal with this "rat poison."

Teams to Sell Heading into Spring

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    TCU Horned Frogs

    After a disappointing 6-7 campaign in 2016, TCU surged back with an 11-3 record and Big 12 Championship Game appearance. But a senior-heavy starting lineup will result in deficiencies on both sides of the ball.

    The Horned Frogs have a handful of key returning players, so they're not going to plummet again. Turning to a first-year starter at quarterback behind a rebuilt offensive line is cause for concern, though. Playing Ohio State and Texas in September won't help, either.

         

    Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Brian Kelly cracked 10 wins for the third time in his eight-year tenure last season, but 2018 will be a major challenge for his team. Notre Dame will host Michigan, Stanford and Florida State and travel to Virginia Tech, Northwestern and USC.

    The Irish must replace four offensive linemenmost notably All-Americans Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlincheyand star wideout Equanimeous St. Brown. And despite Brandon Wimbush's flashy numbers, the quarterback situation is uncertain. The tough schedule and departing production is a problematic combination.

          

    North Carolina State Wolfpack

    A popular breakout pick in 2017, North Carolina State lived up to the hype with a 9-4 regular season and was even a contested loss to Clemson away from stealing an ACC Atlantic Division crown.

    But it was fun while it lasted. The Wolfpack lose nine starters on defenseincluding All-American defensive end Bradley Chubband versatile offensive contributors Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels. NC State will be competitive but will likely dip to the middle tier of the ACC.

2017 Moments to Rewatch When You're Bored

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    3. Florida's Hail Mary

    The throw? Perfect. The defense? Oh, not so much.

    Florida and Tennessee both struggled in 2017 and eventually fired their head coaches, but the SEC rivalry provided a stunning finish when the programs met in September.

    With the score locked at 20 apiece, Feleipe Franks heaved a 63-yard prayer. Tyrie Cleveland sprinted past the Vols secondary to secure the catch and give Florida an improbable win as time expired.

         

    2. Georgia's Thrilling Rose Bowl Win

    Yes, the national championship was awesome. In terms of sustained entertainment over 60-plus minutes, however, it's not even close.

    Oklahoma built a 31-14 advantage, which included a Baker Mayfield touchdown catch. Georgia stormed back with a 38-31 edge. But the Sooners pulled even and regained the lead thanks to a fumble-six. But the Bulldogs scored a late touchdown to force overtime.

    After trading field goals in the opening extra session, Georgia blocked a field goal to begin the second period. Two plays later, Sony Michel scampered 27 yards for the game-winning score.

         

    1. Tagovailoa to Smith for the Title

    Jalen Hurts started every game for the Crimson Tide during the 2017 season, but they needed true freshman Tua Tagovailoa to finish it.

    And did he ever.

    Following a head-shaking, youth-driven 16-yard sack on first down, Tagovailoa launched a perfectly thrown 41-yard touchdown to Devonta Smithanother true freshmandown the sideline. Smith cruised under the ball to give Alabama the national championship.