FAQ: What the average fan should know about college football, heading into 2017

Brett Deering/Getty Images

Hello, sports fan who likes college football but hasn’t spent the entire offseason keeping up with every detail. Let’s get you up to speed on what to know heading into 2017.

What’d I miss this offseason?

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops retired, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze left amid scandals, Wake Forest vs. Louisville had an espionage caper, and Purdue ran a fake flea flicker in its spring game.

Who’s gonna be in the College Football Playoff?

Alabama and three other teams.

When and where is the Playoff?

Not on New Year’s Eve! The semifinals are on New Year’s Day, like the inaugural Playoff for 2014. You won’t look up one hour before the calendar changes to see Michigan State down 26 to Bama again.

The semis are back to the Sugar and Rose Bowls, two games everybody loves. And the National Championship is at the new Starkiller Base in Atlanta.

What’s the game of the week, every week?

Let’s guess.

  • Week 1: Florida State-Alabama is the biggest opener ever and in the new Atlanta thing, which you might get sick of, since it’ll host four of the year’s 10 or so biggest games.
  • Week 2: Oklahoma at Ohio State, which also features two Playoff favorites.
  • Week 3: Texas at USC, because you’ll see 2006 Rose Bowl highlights all week long.
  • Week 4: Pretty dull. Maybe UCLA at Stanford? Penn State-Iowa, NC State-FSU, or TCU-Oklahoma State? Based on history, this will be the week with eight major upsets, Lee Corso accidentally burning down a library, a game with a walkoff blocked extra point in double overtime, and three coach firings.
  • Week 5: Also not the greatest. Let’s go with USC at Washington State or Clemson at Virginia Tech.

Clemson is the reigning national champ.

Agree.

Flickr user ladybugbkt, Creative Commons
  • Week 8: Louisville at Florida State, or Lamar Jackson vs. a team he humiliated last year.
  • Week 9: Penn State at Ohio State, the rematch of the game that cost OSU the division, but not the Playoff.
  • Week 10: LSU at Alabama, likely a blockbuster for like the 10th year in a row.
  • Week 11: Florida State at Clemson, which could decide a Playoff spot.
  • Week 12: The SEC takes this week off for the SEC-SoCon Challenge. Beware of FCS Wofford at South Carolina.
  • Week 13: Ohio State at Michi—

But you know Jim Harbaugh’s just gonna lose to Ohio State.

You’re right.

Is Harbaugh gonna be fired yet?

No, he’s doing a good job.

What else are you watching?

The Americans is my favorite show right now.

In terms of football games.

  • Week 1: Oregon State at Colorado State on Aug. 26, the first game of the season, five full days before the first Power 5 vs. Power 5 game, and the ribbon-cutting for a gorgeous stadium.
  • Week 2: Pitt at Penn State. I am a sucker for this great rivalry, and it’s only back for a couple more years.

Isn’t this Iowa-Iowa State week?

Yes, ¡EL ASSICO! is happening again.

  • Week 3: Wisconsin at BYU. MAN BALL.
  • Week 4: Washington at Colorado, a Pac-12 title rematch. Boulder should be a great atmosphere.
  • Week 5: Oklahoma State at Texas Tech. I hope each team breaks 100.
  • Week 6: Boise State at BYU. This is a 10:15 p.m. ET Friday kickoff, in case you like games that don’t end until 4 in the morning. Last year’s featured the worst fake punt I’ve ever seen.

  • Week 7: Kansas at Iowa State. You shouldn’t watch this, though.
  • Week 8: USC at Notr—

I think Notre Dame is always overrated.

We hear that a lot.

  • Week 9: I’ll watch Georgia-Florida if my boss makes me.
  • Week 10: Houston at USF. The winner might have the inside track on the New Year’s Six bowl bid.

Is that like the old BCS kids-table bid for non-power teams?

Yes.

  • Week 11: Georgia at Auburn, because I’m still thinking of this:
  • Week 12: Michigan at Wisconsin. It’ll impact both Big Ten divisions, as well as being #B1G as hell.
  • Week 13 is rivalry week. Watch everything.

What’s the weirdest game on the calendar?

Miami at Arkansas State, Sept. 9 in Jonesboro, Ark.

Why in God’s name is Miami playing in Jonesboro, Ark.?

Power 5 teams schedule guarantee games, in which they pay smaller programs to be doormats. But Miami’s saving money by scheduling home-and-homes with competitive non-powers. They played at Appalachian State last year and won big.

Haha, that’s the team that beat Michigan 10 years ago.

Yeah.

How likely is it that Miami loses, thus being nationally embarrassed despite playing a road game against a good team?

There’s a 17 percent chance.

Which coaches are in, and which are out?

Twenty-three FBS teams made head coaching changes since last season:

Which six or so new coaches should I know about right now?

  • Tom Herman’s off to a rollicking start at Texas, where he’ll probably sign a top-10 recruiting class.
  • The same could be true of Willie Taggart at Oregon.
  • Young offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was set to be one of the hottest head coach candidates, until Stoops handed him the OU job.
  • Lane Kiffin’s a head coach yet again, giving him a shot at five straight weird job changes.
  • Former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron got the full-time gig after working as LSU’s interim last season.
  • P.J. Fleck, the walking meme, is now in the Power 5.

Did anyone hire former XFL QBs as head coaches?

Purdue and Western Michigan did, yes.

What about my team’s coaching staff changes?

They’re all great choices. Bunch of great recruiters.

Is Chip Kelly back in college football yet?

Sorta. He’s now a studio analyst at ESPN.

Should my team fire our head coach as soon as he hits .500 this year, to try and hire Kelly?

Someone will, so you might as well join the club.

Who else will inspire some SEC team to fire its coach in September?

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Again? For real?

Jon Gruden still sounds totally uninterested, but that hasn’t stopped message boards for a decade so far.

Who’s winning the Heisman?

Probably a quarterback, because that’s how this thing works. Via Odds Shark:

  • USC QB Sam Darnold
  • Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
  • Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

Reigning winner Jackson’s not the favorite. He didn’t exactly charge toward the finish, when his numbers declined as Louisville’s offensive line evaporated. Also, repeating is hard in general.

Who’s the actual best player in the country?

If not a QB, maybe:

  • Barkley, who’s an outright freak.
  • Houston DT Ed Oliver, who should be a Heisman candidate but can’t be.
  • LSU RB Derrius Guice, who filled in for Leonard Fournette just fine last year.
  • LSU LB Arden Key, a potential top-10 pick.
  • Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, a hard-hitting ball hawk who does everything.
  • Florida State S Derwin James, who was hurt last year and is now ready to destroy.
  • Texas OT Connor Williams, who’s quietly been dominating for a while.
  • Boston College DE Harold Landry, who had 17 sacks last year.
  • Michigan DL Rashan Gary, a former No. 1 overall recruit who will wreak havoc.

What about my school’s best player?

Oh yeah, him too.

How much weird realignment stuff happened?

Not much. Even the Big 12 didn’t change any teams!

The FBS is going from 128 teams to 130, with the return of UAB (Conference USA) from a dumb hiatus and the jump by Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt), the team with a teal field, meaning we need to add Eastern Washington's red field and Central Arkansas' purple-and-gray field to FBS now.

Coastal Carolina Instagram

After this year, Idaho’s dropping down from the Sun Belt to FCS, and Liberty’s moving up as an independent.

Any changes to the bowl schedule?

In total: 39 FBS bowls, plus the Playoff National Championship and all lower-division playoffs.

One team that’s not going to be involved: Ole Miss, which self-imposed a postseason ban in an attempt to generate NCAA mercy.

Will that work?

How about the conference championship schedule?

The Big 12’s adding a title game. This is a terrible idea, because the league’s 10 teams already play a round robin. Its old title game ruined several of its BCS contenders. This could also make regular season games close to meaningless, as it would’ve the last two years.

Nine of 10 FBS conferences now have title games. The Sun Belt will add one in 2018.

Wait, why is the Big 12 doing this?

The league is still freaking out about missing the 2014 Playoff.

Really, that’s it?

Well, it will also make money.

Have there been any changes to the sport’s calendar, such as an early National Signing Day being added in the middle of bowl season?

Yes, an early National Signing Day has been added in the middle of bowl season.

Boring lightning round: What are the new rules?

This is now illegal:

So is this:

And we’re still waiting on the first coach to be ejected under last season’s new rule.

Should I riot because the NCAA’s not letting players wear bike shorts on the field?

Probably.

Also, the horse-collar tackle rule now includes grabbing someone by the nameplate. You don’t have to reach inside his jersey to get a flag.

Which guys are gonna be NFL picks in a few months?

Nearly 300 of them.

Here is a hella early 2018 mock draft, which suggests it’s going to be a QB-heavy year. USC, UCLA, Oklahoma, and other powers have star QBs, as usual.

But can I interest you in a potential top-five pick from Wyoming? Pokes QB Josh Allen is suddenly famous and could be Craig Bohl’s second top-two QB pick, after Carson Wentz.

It’s a good year for QB hipsters. While everyone focuses on the QBs at basic Power 5 schools, you can talk up mid-majors like USF’s Quinton Flowers ...

... and Boise State’s Brett Rypien:

Is Brett Rypien related to Mark?

Yes. He’s his nephew.

Will this college football season be extremely dumb?

Always is.

Will it also be lots of fun?

That’s why we love it.