Bowl season is over, save for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. Welcome to hype season.
The early days of January through the last week of August bring us storylines galore. Most are based on speculation, returning stars and starters, coaching moves, injury rehab and momentum gained from the previous autumn. Every winter, spring and summer, several teams stand above the crowd for the level of attention with which they are showered, based on a combination of the aforementioned factors.
The hype is often justified. Preseason expectations regularly equate to postseason performance. Other times, issues interfere. For further explanation, see Florida State in 2017 and Notre Dame the season before.
We’ve identified a handful of programs whose players and coaches are most likely to hear over the next eight months about all of their strengths. (And for the purpose of this exercise, we’re not including any of the playoff participants, plus Ohio State, or any team led by Jim Harbaugh or by a first-year coach. Offseason hype is a given at those spots.)
Good luck handling the hype.
2017 record: 10-3
Postseason result: Lost to Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Orange Bowl
The Hurricanes fizzled after Thanksgiving, losing three straight, capped by the bowl game. But in Mark Richt’s second season, Miami climbed to No. 2 in College Football Playoff rankings amid bubbling energy absent for more than a decade in Coral Gables. The Canes will continue to search for the right formula to produce consistent play on a level similar to what we saw in early November. The roster trends young, with just four seniors -- not including injured tight end Chris Herndon -- among the offensive and defensive two-deep ahead of the bowl game. Running back Mark Walton is leaving early for the NFL, and several key defenders face a decision before the Jan. 15 deadline. QB Malik Rosier will take on competition, notably from redshirt freshman N'Kosi Perry, and returning offensive playmakers Travis Homer, Ahmmon Richards and DeeJay Dallas offer excitement.
2017 record: 10-3
Postseason result: Beat Washington State 42-17 in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
Mark Dantonio just earned his 100th win at the school, a victory that figures to resonate in the months ahead as the Spartans return 21 starters from a 10-win team. Yes, 21 starters, barring any offseason surprises. Just one year removed from a 3-9 finish that followed a trip to the College Football Playoff, Michigan State is riding high again. QB Brian Lewerke is back as a junior after his QBR figure placed him 14th nationally. Running back LJ Scott returns behind an experienced offensive line that must replace center Brian Allen -- and probably will plug the hole with his brother, Matt . Linebacker Joe Bachie, safety David Dowell and cornerback Josiah Scott carry the flag on defense. And if defensive end Kenny Willekes develops into an elite pass-rusher, the Spartans might not have a weakness.
2017 record: 13-1
Postseason result: Beat Miami 34-24 in the Capital One Orange Bowl
What is hype to the Badgers? Wisconsin is the team on this list best suited to collectively shrug its shoulders at high hopes. Paul Chryst and his players are going to prepare and play the same, no matter the expectations. But hype aplenty there will be after the first 13-win season in program history. Running back Jonathan Taylor returns as a Heisman Trophy front-runner behind an offensive line that brings back everything -- headlined by first-team All-Big Ten picks Michael Deiter at left tackle and right guard Beau Benzschawel. QB Alex Hornibrook finished strong against Miami, throwing four touchdowns, and his primary target, Quintez Cephus, returns from injury. Six senior starters are gone from the defense in addition to linebacker Jack Cichy and early draft entrant Nick Nelson at cornerback. But the Badgers will reload, led by standout linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety D'Cota Dixon.
2017 finish: 7-6
Postseason result: Beat Missouri 33-16 in the Academy + Sports Outdoors Texas Bowl
The Year 2 leap is a real thing. You saw it this season with Georgia, Miami and UCF. Almost 20 years ago, Bob Stoops won a national title in his second season after taking over a program stuck in neutral at Oklahoma. Pete Carroll went from 6-6 at USC to 11-2. Nick Saban jumped from 7-6 to 12-2. So why not Tom Herman at Texas? You know it will be expected in Austin, what with Herman’s culture in place and a bowl victory that pushed Texas to its best finish since 2013. The Longhorns have taken a hit with five early departures to the draft, headlined by offensive tackle Connor Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson and, of course, irreplaceable punter Michael Dickson. Elsewhere, that exodus would create some pause. But not at Texas, which would be well served to find some definition at quarterback, where Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger split time in 2017.
2017 finish: 10-3
Postseason result: Lost to Penn State 42-35 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
With Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen on the way out and Bryce Love perhaps to follow, the Huskies’ profile in the Pac-12 is on the rise. Regardless, Washington brings back a group perhaps most well suited to restore some luster to the conference after a 1-8 bowl showing. QB Jake Browning is set to return for his fourth year, in which he must adjust to a new offensive coordinator as Bush Hamdan comes from the NFL to replace Jonathan Smith, off to coach Oregon State. Running back Myles Gaskin, also pondering an NFL decision, could provide a sizable boost offensively as Browning loses top target Dante Pettis. Vita Vea, a standout up front, is gone from the defense, which returns the core of a unit that rated as the Pac-12’s best in 2017. The bowl loss won’t dampen spirits long as UW looks in position to make a second playoff run in Chris Petersen’s fifth year.
2017 finish: 10-4
Postseason result: Lost to UCF 34-27 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
The hype around the College Football Playoff championship alone ought to send Auburn sailing into the offseason. No, the Tigers aren’t playing Monday in Atlanta. And yes, they closed with consecutive losses to Georgia and UCF. But look who beat both UGA and Alabama in 2017. It speaks well to Auburn’s ceiling. The same can be said of QB Jarrett Stidham. If he returns, Stidham appears ready to make a leap in 2018, considering that all of Auburn’s top receivers are set to come back. Gone early to the NFL are four underclassmen, including running back Kerryon Johnson and cornerback Carlton Davis. But the Tigers will feature one of the best defensive lines in the nation. And adding to the anticipation, a Sept. 1 opener looms in Atlanta against Washington.
2017 finish: 11-3
Postseason result: Beat Akron 50-3 in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl
Face it, you’re not interested in FAU for its playmakers on either side of the ball. Seriously, unless you follow Conference USA, it’s a task to name three players on the roster. But you know all about Lane Kiffin, the Owls’ 42-year-old coach who enhanced his lightning-rod persona in 2017 by sticking his nose into seemingly every conversation. The school is already capitalizing on Kiffin’s popularity and notoriety, and the Lane Train doesn’t look ready to slow in 2018. For the record, the Owls return QB Jason Driskel and running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 1,920 yards and scored a nation-leading 32 touchdowns. And don’t look now, but FAU opens at Oklahoma and visits UCF, the reigning Group of 5 darling, in Week 4. If things fall right for Kiffin, he’ll be coaching at a bowl destination considerably more prestigious than at home in Boca next season.