Why you should care
Because in the game of inches, numbers reign supreme.
Sportswriting often aims to tell the stories between the numbers — to dig to the heart of competition and capture the essence of what a box score can’t relay. We love football because of its ability to captivate our imaginations in a way that only the most profound theater can match. Thus, we look for stories that transcend the score — that give meaning to what is, simply, a game.
But sometimes numbers do the talking. These aren’t analytics or sabermetrics, but the seven number-based insights below could very well tell the story of the upcoming college football season. From Heisman odds and running back depth to the battle for conference supremacy, this crash course will prepare you for the season. Don’t forget to check OZY’s Top 20 rankings here.
Three starting quarterbacks in OZY’s top 15 are highly touted transfers.
Will second chances make for charms? In total, seven gunslingers have taken over at major programs after starting their careers elsewhere. Transfers are nothing new, but their impact may be felt this year more than ever. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham (Baylor), Florida’s Malik Zaire (Notre Dame) and West Virginia’s Will Grier (Florida) all have College Football Playoff aspirations, while Pittsburgh’s Max Browne (USC), North Carolina’s Brandon Harris (LSU), Houston’s Kyle Allen (Texas A&M) and Nebraska’s Tanner Lee (Tulane) have all taken assumed starting duties at legitmate conference championship contenders.
At 33:1, Texas quarterback Shane Buechele could be a Heisman steal.
After stealing the show — and the starting job — in a thrilling 50-47 Week 1 victory over Notre Dame last season, Shane Buechele tossed the most yards (2,958) ever by a freshman in Texas history. The sophomore will need to lead the team to way more than five wins for any chance of earning the hardware, but with a year of experience under his belt, that shouldn’t be a problem. And 3,600 yards and 35 touchdowns could vault the Longhorns back into college football’s spotlight. Compared to similar talents like Baker Mayfield (10:1), Jake Browning (15:1) and Mason Rudolph (20:1), Buechele could be a steal.
“The next Mike Vick” could end Archie Griffin’s 42-year reign as the last back-to-back Heisman winner.
Not since Archie Griffin in 1975 has a player won back-to-back Heisman Trophies. The reigning Heisman winner is Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, a dynamic dual-threat playmaker who has invoked Mike Vick comparisons galore and praise from Vick himself. Jackson clearly has the talent to double up, but he’ll have to repeat in the face of intense post-Heisman media scrutiny and, likely, lead the Cardinals to double-digit wins (9-4 in 2016) in order to do so.
The 14 returning ACC head coaches have a combined 139 years’ experience.
Eight have been at their respective schools for five years or more. This in-conference longevity and stability is increasingly rare in the high-stakes world of college athletics and no doubt plays a large role in the ACC’s recent string of on-field success. Clemson’s national title, Florida State’s Orange Bowl win and Jackson’s Heisman were highlights in 2016 that saw five ACC teams finish in the AP Top 25.
Seven of the last ten national championships have been won by a team from the SEC.
Even with all of the talk of the ACC supplanting the SEC as college football’s top conference and the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten gaining ground, a simple fact remains: Seven of the last 10 national championships have been won by a team from the SEC. Alabama has four of those titles. Never one to “rebuild,” Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has simply reloaded. Clemson passed the guard last season, but any claim to college football’s throne still runs through Alabama. Like it or not, the SEC is still king.
College football’s best duo resides in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Two potential Top 10 NFL draft picks play football in Oklahoma, but we’re not talking about the Sooners, folks. For each of the past two seasons, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph has connected with wide receiver James Washington for 10 touchdowns and an average of at least 20 yards per catch. Following a season that saw Rudolph rack up 4,000 yards and 28 scores (1,380 and 10 thrown to Washington), the pair is looking to up the ante. Their connection will be key in Oklahoma State ending rival Oklahoma’s streak of 10 straight Big 12 championships.
The SEC returns nine running backs who topped 1,000 yards last season.
Last season, the NFL promise of LSU’s Leonard Fournette commanded most of the preseason tailback coverage. Now, with Fournette having been picked fourth overall by the Jaguars, the rest of the SEC’s incredible crop of backs will finally get some shine. Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway and Fournette’s replacement, Derrius Guice, lead the way, but nearly every team in the league features a game-changer. Outside Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, the current SEC quarterbacks corps is average. This is the year of the running back down South.