30 Days Remain: CFB's 30 Biggest Storylines as the Season Approaches
February was a crummy month; I remember it well. I turned on the television only to be greeted with some sort of basketball (no insult to you, basketball, but you’re not football), and the college football season felt light years away.
We trudged through the dark days of February, tore off those other months in our “Best of Brent Musburger” office calendars, and now we’ve almost made it. That’s not light at the end of the tunnel you're seeing; it's the faint sound of Big & Rich and a beer being cracked at hours that will make most normal humans squirm.
Camps are opening, and the season is now just 30 days away. That's it.
I’d say the countdown has officially begun, but you started that countdown once the clock struck zero in the offensively-challenged closing act. Condensing down the storylines to follow in the next 30 days and beyond is a nearly impossible task, but there are some very distinct items to look for.
Here they are.
30. Say Hello to DGB
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Late one Friday night last year, I got home, threw on ESPNU, poured myself a drink and watched a 6’6” wideout dominate a football game unlike anything I’ve seen at the high school level.
Dorial Green-Beckham is massive and incredibly raw but will likely be too good not to hit the field for Missouri early on. If/when he does, you’ll be required to watch.
He won’t be going up against 5’7” defensive backs like he was, but it probably won’t matter. Good luck guarding this guy.
29. A New and Improved Taylor Martinez?
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We heard about it all offseason: Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez headed to the West Coast, worked with some of the brightest QB minds in the country and improved his mechanics. Now, we’ll have a chance to see the refinished product.
If Martinez can improve, this offense can be deadly. Running back Rex Burkhead is as good as they get, while wide receiver Kenny Bell is poised for stardom (if someone can get him the ball). It can't get any worse for Martinez in terms of "slow-mo" replay evaluations.
So he has that going for him, which is nice.
28. MACtion, Glorious MACtion
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MAC football. Really, what else needs to be said? There will be little to no defense played, they will outscore a good chunk of their basketball teams, and you will eat your dinner on your couch for glorious midweek football.
How one could possibly not be excited for this? I could never understand.
“BUT THESE TEAMS WON’T BE IN THE BCS GAMES,” said the guy with very few friends in the back row. If you don’t have MACtion Fever yet, I suggest you catch it immediately.
27. Don’t Worry, We Didn’t Forget About You, Big East
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It’s been a rough 365-day stretch for the conference that is now loitering outside college football’s intense game of “grab all the money before somebody else does.” These other conferences are damn good at this game, too.
Still, the Big East is alive and well (despite our finest jokes), and there are some intriguing teams and talents to look out for. Louisville, led by breakout candidate Teddy Bridgewater, is poised for takeoff, and Cincinnati is plenty spry. Don’t pronounce this conference dead just yet.
26. How Is DAT Going to Be Used?
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With LaMichael James off to the NFL, Oregon speed machine De’Anthony Thomas will likely become a feature weapon for the Oregon Ducks.
Kenjon Barner will likely get the bulk of the carries, but Chip Kelly will find a way to involve DAT as much as possible. He has to. Look for him on special teams, running back, wide receiver and maybe even some quarterback. Just put it in his hands and watch him fly.
I've said it before, I'll say it again. Holy #$%^ is he fast.
25. Oklahoma State Goes from Very Old to Very Young
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The 77-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden is off to the NFL, and Wes Lunt will be tasked to replace him. Who is Wes Lunt, you ask? Well, we'll learn quite a bit about him together.
Mike Gundy went out of his way to name a true freshman the starter early on, and the job is now his to lose once the season begins. Lunt played in a system similar to Oklahoma State's in high school, which is a plus, but the rest is very much unknown.
If he wins, Mike Gundy will probably dance. So let's all hope that he wins.
24. The Walking Dead: Zombie BCS and Playoff Details
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It will be business as usual. Games will be played, the BCS release show will kick in midseason (you will probably be angry about this), and the faults of a broken system will be prevalent for one of the very last times.
2014's college football playoff is still two seasons away, but details surrounding the television deal, the selection committee and other vital undetermined playoff details will surface as the curtain on 2012 is lifted.
The Doomsday Clock is ticking, and even though the show will go on, you will hear plenty about the future in the present.
23. Georgia's Favorable SEC Draw and a Familiar Scenario
Any SEC schedule—even Georgia’s 2012 gift from the SEC gods—is far from an easy trip. With that said, anything less than an appearance in the SEC Championship will be viewed as a massive disappointment for the Bulldogs.
No Alabama, no LSU and no Arkansas is very good news for this Georgia team. Could this be the year that Richt’s team finally breaks through? Or are we going to revisit our "Is Mark Richt on the hot seat?" column templates that we first created when AOL was still "hip"?
22. The Team No One’s Talking About… Still
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Bill Snyder’s football witchcraft was strong once again, and there’s no reason to believe this will change in 2012. Quarterback Collin Klein—one of the more efficient offensive players in the entire country—returns, as do his 38 touchdowns.
A September matchup at Oklahoma looms large, but this team will be a force once again. You may now continue to not talk about them again. Nothing to see here.
21. The Lukewarm Seat and Tennessee’s Strange Potential
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Derek Dooley could very well be fired during the season. Then again, Tennessee could surprise many with this potent (if healthy) offense and win some games that many believe they’ll lose.
There may be no team in the country with a grander spectrum of potential wins and losses than this one, and buzz around a much-improved team is starting to build. Plus, winning in bright orange pants just looks so much better than losing in bright orange pants.
20. World, Logan Thomas; Logan Thomas, World
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At 6”6” and more than 260 pounds, Logan Thomas is bigger than pretty much any tight end his team will play.
Virginia Tech’s soon-to-be superstar QB showed flashes of brilliance last season. It wasn’t necessarily pretty—he can play as a bulldozer if he wants to—but perhaps that’s what makes him so intriguing. If he improves—and he will—this team could surprise. Fascinating talent.
19. Michigan’s Second Serving of Hoke
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With limited input on his 2011 roster, Brady Hoke led Michigan to a Sugar Bowl win and an 11-2 season.
It likely won’t be this easy his second time around, although Michigan is soaring in the right direction. I doubted their progress in year one, and while I believe they’ll come up short of 2011’s superb season in 2012, they could easily duplicate the results. Prove me wrong again, Hoke. I'd love to see it.
Just imagine what happens if/when these monster recruiting classes develop...
18. Roll Replacements: Alabama's New Faces
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Trent Richardson, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick are gone, which would be a horrendous scenario for just about any other team in the country.
Waiting in the wings for Alabama, however, is a group of talented players poised to fill the role. Don't you wish your team had 4- and 5-star players on the bench, ready to sub in?
These might be impossible shoes to fill, but an impressive stretch of recruiting will pay off. Also, look out for freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. You won't have to look all that hard.
17. The Florida State Hype: Round 35
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For the 931st season in a row, experts are expecting the Florida State football team to do well. Some years they've been right, and some years they've been, well, not so right.
The hype surrounding the Seminoles is high (again); the ACC is ripe for the taking. You've seen this movie before.
The defense will likely be one of the nation's best, but can they score enough points consistently to get by? If so, the results may match the hype for a change. If not, then we'll likely have this same exact conversation a year from now.
16. Baylor Without RG3
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Remember the Alamo…Bowl. I will. In fact, I think someone just scored again.
Baylor’s offensive attack from last season is getting a massive overhaul, and this transition will not be an easy one to make. Games at West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma will provide a challenge, and losing a Heisman winner makes life tough.
Nick Florence, who has some experience under center, will get the call. Good luck, kid. Size 22s to fill.
15. Stanford Without Andrew Luck
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Stanford is losing their offensive catalyst, and Brett Nottingham is the man who will try to replace him.
That’s not an easy task (well, yeah), but much of Stanford’s offense (outside of Andrew Luck) is back. It won’t be sexy; the box scores will likely pale in comparison to what they once were, but it could be incredibly productive in a league that lacks consistency outside the very top.
14. Welcome Back, Captain Leach
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Mike Leach is back in football. Man, writing that never gets old.
The former Texas Tech head coach has tucked away his fishing pole and latched on with Washington State. With him comes his offense, which is simple in design (GO DEEP), yet no one can really stop it. Progress in year one might be limited, although we’re thrilled to have him back.
The sound bites alone are enough to be excited about, but he'll be providing more than that. Maybe not now, but soon enough.
13. The Curious Case of Landry Jones
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Oklahoma's experienced QB is more than capable of throwing five touchdowns in a half. He's also capable of completing 40 percent of his passes, having one go the other way and looking utterly average.
Many have questioned the mental makeup of Landry Jones, and once again the expectations are incredibly high. Up until this point, however, Jones has been nowhere to be found when Ryan Broyles is out of the lineup. Broyles is off to the NFL, and something's gotta give.
Big year for him ($$$) and that team.
12. West Virginia, Burning Couches and the Mad Scientist
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There may not be a more exciting team to watch in 2012. West Virginia will throw the ball—more than you do now in NCAA ’13 or Madden—and the offense will likely destroy box scores week after week.
Fans will celebrate by lighting everything in sight on fire. And even if they lose, fans will probably light everything in sight (preferably a seating device) on fire.
Dana Holgorsen has an empty canvas. Watch him work.
11. The Return of Knile Davis
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I’d say that there’s a good chance that Davis is actually part robot, but a broken foot that cost him last season completely derails this argument. Dang.
He’s big, he’s strong (like, really strong), he’s fast, and he’s one of the more intriguing running backs college football has seen in quite some time. Can he possibly live up to potential? Can he stay healthy?
If the answer is even "kind of" to both of those, best get out of the way.
10. Zach Mettenberger and His Ability to Throw a Football over Them Mountains
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LSU’s quarterback of the future can do things that last year’s quarterbacks couldn’t. That’s not exactly promising a sudden offensive infusion for the Tigers, but there’s plenty to like after a very solid spring and incredible physical traits.
SEC defenses and meaningful games add an entirely different level into this equation, but the weapons are there on offense. Mettenberger might just be the biggest wild card in the entire country. If he is just average, this team will be a bear to beat.
9. The Post-Kellen Moore Era Is Upon Us (Well, Them)
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My excitement for the Michigan State-Boise State matchup in Week 1 has been mounting since the offseason began. No Kirk Cousins, no Kellen Moore, and I really hope you’ve canceled all possible plans for this opener. If not, do so immediately.
And why the hell would you have plans on opening weekend in the first place?
Kellen Moore’s production will be impossible to replace, but do you really feel comfortable betting against Boise in a big game? I don’t. Not anymore.
8. New Faces in the SEC
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Welcome, Missouri and Texas A&M! We’ve put your conference schedule in your goodie bag, and…wait, yeah, that’s real. Yep, no joke. Seriously, don't throw that away. You're going to need it.
The SEC’s newcomers have their work cut out for them, and they’ll get their taste of their new home right out of the gate. Each, however, will likely surprise some teams. Missouri has turned into a tough bunch, while A&M’s new offense should cause some fits. Upset specials in store for those that take them lightly.
7. To Hook ‘Em or Not to Hook ‘Em: That Is the Question
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Is Texas back? Why, that’s a question that’s being asked at a rate just behind “Is Tiger Woods back?” On that note, please stop asking that.
The Longhorns are loaded on defense and at running back, and they’re [to be determined] at QB. There’s plenty to like, but that glaring hole is a hard one to overlook. The conference is ripe for the taking, and it wouldn't shock anyone if they take back what they feel is rightfully theirs.
6. Notre Dame’s QB Situation and the Color Purple
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Someone will be named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback during camp (my money’s on Everett Golson), and so it will be settled. Well, no, it's not that easy. Not here.
A lack of patience and a brutally difficult schedule will make this a very interesting season for the Irish under center. The winner will struggle at some point early on (even if he plays well overall), and Brian Kelly's face will mirror that of the delightful Grimace. Not the smile, but the color.
5. John L. Smith’s Wild Ride
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The new Arkansas head coach might win a lot of games, he might lose a lot of games, he might slap himself in the face at the podium, or he could very well fly out of the stadium using a jetpack made out of Total cereal boxes and recycled D batteries.
It’s crazy enough it just might work. OR, it could fail miserably. Regardless, the John L. Smith experiment will be must-see every weekend.
4. The Ankle of Robert Woods
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The best wideout in the country hasn’t been healthy all offseason. In February, it was no big deal. In April, your eyebrows went up a bit.
In August, well, the possibility of not having the best wide receiver in the country at 100 percent is suddenly very real and terrifying if you're USC.
Although having Marqise Lee to catch passes is a wonderful luxury, this team needs Robert Woods healthy to win a national title. He won't start healthy in camp, although there's still time before things get serious. We're running out, though.
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Urban Meyer returns to college football with a quarterback fit for his offensive system and incredible recruiting momentum. Despite a bowl and postseason ban, the expectations for the Buckeyes are high, as they always are, and they will only increase after 2012.
Meyer will have a season to develop, but the return (albeit after a brief commercial timeout) of one of the game’s best is a major storyline to follow.
2. All Eyes on Penn State
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Every move, every non-move, every touchdown and every tackle will be a huge topic of conversation spotlighted once the foot actually hits the tee.
Regardless of who stays or who goes, Penn State’s performance—especially early on—will be dissected, even though the postseason will not be in play. Bill O’Brien and crew will gladly take your game-day criticisms. Real football analysis is welcomed therapy for all.
1. The SEC and the Road to Trolling the Rest of the Country (Again)
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If you’re an SEC fan, you’ve already made room for your seventh consecutive national championship trophy, right next to the vacant spots left for eight, nine and 10.
Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas are very live title hopefuls (hate mail for the rest of the SEC), and it’s once again a tough group to bet against. Go ahead, bet against ‘em. Wait, no, don’t.
That could be incredibly dangerous.