<
>

Like chaos? Then 2015 may be right for you

As the season nears, it's time to check your chaos tolerance.

If you're the type of person who sees the preseason rankings, nods in approval and hopes the polls prove prophetic, you might want to spend the next four months hiking the Andes. If you're the type of person who yearns for bedlam (and not just in Norman or Stillwater), settle in and get comfortable.

The 2015 season has all the ingredients to be low on guarantees and high on drama.

Start with the lack of proven quarterbacks. Only four of the top 10 teams in the preseason AP poll return starting quarterbacks from 2014 (Ohio State, TCU, Michigan State and USC). Although some replacements look more than capable of leading a playoff push -- Auburn's Jeremy Johnson and Baylor's Seth Russell jump out -- several purported title contenders could be pinning their hopes on youth (Alabama) or transfers (Oregon, Florida State, Georgia) at the game's most important position.

Even some darkhorse playoff hopefuls that return most of their firepower -- Notre Dame, UCLA, LSU, Ole Miss -- face quarterback uncertainty entering the season. As colleague Brad Edwards recently noted, eight teams in the Top 25 lack a quarterback with more than two starts against FBS opposition.

TCU has no such concerns with Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin and a collection of speed threats at his disposal. But coach Gary Patterson's defensive wizardry will be tested as the Frogs must replace six starters, including prolific linebacker Paul Dawson. Alabama and Auburn each return just four offensive starters from teams that combined for Iron Bowl records in points (99) and yards (1,169) last year. Florida State also returns just four starters on offense, and just one (left tackle Roderick Johnson) along the line.

"Everybody's got questions," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Ohio State maybe doesn't have as many, but you start going down the list -- [Nos.] 2, 3, 4 and on and on -- and everyone's got questions."

Ohio State is unquestionably the most complete team on paper entering the season. The Buckeyes aren't without challenges; they must sort out who starts at quarterback and overcome an opener against Virginia Tech, the only team to beat them last season, without four players, including star defensive end Joey Bosa, who are suspended due to either marijuana or academics, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad. But Urban Meyer's team enters the season with more championship-type ingredients than anyone. Good luck finding many other teams that can feel completely at ease about their quarterback, their offensive line and their defensive line.

One of those contenders also resides in the Big Ten: Michigan State. Connor Cook is 23-3 as the Spartans' starter and could secure his place as the best quarterback in team history with another double-digit-win season. The Spartans' veteran-heavy defensive line could rival the one coach Mark Dantonio had at Ohio State in 2002, when the Buckeyes won a national title. The offensive line features All-America candidates in tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen.

"If you have those three components, you've got a great chance," Dantonio said. "It gives us an edge. It sets the table for our football team. It gives us something to lean on, stand on, say, 'OK, this is what we do know.'"

Most don't have that luxury. For some, if there aren't pressing personnel questions, there are scheduling obstacles.

Alabama could be overdue for a national title, but the Tide must navigate a neutral-site opener against Wisconsin as well as trips to Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and a crossover test at Georgia, which last played Alabama in the regular season in 2008. Nick Saban's team faces four teams coming off open weeks, while no other SEC team faces more than two.

USC's long-awaited return to glory could be sidetracked by a slate featuring Pac-12 division crossovers against Stanford (home) and Oregon (road), trips to Notre Dame and Arizona State, and home tests against Arizona, Utah and UCLA. The Trojans could face seven or eight ranked teams -- not a great draw for a team still not quite over the hump with its roster depth.

Taxing schedules could trip up teams like Georgia (division crossovers with Auburn and Alabama and a trip to Georgia Tech), Georgia Tech (division crossovers against Florida State and Clemson), and Arkansas (road trips to Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Tennessee, plus a neutral-site game against Texas A&M).

All these factors could make the 2015 season feel more like Royal Rumble than WrestleMania -- without the script, of course. My unscientific hypothesis is that most college football fans will revel in the madness.

Most of you fans like drama, at least in moderation. You celebrate the weeks where upsets pop up like thunderstorms, and quickly forget those that follow the oddsmakers' scripts.

But here's the ultimate test: How did you feel about the 2007 season? LSU fans, you're excused because we know the answer. But for the rest, did you view that season, especially the final few weeks, as a wild ride of endless entertainment, or a detour into murky messiness? It's OK to say both, but you have to lean one way or the other.

For those who need a refresher, 2007 was madness. South Florida rose to No. 2 in Week 8, only to be replaced by Boston College at No. 2 in Week 9. Other nontraditional brands like Kansas, Missouri and West Virginia also cracked the top 3 of the BCS standings. The BCS standings after Week 13 looked like this: No. 1 Missouri, No. 2 West Virginia, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Kansas, No. 6 Virginia Tech, No. 7 LSU.

A week later, they looked like this: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Missouri, No. 7 USC.

Just imagine if there had been a playoff and a selection committee that year. The committee had it pretty easy in its first go-round, and came out looking sharp after Ohio State won the national title.

There should be more angst in the decision room this year. A two-loss team won it all in 2007, and a two-loss playoff participant certainly seems possible this season.

So sit back, relax and enjoy what should be a wild ride this season. Or find a good hiding place.