The 100 things we're most excited for in the 2014 college football season (Nos. 20-1)
This week marked the 100-day countdown to the start of the 2014 college football season. Abilene Christian visits Georgia State to kick things off on Aug. 27, when the road to the inaugural College Football Playoff begins in earnest. Catch up on TV shows now. Try new restaurants, or pick up new hobbies, or spend time with the in-laws. In a little over three months, college football -- in all of its glory -- will return.
20. Bo Pelini’s quest to get over the hump. Nebraska’s coach has a remarkable track record of consistency. Pelini has lost exactly four games in each of his six seasons at the helm. Following a contentious 2013 campaign -- a profanity-laced audiotape of Pelini cursing out the Cornhuskers fan base leaked in September -- he’ll look to get back in Lincoln’s good graces by making a charge at the Big Ten title. Nebraska returns all-purpose dynamo Ameer Abdullah, but will break in four new starters on the offensive line. Can the Huskers finally make the move from consistently good to great? -- Zac Ellis
19. Steve Sarkisian’s attempt to reinvigorate USC. When Lane Kiffin was fired following a blowout loss at Arizona State last September, the Trojans seemed like they were barreling toward a lost season. However, by winning of six of its final seven games, USC heads into 2014 with plenty of momentum. Sarkisian intends to speed up the offense. The defense, which allowed 4.98 yards per play last fall, brings back beastly defensive end Leonard Williams. After falling from their national perch, can the Trojans rejoin college football’s elite? -- Colin Becht
18. Michigan’s state of flux. The excitement created by Brady Hoke’s 11-win debut in 2011 is a distant memory. What's left is a seat that is likely starting to feel warm. The Wolverines aren’t used to 7-6 records, especially when the Big Ten has been so mediocre of late. Last year's offensive line was a nightmare, and Michigan needs more consistency out of turnover-prone quarterback Devin Gardner. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who left Alabama to come to Ann Arbor in January, has his work cut out for him. -- CB
17. Sparty, reloaded. As Kyler Elsworth proved with his Rose Bowl-clinching tackle, Michigan State wins with defense. While nearly all the key pieces from the Spartans' 2013 offense return, several of the players from their third-ranked scoring defense -- including stars Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Isaiah Lewis and Denicos Allen -- are gone. Coordinator Pat Narduzzi stuck around, and defenders like Shilique Calhoun and Taiwan Jones are established. Still, Sparty will need to fresh faces to emerge to keep feeling some type of way. -- CB
16. Debates over conference superiority. Y’all ain’t played nobody. The bottom of the SEC is garbage. Excuse me, have you seen the Pac-12’s depth? The trash-talking never ends, and why should it? Arguments about which conference is best spark some of those most ridiculous -- and hilarious -- moments of every college football season. With the five power leagues beginning to schedule stronger nonconference competition, fans will soon have even more ammunition. Brace yourselves. -- Martin Rickman
15. The debut of Leonard Fournette. There are lofty expectations, and then there is the hype surrounding LSU’s heralded freshman back. Fournette has been on the recruiting radar since he was in eighth grade. He has been compared to Adrian Peterson. Heck, he's an icon in his hometown of New Orleans. Keep in mind, the Tigers’ offense is reloading. It loses quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Still, look for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to rely on Fournette from the get-go. If his numbers at St. Augustine (La.) High were a preview, Fournette could be destined for big things in Baton Rouge. -- Ben Glicksman
14. Points, points and more points: Art Briles and Baylor. In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the Bears could have scored a touchdown. After winning its first Big 12 title last season, the nation’s highest-scoring team (52.4 points per game) will look to improve on its 11-2 mark. Quarterback Bryce Petty returns, as does running back Shock Linwood and wide receiver Antwan Goodley. With all that firepower, Baylor should continue to light up scoreboards as one of the most exciting teams in college football. -- MR
13. James Franklin’s impact at Penn State. Franklin redefined expectations during his three-year stay at Vanderbilt. Now, the Nittany Lions new coach has a chance to revitalize Happy Valley. The Langhorne, Pa., native has wasted no time making an impact: His 2015 recruiting class ranks second in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Better yet? Franklin inherits an ultra-talented quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a trio of pass-catching tight ends in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman. -- ZE
12. A new West Coast power: Jim Mora, Brett Hundley and UCLA. In the fall of 2012, USC was ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll, while UCLA -- which was then entering Mora’s debut campaign -- was largely written off. What a difference two years makes. This summer the Trojans are adjusting to a new coaching staff, while the Bruins have the look of a legitimate national title threat. Two-way star Myles Jack is back. So is most of the offensive line. With the return of a Heisman hopeful (and campus enforcer) in Hundley, how high can UCLA climb? -- BG
11. Texas A&M’s life after Johnny Football. The last two seasons in College Station have been nothing short of sublime. Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and one the most talented offensive lines in college football history helped the Aggies evolve from an overlooked SEC newcomer into a power. Now, coach Kevin Sumlin and company must start anew. Sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen are competing for A&M’s starting quarterback spot, and one of them will have to take control of the offense before the opener at South Carolina on Aug. 28. Hill was arrested for public intoxication in March, but remember -- an offseason arrest didn’t prevent a former Aggies’ signal-caller from rising to national prominence. -- BG
10. Oklahoma and the post-bowl bump. It's best not to draw too many conclusions based on one bowl game. Take West Virginia entering the 2012 campaign, for example. Still, it's hard for the Sooners to temper expectations after Trevor Knight carved up Alabama’s vaunted defense in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma’s defense should be solid behind linebacker Eric Striker. So, which Knight will show up? The star-in-the-making or the inconsistent passer who lost his starting job for portions of last season? -- CB
9. Will Muschamp’s last chance in Gainesville (From friend of the blog and EDSBS writer Ryan Nanni). There's a park I walk by on weekends with a baseball diamond in it. Sometimes, I'll slow down to watch a bit of a game, and I often see one or two kids who can't do anything right. Batting, fielding, throwing -- it's all awkward and frustrating, even if they're giving 110 percent. I hope their parents tell those kids it's OK. They can be good at so many other things. Art. Science. Foreign language. They can leave Little League behind and still be successful. That's how I feel about Muschamp. -- Ryan Nanni (or the artist formerly known as Celebrity Hot Tub)
8. Everett Golson, back on campus. The last time Golson was Notre Dame’s quarterback, the Fighting Irish completed an unbeaten regular season and earned a trip to the BCS title game. However, he missed all of last year for cheating on a test, and it remains unclear how he’ll perform in his return to the field. Running back Greg Bryant should take some pressure off the passing game, and cornerback KeiVarae Russell headlines a fortified secondary. But given major losses on the defensive line (Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III), the Irish will need Golson to come back better than ever. -- CB
7. Urban Meyer and the elusive final step. The image of Meyer hunched over in a golf cart sadly eating a slice Papa John’s pizza has stuck with college football fans (and especially Buckeyes fans) all offseason. After all, Ohio State was so close. It won 24 consecutive games, yet it still fell short of a Big Ten title and a BCS championship game berth. Following an Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, there’s plenty of anger and motivation to go around. Can the Buckeyes’ defense and offensive line improve enough to make Braxton Miller’s senior season one he’ll never forget? -- MR
6. Alabama’s Lane Kiffin experiment. Wait, could this actually work? Say what you will about Kiffin’s tumultuous head-coaching stints, but Alabama’s new coordinator has proven his X’s-and-O’s acumen. The Crimson Tide lose quarterback AJ McCarron. They bring back T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard. Without the distraction of addressing the media (Nick Saban’s policy for assistants), can Kiffin help ‘Bama rebound from the two disappointing defeats that closed out last season? -- ZE
5. The return of Marcus Mariota. If any quarterback enters the 2014 season with as much buzz as Jameis Winston, it’s Mariota, who opted to return to Oregon in order to finish what he started. The redshirt junior plays like he knows all the cheat codes, or at least like the laws of physics are turned unfairly down. No one should be able to gallop past defenders or fling the ball down the sideline like Mariota does. And here’s the scary thing: For all that he accomplished last fall, he could be even better in '14. -- MR
4. Texas’ Charlie Strong era. For the first time in 17 years, a coach not named Mack Brown will roam the sidelines in Austin. Strong molded Louisville into a BCS contender, but there’s no telling how his debut Texas team will fare. Expect growing pains. The quarterback situation is far from settled, as David Ash’s health remains a concern and Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard are inexperienced. The defense, which struggled to stop the run in 2013, will need to play much tougher. Strong already said his ‘Horns won't play in the national championship game. Even with a new approach, this sleeping giant is unlikely to awaken by late August. -- ZE
3. The Iron Bowl rematch. Where were you when the unthinkable happened last season?
As with every year, there should be plenty of intrigue surrounding the 2014 Iron Bowl. For Auburn, it will offer a chance for Gus Malzahn to prove that, just maybe, he has Saban’s number. For Alabama, it will serve as an opportunity to exact an oh-so-sweet measure of revenge. Both programs could be in the national title picture. Neither will be lacking for motivation. Kickoff is set for Nov. 29 in Tuscaloosa. Mark your calendars now. -- ZE
2. Officially back: Jameis Winston and defending champion Florida State. The Seminoles lost tons of talent from their BCS championship roster, including Kelvin Benjamin, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, among others. But will it make a difference? Florida State lost a host of NFL-caliber guys before the 2013 campaign and all it did was win every game Godzilla-style, tearing through the schedule like dollar-store wrapping paper. Winston and the ‘Noles will have a target on their backs, but that’s what the players want. There’s a reference to The Wire to be made here, but I’ll let you make it. -- MR
1. The College Football Playoff. Could it be anything else? After decades of relying on inherently flawed polls, after years of trying to make sense of the BCS’ complex algorithms, college football’s national champion will finally be decided with a playoff. Beginning this fall, a 13-person selection committee will rank the top 25 teams every week and ultimately seed a four-team field. The semifinals (the Rose and Sugar bowls this season) will take place on Jan. 1, and the title game will happen on Jan. 15.
So, who will reign supreme as the sport begins a new chapter? It’s too early to tell. We’ll start to get answers in fewer than 100 days. -- BG