Which traditional powerhouse is poised for a comeback?
1:55 | College Football
Which traditional powerhouse is poised for a comeback? Staff
Thursday May 28th, 2015

Our long national nightmare is nearly over. Tuesday marked 100 days until the 2015 college football season kicks off. In just 98 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,’s college football staff has assembled 100 reasons to get excited. Click on the following links for reasons 100-7675-51 and 25-1, and read below for reasons 50-26.

50. Michigan State’s dominant defensive line

This item could very easily not be here because Shilique Calhoun could very easily not still be in school. After eight sacks as part of 12.5 tackles for loss as a junior, Michigan State’s 6’5”, 250-pound defensive end could have gone the NFL draft route. Instead, Calhoun will anchor a front that loses Marcus Rush’s 7.5 sacks but brings back seven total from Joel Heath, Malik McDowell and Lawrence Thomas. The 6’6”, 285-pound McDowell, a former five-star recruit, could be primed for a breakthrough sophomore season of wreaking havoc at nose tackle. That will be imperative to pushing Ohio State for Big Ten East supremacy. — Brian Hamilton

49. Christian Hackenberg’s quest for a bounceback year

During his two seasons in State College, Hackenberg has validated his massive recruiting hype, committed a number of costly turnovers and earned first-round grades from NFL mock drafters. What’s in store this fall for the junior quarterback after he tossed 15 interceptions last year? Hackenberg could be set for a rebound year if he gets more support from the rest of the offense. Penn State’s line yielded the third most sacks (44) in the country last season, and the running game finished last in the Big Ten with 2.94 yards per attempt. — Chris Johnson

48. Shawn Oakman scaring everybody

He’s 6’9”, can do a 40-inch box jump while holding 70-pound weights and plays for one of the best teams in the country. He also weighs 280 pounds and set the Baylor single-season record for sacks (11) in 2014. He’s become an internet sensation just because of how physically imposing and intimidating he is. We fear for whoever lines up across from Oakman. — Lindsay Schnell

47. Pat Narduzzi brings defensive prowess to Pittsburgh

Narduzzi turned Michigan State’s defense into one of the stingiest units in the country. Between 2011 and ’13, the Spartans ranked no worse than fifth in the nation in yards allowed per play. After being rumored as a candidate for several head jobs in recent years, Narduzzi ultimately left East Lansing for Pittsburgh, which could be a great fit. It would be unrealistic to expect the Panthers to lock down opposing offenses as effectively as Narduzzi’s vintage Michigan State teams right away, but Pitt should show signs of improvement on that side of the ball in 2015. — CJ

46. Gene Chizik’s return to college football

For a program scarred by academic scandal, North Carolina’s hiring of Chizik offered one clear question: Is he worth the risk? Chizik's track record as a defensive coordinator isn't merely good; it's outstanding. His credentials as a recruiter raise the bigger questions (Google: Newton, Cameron). But the Tar Heels finished last in the ACC in points allowed per game, rushing yards allowed and total yards allowed. The unit does need a major overhaul. Can Chizik do that much harm as just an assistant? — Gabriel Baumgaertner

45. Way-too-early coaching carousel speculation

We fully admit to being a part of this one. We’ve even started doing it with some of the other items on this list. Rampant speculation is just undeniably fun! What if this major coach left for the NFL? And then this other coach moved to replace him? And this up-and-coming coordinator replaced him? And this other coach got fired? Stick with it long enough, and you’ve somehow got Lane Kiffin back for a second stint at Tennessee and Jimbo Fisher’s coaching Oklahoma. — Colin Becht

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

44. Brad Kaaya’s attempt to rebuild Miami

Congratulations, Brad, you’re the latest player to have this pressure-filled task heaped upon you. The Hurricanes quarterback showed his potential as a true freshman last season, winning the starting job and passing for 3,198 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But Miami still finished the year 6–7—its worst season since 2007—and star running back Duke Johnson is off to the NFL. The Hurricanes desperately need Kaaya to become a superstar. — CB

43. True freshmen making immediate impacts

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Every season, fans get excited about their team’s incoming recruiting class. Yet a small percentage of true freshmen make a significant impact right away. So who might be those chosen few this year? Some names to look out for are UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen,’s No. 2 player in the class of 2015; Florida offensive lineman Martez Ivey (No. 4); and Tennessee defensive linemen Kahlil McKenzie (No. 6) and Shy Tuttle (No. 66). And while five-star talents command plenty of attention in preseason practice, less heralded prospects often make unexpected pushes for immediate playing time at certain programs. — CJ

42. Dak Prescott, the SEC’s best quarterback?

Prescott set 12 individual single-season records and finished eighth in the Heisman voting in 2014, when Mississippi State won 10 games and briefly held a No. 1 ranking. But the Bulldogs' season ended on a bitter note with a loss to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. That could be why Prescott opted to return for his senior season in Starkville, where he’s one of only seven returning starters on the roster. Although he may not have much experience around him, it's possible Prescott kicks off the season as the best quarterback in the SEC. — Zac Ellis

41. Georgia Tech tries to affirm its status as a new ACC power

After the Yellow Jackets beat Mississippi State in last year’s Orange Bowl, coach Paul Johnson was all too happy to mark the victory’s significance on conference narratives. Entering the fall, it’s Johnson’s own conference that needs to worry about Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets’ 11-win season. Georgia Tech return 13 starters this fall, including quarterback Justin Thomas, and have a shot to solidify their spot as playoff contenders. — ZE

40. Bobby Petrino’s still at Louisville…for now

After he hopped from Louisville to less than a full season in the NFL to Arkansas to a season at Western Kentucky and back to Louisville, Petrino's notoriety will always leave smoke surrounding his program. But the reality is such: Bobby isn't in trouble at the moment and now he's ready to release year two of his offense. The results are usually entertaining. — GB

39. A rebound year at Oklahoma?

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Bob Stoops revamped his staff, included bringing in heralded Air Raid disciple Lincoln Riley to fix the offense. Who will be under center is still undecided—returning starter Trevor Knight and transfer Baker Mayfield are the leading candidates—but Riley will have a reliable back in Samaje Perine to hand the ball to if the passing game isn’t working. The expectation, of course, is that this leads the Sooners back into the playoff conversation. — LS

38. Corey Clement continues Wisconsin’s running back legacy

The Badgers’ string of successful running backs can read like a line of succession to a throne. Brian Calhoun beget P.J. Hill, who beget John Clay, who beget Montee Ball, who beget James White, who beget Melvin Gordon. And those are just the most recent ones. So who’s next? Clement, a rising junior who rushed for 949 yards last season despite backing up Gordon on his incredible season. Although Wisconsin returns just two starters from last year’s offensive line, Clement has the strength to earn his yards the hard way if necessary. Expect him to live up to the lofty production expected of a Badgers back. — CB


37. The team that shockingly defies expectations

Media members like to think they have a general good sense of how teams stack up against one another when they roll out preseason top 25 rankings and predict who will finish atop each conference. But it’s always the case that some teams will perform above what their depth charts suggest is possible. For example, TCU went 12-1 and was ranked third in the final AP poll after entering the season unranked. Some team is bound to shock us in 2015. — CJ

36. A healthy Deshaun Watson

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Injuries prevented Watson from being able to fully spread his wings as a true freshman at Clemson. When the quarterback did play, however, Tigers fans saw the program’s future. Watson threw for 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns in only eight games but missed spring practice as he rehabbed a torn ACL. The good news is he should be healthy by Clemson’s opener, which means Watson will start the year as the best quarterback in the ACC. — ZE

35. #FatGuyTouchdowns

We typically save the term “one-man highlight reel” for electrifying punt returners, wide receivers, some running backs and the occasional defensive star. Baylor's LaQuan McGowan, a 400-pound offensive lineman who moonlights as a tight end, is ready to buck that trend. And while McGowan’s use as a tight end will give him more opportunities, he won’t be the only player this year to get this hashtag trending. All it takes is one lineman scooping up a fumble or, in Arkansas’s case, throwing a pass to create a magical moment

34. Finally a season without any major conference realignment

For the first time since 2010, the Power Five conferences remain exactly the same as they were last year. No need to mentally move any teams from one to another or try to remember how a conference’s divisions have been rearranged. Outside of the Power Five, Charlotte joins the Conference USA, Navy joins the American and of course UAB drops football entirely, so the college football landscape isn’t exactly the same. Still, this is the closest we’ve been to calm seas in a while, so we’ll take what we can get. — CB

33. The Malik Zaire era begins at Notre Dame

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Everett Golson's move to Florida State shows value of graduate transfer rule

First, the dose of reality: The departed Everett Golson threw 41 touchdowns passes across two seasons at Notre Dame. Zaire, who will take over quarterback duties after Golson’s transfer to Florida State, has 35 total career pass attempts. Zaire’s ascendance is significant for how it limits Brian Kelly and Co. this fall, which might be a good thing. The Fighting Irish will have to run, run, and run some more to take advantage of a deep backfield corps and a terrific line, and to take pressure off a first-time starting passer. But Zaire does have a big enough arm and good enough receivers to stretch the field on occasion. This is the precise blueprint for Notre Dame to push toward playoff contention, and Golson isn’t around to tempt the Irish to approach it any other way. — BH

32. Bob Stoops saying things about the SEC

Stoops has remained relatively quiet about the Southeastern Conference for about, oh, nine months or so. That'll probably change in the press conferences preceding Oklahoma's game at Tennessee. The Sooners’ head coach has been one of the SEC's most vocal critics over the years, lambasting it as overrated and claiming its status as the “top conference” is media-driven. Let's hope he prepares some more fire come the week of Sept. 12. — GB

31. USC and Cody Kessler try to live up high hopes

The lofty expectations remain permanent at USC, and a veteran-savvy, underrated quarterback is prepared to meet them. Kessler is the rare USC signal-caller to remain barely touted even though he's entering his third year as the starting passer. He threw for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns against five interceptions last season. He also has a player set to break out (JuJu Smith) as his primary target. At the very least, Kessler should be prepared. — GB

30. Chuckie Keeton’s back again

Keeton was granted an extra year of eligibility in February after both of his past two seasons were cut short by knee injuries. As a sophomore in 2012—his last full season—the 6’2”, 210-pounder completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions while adding 619 yards and eight scores on the ground. In his final act, Keeton will try to help the Aggies compete with Boise State in the Mountain West and should be a shoo-in for this year’s “ninth-year senior” award. — CJ

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29. The Game regains national importance

For Ohio State and Michigan fans, the schools’ annual meeting never loses significance no matter how much of a talent gap separates them. But for the rest of us, the reality is that the famous rivals’ annual midday clash on the final Saturday of the regular season simply hasn’t mattered as much as it used to. That changes this year. While Jim Harbaugh’s rebuild in Ann Arbor will almost certainly require more than a single season, his first matchup against Urban Meyer is must-see TV. Don’t bother making plans for noon on Nov. 28; The Game is on. — CB

28. Can someone snap the quarterback trend in the Heisman race?

Historically, running backs have dominated the Heisman Trophy race, but that trend has dropped off significantly in the new millennium. Last season Marcus Mariota became the 13th quarterback to win the Heisman in the last 14 seasons. In an even-more-recent trend, three of the last four winners have been dual-threat quarterbacks. Offensive players control the Heisman, so other offensive skill positions have the only legitimate shots to snap the quarterback streak. Can a running back (Georgia’s Nick Chubb? Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott?) or a wide receiver (South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper?) legitimately contend for the trophy in 2015? — ZE

27. SEC running backs

Nick Chubb at Georgia. Leonard Fournette at LSU. Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake at Alabama. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins at Arkansas. The list of returning running back talent in the SEC goes on and on. Proven quarterbacks are at a premium this season in the conference. That’s why explosive rushers—many of whom should flirt with Heisman consideration—will be the focal point of offenses in the SEC. — ZE

26. Another year of “My conference is best?” arguments

The SEC had a clear claim this title (thanks to its string of seven titles of a different name) for a long time, but with Ohio State’s national championship maybe it’s time the Big Ten got the recognition it deserves. And of course there’s the Pac-12, which keeps declaring itself the toughest top to bottom, and don’t forget about the Big 12 and…you get the idea. — LS

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