ATLANTA — After the greatest College Football Playoff — in its brief history — and one of the most thrilling national championship games ever, next season can’t start soon enough.
Here are five storylines to look forward to:
Incredibly, the two national championship contenders can’t yet be certain who will be under center. True freshman Tua Tagovailoa appeared to take the torch after replacing Jalen Hurts and leading Alabama to a national title Monday night, but just three years ago, backup Cardale Jones brought Ohio State a national championship, opened the next season, and then was ultimately replaced by deposed starter J.T.
Georgia brings back true freshman Jake Fromm, but also adds dual-threat Justin Fields, the top-rated prospect in the nation. Clemson brings back Kelly Bryant, but he will be competing with Trevor Lawrence, the top recruit in the country. With Baker Mayfield leaving Oklahoma, the Sooners will hand the keys to Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray. After four years with Barrett, Ohio State transitions to Dwayne Haskins.
A wide-open Heisman race
This season’s field was loaded with returning stars, but the past two Heisman winners (Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Mayfield) are off to the pros, along with the four other best quarterback prospects — USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley and San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny, top-five Heisman vote-getters, will be gone, and Stanford’s Bryce Love might be, too. Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor is the favorite from the backfield, but a non-quarterback has won the award only twice this century. Potential contenders include Penn State’s Trace McSorley, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate.
Jimbo Fisher headlined the wildest set of coaching changes the sport has ever seen, leaving Florida State just four years after winning a national championship — the first coach to do so in more than four decades — and moving to Texas A&M for $75 million. Chip Kelly will bring his high-flying offense back to college, at UCLA, while Scott Frost goes home to turn around Nebraska as quickly as he did Central Florida.
Other notable moves include Oregon’s Willie Taggart going to Florida State, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt heading to Tennessee trying to become the next Kirby Smart, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen moving back to Florida and former Fordham coach/Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead inheriting a talented roster in Starkville.
No Power Five conference has complained about the College Football Playoff, but the Pac-12 might need to reconsider its position. For the second time in four years, its champion was left out of the final four, and the league only looks weaker next year, with defending champion USC losing Darnold. Washington and Stanford should lead the pack, but the league is in desperate need for a bounce-back season to chip away at the perception it is the weak link.
Group of Five encore
Central Florida, the nation’s only undefeated team, was screwed this season. Not by the committee, but by the format. Playoff expansion isn’t near, but successful Group of Five teams can expose more problems with the system, and create pressure to bring change sooner.
Still, a Cinderella story can happen if the right pieces fall in place. Last year, Houston could have reached the playoff, following a season-opening win against Oklahoma, but the Cougars fell apart in October. In 2010, Boise State could have reached the national title game, but lost its perfect record on the last weekend of November. Next season, the Broncos will have one of the nation’s best defenses, and best opportunities, playing at Oklahoma State. Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic offensive juggernaut gets shots at Oklahoma and Central Florida, which will be in the polls again.