College football's 10 biggest issues for 2012

Pat Forde

Now that Shark Week is over, it's time for College Football List Week. Every day this week, Pat Forde will provide a list previewing some element of the 2012 season. The final installment is Forde's 10 most pressing issues for this fall:1. How does the new map work out?

Missouri and Texas A&M are now in the Southeastern Conference, swelling its membership to 14. West Virginia makes the long commute to join the Big 12, along with Texas Christian. How do the transitions go, on the field and off? Is biggest still best for the SEC? Does the Big 12 embrace having a lone member thousands of miles outside its geographic footprint? And if you think these changes are jarring, wait until 2013 when realignment really takes hold.

2. If SEC hegemony continues, is it a bad thing? The league stands a solid chance of winning a seventh straight national championship, by far the longest streak for one conference in history. With dominance can come indifference in other parts of the country – do fans elsewhere stop caring quite as much about college football if it becomes too centralized in one region? Last year there was significant backlash to the all-SEC championship matchup of LSU and Alabama, an indication of national SEC fatigue. For the good of the sport it would probably be better if someone outside of Dixie wins the title this year – but some intrepid team needs to step up and actually do it.     

3. Then again, if USC wins it all, is it a bad thing?

When the Trojans were hit with major NCAA sanctions in 2010, some cried that it would be a decade or more before they were able to compete at the highest level again. Yeah. Two years later, they're ranked preseason No. 1. If USC claims the crystal football, won't the subliminal message to powerhouse programs be that cheating is worth the risk of getting caught, because even severe penalties are survivable?

4. Is Penn State done as a national power?

Of course, USC's sanctions now look pretty light compared to the unprecedented haymaker the NCAA threw at the Nittany Lions last month. Given the four-year bowl ban, the $60 million fine, the scholarship cuts and the stigma of Jerry Sandusky, it's worth wondering whether one of the game's flagship programs will ever recover. Going forward without Joe Paterno is one thing; going forward without players and without hope is another entirely.

5. Troublemaking talent

At least six players with All-American credentials or potential have been suspended or dismissed from their teams this summer: Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu at LSU; 2010 BCS Championship Game offensive MVP Michael Dyer at Auburn and Arkansas State; cornerback and kick returner Greg Reid at Florida State; safety Ray-Ray Armstrong at Miami; running back Isaiah Crowell at Georgia; and wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers at Tennessee. It's a shame, but good riddance to young guys who could not follow the rules or the law and squandered great opportunities. The game is big enough and strong enough to go on without them.

6. Is the SEC's outlaw image making a comeback?

Commissioner Mike Slive has made progress in sweeping some of the dirt out of his league, but we might be in the midst of a backslide. Mississippi State acknowledged Thursday that the NCAA and the school are investigating a "recruiting irregularity," which sources told Yahoo! Sports is related to the sudden resignation of receivers coach Angelo Mirando this week. Prized Auburn running back recruit Jovon Robinson will not attend the school this year because of an allegedly bogus academic transcript. And of the six bad boys listed in the category above, four played at SEC schools.

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7. How serious are the allegations against Miami and Oregon, and how much worse does it get at North Carolina?

Not all the problems are in the SEC, though. Sometime this fall Oregon should get a notice of allegations from NCAA enforcement. Miami remains under NCAA investigation. And the academic embarrassments keep coming at North Carolina, which is under a postseason ban this fall already. Those storylines will continue to overshadow some of what happens on the field.

8. Officiating

Always an issue in college football. Hopefully there are few instances in which conference offices issue Monday statements acknowledging officiating errors the previous Saturday. Especially ones that alter the outcome of a game.

9. Social Media: image control vs. free speech

More football programs seem intent on either banning their players from Twitter or attempting to censor what they say there, which is too bad. The better approach is educating them on the perils and pitfalls of impulsive public commentary on all things related to the life of a college football star – then stepping back and allowing the players to either get it right or learn the hard way.

10. Seriously, enough with the uniforms

The football fashion fetish of multiple uniforms for seemingly every school – many of them increasingly more garish – has gotten out of hand. We reached the tipping point when Central Michigan unveiled new unis that come in eight different combinations, with maroon, gold, white and black tops and bottoms. Yes, Central Michigan. Then Notre Dame piled on by announcing that it will wear helmets against Miami that are gold on one side and navy blue on the other. Just stop it.

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