Lots of questions as a new college football season begins
Can Alabama three-peat?
Will Johnny Manziel flame out from all the attention and controversy?
Is there any conference out there with a fighting chance to steal any of the SEC's thunder?
And how sad are you to watch the Bowl Championship Series operate for the last time?
These and millions of other questions shall be answered over the next four-plus months as the nation braces for another season of college football.
It figures to be a time of contenders and pretenders; frauds and real deals; guys coming out of nowhere to become catchy national names (see: Football, Johnny); assorted upsets of the year, decade or century; magnificent performances; and viewers wondering why ESPN doesn't use subtitles when Lou Holtz speaks.
There will be a number of candidates, most of them quarterbacks, trying to win the Heisman Trophy. This year, however, South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney could become the first player who competes solely on the defensive side of the football to take home the award. (Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson, in 1997, won the Heisman but also played special teams and some wide receiver.)
So enjoy these next 15 weeks of pre-bowl college football. Let's look at some of the hot topics as we get started:
All the talk surrounding Alabama is that the team will capture its third straight national championship in January, but Nick Saban tries to ignore the rabble.
"Can we get our [players and staff] to make a commitment to a standard that is going to let them play at a high level on a consistent basis?" the Crimson Tide coach said at last month's SEC media day. "If we do that, maybe we'll give ourselves a chance, and I think that's the goal."
Which raises the question: Do you fully believe he would be satisfied if his players did their best but fell short of the title? I don't think so, either.
Break up the SEC
Alabama's thrashing of Notre Dame in last year's BCS championship game made it seven national championships in a row for SEC teams. And it doesn't appear as if the conference is showing any signs of slowing down, with six teams in the top 12 of the Associated Press preseason poll. If the Crimson Tide don't do it, perhaps two other teams - South Carolina and Georgia - could. The Gamecocks own a rock-solid defense anchored by Clowney, and the Bulldogs are led by Aaron Murray, arguably the league's best passing quarterback. The Bulldogs, however, must get through Clemson and South Carolina in the first two weeks.
Johnny's football circus
So, Johnny Manziel, go sit in the corner for the first half of Saturday's game against Rice as your punishment for, uh, what was it again? The NCAA couldn't determine whether the Texas A&M quarterback had been paid to sign autographs for various dealers. So the organization and A&M decided on the light wrist slap for "an inadvertent technical violation relating to certain autographs." That might be the end of it for now, but Manziel, who spent the off-season enjoying the celebrity he had earned as the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, must wonder whether any new evidence will spring up in the coming weeks, and whether that will affect his play.
The folks at Bovada, an online wagering site, had Manziel as the 4-1 favorite in February to win the 2013 Heisman, but dropped him to 12-1 earlier this week. The new favorite, at 9-2, is Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, followed by Clowney (13-2) and quarterbacks A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville (each 10-1). Miller led the Buckeyes to an undefeated season in 2012 while setting a school record with 3,310 total yards. He's striving for a repeat performance now that Ohio State is off NCAA probation and can play for the national championship.
'Bye to the BCS
The rule of the Bowl Championship Series seems to have gone on forever, but in fact this will be just the 16th and final season of the postseason system that people have loved to hate. The final national champion under the current structure - a mishmash of polls and computer rankings - will be decided Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., with the top two teams in the BCS standings as opponents. The routine changes next season with a selection committee choosing the top four teams. The Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl will host the 2014 semifinals on Jan. 1, with the championship game, on Jan. 12, 2015, going to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Meet Chip's successor
That would be 39-year-old Mark Helfrich, who makes his debut Saturday as Oregon's head coach now that Chip Kelly is occupying an office at Broad and Pattison. Helfrich was Kelly's offensive coordinator for four seasons, when the Ducks went 47-6 and played in a BCS bowl game in each of those years. Kelly was considered the mastermind of an offense that averaged 530 yards and 47.5 points in the last three seasons, so can Helfrich match his predecessor's originality and success? It helps that he has a pair of dynamic players returning in quarterback Marcus Mariota and all-purpose athlete De'Anthony Thomas.
Ouch, watch out, Lane
It's safe to say that Southern California's Lane Kiffin could be occupying the hottest seat in coaching this season. One could tell just that from the Twitter roasting he took Thursday night after Hawaii got off to an early 5-3 lead over the Trojans. USC rallied to win the game, 30-13, but Kiffin continues to work on trying to improve his team from last year, when it began the season as No. 1 but stumbled to a 7-6 record. He has two quarterbacks, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, and hasn't decided on a No. 1. And his starting tailback, former Penn State star Silas Redd, is still out after undergoing knee surgery in the spring.
Expatriate of the week
Darrell Hazell has made plenty of coaching stops since graduating in 1982 from Cinnaminson High School, but the lessons he's learned have prepared him for the biggest job of his 24-year career. Hazell, 49, will pace the sideline Saturday as the first African American head coach in Purdue history, making his debut at Cincinnati. Hazell, who spent the last two seasons as Kent State's head coach, believes the disciplined and demanding style he used with the Golden Flashes will turn around a Purdue team that went 22-27 in the previous four years.
Games of the Week
Georgia at Clemson, 8 p.m. Saturday, 6ABC: This opening-weekend marquee matchup pits two of the top quarterbacks in the nation - Aaron Murray of the fifth-ranked Bulldogs and Tajh Boyd of the No. 8 Tigers - in what should be a night of points, points, and more points.
Buffalo at Ohio State, noon Saturday, ESPN2: The Buckeyes are served up a softball opener, and that means Braxton Miller could roll up some numbers to sock away for his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Rice at Texas A&M, 1 p.m., ESPN: The over-under on the number of Johnny Manziel reaction shots while he sits out the first half is 318; hopefully, the cameras will show all the Aggies' touchdowns.
Nicholls State at Oregon, 4 p.m., FS1: The Ducks might score 70 or 80 in this one, but you'll get to see what Chip Kelly gave up to take over the Eagles.
Virginia Tech vs. Alabama in Atlanta, 5:30 p.m., ESPN: The Hokies and quarterback Logan Thomas have a chance to steal Saturday's headlines, but the Crimson Tide will be too methodical and effective.
Louisiana State vs. Texas Christian in Arlington, Texas, 9 p.m., ESPN: The Tigers' defense should decide this one, but watch to see whether LSU running back Jeremy Hill will play after he pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor battery.
Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2: The Wildcats, expected to make some noise in the Big Ten this year, open up with an ambitious trip to the West Coast.
The Real Top 10
1. Alabama 0-0
2. Stanford 0-0
3. South Carolina 1-0
4. Georgia 0-0
5. Clemson 0-0
6. Oregon 0-0
7. Ohio State 0-0
8. Louisville 0-0
9. Texas A&M 0-0
10. Florida 0-0
- Joe Juliano
Contact Joe Juliano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @JoeJulesInq.