The college football fan of 2015 has unprecedented access to their favorite programs. Three major conferences operate their own television networks. Most athletic programs have in-house video content on their web sites.
There’s one area, though, where we’d like to see college teams take a cue from HBO and NFL Films. Every season, HBO provides an inside look at training camp for one NFL team. On Tuesday, the 10th season of Hard Knocks premieres with a behind-the-scenes look at the Houston Texans. The series has shown a rarely seen side of the pro game, from the personalities of players to the gut-wrenching process of cutting a player or being cut.
College football, too, should provide plenty of content for a Hard Knocks-style program. Certainly, TV networks and the schools themselves have shown glimpses, but all feel a little sanitized. Here are the schools we’d like to see get the full-on Hard Knocks treatment.
A behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the quarterbacks — the competition and the chemistry — would be compelling on its own, but Ohio State’s preseason preparation will be so much more. Whether he’s the starting quarterback or not, Cardale Jones is one of the more interesting players — or at least Tweeters — in the sport. Braxton Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year moving from quarterback to H-back. Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee is a character. Defensive end Joey Bosa might be the best player in the country at any position. And this group seems to genuinely like each other. Plus there’s all the defending national champion/preseason No. 1 drama. No team’s preseason camp will be more interesting.
For the second consecutive season, coach Nick Saban has mentioned that chemistry and/or leadership was lacking as the Crimson Tide fell short of a national championship. Oh, the horror, of simply winning the SEC and entering the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed. The standards are different at Alabama, and it will be curious how the Tide respond to Saban’s concerns in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Any insight into the quarterback situation would be worth monitoring as Jacob Coker makes a second bid for the starting job, this time against redshirt freshman David Cornwell. Lane Kiffin worked wonders with this offense last season, but Amari Cooper may have had something to do with the unit’s newfound explosiveness.
No SEC coach is having more fun than Bret Bielema. With Steve Spurrier getting all defensive this week, Bielema seems like the only SEC coach having any fun. He’s self-deprecating. He has colorful ways to describe gratifying kneel downs in bowl games. His goal is to make offensive linemen famous. And he cooks. In a league where most coaches take themselves too seriously, Bielema’s freewheeling attitude is refreshing. Have we mentioned this is a team that’s on the cusp of big things after winning four of the last six last season? This is a great time to join the ride.
A trip inside the world of Les Miles would be compelling TV in any season, no question. This season at LSU is particularly interesting. The Tigers slipped a spot down the SEC standings for the fourth consecutive season, and there’s an idea that LSU is out of excuses. The defense should be back to its normal depth and talent levels, particularly with Ed Orgeron whipping the defensive line into shape. Running back Leonard Fournette is a budding star. The question, as always, is quarterback. The SEC West isn’t getting easier, and LSU will be under pressure to turn the momentum.
With the way Jim Harbaugh has attacked this offseason, perhaps a look at preseason practice in Ann Arbor will be a let down. Harbaugh is a challenging figure with the media, but he’s at home coaching football. And at Michigan, he has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, starting with a crowded quarterback position. No coach wants to deal with off-field issues, but if a player has to describe a petty theft to the head coach, we wouldn’t complain.
The Seminoles have lost one game during the last two seasons, but the offseason narrative seems to be what’s gone wrong in Tallahassee. Only months after the Jameis Winston era (Saga? Drama?) ended, Jimbo Fisher dismissed a freshman quarterback for hitting a woman in a bar, and is watching for his star running back face his own allegations of violence toward women. Major actions are already being taken internally. Fisher says his team decided as a group to ban themselves from bars and clubs. And while FSU tries to improve its off-field image, the Seminoles still fashion themselves a playoff contender — and one with a transfer quarterback (Everett Golson) trying to pick up a complicated offense in short order.
Art Briles is in an interesting place. His program is on top of the Big 12. Baylor has become something of an “it” program with an exciting offense, new stadium and eye-catching uniforms. Briles can also claim underdog status, all of it in his own Texas-spun way. And that’s just the coach. Shawn Oakman is an outspoken personality even if he doesn’t know the name any of his competitors for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. And he already owns a python and plans to own an octopus some day. LaQuan McGowan is a 400-pound touchdown machine. And Seth Russell is stepping into a quarterback position where Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty have thrived.
The Nittany Lions are going in the right direction in the second season under James Franklin. The question is how much improvement Penn State can make in one season. The two big questions are the offensive line, which happens to be coached by a man who was making his TV debut on Choppedthis time last season. The other question is Christian Hackenberg’s headspace. The frustrations boiled over at times last season. Some of that had to do with the offensive line, a new coaching staff and untested receivers. But he is a high-level NFL prospect who needs a bounce-back year.
The Bruins have 10 returning starters on offense. The 11th starter could be the top freshman quarterback prospect or the 22-year-old son of the previous coach. And have we mentioned that this is a school where a rap mogul got into a tiff with the strength coach?
The Volunteers are on the cusp of returning to relevance in the SEC, and there’s nothing quite like watching a program making a long-awaited leap. Just ask Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas last season. The Josh Dobbs-is-an-aerospace-engineering major is dangerously close to being the SEC cliché of the year, but it’s still a compelling storyline. Linebacker Derek Barnett may be the best defensive player in the conference, and coach Butch Jones is already a rock star in Knoxville.
Hugh Freeze probably isn’t in as a great a mood as he should be even though his program is in the middle of a steady ascent. For one, his program is still smarting from a 42-3 bowl loss to TCU. His projected starting quarterback is looking to “change his story” after a short, but troubled tenure at Clemson. His most explosive wide receiver is recovering from a devastating broken leg. And his top offensive tackle is embroiled in NCAA questions after an altercation with his stepfather. That's a formula for some preseason intrigue in Oxford.