RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
Alabama will be great in 2017. That’s a given.
The Crimson Tide came up just short of its fifth national championship in eight seasons under coach Nick Saban, losing to Clemson 35-31 in the College Football Playoff title game Monday night. But Alabama is likely start next season as the No. 1 team in the country as Dabo Swinney does some rebuilding of the Tigers.
The Tide contending for a national title is the one sure thing in college football. Nobody reloads better than Saban. Everything else is up for grabs, but college football fans will likely be keeping an eye on these developing stories.
The next test for Swinney is to keep Clemson in the upper-echelon of college football following the departure of the greatest quarterback in the history of the program.
There is no clear replacement for Deshaun Watson heading toward next season and the Tigers are also losing a boatload of other top players (Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman, Ben Boulware, Cordrea Tankersley, Carlos Watkins).
Can Clemson reload and still contend for a national championship?
After a season of speculating whether Tom Herman would be the next Texas coach, he is now the Longhorns coach.
Considering all the hype about Herman, there will not be much of a grace period for him in Austin. Former coach Charlie Strong left behind a pretty good roster and told the world that the Longhorns would win 10 games in 2017 no matter who is coaching. Texas opens with Maryland and plays at Southern California in week three.
No pressure, Herm.
RISE OF TROY
USC’s return to truly elite status has been trumpeted a few times in recent years so the cynicism many will have about the impending Trojans hype is justified.
Maybe it will temper expectations? Probably not. USC finished No. 3, has a quarterback in Sam Darnold who looks like a Heisman Trophy contender and will enter the season riding a nine-game winning streak.
Fight on, indeed.
AS THE BIG TEN EAST TURNS
The bowl season took the division down a peg, but there is still no more interesting group of programs and coaches in college football.
Urban Meyer is giving his offense a makeover at Ohio State that might include a legitimate quarterback competition for fifth-year senior J.T. Barrett.
Jim Harbaugh will enter year three at Michigan with an inexperienced team but lofty expectations.
Can James Franklin keep Penn State trending upward ?
Can Michigan State bounce back under Mark Dantonio?
KELLY’S LAST STAND?
Every Notre Dame game will be a referendum on Brian Kelly as he tries to bring the Fighting Irish back from a 4-8 season.
Kelly will have two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his eighth year at Notre Dame.
Another bad season and Kelly is probably gone. That’s obvious. The real intrigue could come if Notre Dame has a big year. Would Kelly look to leave with his reputation restored?
So much drama. So pretty much business as usual in South Bend, Indiana.
Has a Heisman Trophy winner ever returned to school looking to rebuild his value?
Fair or not, the end of Lamar Jackson’s season — three straight losses — is going be remembered more by many outside Louisville than all the great stuff he did to win the Heisman.
Only one player has ever repeated as a Heisman winner so it is unlikely Jackson will do it. But he will enter next season, oddly, trying to re-establish his stardom instead of as the face of college football.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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