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Sunday, September 25, 2022
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After a tumultuous summer of shakeups, college football returns in exciting fashion

The excitement of Week 0 closes the door on a historic summer and brings in what everyone has been waiting for: real football.

However historic and insane of a summer it was for college sports, just like every other year, nothing else seems to matter once football starts. 

Already, the buzz has shifted from wondering which teams will join the Big Ten and whether a soccer-like relegation format would make sense for college football to a general acknowledgement that Scott Frost is simply not a good coach and if Vanderbilt can somehow shock the SEC on the way to the College Football Playoff. 

Although it was only Week 0, the arguments of how college sports should be financed and organized have subsided in favor of the craziness that is regular-season college football. As much as college football changes year-by-year, there are perennial facts of the sport: Ohio State and Alabama are playoff contenders and likely a head above every other team in their conference, the Big Ten West is wide-open, and the PAC-12 has already been eliminated from playoff contention.

In the Big Ten, while Michigan broke through last year beating Ohio State on its ascent to the College Football Playoff, CJ Stroud and his seemingly never-ending stable of NFL-ready wideouts are poised to return to the top of the conference. 

Michigan could potentially trot out one of the highest ranking QBs in recent program history in JJ McCarthy. However, they cannot even decide as of yet whether McCarthy is ready to supplant last year’s starter, Cade McNamara, as Coach Harbaugh is having both quarterbacks start early-season games (likely to the late John Madden’s dismay). 

Even though few expect Penn State to be highly competitive at a national level, the new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz could propel the Nittany Lions to a different level defensively, making some waves in the Big Ten. 

The West is seemingly the same as every other year. Wisconsin is the favorite of the field with a fearsome, staunch defense and a running back poised to achieve historic greats. Although, questions about Graham Mertz and the passing offense likely hold them back from seriously contending for a conference title. 

Purdue’s high-flying offense helmed by third-year quarterback Aiden O’Connell could be ranked at the top of the conference, but Jeff Brohm’s inept defensive coordinators will keep them at the bottom of the barrel. 

Can Minnesota’s PJ Fleck and his star running back Mohamed Ibrahim row their way to a Big Ten West title? Probably not. As it is every year in the Big Ten West, one of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, or Northwestern will win the division.

Down south, the SEC looks to continue its reign as the top conference in college football with Alabama and Bryce Young’s Crimson Tide preparing to break even more records on the way to a playoff spot and a Heisman Trophy. 

While defending champion Georgia Bulldogs have hopes to achieve legendary back-to-back title wins with a quarterback named after a cowboy hat, the departures of Quay Walker, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and George Pickens will mean they will have to rejuvenate large pieces of their depth chart. This might be pretty reasonable given their supreme recruiting finishes and abundance of blue-chip five-stars waiting in the wings, but only time will tell. 

Outside of the favorites, could Ole Miss, Lane Kiffin and Jaxson Dart (with the most quarterback-y name in sport history) get to double-digit wins and upset one of the conference powerhouses? Will Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University start performing like their recruiting rankings (and NIL deals) suggest they should? 

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One of the stories of the offseason (which was quickly overshadowed by another big decision made by its university) was Lincoln Riley’s arrival at Southern Cal. Could Coach Reilly’s snubbing of the Oklahoma Sooners program drive first-year head coach Brent Venables to reclaim the top spot in the Big 12? Is it possible that Oklahoma State and star quarterback Spencer Sanders’ performance in the dominant opening win against Central Michigan was just the beginning of a really special year in Stillwater?

With all the questions swirling after an exciting Week 0, it must be remembered that college football is not a sport with any sort of parity mechanism. The innate setup of college football, recruiting and NIL ensures the rich get richer and the poor get poorer as the teams that were at the top last year are likely to be back at the top this year. 

However, it seems pretty likely that we are all going to keep watching. 

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