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Realignment, Transfers, Quarterback Battles - College Football's Close Season Storylines



I wrote, a year ago in an off-season recap, about the rapidly changing landscape of college football. It seems to have gone into overdrive. Going into the 2022 season, the talk was all about NIL, the transfer portal system, the Saban-Jimbo spat and who would land highly-prized recruit Arch Manning.


Conference realignment - who's in and who's out?


The headline-grabbing declaration from Texas and Oklahoma a year ago that they were leaving the Big 12 conference for the prestige, riches and elite competition of the SEC in 2024 sent shock waves around the world of college football. This was followed, in June, by the announcements from USC and UCLA that they would leave the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024. In hindsight, it may have been a drop in the ocean.


Fast forward to the close season, and realignment gathered pace. Here's a quick overview of the changes and how the Power Five college football landscape will look in the 2024 season...


ACC

(Image credit: Pinterest)

In: None.


Out: None.


Arguably the most settled of the Power Five conferences at time of writing. Reports of interest in recruiting California and Stanford appear to have been vetoed by Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina and North Carolina State. Notre Dame, who made a guest appearance in the ACC in 2020, are continually linked with a move, but look likely to remain independent.


The ACC's biggest threat may be one of the two mega-conferences, Big Ten and SEC, circling to add to their ranks. Clemson and Florida State would seem obvious targets.


The 2024 line up:


Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.



Big 12

The Big 12 line up in 2024 (Image credit: Twitter)

In: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah.


Out: Oklahoma, Texas.


The Big 12 acted quickly to fill the void left by its marquee programs. In came BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati, the Cinderella team of college football just a few months earlier. The departures of the two Southern California teams left the Pac-12 exposed and Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and conference champion Utah joined to give the Big 12 a sixteen-team competition stretching from California in the west, to the states of Florida and West Virginia in the east.


The 2024 line up:


Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Colorado, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Utah.


Big Ten

The new Big Ten conference stretches across the breadth of the U.S. (Image credit: Twitter)

In: Oregon, UCLA, USC, Washington.


Out: None.


Sensing an opportunity to rival the SEC as college football's most powerful conference, the Big Ten were aggressive in picking up the premium teams from the spiralling Pac-12. The additions of two of college football's most historic programs in USC and UCLA gives the Big Ten a coast-to-coast presence with sixteen teams, Maryland and Rutgers being their furthest teams east. Oregon and Washington followed this summer. This is great news for the teams in building national coverage through the Big Ten's new media deals with CBS, Fox and NBC. The conference agreed a seven-year deal rumoured to be worth an annual $1.2 billion. The news isn't so great for college athletes who may face midweek trips across three time zones in some instances to face their new conference rivals in some instances.


The 2024 line up:


Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, UCLA, USC and Wisconsin.


Pac-12


In: None.


Out: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington.


Stripped bare by the Big Ten, the Pac-12 currently has four schools in its membership going into the 2024 season. It's been an extraordinary development and all the more tragic given that the Pac-12, with eight departing schools playing out their last seasons, is likely to be college football's most competitive conference.


With the new 12-team College Football Playoff likely to offer a place to the Pac-12 winner, this may be enough to persuade Cal and Stanford, currently being courted by the ACC, to stay. They will urgently need to add more schools. San Diego State, Boise State, SMU, Tulane and UNLV have been mentioned in the press as among suggested targets.


The 2024 line up (as it stands):


California, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State.


SEC

The SEC line up for 2024 (Image credit: Twitter)

In: Oklahoma, Texas.


Out: None.


Texas and Oklahoma, two of college football's most famous teams, are strong additions to its premier conference, the SEC. The East and West divisions will be dropped for 2024 play, and reconsidered ahead of 2025. Instead, the top two teams will meet for the conference championship this year. No further additions are in the SEC's imminent plans, although as mentioned earlier, Clemson and Florida would fit the bill as future members given their history and location in the South East United States.


The 2024 line up:


Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.


The Headline Transfers


Last year, USC stole the headlines with audacious moves for Caleb Williams, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and namesake Mario from Oklahoma. The Trojans also scooped up future first-round pick Jordan Addison from Pitt and Travis Dye from conference rivals Oregon to join newly installed head coach Lincoln Riley. This year they have added six potential starters on offense and three on defense. USC's offensive line has been notably solidified, with Jarrett Kingston (Washington State), Michael Tarquin (Florida) and Emmanuel Pregnon (Wyoming) all coming in. They also brought in former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury to aid Williams' development at quarterback.


All change in Colorado

Deion Sanders has shaken things up in Colorado (Image credit: USA Today)

The arrival of Coach Prime, Deion Sanders, was bound to ruffle a few feathers in Boulder. He didn't disappoint. An astonishing 56 players transferred out of Colorado this close season while Sanders brought in 50 players in a complete overhaul. The incoming players included his two sons, quarterback Shedeur and safety Shilo, and former No.1 overall national recruit Travis Hunter, all following their coach from Jackson State. Sanders will have his work cut out building a winning culture. The Buffaloes finished the 2022 season with a 1-11 record.


The quarterbacks

Sam Hartman gives Notre Dame a strong presence under center (Image credit: One Foot Down)

Unquestionably, the most closely followed position in the portal is quarterback. Some intriguing moves will see some familiar faces line up in new territories. Sam Hartman, outside of Shedeur Sanders, is arguably the headline move. After an impressive career at Wake Forest where he started 45 games and passed for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns, Hartman is headed for Notre Dame where he will be expected to lead the Fighting Irish to national contention.


Hartman will replace Tyler Buchner in South Bend. Buchner transferred to Alabama, following offensive coordinator Tommy Rees who will be calling plays in Tuscaloosa. Spencer Sanders is another experienced quarterback on the move, landing at Ole Miss from Oklahoma State. Former Clemson signal caller DJ Uiagalelei, whose career can be relaunched at Oregon State after a disappointing spell with the Tigers.


In other quarterback moves, the talented former Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims joins new coach Matt Rhule at sleeping giant Nebraska. Joining him as new players to the Big Ten are Wisconsin's Tanner Mordecai (ex-SMU) and Purdue's Hudson Card (ex-Texas). Cade McNamara, ousted from the starting job at Michigan by J.J.McCarthy, has a chance to exact revenge at Iowa. While Hartman is the headline name, look out for Devin Leary, who switches from North Carolina State to replace NFL-bound Will Levis at Kentucky, and Graham Mertz, who joins Billy Napier's revolution at Florida, from Wisconsin. Payton Thorne, transferring from Michigan State to Auburn, could flourish under new coach Hugh Freeze.


Quarterback battles

Carson Beck won the starting quarterback job in Athens (Image credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA)

The few weeks leading up to the start of the college football season determine which quarterback is designated as their team's starter. One of the most keenly observed battles was resolved this week, when Kirby Smart named Carson Beck as Georgia's starting quarterback, beating Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton.


Ryan Day is yet to name his starter in Columbus, with Kyle McCord and Devin Brown both under consideration to lead Ohio State's high-powered offense.


SEC rivals Ole Miss and Alabama, at time of writing, are also yet to name their starting quarterbacks. Tyler Buchner, the transfer from Notre Dame is competing with presumed favourite Jalen Milroe and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson in Tuscaloosa while true freshman Dylan Lonergan is also taking snaps in practice. In Oxford, incoming Spencer Sanders is competing with last year's starter Jaxson Dart and LSU transfer Walker Howard for the starting job for Ole Miss.


Highly touted freshman recruits Arch Manning, Nico Iamaleava and Dante Moore were all rumoured to be in quarterback battles at their new schools. The reality is that all three are likely seen as development prospects to mature and start in forthcoming seasons. Manning will likely be No.3 on the depth chart at Texas, behind Quinn Ewers and Maalik Murphy. Iamaleava will learn behind Joe Milton at Tennessee and Moore will benefit from Chip Kelly's tutelage at UCLA but likely sit behind Collin Schlee or Ethan Garbers, with the Bruins, again at time of writing yet to name their starter.


Next up will be a look at players to watch, and the coaching carousel as the 2023 college football season moves ever closer.

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