It's just the second week of the season, but there are all kinds of "big" storylines in college football.
So when you're doing "5 Burning Questions" at Crystal Ball Run, sometimes it's hard to stick with just five, especially when you get a great guest like SEC blogger Jerry Hinnen.
Hinnen has made a name for himself at CBSSports.com and he remains a huge Auburn fan.
With the SEC right in the middle of the current expansion discussions, and let's be honest, the SEC is in the middle of about every college football conversation, who better to speak with than Jerry to get his take on some big topics.
1. Last year, the expansion discussion was relegated mainly to the off-season. Now, because of Texas A&M, it has invaded the regular season discussion. How big of a shakeup do you think we are in for when it comes to the eventual make up of conference affiliations, and what is your prediction for how long it will take?
I'm no doubt in the minority on this one, but what I've written — and continue to believe — is that while we've now reached the era of the 14-team conference, we're still a few years away from the 16-team "superconferences" that nearly everyone else sees on the immediate horizon. It's not too tough for the SEC/Pac-12/Big Ten power brokers to find one or two additional schools that can provide enough value to offset having to split revenues by an extra 13th and then 14th team, but finding a 15th and then 16th school with that kind of value is much, much more difficult.
The one school that might change that equation is Texas. If Oklahoma bolts for the Pac-12 and the Longhorns follow suit — with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in tow — you might see 16-team responses from the SEC and Big Ten. But if Texas decides to go independent or the Big 12 somehow holds together, I think the era of the superconferences will remain several years in the future.
2. There are still a few obstacles in the way of Texas A&M officially joining the SEC, but once it happens it seems pretty obvious Mike Slive is going to look for at least one more addition (if not three more). Who are the most likely additions and why?
Writing for a West Virginia audience that I'm guessing would love to see their Mountaineers get an SEC invitation, I wish I could provide more encouragement. But while I can't rule it out entirely (who can rule anything out entirely in this mess?), the chatter is that the SEC is looking for television markets and a broader recruiting base first and foremost ... and for all their success, I'm not sure the Mountaineers bring enough to the table on either of those fronts. My barely-educated guess is that the first two teams the SEC will look at will be Missouri (with their outstanding academics and St. Louis/Kansas City ties) and N.C. State (with their Raleigh market and fertile N.C. recruiting grounds).
3. From Cam Newton to Terrelle Pryor and North Carolina to Miami, the college football world has taken a beating because of alleged wrongdoings that now have many demanding some form of payment to the players. Is this really a can that colleges and universities want to open and what could be the fall out of doing so (or not doing so)?
Not in terms of actual pay-to-play salaries, it doesn't; at that point, the hypocrisy of calling them "college" football teams would be so staggering we'd have to move the whole kit-and-caboodle off-campus and call it the NFL D-League. But the furor over full cost-of-attendance scholarships is maybe a bit overblown; while the NCAA's mid-major rank-and-file won't like it, there aren't too many recruits in football or basketball that aren't already choosing the wealthy BCS school over the relatively impoverished mid-major. I think that in the end, full-cost scholarships arrive and the gap between the haves and have-nots gets wider ... but doesn't ultimately crack the NCAA in two, as many have predicted.
4. I am going to assume that you love college football, just like millions of other fans of the game. There is a lot to love and a lot of good things happening with college football. But what is the biggest problem facing the game today?
Frankly, I think college football's problems are vastly outweighed by its successes at this point; the standard of play has never been better, the big-money elite-level bowls are more accessible than they've ever been to teams that deserve them, and for all the BCS's flaws it gives us a worthy champion far more often than not. (Though the injustice of an undefeated team like TCU not even getting a shot at a crystal football still rankles.) College football's biggest problem in my opinion is that it's giving up many of the things that make it college football in favor of becoming a mere NFL-lite. Whether it's corporate-driven uniform stunts, blaring advertising and canned top-40 music over the marching bands and cheerleaders, or the abandonment of century-old rivalries just to make a few more TV bucks, college football is managed more like professional football than ever ... and losing the pro-alternative, on-campus charm that's made it such a valuable commodity in the first place. If 20 years from now you can't tell the college game from the pros, who's going to choose the former over the real thing?
5. With the world of covering college football (and any news for that matter) changing because of ESPN, Yahoo! Sports and CBSSports.com (and Crystal Ball Run), can you tell us how this has impacted your approach to daily coverage and how you choose to do a story?
That's a tough question for me personally, because I've only been at CBSSports.com since last August — the current media environment is the only one in which I've ever covered college football. (As something other than a fan, anyway.) I would say that the biggest change I see in the way the sport is being covered today is that it's no longer just about a handful of columnists and reporters writing stories from game sites and filling out ballots, and that being the end of things. It's also now about acknowledging the emotional reactions of your common fan, about breaking games down further statistically than you can with a simple box score, about providing coverage for fans of non-AQ teams outside the radar, about sharing, say, the UConn backup quarterback's trick-shot YouTube video because that's college football, too. The first-hand reporting and ballots aren't going anywhere, but what we're doing at CBSSports.com — and what's happening at a lot of places, like the ones you mentioned — is combining those elements with a much richer package of coverage that lets readers explore the sport from whatever angle they want ... not just the one from the press-box.
Follow Tom Perry on Twitter @eyeandeer.
Follow Jerry Hinnen on Twitter @WBE_Jerry