What We Learned About College Football in the Past Season


Stasis is worse than losing. Would you rather be Southern California or Arkansas? The Trojans were 5-7, while the Razorbacks were 2-10. But U.S.C. is keeping the four-year head coach who presided over that season, the one who just lost his prospective offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, to the N.F.L. Arkansas can genuinely claim it is rebuilding: that 2-10 campaign came the first year after it replaced its athletic director and head coach with respected talents from Group of 5 colleges. Somehow it is on pace to haul in its best recruiting class in nearly a decade.

College football may not have quite the tank-and-improve infrastructure of the professional leagues, and yet programs are more likely to underperform because a change has not been made than because one has.

The Big Ten is wide open again. In Urban Meyer’s seven seasons, the Buckeyes won only (“only”) three championships. Even that is deceptive, though, because in the other four seasons, Ohio State either was undefeated but ineligible for the championship because of sanctions, or suffered its sole conference loss to the eventual champion. In other words, the road to the Big Ten title ran through Columbus.

But now Meyer is gone. The first-time head coach Ryan Day, who filled in ably while Meyer was on leave, is replacing him. Wisconsin looks likely to move on, finally, from Alex Hornibrook at quarterback, while Michigan will get another year of Shea Patterson under center. Nebraska is in Year 2 under Scott Frost. Penn State is still recruiting well under James Franklin. Michigan State still has Mark Dantonio, Iowa Kirk Ferentz. Purdue held on to Jeff Brohm! It is anyone’s league.

Texas may be back. Before the Sugar Bowl, one could have dismissed the Longhorns, who were 9-4, their signature win coming in a close and weird game against Oklahoma, which returned to defeat them soundly in the Big 12 championship game.

Then Texas outplayed Georgia, last year’s runner-up, 28-21, giving the Longhorns their first 10-win season since they were the national runners-up in 2009. The third year tends to be a big one for the best coaches, and 2019 is Tom Herman’s.

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