The 2012-13 college football season has come to a close, with Alabama beating up on Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game. The Crimson Tide are your BCS champions, and now eyeballs turn to what comes next. Yes, for the diehard folks, recruiting, winter workouts and spring ball are next on the horizon.
However, even with those integral elements of the game on the table, it never hurts to take a look forward to what the next year has in store for us. Between players, coaches and conferences, there is plenty looming on the horizon in 2013. Here are the stories we're most looking forward to for next season.
Kicking things off, we have Lane Kiffin.
Yes, his team had a historically bad first to unranked season that saw it get manhandled by rival UCLA and lose to Georgia Tech in a bowl game. The Trojans are losing some key pieces—most notably quarterback Matt Barkley, wide receiver Robert Woods, center Khaled Holmes and safety T.J. McDonald. Lane Kiffin will also be replacing his dad, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
He is on the hot seat, and as a guy who people seem to just be itching to dump, he has to have some success to keep his dream job at USC. He will have Marqise Lee back, plus some elite talent coming in to play early, but will he be able to stay employed in a Pac-12 South that is rapidly improving?
Speaking of coaches and being employed, there are a lot of new faces around the college football world. Heavy hitters like Wisconsin, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee are among the 29 schools that have new leaders. Watching guys like Gary Andersen, Gus Malzahn, Bret Bielema and Butch Jones operate in their new settings is going to be a treat.
Will we get a Brady Hoke or Urban Meyer-type effort out of someone in year one? Perhaps more importantly, will one of the new hires end up like Ellis Johnson at Southern Miss, fired after one season? Transition is tough on programs. More importantly, it is tough on the kids, and with new coaches we will be watching closely how the players take to their new leaders, guys they did not sign up to play for.
And now, from new faces to a pair of familiar ones: Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer. Kelly, the dynamic head coach for the Oregon Ducks, likely ends up in the NFL at some point—just not in 2013. For that, Ducks fans are grateful.
Yes, the Ducks lose Kenjon Barner, some pieces on the offensive line and guys like Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso on defense. However, they return dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota, playmaker De'Anthony Thomas and freshman standout Arik Armstead.
After the Fiesta Bowl performance, we know that if they have the time the Ducks can play a little defense to go with their offense. With Stanford absorbing heavy losses at a few key spots, most notably Chase Thomas and Stepfan Taylor, the Ducks should be playing to win the Pac-12 in 2013.
On to the curious case of Urban Meyer. The man led the Buckeyes to an undefeated year one, which is a feat in and of itself. Now, with the postseason ban lifted, the pressure will be on in year two. Can the Buckeyes defense improve while losing Johnathan Hankins and John Simon? Will the offense continue its solid performance as players learn more of the scheme?
Most importantly, can Braxton Miller make it through an entire season taking the shots that he took in year one?
If the Buckeyes are going to go the title route, odds are they will have to climb over someone from the conference currently sitting in the daddy seat: the SEC. Another year, another SEC team toting the crystal football off the field. At this point, given the hate that flows through so many college football fans not associated with commissioner Mike Slive's league, it is SEC versus the world in many folks' eyes.
Certainly, teams like LSU, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M all lose pieces. However, that did not stop Alabama from bringing home the hardware this year, and it won't take anyone out of contention in 2013. The league is good, and while it isn't as invincible as some like to believe, until the SEC is knocked from its perch, it's still out in front of the rest.
While teams in the SEC lose plenty of potential first-rounders, one guy who will be back with a vengeance is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney will enter the 2013 season as a front-runner for the Heisman, and the defensive end that terrorizes offensive players on a game-by-game basis is poised to have a big year. Truth be told, South Carolina is going to need a big effort from Clowney. The Gamecocks lose some other big contributors to their defense, and he'll have to pick up some slack.
The way this young man plays and the buzz that will surround him entering 2013 will be something to watch.
This next "thing to watch" is near and dear to my heart, folks: It's defense. In a year where we saw scoring averages go up again, we saw more and more teams just decide that defense is an optional facet of the ballgame. Yet as we have seen for the umpteenth year in a row, you have to play solid defense to win a championship.
Will 2013 be the year that teams realize you cannot just stockpile players on offense, give defensive coordinators leftovers and expect to get stops? More importantly, will the great defensive minds scattered across college football finally find a way to render the spread less effective?
Last, but certainly not least, the story entering 2013 has to be returning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, the quarterback from Texas A&M.
Johnny Football is a story, and he embraces every minute of it. He's the type of guy that's truly sucking the marrow out of his college football experience. On the field he's having a real good time, putting up big numbers and getting wins. Off the field he's having a real good time, having fun and, honestly, living the dream.
The kid has the skills to keep Texas A&M winning in the transition-bheavy SEC West, the charisma to become the face of college football and the attitude that makes everything he does fun to watch. If Manziel can go out and produce in year two, with the bullseye on his back, then we'll know that he is truly one of the special ones.
That's what we're looking forward to in fall of 2013. What about you?