Welcome to the conference championship weekend — and early offseason — of the Three by Three! Allow me to be your college football sherpa, guiding you through the intrigue of the sport each week. I will try to avoid just covering the big obvious stuff, but sometimes the transfer portal opening up IS the most interesting thing, you know?
Each week I will highlight three interesting storylines each from the Missouri program, in the SEC, and around the nation. Let’s get to it.
Missouri — Off Week
1.) Portal Exits
The transfer portal does not officially open to everyone until December 4th, although college football’s free agency season has already had a soft launch. The Tigers have lost one major contributor each of the past two off seasons — Dominic Lovett last year, Mekhi Wingo the year before that. I hope the team does not lose any players of that caliber, but with the combination of winning, strong clubhouse culture, and functioning NIL, I think Mizzou’s two-deep will stay largely intact. Guard EJ Ndoma-Ogar has already declared his intention to leave. While he might have figured into the interior rotation next year, the seller’s market of the offensive line transfer portal was too good to pass up.
2.) Coaching Staff Continuity
Another aspect that can help the Tigers keep contributors in the fold is staff continuity. I will be paying close attention to that during these chaotic December carousel weeks. A winning staff will be an attractive menu for athletic departments around the country, so some attrition will be expected. Blake Baker is a Tulane grad, and has had two strong years here at Missouri rebuilding his career after being demoted at Miami. It almost makes too much sense to see him patrolling the Green Wave sideline next year if Willie Fritz is hired away. Curtis Luper and Ryan Peoples are position coaches who have received a ton of recognition for their work. It will hurt to lose staffers, but it will be a celebration for the incredible season they put together.
3.) Portal Acquisitions
Oh boy. As a college football nerd, I can’t wait to see who the Tigers offer and land in the portal. Drinkwitz has done some incredibly savvy roster building through the portal, and I don’t see any reason that would not be the case again this year. Portal shopping combines all the best elements of college football, recruiting, and “Madden dynasty” mode. Columbia should be one of the best destinations in the country for running backs, and I think the Tigers will add contributors on defense too, especially corner. It is too early to start breaking down names, but I can’t wait to spend my December holiday shopping for some new starters. Might I suggest starting with this piece by Parker?
In the SEC
1.) Alabama vs Georgia, 3 PM on CBS
I am very excited for another clash between these two titans. Of course, Georgia’s last loss was in this game to Alabama two years ago, when Bryce Young caught fire to roast the Dawgs a month before their eventual national title. Jalen Milroe cannot match Bryce as a pocket passer, but he far exceeds him as a runner, and is arguably his peer as a creator and scrambler. He has been improving each week out, and I am excited to see if his improvisational brilliance can task Georgia’s ferocious defense.
2.) Portal Stampedes
Every Power Five team is going to lose a wave of players every year. The question is, are you losing guys you are upset to lose to peer (or better) programs, or are you only losing depth chart casualties or misevaluated recruits to lower levels? The former is an insight into the staff and culture inside a program. I am interested to see which SEC teams have trouble keeping their roster together — we already saw Arkansas starting LB Chris Paul Jr and Vanderbilt QB AJ Swann announce. New coaching staffs at Texas A&M and Mississippi State will be working furiosuly to keep important players in the fold. For instance, we saw an exodus out of South Carolina last year, and it clearly hurt their competitive depth this season. Will any other SEC programs experience a similar talent drain this month?
3.) Quarterback Carousel
The most fun transfer portal subplot is the quarterback carousel, which will really start spinning in God’s own conference pretty soon. Missouri is one of the lucky ones to be bringing back an excellent college quarterback, but over half of the league could be looking for new signal callers. Will AJ Swann and Will Rogers find greener pastures? Will Tennessee and LSU turn things over to their five-star youngsters, or will they bolster their rooms with veteran additions? Is there a Jayden Daniels lurking, someone coming from outside of the footprint to shake up the league – maybe Riley Leonard or Grayson McCall?
Around the Nation
1.) Oregon vs Washington — 7 PM Friday on ABC
We have long since passed the point of Pac-12 playoff cannibalism, as the winner of this game is assured a spot in the tournament. This matchup reminds me a bit of last season’s Big 12 championship – Washington, like TCU, is limping to the finish line of a perfect season, escaping with a few victories by a razor thin margin, and perhaps with their best football having been played in October. Like TCU with Kansas State, Washington will take on an Oregon team that they defeated narrowly in the middle of the season. The Big 12 recipe gave us an instant classic, and I think we could be in store for more magic Friday night.
2.) Soap Operas
Do you like your sports with a side of spicy storylines? This weekend has the potential to have people deep in their feelings. In the Big Ten, you have new commissioner Tony Petitti on the verge of handing a championship trophy to Jim Harbaugh, the man he just suspended prematurely in the Night of A Thousand Blog Posts. The Big 12 might be won by Texas as they finally exit, and Florida State might win the league they have been openly lobbying to leave for a few years now. Things might get awkward across the award stages this weekend, is what I am saying.
3.) Appalachian State vs Troy — 3 PM on ESPN
Last September, Troy lost on a Hail Mary on the final play against Appalachian State, who was hosting College Gameday, in a play now known as “The Miracle on the Mountain II.” Since then, the Trojans have only lost twice – to purple powerhouses Kansas State and James Madison. They will have a chance to bookend this run by vanquishing the ‘Neers in the Sun Belt title game, and will be favored to do so. Troy is still excellent on defense, and has taken a big step forward on offense this year, in part thanks to Kentucky transfer Chris Lewis, an explosive receiver and one of the best jump-ball merchants in the game. App has their own high-powered passing attack, and I think this one should be pretty entertaining.