The new season of HBO's annual Hard Knocks series premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET with its first look at 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In its 12th year, the five-episode series will provide viewers with an up-close look at the realities of an NFL training camp, as the Bucs roster will begin to take shape in a very public way. So where would the ideal Hard Knocks destinations be if HBO decided to produce a college spin-off?
Path to the Draft takes a look at the college programs that would make for appointment television if a Hard Knocks crew hit a college campus.
1. Florida Atlantic
No, the Owls don't bring much thunder when it comes to national appeal. But a camera following around new coach Lane Kiffin as he looks to revive both the FAU program and his career as a head coach would be ratings gold. Keep in mind, in just a few short months since being hired, Kiffin has given us an awkwardly timed exit from Alabama, orchestrated a bizarre promotional video that was panned for its lack of energy but viral in its reach, and of course, put his foot in his mouth a time or two. And all that's before FAU footballs have even come out of the bag. We certainly know he wouldn't need to force things for the camera -- Lane just being Lane is entertainment enough. Then there's De'Andre Johnson, the incoming Owls quarterback who has already been the subject of a documentary series on Netflix's Last Chance U. Monte Kiffin's role would be a fun subplot, too -- but let's face it, more Lane equals more viewers.
There isn't a bigger fan base with an emptier feeling in college football than Longhorn Nation. Since losing to Alabama in the 2010 BCS title game, UT is a far-from-acceptable 46-42, and new coach Tom Herman has been charged with the turnaround. Herman has a firebrand personality that will be on full display in fall camp as he tries to establish a new locker room culture. As UT beat reporters are already learning, Herman's message is truly everywhere. Does Shane Buechele maintain the starting quarterback job? Is the defense a total rebuild? The TV series could definitely explore some sensitive topics you wouldn't ever see on the Longhorn Network.
What will Ed Orgeron do with what is annually one of college football's most impressive collections of talent? First, he'll have to find a quarterback, and that task would have to be a centerpiece of at least one episode. LSU fans have seen enough Tigers teams that have championship talent everywhere on the field except where the snaps are taken. Subplot: DE Arden Key mysteriously left the team during the offseason, and is now going to miss part, if not all, of camp while recovering from shoulder surgery. What can LSU expect from one of the most promising draft prospects in the college ranks, and will there be any rust on his game?
4. USC and UCLA
Who says the show can't focus on two schools, and in particular, two quarterbacks? USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen are two of the most talented passers in the game, but their career arrows aren't pointed in the same direction. Darnold became the darling of the Trojans' late-season surge last year, and returns this fall as a redshirt sophomore already saddled with Heisman Trophy chatter. Rosen's sophomore season ended with shoulder surgery, although he was back for spring drills with a new perspective on the game. It would take two camera crews and some overtime to pull off a Hard Knocks: L.A. Quarterbacks series, but who wouldn't tune in?
Returning Heisman Trophy winners carry a circus-like atmosphere in college football, like it or not, and things won't be any different around Louisville's Lamar Jackson. He'll be back for his junior season, and what he'll do for an encore performance will captivate the nation. Will he embrace the spotlight, or recoil from it? A pressing issue for coach Bobby Petrino is establishing new offensive weapons around his star player, because Jackson has lost two key receivers, his tight end and his running back from a year ago. Petrino has also pledged to help Jackson's development as an NFL prospect by putting a pro-style twist on the UL offense, a subject into which Hard Knocks would surely delve.
It's now Year Three under Jim Harbaugh, and after coming within a Wolverine's whisker of a Big Ten title last year, excitement around Michigan football hasn't been this high in a while. Frustration from the coaching staff could run high, given the huge senior class UM just lost and the inexperienced players that will be tasked as replacements. Harbaugh's personality is a walking ratings boon, although an all-access camera crew at Michigan fall camp won't be happening anytime soon. Not from a coach who went the entire preseason in 2015 without doing a single media interview.
New coach P.J. Fleck admits he "isn't for everyone." Critics think he's too gimmicky. Supporters think he's a genius. How does a coach who was highly successful at Western Michigan help Minnesota compete for Big Ten titles? He's only 36 years old, so experience won't get him there. But players swear by him, and that's where it has to begin for incoming coaches.