Arlington the goal in college football’s brave new world

Posted Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The crystal football awarded annually to college football’s national champion throughout the BCS era has been retired, with a new trophy to be presented to winners in the College Football Playoff era.

The first playoff survivor to hoist the fresh hardware will do so at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, site of the sport’s next title game on Jan. 12, 2015.

As we prepare for a season of unprecedented change in the sport, we peek into the BCS’ iconic crystal ball to identify some individuals, teams and venues — particularly some splashy up-and-comers — that could or should be major movers and shakers in the 2014 season.

Without question, the greatest scrutiny in this transition year will fall on the 13-member selection committee charged with identifying and seeding the four participants in the inaugural postseason playoff bracket.

That will make Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, the selection committee chairman, and Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state and lone female committee member, two of the highest-profile individuals on the college landscape next season.

But they will be far from alone. Here’s a list worth tracking during college football’s inaugural playoff season:

AT&T Stadium

Arlington will be the backdrop for six high-profile college games in 2014, starting with the Aug. 30 season opener for Florida State, the defending national champs. The Seminoles meet Oklahoma State at JerryWorld and, if successful in defending their title, would open and close the season in Arlington.

Pat Carroll

Carroll, the lawyer for a former Florida State student who accused Seminoles’ quarterback Jameis Winston of rape in a 2012 incident, recently announced plans to bring a civil suit against Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and others. Although no criminal charges were filed against Winston, Carroll’s efforts assure the issue will remain part of the storyline in FSU’s attempts to earn back-to-back titles.

Trevor Knight

If the Big 12 produces a national title contender in 2014, the logical choice is Oklahoma. But to make it happen, the Sooners will need more games from quarterback Trevor Knight like his Sugar Bowl breakthrough in a 45-31 upset of Alabama (348 passing yards, four TDs) and fewer of the up-and-down efforts that marked most of his freshman season.

Steve Wieberg: The former USA Today sportswriter, who left the newspaper in 2012, joins Long and Rice among members of the selection committee whose national profiles will be raised in 2014. Fellow committee members Archie Manning, Tom Osborne, Pat Haden and others already are household names to college football fans.

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M’s third-year coach will be under the microscope in his first season without record-setting quarterback Johnny Manziel leading his offense. Sumlin, who has posted a 20-6 mark in two seasons, has landed some stellar recruits but 2014 will mark a key season for sustaining and building the Aggies program.

Charlie Strong

Texas’ new football coach inherits some interesting pieces from predecessor Mack Brown. But he must succeed in creating a tougher physical and mental mindset within the program to take the Longhorns back to national relevance.

UCLA

If you’re looking for a surprise inclusion in next year’s four-team playoff field, the Bruins could emerge. UCLA, led by third-year coach Jim Mora Jr., is coming off a 10-3 season and returns a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Brett Hundley. More important, UCLA gets its three toughest conference games in the Pac-12 race at home (Oregon, Stanford, USC). UCLA’s schedule also includes a Sept. 13 trip to Arlington to meet Texas at AT&T Stadium.

Shock Linwood

Baylor’s third-team running back during a Big 12 championship season must carry a bigger share of the load when the Bears defend their title in 2014. Based on the early returns in his freshman season (881 yards, 8 touchdowns, 6.9 average), Linwood should be up to the task of replacing NFL-bound talents Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.

Matt Joeckel/Kenny Hill

One of two Tarrant Country products who shared backup quarterback duty at A&M last season could seize the job in spring drills as the successor to Manziel. Joeckel, from Arlington High School, is more of a pocket passer and will be a fifth-year senior. Hill, a dual threat from Southlake Carroll, will be a sophomore.

Larry Fedora

North Carolina’s third-year coach has a team capable of shocking the nation in 2014, much as Baylor did in 2013. The Tar Heels (7-6) won six of their last seven games after a 1-5 start, including a 39-17 victory over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. North Carolina averaged 40.5 points per game in its closing surge and started 12 freshmen or sophomores in its bowl game. The pieces appear to be in place for a breakthrough season in 2014.

Cooper Bateman

If a third consecutive redshirt freshman quarterback is to emerge from nowhere and win a Heisman Trophy, Bateman (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) has the blue-chip credentials. But first, he must hold off fellow contenders at Alabama (Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Luke Del Rio, Parker McLeod) and earn the right to replace multiyear starter AJ McCarron as the Crimson Tide’s next starter.

Braxton Miller

Hampered by injuries this season, the 2012 Davey O’Brien Award finalist will return as Ohio State’s quarterback in his senior season. His presence, combined with seven returning defensive starters, could help the Buckeyes finish their national title run that fell short after a 12-0 start in 2013.

Marcus Mariota

After disappearing as a Heisman Trophy contender with a November knee injury, the Oregon quarterback returns in 2014 with an opportunity to validate the opinions of NFL scouts who considered him the best NFL prospect at the position in 2013.

Projecting the playoff field

Based on what we know today, here is a way-too-early projection of seeds for the first bracket of the College Football Playoff era. The 2014 season will conclude Jan. 12, 2015 with the first championship game of the playoff era at AT&T Stadium in Arlington:

SeedTeamComment
1Florida StateDefending champs will be loaded again.
2OregonIf QB Marcus Mariota stays healthy, Ducks could be 13-0.
3SEC champExpect a one-loss powerhouse that could win it all.
4OklahomaQB Trevor Knight came of age in Sugar Bowl win.

NOTE: Next year’s semifinals will match No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in Jan. 1 bowls, with winners advancing to title game in Arlington.

Preseason Top 10

A look at the projected Top 10 teams in the 2014 preseason polls, based on what we know today:

SchoolComment
1. Florida St.Elite talent and speed, led by 2013 Heisman winner.
2. OregonFocused, healthy QB Mariota equals magical 2014.
3. AuburnSEC champs won’t need miracles to shine in 2014.
4. Michigan St.Rose Bowl winners will get ample August hype.
5. AlabamaPerennial power should rebound well after 12-2 finish.
6. OklahomaExpect Sooners to gain poll steam as season unfolds.
7. UCLAQB Hundley returns to a friendly 2014 home schedule.
8. Ohio St.Defense should be better, along with QB Braxton Miller.
9. StanfordLots of talent in trenches, plus veteran QB Kevin Hogan.
10. LSUDefense could be stifling, ground game strong.

2014 games at AT&T Stadium

Aug. 30: Florida State vs. Oklahoma State

Sept. 13: Texas vs. UCLA

Sept. 27: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas

Nov. 29: Texas Tech vs. Baylor

Jan. 1: Cotton Bowl

Jan. 12: National Championship

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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