The Big Lead 2015 College Football Media Survey

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The 2015 College Football season is coming. We surveyed 27 media members to gauge their thoughts about the upcoming season. Those polled included writers, reporters, radio hosts, and TV people. They were national, local and regional figures. Not scientific, but good enough for our purposes. Responses were anonymous. Here is a breakdown of the results.

Predictions For 2015

THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF

Respondents predicted their four college football playoff teams. The results are above. Every single media member picked the Buckeyes to reach the top four. Auburn was the second favorite, picked by 18 of the 27 voters. That was three times as many votes as Alabama (6 votes) received. Vegas favors the Tide right now. So did the Coaches. Boredom? Groupthink? Faith in Will Muschamp?

Nearly every respondent believed the TCU/Baylor winner would be there. They differed 16/10 on which team that would be. Outside the top four is a muddle. The most common choices were Notre Dame or USC/Oregon/UCLA surviving the Pac 12 in playoff shape.

Only one media member chose Florida State to return. Others receiving one vote were Arizona, Boise State, Louisville and Michigan State.

THE HEISMAN TROPHY

Media members came up with a consensus top five. TCU QB Trevone Boykin led with 8 votes. The Ohio State vote was split. J.T. Barrett was second with five. Buckeye RB Ezekiel Elliott, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and Georgia RB Nick Chubb. Cardale Jones, Leonard Fournette and Jeremy Johnson received votes.

BREAKOUT PLAYERS

There were many suggestions. Baylor’s junior QB Seth Russell led the way with four votes. You can still get him at 33/1 to win the Heisman. Just saying. Others receiving multiple votes were two Auburn players, the aforementioned QB Jeremy Johnson and RB Jovon Robinson, and Arizona QB Anu Solomon.

UNDERRATED AND OVERRATED

There was no consensus on underrated teams. If there was one, said team wouldn’t be underrated. Virginia Tech (3 votes) received the most. Others with multiple votes included Arkansas, UCLA, Arizona, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

Respondents were clearer about who they felt was overrated. Alabama (8 votes) and USC (7 votes) were the top choices. LSU (3 votes) came in third. Michigan State and Ole Miss also received multiple votes.

Equal numbers believing Michigan State was overrated and underrated indicates they were accurately rated.

BIGGEST UPSETS

A number of media members saw Alabama going down. Five had them losing to Tennessee (2), Texas A&M (2) and Wisconsin. A sixth just asserted Alabama would lose three games. Four surveyed thought Notre Dame would drop the ball, against either Pitt, BC, Virginia or Navy. Two people had Ohio State falling, to MSU or Va. Tech, but not missing the playoff.

Boston College was a popular spoiler pick. Two respondents had the Eagles offing Florida State. Others picked them to beat Notre Dame and Clemson. Cal was another team to watch. Two voters had the Bears beating Oregon. Another had them upsetting USC. Viva la Bear Raid.

GAMES MOST LOOKED FORWARD TO

There were two clear anticipated games. TCU vs. Baylor (7 votes) slightly edged Michigan vs. Ohio State (6 votes) for the most. The former may be a playoff elimination game. The latter brings all the narrative. Others receiving multiple votes were the Iron Bowl, Alabama vs. Georgia, Michigan State vs. Ohio State and Michigan State vs. Oregon.

The 2015 Hot Seat

YOU’RE FIRED

Media members were asked who would be the first Power 5 coach fired. Illinois’ dead man walking Tim Beckman led with 9 votes. Virginia’s Mike London was close behind with 6 votes. Miami’s Al Golden (4 votes) came in third. Kevin Wilson (2 votes) at Indiana was the only other to receive multiple votes.

BEST JOB AVAILABLE FOR 2016

Voters had a clear choice for the best job available after 2015: Miami. Eleven voters believe Al Golden will be fired and another coach could do more with the raw material. Three voters went with UCLA, on the presumption that Jim Mora returns to the NFL. Another three had Frank Beamer stepping down to open up the Virginia Tech job. Two selected Notre Dame, presuming Brian Kelly leaves for the NFL. Two picked LSU. Could it be the end of a run for Les Miles? Two thought the best job open would be South Carolina.

HOTTEST HEAD COACHING CANDIDATES

There were a number of names mentioned for hottest head coaching candidate and little consensus. Three coaches received multiple votes: Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, Utah State head coach Matt Wells and Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. No one received more than two votes.

We asked respondents to provide a number of regular season wins in the first season for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Jim McElwain at Florida. Respondents had a clear range. For Michigan…nine had the Wolverines finishing 7-5, eight had them finishing 8-4 and seven had them finishing 6-6. Three had them winning five games and missing the postseason.

For Florida… 12 of the 27 respondents had the Gators going 6-6, seven had them finishing 7-5, three had them going 8-4 and one bold outlier foresaw 9-3. Four had the Gators missing a bowl game.

BEST COACH TO WORK WITH

Media members were divided on who the best coach to work with was. New Nebraska head coach Mike Riley led the way with five votes. Jerry Kill, Pat Fitzgerald, Dabo Swinney, Rich Rodriguez and James Franklin each received two votes.

WORST COACH TO WORK WITH

Respondents were clearer on the least pleasant coaches to work with. Louisville’s Bobby Petrino led the way with six votes from 25 responses. Nick Saban finished second with four votes. Bob Stoops was the other to receive multiple votes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACH ROYAL RUMBLE

We also asked which college football coach would win a Royal Rumble. Bret Bielema (5 votes) tied with Charlie Strong (5 votes). Bench-pressing Mark Hudspeth, Steve Addazio and six-packed Larry Fedora each received multiple votes as well. We’re shocked Bill Snyder didn’t get more consideration.

LANE KIFFIN IN 2016?

Lane Kiffin has had an interesting career path, a veteran of three major head coaching jobs. Just turning 40 and coming off a successful season as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, he has an interesting future. Media members weren’t sure where he ends up in 2016. Ten saw him landing a Power 5 head coaching job. Ten saw him staying on at Alabama. Three saw him accepting a head coaching job outside the Power 5. Four saw him ending up in the NFL as an assistant.

STEVE SPURRIER IN 2016?

Steve Spurrier turned 70. While he keeps fit, age will be a narrative from now until he retires. Most media members believed he would last two (8 votes) or three (10 votes) more years. Six saw him retiring after this season. Four saw him lasting either four or five more years. No one saw him coaching longer than five.

College Football Media Stuff

BEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER

Media members were asked who the best college football writers were, with two caveats. They could not pick themselves or someone from their own outlet. Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman led the way with six votes. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples (5 votes) and Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel (4 votes) trailed just behind. Pete Thamel (SI), Ivan Maisel (ESPN), and Dan Wetzel (Yahoo) each received two votes.

BEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL TV PERSONALITY

As for college football TV personalties, ESPN’s Kirk herbstreit was the runaway winner. Fifteen of the 27 respondents selected him as their favorite. Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt and ESPN’s Rece Davis came in second with three votes. ESPN’s Brent Musburger and CBS Sports’ Rick Neuheisel received two votes.

BEST PLACE TO COVER A GAME

Respondents chose LSU’s Tiger Stadium (7 votes) as the best place to cover a game. The Rose Bowl (5 votes) came in second place. Media members love them some opportune lighting. Georgia, Notre Dame and West Point received multiple votes as well.

WORST PLACE TO COVER A GAME

Penn State (6 votes) was the clear least favorite place to cover a game. Florida State (3 votes) and Vanderbilt (3 votes) were tied for second. Michigan State (2 votes) was the only other venue to get multiple selections.

Penn State and Florida State are due to travel difficulty. Both are hikes. Both have a shortage of hotel rooms. Paraphrasing one media member, the choice is to stay two hours away or sleep in your car. Michigan State, we suspect, was due to the media amenities. Media are provided with a hot dog and drink coupon for sustenance. Before the new media center was built, interviews were conducted out of trailers.

Vanderbilt is more of a mystery. We suspect it’s some combination of small interview rooms and it being the worst place to visit for SEC-centric media members.

COMPLAINTS

We offered media members an open forum to share their biggest gripes about college football coverage. They are summarized below, in order of frequency.

Groupthink: Some variation of this was the most common complaint. Whether it’s cliques, twitter mobs or another factor, media members find the overwhelming consensus censorious and oppressive. They don’t like people being named, shamed and ostracized for unorthodox Top 25 voting.

Knee-Jerk Reactions: Media members don’t like the short-sightedness and sweeping, knee-jerk reactions week to week. In particular, respondents felt the playoff created a lot of this. They felt eliminating teams after Week 1 is silly. So are “Who’s in” projections in Week 2.

Access: Media members complained about the lack of access to coaches and players. Programs are paranoid. Coaches erect walls with coach speak. Players not being available after games makes it hard to provide context. One respondent said access made the NFL a much better sport to cover.

Anti-NCAA Rhetoric: Most media members think reform is necessary. Multiple respondents feel the virulent anti-NCAA commentary is annoying and over-the-top.

Trolling: A few respondents felt there was too much trolling and not enough coverage of actual football. Yes, Clay Travis was mentioned by name.

Biased Recruiting Coverage: Multiple respondents thought local “reporters” were adding not so “objective” coverage of recruiting.

Issues of Import

NEW YEAR’S EVE PLAYOFF GAMES

The College Football playoff is insisting on holding playoff games New Year’s Eve. We’ve written this was a terrible idea. A strong majority of media members agreed. 20 media members disliked the games being held on New Year’s Eve. 13 of them disliked it “strongly.” Five had neutral feelings. Just two of 27 respondents were in favor of the games being held that date. Of course, the reactions of those most affected by the switch will be more extreme than the general public.

NUMBER OF PLAYOFF GAMES

The College Football Playoff debuted with four teams. Many have anticipated (or wished) the playoff would move to six or to eight teams. Media members were asked for their preference. They were split. A slight plurality (11 votes) want to stay at four games. A majority want some form of expansion. Ten want to expand the playoff to eight teams. Four want a six-team plan. Two want to expand it to 16. Notably, no one wanted to return to the BCS after the playoff’s first season.

AMATEURISM

College athletics is a multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry. Its future as an “amateur” sport remains in legal flux. 24 media members responded with their thoughts on the matter. 22 (91.7 percent) support the current plans to add a cost of attendance stipend. 18 (75 percent) support players being able to receive endorsement income. 16 (66.7 percent) believe players should receive a share of school’s licensing income. However, for those hoping to see the system torn down, media members aren’t with you. Just three (12.5 percent) support players receiving direct payment.

[Photos via The Big Lead, USAT]