The college football season kicks off in a little more than three weeks, leading off with North Carolina taking on South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. on Sept. 3.
Right now, Ohio State — last season’s national champion — leads the USA Today Coaches Poll (the only ranking available at this point) with a commanding 62 votes. Texas Christian University and Alabama are at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.
But, aside from bragging rights, these preseason rankings aren’t meaningful predictors.
Although last year’s College Football Playoff, a four-team bracket system that started last season, was filled out with teams from the AP preseason top six, these early polls aren’t a good indicator of success once games begin.
The 2013 preseason polls, for instance, didn’t include Florida State or Auburn in the top 10. They both appeared in the BCS National championship later that season. In 2012, only four of the preseason top 10 held their spots in the final poll.
Rather than focus on rankings, it’s useful to look at Forbes’ most valuable college football programs ranking.
The top four teams in the magazine’s 2014 list were Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama. All three are worth more than $105 million, according to its calculations.
It’s unclear how much those teams are making individually from selling apparel every year (ESPN says this market generates $4.6 billion annually), but there certainly is a connection between a school’s overall value and its merchandise sales.
Those four aforementioned teams sold more apparel than any other school in 2013, and Texas held the No. 1 spot for the eighth straight year.
Another storyline to keep an eye on is the antitrust case against the National College Athletic Association, which aims to give schools the right to pay their athletes.
Last year, a federal judge ruled in favor of the players and granted schools the right to deposit $5,000 a year into trust funds for athletes that they can access after graduation.
Before this ruling, the NCAA explicitly banned this practice in order to uphold its so-called tradition of amateurism.
Now, the NCAA is appealing the ruling, and it just got its request for a stay of the injunction from last year’s case approved by a panel of federal appellate judges, Vice Sports’ Patrick Hruby writes.
As a result, some players that were going to get paid this year will have to wait until the appellate court rules on the NCAA’s appeal.
It’s unclear when that will happen, the New York Times says, but there’s also the case of Northwestern football players attempting to unionize to keep an eye on too.
Last year, a National Labor Relations Board regional director ruled that Northwestern players could unionize, and now that decision is being appealed to the entire board. The Chicago Tribune says we can expect a decision by the end of August.
For story ideas, check out where your team stands in the preseason rankings. Try to figure out how much merchandise they’re selling, and how athletes feel about the NCAA antitrust case. Also, it’s always smart to check up on new athletic construction, like Kansas State’s brand new $65 million football complex.