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Biggest storylines of college football offseason
2:51 | College Football
Biggest storylines of college football offseason
SI.com Staff
Wednesday May 27th, 2015

Our long national nightmare is nearly over. Tuesday marked 100 days until the 2015 college football season kicks off. In just 99 more revolutions of the Earth, 16 games will kick off the FBS season, beginning a glorious stretch through January of nearly constant football.

To celebrate the impending season, SI.com’s college football staff has assembled 100 reasons to get excited. Click on the following links for reasons 100-76, 50-26 and 25-1, and read below for reasons 75-51.

75. The Devontae Booker effect at Utah

Some of the Utes’ best receivers are gone, which means the offense will revolve even more around Booker. The Pac-12’s second-leading rusher last year (he totaled 1,512 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns), Booker came to Utah via the juco route and sat out 2013 because of academic issues. The 5’11”, 212-pounder led the Utes’ resurgence in ’14 and has been vocal about his goals for this fall: Rush for 2,000 yards and win the Heisman. Ambitious much? — Lindsay Schnell

74. John Chavis takes over Texas A&M’s defense

Texas A&M has established itself as one of the nation’s most explosive offensive teams under coach Kevin Sumlin, but shoddy play on the other side of the ball has prevented the Aggies from breaking through in the SEC West. Chavis will be tasked with upgrading an A&M unit that ranked 97th and 109th, respectively, in yards per play allowed in 2014 and ’13. Chavis’s lawsuit against his former employer, LSU, has generated headlines this off-season, but the focus should shift back to The Chief’s impact on the Aggies’ defense this fall. He has to have their Nov. 28 date in Baton Rouge circled on his calendar. You should, too. — Chris Johnson

73. Derek Mason's total overhaul at Vanderbilt

There’s no sugarcoating Mason’s first season at Vanderbilt: It was dismal. The Commodores started four different quarterbacks and finished with the SEC’s worst offense and defense. After winning just three games, Mason immediately fired his both first-year coordinators. Now the former Stanford assistant is running his own defense, and he hired Wisconsin’s Andy Ludwig to head up the offense. Can Mason turn around a program with 17 returning starters, or will the anchor fall even deeper? — Zac Ellis

72. Tennessee’s a contender in the SEC?

The Volunteers won their first bowl game in January—a 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl—since Phillip Fulmer was the program’s head coach. The victory marked win No. 7 in Butch Jones’s second season. But perhaps more importantly, it guaranteed higher expectations for 2015, when Tennessee brings back 17 starters in a wide-open SEC East. Are the Vols ready to contend, or do they still need a few more bricks? — ZE

71. Christian McCaffrey’s breakout at Stanford

McCaffery arrived in Palo Alto last year as one of the most highly regarded recruits in Stanford’s 2014 class. The son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffery scored on his first touch, a 52-yard reception in the season-opener against UC Davis. However, McCaffery was limited to only 42 carries and 17 receptions even though his explosiveness and breakaway speed likely could have helped a Stanford offense that finished seventh in the Pac-12 in yards per play. After raising eyebrows with his performance this spring, McCaffery looks poised to make the proverbial sophomore leap. — CJ

70. NC State's possible breakthrough

Florida State and Clemson have dominated the ACC Atlantic in recent years, and both teams will be expected again to finish at the top of the division this season. But the Wolfpack should not be overlooked. After struggling in coach Dave Doeren’s first season, NC State won eight games in 2014. The Wolfpack could take another step forward thanks to a manageable schedule and a strong group of returnees. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett and a strong group of running backs featuring Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes will buoy the offense, while former four-star recruits Darian Roseboro and Kentavius Street will help fortify a defense that returns only five starters. — CJ

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

69. Jared Goff, Cal should put on aerial show

The prize quarterback of the way-too-early NFL mock drafts, Goff could be the nation's top signal-caller by year's end. Operating in his third season in Sonny Dykes' quick-strike "Air Raid" offense, Goff threw for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns last season. With a host of weapons that include potential NFL draft picks Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs, Goff may put on a show that is too entertaining to ignore. — Gabriel Baumgaertner

68. Jim McElwain’s attempts to fix Florida’s offense

It’s no secret the Gators’ offense was simply dreadful under Will Muschamp. Florida ranked 94th nationally in yards per play in 2014 (5.24) and 110th in the same category in ’13 (4.79). So, can new coach McElwain spark a renaissance? That’s a total unknown—and one of the most intriguing storylines in the SEC East heading into the fall. The biggest question mark remains at quarterback, as redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris both continue to vie for the starting job. — Ben Glicksman

67. Brent Venables’s chance to earn his money/a head coaching job

The Clemson defensive coordinator’s unit led the nation in yards allowed per play last year but returns just four starters, including zero from its defensive line. So how will Venables maintain the Tigers’ elite success? Shaq Lawson appears ready to emerge as a star at defensive end while Mackensie Alexander anchors the secondary. The talent is there for Clemson to shut down opposing offenses again; it’ll be up to Venables to mold and develop that talent to mask any inexperience. — Colin Becht

66. Better games than this:

We can’t let this happen again. We just can’t. — ZE

65. Mike Bobo takes over at Colorado State

The Rams were one of the best teams no one talked about last season, going 10-3 behind a third-round NFL draft pick at quarterback (Garrett Grayson), a Biletnikoff Award finalist at receiver (Rashard Higgins) and a head coach poised to accept a bigger job (McElwain). While Grayson and McElwain have moved on, Colorado State still has the pieces to compete for the Group of Five’s premium bowl berth. Bobo developed a reputation for going to the air too often while he was the offensive coordinator at Georgia, but that approach may prove sound when Higgins is torching defenders in the open field. – BG

64. Boise State’s loaded defense has the Broncos circling New Year’s

Why are the Broncos so highly regarded when they lose their quarterback, Grant Hedrick, and star running back, Jay Ajayi? Because nearly every other contributor from last year’s Fiesta Bowl championship squad returns, including eight starters from an elite defense. Boise State allowed just five yards per play last season led by defensive end Kamalei Correa (19 tackles for loss, 12 sacks), linebacker Tanner Vallejo (100 tackles, 16.5 for loss) and safety Darian Thompson (71 tackles, seven interceptions). That lights-out defense means an undefeated season is definitely possible. — CB

College Football
The elite recruiter: How P.J. Fleck is revolutionizing Western Michigan

63. P.J. Fleck’s “elite” rebuild at Western Michigan continues

It's year three of Fleck's tenure at Western Michigan, and the relentlessly enthusiastic head coach is prepared to make his mark. After turning the Broncos from 1-11 in his opening season to 8-5 in his second campaign, Fleck's Western Michigan squad is considered a MAC favorite entering 2015. After poaching recruits from the Big Ten over his last two recruiting cycles, Fleck's mantra of "Row the Boat" could send Western Michigan sailing toward its first ever bowl victory. — GB

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4:54 | College Football
Post-spring college football QB index

62. Finally getting to see what Matt Johnson can do in Dino Babers’s offense

He was supposed to be the best player in the conference last season, but Matt Johnson lost 2014 to a hip injury. After missing a season that was expected to put him on NFL draft boards, Johnson enters ’15 as one of the nation's most tantalizing comeback stories. Under the tutelage of head coach Dino Babers, noted for his development of New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois, Johnson should improve on his standout ’13 season, in which he tossed 25 touchdowns. — GB

61. KeiVarae Russell’s return from his academic ban

College Football
Notre Dame's KeiVarae Russell back chasing success after academic ban

At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, what we have here is a legitimately good kid who made a legitimate dumb mistake—and then paid his penance in order to return and redeem himself with a possible All-America season and playoff run. Strictly as a football matter, Russell reinforces a weaker spot on a Notre Dame defense that swooned badly at the end of 2014 but returns 10 starters. It’s a unit heavier on depth than singular playmakers, Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day aside. But Russell, with 26 starts in his first two years, could be a difference-maker on the back end of the defense. — Brian Hamilton

60. Navy begins new era in the AAC

After years as an independent—and some successful ones at that—the Midshipmen head for conference stability under the winningest coach in program history (Ken Niumatalolo, 57-35). Navy went to 11 bowl games in the last 12 years, beat Notre Dame three times in the last eight seasons and should easily garner respectability by joining a league. Oh, and don’t worry, their move to a conference won’t end one of the best annual games—Navy is scheduled to play the Fighting Irish on Oct. 10. — LS

59. Can Western Kentucky be this year’s Marshall?

The only team to beat Marshall last year hopes to take down the Thundering Herd again, and this time win the Conference USA as well. The Hilltoppers definitely have the offense to do it. Quarterback Brandon Doughty led the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns and was third in efficiency last year. He’ll be supported by a pair of running backs who combined for over 2,000 yards on the ground in 2014. So what are Western Kentucky’s biggest obstacles? Marshall, of course, and a porous pass defense that allowed 8.9 yards per attempt last year. — CB

58. Marshall starts anew without Rakeem Cato

Losing one of the nation's most prolific quarterbacks isn't easy. But for a team that returns three running backs who combined for 30 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards, the transition is a little smoother. Cato's successor hasn't been anointed yet, but it's unlikely coach Doc Holliday will shy away from the vertical attack that made Cato so successful. Either way, the Thundering Herd will be a team to note. — GB

57. Baylor’s LaQuan McGowan as the biggest pass-catching target

This one is a pretty easy sell. McGowan stands at 6’7” and 410 pounds. He will enter the 2015 season as one of the Bears’ tight ends. He has the type of frame you might create in a video game, only he’s real, and he also just so happens to be crazy athletic. Watch his touchdown from the Cotton Bowl and try not to get pumped for September. — BG

56. Laquon Treadwell’s return

Last year, Treadwell’s gruesome leg injury in a Nov. 1 loss to Auburn halted a stellar season for the wide receiver. Treadwell had caught 48 balls for 632 yards and five touchdowns up to that point, and Ole Miss’ offense wasn’t the same without him. Treadwell didn’t practice this spring, but he’s already running (and doing flips on a trampoline) and is slated to be ready for fall camp. He could reprise his role as one of the SEC’s most explosive receivers in an offense that returns eight other starters. — ZE

College Football
The Riley Factor: Mike Riley and the new-look state of Nebraska football

55. Mike Riley’s debut season in Lincoln

After turning down numerous offers to jump to traditional powers, the longtime Oregon State head coach is finally at a program with every resource imaginable. Riley’s peers consider him one of the best offensive minds in college football, and his old-school, pro-style system should work well in the Big Ten as he tries to lead Nebraska to its first conference title since 1999. — LS

54. Minnesota’s follow-up to 2014’s breakthrough

Too often, Minnesota’s pursuits of perennial Big Ten contention closely resemble what happens after falling into an ice fishing hole: a furious swim up and relentless banging on thick ice that won’t give way. The Gophers have reached eight victories in consecutive years after not winning that many games since 2002. Now comes the really difficult part for a program that hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967: achieving a higher level. Minnesota loses a plowhorse running back in David Cobb, but quarterback Mitch Leidner returns, as do three offensive line starters and an experienced and talented secondary. The Big Ten West could be there for the taking; we’ll see if Minnesota is finally ready to crack through and grab it. — BH

53. Jabrill Peppers: Year One, Take Two

Peppers was such a highly-touted recruit—Rivals.com ranked him the No. 3 player in the class of 2014—that many observers expected him to blossom into one of the best defensive backs in the country right away. Instead, Peppers appeared in only three games and redshirted after suffering a leg injury as Michigan skidded to a 5-7 finish. The 6’1”, 205-pounder has impressed coaches and players with his work ethic this spring and could make a bigger impact as a safety in new coordinator D.J. Durkin’s defense. — CJ

52. The salty adventures of Paul Johnson

When Georgia Tech wins big games, coach Paul Johnson tends to deliver a few wisecracks. And if this year’s Georgia Tech team is anything like last year’s, Johnson could have ample opportunities to get in some digs. After the Yellow Jackets’ Orange Bowl triumph over Mississippi State last December, Johnson told ESPN’s Maria Taylor, “And for at least a week or two we don’t have to hear about the SEC.” Now keep in mind that Johnson’s triple-option offense brings back standout quarterback Justin Thomas and has matchups against Notre Dame (Sept. 19), Clemson (Oct. 10) and Georgia (Nov.28). — BG

51. Wes Lunt and Josh Ferguson try to continue Illinois’s growth

The off-season has not been favorable to Fighting Illini head coach Tim Beckman, so no one should more excited for the season to actually arrive than him. On the field, Illinois has made steady, if slow, progress under Beckman, improving by two wins in each of the last two seasons and making its first bowl appearance last season since 2011. Beckman needs that growth to continue to keep his job. Luckily he’s got a backfield duo that could sustain it. Lunt threw for 1,569 yards in his first five games of 2014 before a leg fracture hampered the second half of his season, and Ferguson racked up 1,162 yards of offense. — CB

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