Unpacking the Return of College Football


Image courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics

By Garrett Farrell

On Saturday, September 12, one of the oldest sports in America returned after one of the most uncertain training seasons that it has ever had. On that date, the ACC and the Big Twelve, two of the Power Five conferences in collegiate football, began playing in the age of COVID-19. This season brings with it many changes, not only to the many traditions that come with college football, such as tailgates and rivalry week games, but also to conference affiliations.

The only major university that changed its conference affiliation over the summer was the #7-ranked University of Notre Dame; that is, the University of Notre Dame finally added a conference affiliation. After 132 seasons as an independent football program, Notre Dame joined the ACC for one year, as many of their scheduled opponents moved to conference-only schedules. Although Notre Dame has never before played a conference schedule, this season will be sure to excite, as they play many AP top-25 schools, including #1-ranked Clemson Tigers. 

The Tigers are coming off of a disappointing season, by Clemson Tigers’ standards. They reached the College Football Championship with a record of 14-0, only to be thwarted by Joe Burrow and the Louisiana State University Tigers. Last year was the second consecutive year that Clemson reached the National Championship game with an unblemished record, and the loss to Burrow and Coach Ed Orgeron was only their fourth loss in as many years. Clemson enters this season as the decisive favorite to win the national title; it would be their third national title in five years. Also, quarterback Trevor Lawrence enters the season as a leading candidate for the John Heisman Trophy, which honors the best player in college football. Lawrence is anticipated to enter the NFL Draft after this season and has been called “the best quarterback prospect since John Elway,” so expectations are high for the quarterback. Lawrence has only lost once in his two seasons as a starter for the Tigers, and twice since he started playing high school football. 

Stepping away from the ACC, the Big Twelve also began play on September 12, and, as expected, there was a great deal of scoring over the course of the weekend. In many games, both teams combined for over 50 points. The most lopsided victory of the day was a 59-3 slaughtering of UTEP by the University of Texas, currently ranked #9. The Longhorns notched over 600 yards of total offense, in spite of generating only one turnover on defense. Another interesting Big Twelveteam is the #3 ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners, who notched a 48-3 win over Missouri State University. 

So far the Sooners have proven that their offensive success over the last three years has not been coincidental and has not depended on the three consecutive transfer quarterbacks who each led them to the semi-finals of the college football playoffs. Two of these quarterbacks were taken first overall in the NFL Draft, and the most recent was taken in the middle of the second round. Overall, in spite of the high powered offenses, these teams still have not shown anything to indicate that they have a dominant defense to match their offensive firepower. In spite of the large margins of victories that both of these teams earned, their opponents were unranked and a poor example of what either team will face in the College Football Playoffs, if they are lucky enough to be selected. 

Aside from teams that have already had their start, interesting news came from the Big Ten on September 16, as the conference, who had previously voted not to have a football season this year, announced that they had unanimously voted to rescind that decision. The conference announced that the football season would begin on October 23 and that teams will be held to strict health and safety guidelines to protect the players. Though it is unclear how this announcement will affect the established rankings thus far, it is evident that major football programs, such as Penn State, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University will all be factors in the CFP once again. Although much remains to be seen, both Ohio State and Penn State had young cores last season and could be poised to pull off a deep run; this makes the Halloween matchup between the two teams that much more interesting. 

Although the SEC has not yet started conference play, many of the teams in the league have exciting prospects that could make the season special to watch. The #2-ranked University of Alabama football team is another team that is coming off of a disappointing season by program standards: last year was the first time that the Crimson Tide has failed to make the CFP. Head Coach Nick Saban will likely be looking for any opportunity to erase the memories of last season’s nail-biting losses to LSU and Auburn by scorching the earth this season. This is a given at this point, but look for Alabama to do well this season.

Although the best traditions of college football have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the most important part is still happening: the season. This season is sure to feature heart-stopping games and glorious moments by outstanding players. And at the end of the day, what else do we really need?

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