SALT LAKE CITY — It’s an exciting time of the sports year with a large variety of things going on.
Let’s see, we just got through with the NFL draft, the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs are going on daily, we’re in the middle of the Triple Crown horse races, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer are a couple of months into their seasons, we just finished golf’s “fifth major,” the Players Championship, and locally, prep playoffs of every sort from soccer to baseball to softball to golf to track and field are in full swing.
So of course today we’re going to talk about college football.
As an annual contributor to the Sporting News Football Yearbook, I received a copy in the mail a few days ago, before they hit the newsstands, and I thought I’d share a few tidbits and get you thinking about what is many sports fans’ favorite time of the year.
The local teams
Utah State has the highest projection, picked second in the Mountain West Mountain Division. BYU is listed third among the independents, behind Notre Dame and Navy but ahead of Army and Charlotte. Utah is picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South Division.
Southern Utah is the only ranked team, coming in at No. 24 in the FCS preseason rankings and picked to finish fifth in the Big Sky Conference. Weber State, under new coach Jay Hill, is picked to finish 10th in the 13-team Big Sky.
Nine Pac-12 teams are projected for bowl games — nine! Only Cal, Colorado and Utah are not picked to go bowling this year.
But that doesn’t even match a few other leagues. Both the Big Ten and ACC, which both have 14 teams, are projected to have 10 teams in bowl games, while the SEC is projected to have 11.
That’s a record number for each conference, but the main reason is that there are four new bowls this year, upping the number to 36, plus the four-team playoff. The new bowls are the Bahamas Bowl, the Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl, the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Miami Beach Bowl.
Utah State is one of five MWC teams projected to play in a bowl and projected to play again in the Poinsettia Bowl against Navy.
BYU is projected to play in the Hawaii Bowl against Rice, but we know that is not going to happen, since the school already announced it is going to play in the new Miami Beach Bowl against a team from the American Athletic Conference this year, assuming the Cougars get six wins.
It’s no surprise that the favorite for the Heisman is last year’s winner, Jameis Winston of Florida State. But remember, Johnny Manziel didn’t repeat after winning the Heisman as a freshman as Winston did.
Others, listed in order, are Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
No local players made the three FBS all-American teams, although BYU’s Taysom Hill was listed as the best running quarterback in the nation.
BYU’s schedule isn’t as daunting as last year’s, but the Cougars have one demanding stretch through the month of October. They play Utah State at home, followed by UCF, one of their two ranked opponents, on the road. Then it’s home against Nevada, picked for first in the Mountain West Conference West Division, followed by a game at Boise State, the favorite in the MWC Mountain Division.
Utah has a brutal stretch from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15 with games at home against USC, at Arizona State, home against Oregon and on the road against Stanford. All four teams are ranked 16 or better in the preseason projections. The Utes also play at Michigan in a non-league game.
Utah State starts with Tennessee on the road and finishes with Boise State on the road and has BYU on the road in early October. Otherwise, the Aggies may be favored in the rest of their games.
Southern Utah plays at Nevada and Fresno State in non-league games and at Southeastern Louisiana, picked No. 3 in the preseason FCS rankings, and must play the two league favorites, Eastern Washington and Montana, but at least those two games are at home.
Weber State starts off with four straight road games, at Arizona State, Sacramento State, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Utah and a bye before finally getting a home game against Cal Poly on Oct. 11.
For a change, Alabama isn’t picked to win it all this year. Oklahoma gets the No. 1 ranking, followed by Oregon and defending national champion Florida State at No. 3. Alabama comes next at No. 4, while Auburn rounds out the top five.
The Pac-12 has six teams in the top 25 — Oregon (2), Stanford (6), UCLA (8) Arizona State (13), USC (16) and Washington (21).
Notre Dame is the only independent in the top 25 at No. 14.
Each of the major college teams has one player designated as a “difference-maker.’’
For Utah, it’s senior receiver Dres Anderson, for BYU, it’s quarterback Taysom Hill, both sensible choices. But for Utah State, it’s Darrell Garretson. I guess the writer figures Chuckie Keeton won’t beat out Garretson for the starting quarterback berth.
So there’s a taste of what to expect for this fall’s college football season. It seems like a long ways off, but most players will start working out on campus next month, and fall camps open in less than three months. It'll be here before you know it.