Like 99.99999% of college students and most of the country, I am extremely excited for college football to begin in under 100 days! My Fighting Irish disappointed me last year, but hope springs eternal, and Michigan State (the team I was raised to love) looks to have a good season and likely challenge for the Big Ten Title. There are intriguing storylines all over the country, with big coaching changes, ferocious recruiting races, and position battles galore! In my inaugural blog post, I am listing my ten most-anticipated events or stories for college football's newest chapter this fall, admittedly with a slight bias towards Notre Dame. Hope you enjoy, and please comment if you agree or disagree!
10. Non-Conference Action: College Gameday Comes to Town!
Michigan vs. Alabama (hopefully 'Bama in a blowout). Boise State vs. Michigan State. South Carolina at Clemson. Washington at LSU. Florida at Florida State. Notre Dame vs. USC, Michigan, Oklahoma, Miami, and Navy (in Dublin!). Conference action is great, but many of the year's greatest clashes come outside of conference play. Blue bloods will clash early and often this season in college football.
9. Heisman: Who'll go to New York?
Robert Griffin III, or RGIII as he is commonly known, was one of the most surprising, yet deserving, Heisman Trophy winners of the BCS era. His electric, almost surreal play lifted a previously floundering program to 9 regular-season victories and a bowl win! This year, the favorites to take home the trophy include USC quarterback Matt Barkley (the likely top pick of the 2013 NFL Draft), his favorite receiver Robert Woods, South Carolina back Marcus Lattimore, LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu (although the Honey Badger did get burned by 'Bama in the title game), NC State cornerback David Amerson, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (lots of bias here, but he could have a monster year), and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (my least favorite player in college football, but admittedly a spark plug to the running game). Montee Ball, Landry Jones, De'Anthony Thomas, Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, Aaron Murray, and Sammy Watkins are also in the mix in what should be a close but exciting race.
8. Coaching Changes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Many big faces are returning to the sidelines after a brief hiatus. Urban Meyer joins Ohio State after the Jim Tressel scandal, and Arizona brings in Rich Rodriguez. Both coaches have had multiple 10-win seasons, and are capable of replicating that success again (although in Rich Rod's case, I doubt it). Bobby Petrino was forced to step down at Arkansas, and John L. Smith will replace him. Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn confused the nation by shifting from Auburn offensive-coordinator to head coach of... Arkansas State? Strange move by Malzahn... In other news, ex-Notre Dame head coaches Charlie Weis and Bob Davie have new gigs at Kansas and New Mexico, respectively. Talk about a step down! Other notable job changes include Bill O'Brien taking over at Penn State, Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, and Mike Leach at Washington State!
7. Parity: Tight Conference Races Galore!
In the SEC, you can make the argument that there are five top-10 teams, three in the West division alone! Any of them could get hot and go undefeated! Alabama-LSU in Death Valley could define the SEC's year. In the Big 10, Wisconsin, the defending champ, returns Heisman finalist Montee Ball, Ohio State brings in Urban Meyer, Michigan State returns most of a lockdown defense, and Michigan looks forward to Denard Robinson's swan song senior year. In the Big XII, West Virginia and TCU add spice to a conference that already has Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State! The ACC features challengers like Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, all of whom had great recruiting classes. NC State is a rising power as well. Finally, the Pac-12 has USC back from postseason ban, as well as Oregon, Stanford, Utah, and Washington. There are few guarantees this year in college football, and any team could rise to the top in these conferences!
6. SEC: Seven Straight Titles?
Like just about anyone not from the South, I despise the SEC. The cutthroat culture of recruiting, violations, and scandal, coupled with the perceived arrogance and national media attention, attract hatred from the rest of the nation. However, nobody can deny the talent, coaching, and all-around excellence that has defined this culture for the better part of this past decade. There are no signs of the conference slowing down, and last season's national title game was the perfect example of how the conference has established a stranglehold on the rest of the college football world. Will this year be the seventh in a row that the SEC brings home a crystal football? No matter the answer, the SEC will provide some great football this upcoming year, and I can't wait to watch.
5. Recruiting Races: Who are the Newcomers?
Usually, freshmen don't make too much of an impact in college football. However, as recruiting becomes more intense with each passing year, freshmen are getting more and more hype, and ofentimes, more playing time. De'Anthony Thomas, Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney, and others provided an explosive presence on the gridiron this past season. The best candidates to break out early this season include Mizzou receiver Dorial-Green-Beckham, Texas running back Jonathan Gray, Florida State defensive lineman Mario Edwards, and Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel (if he miraculously wins the job!).
4. Conference Realignment Continues
There are some head-scratchers- such as San Diego State to the Big East next year- but it's always interesting when teams change conferences. The strong got stronger; the SEC, owner of the last 6 national titles, added Texas A&M and Missouri this year. TCU and West Virginia went to the Big XII, and are primed for big seasons. More changes are coming in future seasons, but there's enough change this year to warrant a second look at the current state of the conferences. Realignment is exciting, but comes at a cost; many rivalries, such as WVU's Backyard Brawl with Pitt, fall to the wayside.
3. Great Quarterback Battles
Many quarterback stars left college football this year. RG III, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Brandon Weeden, Darron Thomas, and Kellen Moore are all gone, leaving gaping holes behind them. Some of their teams have figured out replacements, but many questions remain, none bigger than that faced by Notre Dame. Tommy Rees is the most experienced, but he turns the ball over like it's his job, and he faced misdemeanor charges for an off-campus incident. Everett Golson is a dual-threat, and my favorite for the job, but he faces competition from Andrew Hendrix and top recruit Gunner Kiel. Oregon, Texas, Boise State, Florida, and other teams have questions at QB as well, and it'll be interesting to see how these competitions play out.
2. Death of the BCS!
This is cheating, as the new playoff won't come into effect until 2014. However, a fan can sit and dream about a 4-team playoff system that will likely be implemented in two short years! I personally hate the current system; the bowls are fun, but in terms of selecting a title game, the system is poor; there is no way that the LSU-Bama rematch should've happened, and teams like the 2004 Auburn Tigers get screwed out of a chance for the title. A four-team playoff sounds like an upgrade over what we have now, and I can't wait!
1. Notre Dame's Schedule
You might be saying, "Why in the Hell are you excited for a team coming off an 8-5 season with QB troubles and various other holes to play such a rigorous schedule? To tell the truth, this schedule does scare the daylights out of me. Games at Michigan State, Oklahoma, and USC loom large on the schedule; all of these teams could be top-ten by the end of the year. In addition, there are home games (which I'm fortunate to see!) against Michigan (rematch under the lights), Miami (in Chicago, so basically a home game), Stanford, and BYU. If the Irish are to match last season's 8-win total, they have to win at least 3 of these games, and I personally would like to see improvement. However, that may not be possible with the QB situation and the departure of defensive stud Aaron Lynch. Regardless, as long as they don't get blown out, I'm sure every game will be must-see TV!