By Mike Keeney
“Change” is definitely the word in these parts when it comes to the 2014 football season.
Houston Texans fans got the change they asked for when longtime head coach Gary Kubiak was fired last December and replaced by former Penn State, and Bill Belichick acolyte, Bill O’Brien in January. University of Texas fans got the change they clamored for when Mack Brown stepped down after 16 years leading the Longhorns and was replaced by former Louisville head football coach Charlie Strong.
And college football fans finally got the change they had been asking for when the highly unpopular Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was done away with and the College Football Playoff was born. The new system will pit the top four rated teams chosen by a selection committee made up of individuals with coaching experience, student-athletes, collegiate administrators and current athletic directors. The committee will choose the top four teams for the playoff, rank them (1-4) and assign them to the semifinal games. The selection committee will choose the four national semifinalists based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.
This year’s semifinal games will be held on Jan. 1 and will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The No. 1 and No. 4 seed will meet in the Rose Bowl, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seed will meet in the Sugar Bowl. Each year, the national semifinals will rotate among those two bowls and the Fiesta, Orange, Cotton and Peach bowls in coming years.
The inaugural national championship game will be played on Monday, Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium (formerly known as Jerry World). Read on to see who yours truly thinks will be the four teams to be this year’s semifinalists and the overall national champion, along with a number of other predictions.
While University of Texas fans are hoping their team will be making the trek to Arlington for the national title game, they might be getting a bit ahead of themselves. The ‘Horns still have some holes in their team, but I have a feeling UT fans will like what they see from their new head coach. The no-nonsense Strong laid down the law right off the bat and dismissed seven players from the team during the spring and summer for violating team rules. I have a feeling Texas will be a more disciplined team in 2014 and will be much better on defense. The key to how far they go will center on quarterback David Ash, who missed a majority of the 2013 season with a concussion. He followed that injury up by breaking his foot during spring drills, but has been cleared for the upcoming season. The 6-4 Ash has talent and speed and if healthy would be a huge plus for the UT offense, which should field a strong running game led by the powerful Malcolm Brown and the speedy and elusive Johnathan Gray, who is coming off an Achilles injury but has also been cleared to play this season.
Texas should be in the Big 12 mix, but it appears Oklahoma and Baylor are the class of the league heading into the season. Bob Stoops’ Sooners finished off the 2013 season in impressive season by blasting Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl was a coming out party for quarterback Trevor Knight and he should be ready for a big season in 2014. The offense is loaded and so is the defense as nine starters return this year.
Scoring won’t be a problem for Art Briles’ Baylor Bears, who won the Big 12 last year and return a pretty fair signal caller in Bryce Petty, who set a school passing record last season. He has plenty of weapons to call on once again, but the big question in Waco will be how much improved will the Baylor defense be? That unit was exposed in the Fiesta Bowl by Central Florida and the Bears will face much better offenses than CFU with the likes of OU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas on their schedule.
Not only will Baylor be looking to win a second straight league title, but they will also be opening a new stadium, named after former Houston Astros owner, and major Baylor contributor Drayton McLane Jr.
Please read below for how one person thinks the major conferences will shake out this year.