This off-season has been filled by three big storylines: Can Alabama three-peat as BCS champs? Can Manziel repeat his Heisman performance? And can Jadeveon Clowney do something that rhymes with peat? But there’s a lot more than that to be excited about. Here are just a few of the topics we’re interested in this upcoming season:
1. Which new coaches will look like great hires by the end of the year?
Last year, rookie coaches Bill O’Brien at Penn State and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M established themselves as potential stars by leading shaky teams to strong seasons. This year 31 college football teams have a new coach — most notably Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Mark Helfrich at Oregon, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, and the youngest coach in a BCS conference, Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. Which ones will immediately announce that their programs will be (or continue to be) major players going forward?
2. The Texas Longhorns are finally back. No, really.
Since Colt McCoy left, the Longhorns have gone 11-15 in the Big 12. If you call those “rebuilding” seasons, this is what the’ve built — a team with 19 returning starters and a potentially elite offense highlighted by QB David Ash (who finally gets it), a triple-threat RB rotation, and receivers (Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley) with both speed and hands. This year is put up or shut up for Mack Brown’s program.
3. The debut of FSU quarterback Jameis Winston.
Jameis Winston is a 6’4” 225 lb. redshirt freshman, who was a 5-star recruit can throw a 100 mph fastball, and was recently called a “rock star” by Trent Dilfer, who also declared Winston to be the future “first pick of the draft.” As a member of the FSU baseball team, Winston has his fair share of athletic highlights already, but now we’re about to see what the dual-threat quarterback can do as the successor of E.J. Manuel.
4. It’s finally time for Michigan’s Devin Gardner.
In 2010, Devin Gardner was the best quarterback in the nation coming out of high school according to Rivals.com, but he’s seen limited snaps at Michigan so far behind Denard Robinson. Now a junior, with five starts under his belt from late last season when Robinson was injured, Gardner will be the focal point of the Wolverines offense, an RGIII-style threat to throw a 50-yard bomb or take off running on any given play.
5. The Louisville Cardinals should dominate the AAC.
In case you forgot, the Big East split up, effectively making Louisville the team to beat in the newly named American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals are currently ranked No. 9 in the preseason polls and their schedule is very weak, without a single game against a ranked opponent. Teddy Bridgewater, who many NFL analysts have listed as their top collegiate quarterback, will be looking to take a team that finished 11-2 last year to another bowl victory — or beyond. (To the national title game. That’s what we’re implying.)
6. Can Notre Dame bounce back from getting whupped by ‘Bama?
The Notre Dame offense that you saw (or didn’t see) last year is completely gone with the departure of quarterback Everett Golson, who was suspended for academic misconduct., and running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick declaring for the NFL along with tight end Tyler Eifert. But their nuclear defense remains pretty intact, returning five of the front seven. The big question for the Irish is whether the inexperienced guys on offense can keep up with a schedule that includes Oklahoma and Stanford.
7. The beginning of the end of the BCS.
What’s going to happen in the final year of the BCS system? The new four-team playoff system will start in 2014, making this the last season for someone to play the spoiler (Hello, Iowa State) and for one team to become a BCS buster (sup, Northern Illinois). Who will be the last BCS victim? Better yet, who will be the last LSU-getting-into-the-title-game-with-two-losses benefactor?