50 Key College Football Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 1

Joe PenkalaCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2012

50 Key College Football Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 1

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    Well, the wait is finally over. College football kicks off this week, and college fans around the nation will be glued to their television sets all weekend long. 

    As the 2012 season gets set to kick off, there are a ton of storylines around the nation that have grabbed our attention. From teams moving conferences to new coaches taking over and teams transitioning from the loss of a star player, there isn't a shortage of things to talk about. 

    While we wait for the season to get started, here is a look at 50 storylines as we enter the first week of the 2012 season. 

Is Marcus Lattimore Ready to Go?

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    Last season was cut short for Marcus Lattimore, as he suffered a knee injury halfway through the season. This year, Lattimore appears to be back, and while the South Carolina offense hummed along without him, having him return to form would make this team even more dangerous during this season.

Can Vanderbilt Eclipse Last Year's Success?

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    James Franklin stepped in at Vanderbilt and has done a tremendous job. Last year, the program showed vast improvement, and hopes are high in 2012. The only question that remains this year is if it can meet these expectations while playing in the SEC.

Can Jim Mora Have Success in College?

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    Taking over the UCLA program this year will be Jim Mora, Jr. Mora has experience at the NFL level, but this will be his first time leading a collegiate program.

    UCLA has a strong fanbase and no problem attracting top talent, so Mora should have all the tools at his disposal to be successful.

How Will the New Teams Transition?

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    The FBS division adds four teams to their ranks in 2012. New to the division this year will be Massachusetts, South Alabama, Texas State and UTSA. The addition moves the number of teams to 124, but these teams are looking at a rough transition this year.

Can Boise Be Successful Without Kellen Moore?

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    Boise State enters the 2012 season without the help of star quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore did a phenomenal job while with the Broncos and is now a member of the Detroit Lions.

    The Broncos have been in the nation's eye for quite some time, so it will be interesting to see if coach Chris Petersen can help keep this team on the national stage.

Can Stanford Be Successful Without Andrew Luck?

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    The same question that Boise State is facing plagues the Cardinal as well. Andrew Luck was the true leader of that program for the past few years and is now in the NFL.

    Stanford still appears to have a strong running game, but replacing Luck's on-field leadership and talent is almost impossible.

Is Temple Ready for the Big East?

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    After a breakout season in 2011, Temple is joining the Big East this year. While the depth chart took a serious hit, the Owls are entering a conference that is crumbling around them.

    With the lack of talent in the conference, Temple may be rebuilding, but it still will not be out of contention.

De'Anthony Thomas Returns as Nation's Biggest Weapon

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    As a true freshman, De'Anthony Thomas set the college football world on fire with his ability to make big plays on special teams, the running game and passing game.

    Now that LaMichael James is gone, Thomas will undoubtedly receive more touches and be a bigger weapon than he was in 2011.

Tyler Bray vs. Mike Glennon

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    In Week 1 of the season, Tennessee is taking on NC State in what could be a surprisingly good game. Both teams enter the game with a strong quarterback, and both Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon could put on a heck of a show.

Michigan vs. Alabama

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    Another intriguing matchup will take place in Dallas when Alabama and Michigan go head-to-head. Both of these teams have a strong roster coming into 2012, but overall, the speed and strength of the Tide could prove to be too much for the Wolverines in the first week of the season.

Texas A&M Begins First Season in SEC

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    One of the biggest moves of the offseason is the transition of Texas A&M going from the Big 12 to the SEC.

    In 2011, the Aggies struggled with second-half leads. If they show the same mental weakness in the SEC, teams will eat them alive.

Can the West Virginia Offense Pick Up Where They Left Off?

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    The lasting memory from the 2011 season was West Virginia scoring touchdown after touchdown in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.

    While putting up points in the Big East and one bowl game is one thing, the Mountaineers are now in the Big 12 and will have to prove they can pick up where they left off on a weekly basis.

Can Appalachian State Do It Again?

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    Ever since Appalachian State upset Michigan on the road in 2007, its name seems to pop up when it is taking on a FBS team.

    This season, it is playing against a much lesser East Carolina team, but it still would not be surprising to see it knock off another team from a higher division.

How Will Northwestern Fare Without Dan Persa?

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    Dan Persa was one of the best athletes that Northwestern had had at quarterback for quite some time, and he is no longer with the program.

    For a program that is still trying to end its bowl win drought, replacing Persa will set it back a year or two.

Can Houston Compete Without Case Keenum?

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    Last year, Case Keenum put up record-setting numbers for Houston and led it to the Conference USA title game. As is the case with other teams, Houston has lost its star to the NFL and is now searching for answers at quarterback.

    Without a suitable replacement, expect to see the Cougars fall back to the pack this year.

What Will a Game at Penn State Look Like?

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    After the penalties that were handed down to the Penn State program, it is still unknown how this team will look in the fall. While games in Happy Valley use to be quite a sight, the opening week of the season will be interesting to witness after a brutal offseason.

Danny O'Brien Begins Tenure as Badgers Quarterback

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    For the second straight year, Wisconsin was able to lure a transfer quarterback to its program and help it keep on rolling. Last year, it was Russell Wilson, and this year it is Danny O'Brien.

    With time to get acclimated to the Badgers offense, it will be interesting to see how effective O'Brien is compared to his time with Maryland.

Nebraska Begins Second Season in Big Ten

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    After a decent start to its time in the Big Ten, Nebraska is entering its second season in the conference.

    With a strong running game and playmakers on defense, the Huskers will look for consistency and try to contend for a Big Ten title this year.

Charlie Weis Takes over at Kansas

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    For a team that struggled so mightily on defense, it went out and replaced Turner Gill with an offensive mind in Charlie Weis. Weis has not had a lot of success at the collegiate level, and turning things around at Kansas will not be an easy feat. 

Clemson vs. Auburn

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    One of the big games from the opening week is the tilt between Auburn and Clemson. Both teams have aspirations of improving from last year, and both come into the game with deep, talented rosters.

    With the offensive firepower on Clemson's offense and the speed of Auburn's defense, this should be a great way to kick off the season.

Is Marcus Mariota Ready to Start for the Ducks?

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    This past week, Marcus Mariota was given the Oregon Ducks' starting quarterback job. After Darron Thomas left school with a year of eligibility remaining, the race for the starting gig began.

    Mariota edged out Bryan Bennett and will be entrusted with keeping the offense at its fever pitch.

LSU Moves on Without Tyrann Mathieu

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    Last year, LSU continually got big play after big play from Tyrann Mathieu. After violating team rules for a third time, Mathieu was kicked off the LSU team and is out of college football.

    This year, LSU must look for a new leader to come up with huge plays if it wants to go back to the national championship. 

Did Denard Robinson Grow in the Passing Game?

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    Michigan surprised a lot of people last year, and due to the success it had, it starts the year in the top 10. The one weakness for the Wolverines is the arm of Denard Robinson. 

    If Robinson turned into a passer that can threaten a defense, the Wolverines will live up to their preseason hype. 

Missouri Starts First Season in SEC

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    Along with Texas A&M, Missouri is moving to the SEC and will have its hands full with the move. During the 2012 season, constant comparisons will be made between the two teams to see which one is able to adjust and have more success in their first season. 

USC Is Back in the Bowl Hunt

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    After being on the outside looking in, the Trojans are back in the hunt, as their postseason ban is over. 

    With the amount of talent on this squad, the Trojans are one of the best teams in the nation, and if they can get past Oregon in November, they could be heading to the national title game. 

John L. Smith Leads Arkansas into 2012 Season

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    While with Michigan State, John L. Smith had limited success and saw his time cut short with the Spartans. This season, Smith is back and is now the head man at Arkansas because of the off-the-field issues that got Bobby Petrino fired.

    Smith has an extremely talented team, and only time will tell if he can capitalize on that talent. 

Can Kenjon Barner Replace LaMichael James?

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    One of the biggest parts of the Oregon offense was the consistency that LaMichael James brought to the running game. James is now in the NFL, which has opened up an opportunity for Kenjon Barner.

    Barner has always been able to successfully contribute to the offense, but this season will show if he can handle being the main back. 

Rich Rodriguez Now with Arizona

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    After spending a year out of football, Rich Rodriguez has resurfaced as the head coach of Arizona. Rodriguez has brought with him his spread offense, and if given a couple of years to get the right players in place, he could make the Wildcats into a Pac-12 contender. 

Mike Stoops Starts Season as Assistant This Year

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    The reason Rich Rodriguez took over at Arizona is because of the opening left by former coach Mike Stoops, who was fired during the 2011 season. 

    Coming into the 2012 season, Stoops is taking over the Oklahoma defense and hoping to get them back to an elite level. 

Baylor Moves on Without Robert Griffin III

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    Another team to move on without its star quarterback is Baylor. The Bears enjoyed electrifying plays from Robert Griffin III last year, and as the 2012 season begins, they will be without his help.

    Going forward this year, Baylor needs to prove that Griffin helped grow this program rather than provide it with a temporary spark. 

Where Does Oregon Investigation Currently Stand?

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    While not a lot of information has come out over the past few months, many Duck fans are on edge about the potential NCAA investigation that is going on about their recruiting practices.

    For the time being, many people believe that a potential penalty may be minor, but the wait will continue to haunt Oregon fans around the nation. 

Oklahoma State Enters 2012 Without Brandon Weeden or Justin Blackmon

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    Last year, Oklahoma State was almost able to ride the arm of Brandon Weeden and receiving skills of Justin Blackmon to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Andrew Luck and Stanford.

    Like other top players, these two have headed to the NFL, and the Cowboys are now left looking for answers as the coming season approaches. 

Tino Sunseri Gets Last Chance with Pitt

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    Since he was a freshman at Pitt, Tino Sunseri has been getting chance after chance to turn into a leader for the Panthers. With this being his final season, Sunseri needs to show that all the time spent developing him was worth it in the end.

Todd Graham Lands with Third Team in Three Seasons

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    As the 2012 season begins, Todd Graham will be coaching his third team in as many years. After seemingly setting down roots in Pittsburgh last year, Graham jumped ship and headed to Arizona State. Only time will tell if he makes it to a second season with the Sun Devils in 2013. 

David Ash Starts Season for Texas

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    Last year, Texas went back and forth between Case McCoy and David Ash at quarterback. This year, the Longhorns have named Ash the starter, and if they hope to have long-term success, they need him to keep the job all year long and give the team stability. 

Can Alabama Fill All the Holes Left on Defense?

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    It seems that every year, the Crimson Tide are replacing large holes on one side of the ball or the other. This year, the Tide are replacing over half of their starting defense, and that appears to be the one thing that could hold them back from repeating as national champions. 

Mississippi State Under Investigation

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    Another team that is on alert from the NCAA is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs announced this past week that the NCAA has been probing into the Bulldogs program and looking into their recruiting practices.

    While the school is cooperating fully, only time will tell if anything is found. 

Michael Dyer out at Auburn and Arkansas State

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    After two strong seasons at running back for Auburn, Michael Dyer decided to transfer and head to Arkansas State. After only a few months of being with the Red Wolves, Dyer has already been dismissed from the program and is now in a quandary. 

Mike Leach Now at Washington State

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    After being away from football for a couple of years, Mike Leach has resurfaced at Washington State, and the Cougars appears to have the right man for the job.

    With offense being his strong suit, Leach has some weapons at his disposal, like quarterback Jeff Tuel, and the Cougars should be greatly improved in 2012. 

Derek Dooley Enters Year on Hot Seat

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    As the season begins, expectations remain high for Tennessee, and head coach Derek Dooley knows he needs to produce this year. After two straight lackluster years, this is the year Dooley needs to prove his worth. 

Hugh Freeze takes over at Ole Miss

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    Taking over as head coach of Ole Miss is Hugh Freeze. For the past few seasons, Ole Miss has been towards the bottom of the SEC rankings, and if Freeze wants to stick around the Rebels program, he has to help reverse this trend quickly.

Big East Is Wide Open

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    With the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12, the Big East race is wide open. Temple is joining the conference this year, but will likely not be a contender. Look for Louisville or South Florida to grab hold and try to win a spot in a BCS game. 

TCU Starts Year in Big 12

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    The Big 12 got a lot stronger this year, as both West Virginia and TCU joined the conference. For TCU, this year is a curtail season, as the Horned Frogs have a chance to prove that they can succeed with a more difficult schedule and compete with the nation's best. 

Has Washington's Defense Improved?

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    Washington proved that during the 2011 season, it could put up plenty of points. The Huskies also proved that the defense had a hard time keeping them in games. Even their offense couldn't keep up with the points that the defense was allowing. 

    If the Huskies hope to be a factor in the Pac-12 North, the defense must find a way to get their defense to improve. 

Silas Redd Plays First Game with Trojans

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    With everything that unfolded at Penn State, the NCAA allowed players to transfer without penalty. With that option open, Silas Redd made the choice to leave campus and head out west to play for USC.

    The addition of Redd is huge for the Trojans, and it should be interesting to watch the kind of impact he has in 2012. 

Notre Dame Plays in Ireland

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    One of the most unique things this year is Notre Dame opening up their season across the Atlantic in Ireland. The Irish will be taking on Navy, and it should be one of the most unique sights of the 2012 season. 

Urban Meyer Leads Ohio State

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    After spending one season outside of college football, Urban Meyer made his return to coaching as the head man at Ohio State. Despite not being able to head to the postseason this year, Meyer seems to be a great fit for the Buckeyes and should take them back to the top of the Big Ten. 

Oregon State Hopes History Doesn't Repeat

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    In 2011, Oregon State got the season started with a overtime loss to FCS Sacramento State. This year, the Beavers start the year out against Nicholls State, another FCS team. 

    While things haven't gone great for the past few seasons, Oregon State cannot afford to start another season with a loss to an FCS team. 

Is Oregon's Defense as Good as Advertised?

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    Unlike most seasons, the Oregon defense is the unit gaining a lot of attention out in Eugene. This year, the offense will be replacing Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, so the defense is being given some attention based on the speed and talent it has.

    Only time will tell if the Ducks defense can live up to the hype. 

Matt Barkley Begins Heisman Campaign

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    As the 2011 season was drawing to a close, Matt Barkley made a late push at being considered for the Heisman Trophy. When he announced his return for the 2012 season, Barkley jumped to the top of everyone's Heisman list, and his resume begins this week.