If you're dreaming of a national championship but that dream doesn't entail gluing a roll of toilet paper to a box of name-brand laundry detergent, we haven't given you much hope. Among the voters in the preseason Coaches' and AP polls, 116 chose Alabama No. 1. Six chose the field.
Still, a third consecutive Crimson Tide national title isn't a forgone conclusion -- at least not yet. Sure, Alabama may demonstrate on Saturday in Atlanta against Virginia Tech that Nick Saban has built yet another remorseless yardage-gobbling machine that causes all but the best opponents to abandon hope before the bus rolls up to the stadium. But between now and then, fans of any team in America can imagine their players passing around a crystal football in Pasadena on a cool January night. As of right now, the morning of Aug. 29, 2013, you're all undefeated.
So much will happen between the first kickoff tonight and that culminating evening in the Rose Bowl. The possibilities are endless. So let's explore some of them. But I'm not going to do all the work. Your input is required.
Readers of a certain age will remember whiling away summer vacations with a stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books. For those older than 45 or younger than 25, Choose Your Own Adventure was a series of stories for elementary and middle school kids that spanned nearly every genre of literature. All the books were written in second person, making you the star. They cast the reader as a protagonist who, at various intervals, must choose the path the story takes. Do you follow that ice monster into the cave? If so, turn to page 56. If not, turn to page 63.
So let's explore the 2013 college football season. You're in control.
You begin the season this Saturday in Clemson, S.C. You're sporting a fresh new buzz cut. You have a fifth-year senior quarterback who commands your offense as well as any signal-caller you've ever had. You have a devastating tandem of sophomore tailbacks, an experienced line and capable pass-catchers. You also have a defense that must replace seven NFL draftees, and one of your best safeties is suspended. This week, you'll face an offense that averaged 41 points per game last year. Its fifth-year senior quarterback is as good as your fifth-year senior quarterback.
Next week, you'll be back between the hedges against South Carolina. Your defense will face a less dynamic offense, but your offense must face one of the most destructive defensive ends in college football history. In his last game, he knocked a guy's head clean off. OK, not really. But he did hit him very hard. The Gamecocks have beaten you three years in a row, but in the past two, you've rallied to surpass them in the SEC East standings. The schedule might not allow that this year, adding even more pressure to the outcome.
If you win your first two games, click here.
If you lose your first two games, click here.
• Buffalo at Ohio State: Sure, I'll flip on ESPN2 at noon to watch Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack chase Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. But I'll probably change the channel 21 minutes later because...
• Toledo at Florida: JP game kickoff time? Check. Fired-up opponent with rising star coach? Check. Empty seats because it's 12:21 p.m. and a MAC team is visiting? Check. Banged-up offensive line, missing best running back (Florida's Matt Jones is out with an illness) and missing starting middle linebacker (Antonio Morrison is suspended)? Check. These are the ingredients for a game that could be a lot more interesting than the home team intended when it made the schedule.
• Rice at Texas A&M: Instead of sitting out the second half, Johnny Manziel will sit out the first. Poor, poor Owls.
• Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston): Mike Gundy plans to use quarterbacks Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh against the Bulldogs. Gundy has asked first-year coordinator Mike Yurcich to make the offense run even faster than it did last season, when it averaged 78 plays a game.
• Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (in Atlanta): This looked like a more interesting matchup before the injury bug started eating the Hokies alive. Now it looks like a nice tune-up for the Crimson Tide before their Sept. 14 visit to Kyle Field.
• Washington State at Auburn: Two pioneers of the hurry-up offense (Mike Leach and Gus Malzahn) meet on the Plains. The Tigers will try to remember what it feels like to reach the end zone, while the Cougars, who ranked last in the FBS in sacks allowed with 4.75 a game in 2012, will try to keep quarterback Connor Halliday upright.
• New Mexico State at Texas: We'll get our first look at Texas quarterback David Ash running an up-tempo offense under the direction of coordinator Major Applewhite. The Longhorns need to work out any kinks this week because the BYU defense will be unforgiving in Provo in Week 2.
• LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington, Texas): Gary Patterson won't say, but Casey Pachall seems like the favorite to start at quarterback for the Horned Frogs. We know Zach Mettenberger will start for LSU, but we don't know how that offense will look in new coordinator Cam Cameron's first game.
• Boise State at Washington: This is a big one for Washington, who will debut a renovated Husky Stadium, and for Fox Sports 1, which doesn't have the greatest set of early matchups. It's also big for the Broncos, who need a win against an AQ-conference team to bust the BCS one last time.
• Northwestern at Cal: There is talk of Cal as a sexy upset pick in Week 3 against Ohio State, but it would be a pretty big upset if new coach Sonny Dykes and his Bears take out the visiting Big Ten team this week.
Beast Mode, Jr.
While Michigan fans wait to learn how many carries 240-pound mega-recruit Derrick Green will get in the Wolverines' season opener against Central Michigan, they can also count down the days until Jabrill Peppers of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic arrives in Ann Arbor. Peppers started his 2013 season by doing this to Red Bank Catholic's defense.
Fired up yet?
When ESPN had a few of its ex-coach analysts give fake pep talks for big games a few years ago, the talks didn't get me fired up for the games being previewed. They did, however, explain why those coaches now work for ESPN. Pep talks are hard. Pep talks to motivate 18- to 22-year-olds are even more difficult. That's why Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is incredibly fortunate to have a resource on his campus in the form of mechanical engineering student Nicholas Selby. If Selby gives the Yellow Jackets every pep talk this season, they should go 14-0.
On the menu
Whether you're headed to Jerry World on Saturday to watch LSU and TCU or to SMU on Friday to see if the scoreboard spontaneously combusts as a Kliff Kingsbury offense faces a June Jones and Hal Mumme offense, you need to visit Pecan Lodge in the Dallas Farmer's Market. Line up early (10 a.m.), or you might miss out on some of the best barbecue in the country. Pitmaster Justin Fourton makes near-perfect brisket, and the beef rib looks like something Fred Flintstone would order, but tastes like something you'd get a place with a white tablecloth and a $400 check.