College football is the world’s greatest reality show. The competition is more fierce than anything on Survivor. The glory is greater than anything on American Idol. And if you don’t think some players are prima donnas and some coaches are as downright nasty as Real Housewives, well, then you’ve never followed recruiting.
HBO’s Hard Knocks premiers tonight, following the Miami Dolphins during training camp. It’s a fascinating look into the players, coaches and pressures in pro football.
There isn’t a college football equivalent, and that’s a shame. We’d love to see a behind the scenes look at two-a-days on college campuses around the country.
Here are the teams we’d like to see in 2012, not only for the on-the-field stakes but also some of the off-field personalities and storylines.
The main event: Still recovering from the 21-0 championship-game loss in their own backyard, the Tigers should have an edge about them all through camp. Camera crews give us a look at Zach Mettenberger working to strengthen LSU’s weak spot at quarterback, the competition for carries at running back and film sessions with defensive coordinator John Chavis.
The main event: The Athlon preseason No. 1 team deals with high expectations for the first time in the Lane Kiffin era. Matt Barkley is the nation’s best quarterback, he has the nation’s best receiver duo, and now he’s welcoming Penn State refugee Silas Redd to his backfield. All’s not perfect in Los Angeles, either. Depth is limited from NCAA sanctions and the Trojans’ have real questions on the defensive line.
The sideshow: Lane Kiffin’s changed his tone since he left Knoxville. That might be better for USC, but it’s not great for TV. Barkley’s still entertaining. With SI.com, he posed tough questions such as “Do penguins have knees?” He also reveals Kiffin listens to Katy Perry, Rihanna and Britney Spears. If that’s not enough, there’s always the Ed Orgeron spinoff.
The main event: Dana Holgorsen has proven himself to be one of college football’s best offensive minds, and now he has the star power at quarterback and receiver to compete in the Big 12. The defense, now under the direction of Joe DeForest, needs some work if it’s going to compete in the Mountaineers’ new conference.
The sideshow: While there probably won’t be many fishing trips with Bob Huggins or skydiving adventures during the preseason, “Holgo” should provide enough plain-speaking, Red Bull-guzzling personality all through camp.
The main event: An inside look at the defending national champions seeking to replace the last batch of NFL first-round talent with the next. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart teach their defense to a new set of starters who must prepare for Michigan and Denard Robinson in the opener. Quarterback A.J. McCarron continues his ascendance to becoming the face of the Alabama offense with Trent Richardson gone.
The sideshow: Even if Saban allows cameras to follow his program around (though he did with ESPN in the preseason a couple of years ago), we can’t expect anything too interesting to happen under his watch. Instead, the camera crew films some of the the chaos that is SEC Media Days.
The main event: The Volunteers’ last game was their first loss to Kentucky since 1984 to wrap up a 5-7 season, so there should be a sense of urgency in Knoxville. Quarterback Tyler Bray is a pro prospect, but he’s yet to put it together on the field. The same could be said for receiver Da’Rick Rogers. The Volunteers also are breaking in seven new assistants, including a defensive coordinator.
The sideshow: Perhaps no coach is under the microscope more than the one leading the hot seat list in the SEC. That’s where Derek Dooley finds himself in his third season. Even without that angle, Dooley’s entertaining enough as it is.
The main event: Arkansas is enjoying its best run since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks’ 21 wins in the last two seasons have coincided with Alabama and LSU on top of their games, too. Tyler Wilson is one of the SEC’s top passers, but he’s breaking in some new receivers. Knile Davis is back from the ankle injury that sidelined him for all of 2011. Meanwhile, they’re working with a new playcaller (Paul Petrino) and new head coach (John L. Smith).
The sideshow: Perhaps the prequel to the Arkansas edition of Hard Knocks would be more interesting, or at least more lurid. At least John L. Smith still has it.
The main event: Excitement surrounds the far-flung Washington State program for the first time in about a decade thanks to the arrival of Mike Leach. Film and practice sessions should prove interesting as Leach installs the Air Raid in Pullman with personnel that seemingly fits his scheme. The country also hasn’t been properly introduced to receiver Marquess Wilson. That needs to change.
The sideshow:Mike Leach being Mike Leach.
The main event: Urban Meyer is back in the game after a year away, and he has a sophomore quarterback who is as athletically gifted as any Meyer has coached. An interesting storyline would be motivating a team that finished 6-7 last season and has no hope for a conference championship or a bowl game.
The sideshow: Ohio State probably doesn’t bring the character of LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee or Washington State, but there’s plenty to see. Will Meyer have to handle an arrested player? What about a look into the lengths he’ll go for a recruit? Will he exchange barbs with Michigan and Brady Hoke?
The main event: Just two seasons ago, no one would have pegged then-Connecticut coach Randy Edsall as creating compelling television. A 2-10 mess of a season changed that. Two new coordinators, including fired New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, adds to the intrigue. Maryland could succeed in the face of adversity ... or pick up where it left off last season.
The sideshow: Wouldn’t it be fun to see the immediate reactions of the straight-laced Edsall and his players when they’re presented their uniform combinations for the first time?
The main event: We’re going off the grid for this one. One of the MAC’s worst programs tries to make a splash with the hire of former Auburn coach Terry Bowden. He’ll be a salesman to the fill the program’s new stadium as much as he’ll be a coach.
The sideshow: Chuck Amato’s red shoes don’t match the Zips’ garb, but we’re glad to have him back anyway.
A few others we’d watch:
Oregon: Chip Kelly doesn’t seem like a guy who’d have time for a camera crew, but we’d like to watch him try to pick the next productive Ducks’ QB.
South Carolina: Would be more fun with Stephen Garcia around, but we’ll take our chances that Steve Spurrier will make the season interesting.
Clemson: Dabo Swinney won’t let South Carolina take all the attention.
Nebraska: Pressure’s on both Bo Pelini and quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy hands his team over to a freshman quarterback.
Ole Miss: We love Hugh Freeze’s Twitter feed already.
Texas A&M: New coach, new conference, same crazy fans.
Missouri: The Tigers also join the SEC with a fragile quarterback and the nation’s top freshman.
Penn State: Watching Bill O’Brien try to salvage this season, never mind the program, could be fascinating.
Notre Dame: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’d watch.