25 Biggest College Football Storylines to Watch Before Opening Day

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIMay 3, 2013

25 Biggest College Football Storylines to Watch Before Opening Day

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    Many spring college football stories have come to an end, but there are plenty left for fans to enjoy before opening day.

    Even with spring practice over, there is an entire summer for quarterbacks to work with receivers on route timing. The linemen (offensive and defensive) can work on strength and conditioning, and they can come back much stronger a unit in the fall than they left in the spring.

    Coaches have taken over new jobs, injuries have wrecked some teams' plans and even backup quarterbacks have become default starters due to transfer.

    Here are the top 25 storylines to watch throughout the summer before the 2013 season kicks off in late August.

25. Selena Roberts

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    Selena Roberts is the reporter who broke the story of allegations against Auburn's football program. She's not the most interesting story in the world, but her story is worth following.

    If nothing else, it's worth a gander just to see whether her career can recover from a second major hit to her reputation.

    The football side of the story is how Auburn handles the allegations throughout the summer, or if it even needs to respond further than its original release.

    The NCAA reportedly will not investigate Auburn for Roberts' allegations, so this may be the end of the story. If not, then the next chapter will be interesting.

24. Preseason Watch Lists

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    Preseason Heisman and All-America watch lists are some of the most entertaining lists to come out of the offseason.

    Sometimes the most interesting part of these lists is who isn't on them as opposed to who is. It's always fun to watch a dark-horse candidate either fly to New York or earn unanimous All-American honors.

    Either way, these watch lists always yield some water-cooler bragging rights when one of your team's players is on the Heisman list, even if only for a week.

23. Bret Bielema

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    Bret Bielema entertained a record crowd this past April with the Arkansas spring game. Razorback fans can look forward to a long summer of nothing but speculation and high hopes about what their team can do in 2013.

    From the quarterback battle to the next star wide receiver, there are questions that can be answered during the summer workouts. Bielema has ushered in a new era of hope, and he honestly has an easy act to follow in John L. Smith.

    Any information about the Razorbacks' potential in 2013 would be worth taking a look at. Even if you're a general college football fan, the Razorbacks do have the potential to accomplish one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation this fall.

22. Butch Jones

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    Tennessee had the third-highest attendance in the country for its spring game festivities this offseason. Butch Jones has the task of rebuilding the Volunteers' program after a dismal three-season stretch of irrelevance.

    Tennessee's fans have already shown their appreciation for Jones, and all that's left for them between now and 2013's kickoff is to glean every nugget of information possible from the Internet throughout the summer.

    Jones' acceptance as the coach of the future was swift and complete. Anything he can improve before kickoff would be icing on the giant orange cake for the Volunteer faithful and would definitely be worth keeping track of.

21. Mark Stoops

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    Kentucky enjoyed an insane number (more than 50,000) of people during its spring football game. Mark Stoops has promised that he will not let Kentucky take a back seat to anyone, and he started his tenure off with Kentucky's best recruiting class in history.

    Stoops is already ushering in a level of potential never before seen at Kentucky. The fans came out in droves just to see him coach a spring game. If this is a picture of what Kentucky is going to bring to the table in the future, then the rest of the SEC (and its fans) had better keep an eye on the Wildcats 365 days per year.

20. Hugh Freeze

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    Hugh Freeze came through for Ole Miss with a legendary No. 5 recruiting class for 2013. Given the Rebels' needs on the field, it will not be surprising to see a few of these true freshmen in the starting lineup this fall.

    Freeze can knock on the door of the SEC title game in 2013 with the talent he has gathered. If he keeps going at this rate, then the SEC may add another team to its list of national champions in the near future.

    Freeze's Rebels were one of the biggest stories of the 2012 season, and the stories will continue with offseason drills this summer.

19. Colorado Buffaloes

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    Colorado is facing some issues in its offseason. Jordan Webb, the favorite to start at quarterback, tore his ACL, and he'll be out for the season. He's pursuing a sixth year of eligibility, and that alone will be a story worth following.

    The other part of this tale is that his backup, Nick Hirschman, will transfer and complete his graduate studies, "likely at an Ivy-type school."

    Watching Colorado overcome the monkey wrench in its plans will definitely be a hot story before opening day.

18. USC Trojans

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    Su'a Cravens and Silas Redd have both undergone surgery to repair torn menisci. Both Redd and Cravens are expected to return by the fall with no issues, but losing both players for any portion of the season could spell disaster for USC's 2013 hopes.

    USC fans and anti-USC fans should keep an eye on the Redd-Cravens situation. Their health will directly affect USC's potential success in 2013.

17. Baylor Bears

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    Robert Griffin III brought a Heisman Trophy to Baylor. Nick Florence built on that by taking down a No. 1 team as quarterback for the Bears.

    So, what's the story? Each of those guys had one stellar season at Baylor, and there's yet another talented quarterback who will step into the limelight: Bryce Petty.

    Petty has waited his turn, and Baylor may be able to get two great seasons out of him instead of just one. That, of course, assumes he will be great in 2013.

    Petty will be worth following in the offseason, even if it's not easy to find information. If he is as good as Florence and Griffin think he is, he could be a dark-horse candidate for the 2013 Heisman.

16. Gunner Kiel

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    Gunner Kiel transferred from Notre Dame to Cincinnati. He will have to sit out the 2013 season due to NCAA regulations, but his progress within the system will still be a story worth following.

    He got out from Notre Dame to avoid playing in the starter's shadow for almost his entire career, and Cincinnati is hoping that he lives up to his hype as the No. 1 quarterback of the 2012 recruiting class.

15. Everett Golson

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    Everett Golson can breathe a little easier without Gunner Kiel nipping at his heels for starting time, but the lack of pressure will not be all good.

    It will allow him to get out of his own head to a point, but he will also face pressure from the opposition and be less prepared for it.

    He will have a great career at Notre Dame, but 2013 might be a development year for him. It will be interesting to see how he progresses through this summer, and the buzz around South Bend should tell us what to expect this fall.

14. Clint Trickett

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    Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia from Florida State, and he will be eligible to take the field for the Mountaineers in 2013.

    The Mountaineers' quarterback battle may not be over before opening day, but the summer should be interesting. The established WVU quarterbacks will be clamoring to make sure that Trickett stays behind them for at least one full season.

    Trickett will arrive and hope that his dual-threat ability will make him an immediate backup so he can gun for the starting spot from his first day on campus.

13. Jameis Winston

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    Clint Trickett's transfer out left the Florida State door wide open for Jameis Winston. Winston had a great spring game for the Florida State Seminoles, and he could be a step up from EJ Manuel if he uses his summer cycle wisely.

    Winston went 12-of-15 for 205 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Florida State spring game. With that kind of firepower, it's not going to be surprising if he's the one who finally leads the Seminoles back to the national title game in 2013.

12. Johnny Manziel

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    Johnny Manziel cannot escape from being a topic of conversation. He will always be the first freshman Heisman winner, and that places him in the center of the public eye whenever he does anything.

    Manziel is supposed to leave for the NFL after the 2013 season, he's not supposed to be taking online classes and (generally speaking) somebody has an opinion about everything he does.

    While opinions of those articles' authors may or may not be correct, the bottom line is that Manziel will be a hot story until he implodes on the field. Then, his implosion will be a story.

11. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama's defense looked excellent in its spring game. The total offense didn't look that great, but the offensive line was stout for the majority of the match.

    The big question is whether Alabama can win a third national title in a row, but the smaller question is whether the offense can carry the team to victory as many as 14 times.

    The spring game produced four interceptions: two by AJ McCarron and the other two by his backup, Blake Sims. If the three-peat story is going to continue past Week 3, then Alabama's offense is going to have to clean itself up.

10. Will Muschamp

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    Florida's depth chart was decimated by injury this spring. It got so bad that head coach Will Muschamp turned the spring game into a regular practice.

    Florida's injury list is a high priority for anyone who has feelings about the SEC, whether they be good or bad feelings. If Florida is healthy, then the Gators are a reasonable loss for any team in the conference.

    If Florida is weak, then the SEC stands to produce more undefeated teams. While that would be a fitting end to the BCS era, it would still make for a fairly boring postseason for any fans outside the conference.

    Last season, if Kansas State and/or Oregon had stayed undefeated, a one-loss SEC squad wouldn't have been the one playing Notre Dame for the title. If other fans want that to happen again, Florida is one of the teams that can upset anyone in the conference.

    Muschamp's ability to coach the backups into starting shape quickly will decide whether Florida will be successful in the coming season, and it will be great to watch until things get real on opening day.

9. Stanford Cardinals

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    Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is set to start in 2013. Josh Nunes, his main competition for the gig, has given up football after a rare injury derailed his career.

    Hogan is Stanford's hope for 2013, and Nunes won't be there to assist in case of emergency. Hogan's reliability will be a strong subject of conversation for Stanford fans for the rest of the offseason.

    The Cardinals can clearly contend for the Pac-12 with their current setup, but Hogan will have to step up big to ease the losses of Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Stepfan Taylor from 2012.

8. Oregon Ducks

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    The Oregon Ducks are in the middle of a disagreement with the NCAA that may last well into the season, but the story has already garnered a lot of attention.

    The Ducks committed two violations. One was major, and the other is what the disagreement is about. The NCAA believes it is major, and the Ducks believe it isn't.

    As this story unfolds, the difference between the self-imposed sanctions and the actual punishment could be huge. If developments arise before 2013 kicks off, college football fans should definitely pay attention.

    This is a national headline that can affect more than just the BCS lineup at the end of the year.

7. Jadeveon Clowney

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    Jadeveon Clowney is likely the only purely defensive player who will appear on preseason Heisman watch lists. He is a stellar athlete who will declare for the 2014 draft unless injury precludes him from doing so.

    Clowney's hit in the Outback Bowl is going to come up a lot during the season, and it should. The 2012 Heisman was already awarded at the time, and the game took place in 2013. It's essentially Clowney's first impression for the 2013 trophy.

    Clowney is worth following all year, especially as one of the best defenders in recent memory, if not all of college football history.

6. Taylor Lewan

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    Taylor Lewan more than kept up with Jadeveon Clowney for the entire Outback Bowl. Lewan's tale is one of fairness, logic and recognized talent.

    Lewan basically owned Clowney during the January game. Clowney will appear on preseason Heisman lists. Will Lewan be given his due recognition by appearing on those same lists?

    Before opening day, the preseason watch lists will come out. Lewan should be on every possible list for an offensive tackle, plus the Heisman.

    If he isn't on the list, Michigan fans should erupt with Internet rage until the situation is rectified. He held the best defender in the nation in check for 60 minutes. That makes Lewan no less than the best offensive tackle.

5. Ka'Deem Carey

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    Ka'Deem Carey had the stats to support a Heisman campaign in 2012, and he could start the 2013 season off on all the watch lists. His penchant for trouble may have lost him the preseason billing, though.

    He has had more than his fair share of conversations with law enforcement, and the Heisman brotherhood may not consider him a legitimate option. Hopefully, he can turn his trajectory around and win their approval before the season is over.

    Keeping his nose clean from now until kickoff would be a good start.

4. Austin Hill

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    Arizona's other issue is its star wide receiver, Austin Hill. Hill has torn his ACL and could miss the entire 2013 season.

    What makes this situation worse for the team is the fact that the Wildcats are breaking in a new quarterback this coming season. Matt Scott is with the Jacksonville Jaguars now, and Hill was one of the players who was going to help the new signal-caller adjust more quickly to the college game.

    Now, Hill will be a non-factor for at least the first few matches of the season. Hill's recovery is important to the team, but it's also important to the fans. Nobody likes seeing one of their players go down to injury, and that's always worth keeping up with, even in the summer.

3. Jake Ryan

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    Jake Ryan is the star linebacker for the Michigan Wolverines. He joins others on this list with a brutal ACL tear, and he may miss out on this coming season as well.

    Ryan is a beast for the Wolverines, and they honestly can't afford to lose him and expect to seriously contend for the Big Ten title.

    Ryan was Michigan's best linebacker last season, and he would be its best in 2013 if he were on the field. Given that he is such an integral part of the defense, his story should be at the top of all Michigan fans' offseason watch lists.

2. Casey Pachall

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    TCU's former starting quarterback is already the source of controversy for many. Some call for the coach's head if Pachall isn't the starter, and others simply make a strong case for Pachall to have the starting role.

    Openly speaking, the competition should be fair. TCU has allowed him to return. He is willing to go through whatever extra scrutiny that his mistakes have warranted, and he should be given a fair shot at the starting job.

    If he's better than Trevone Boykin, then Pachall should start. If not, then he should sit on the bench. Whatever happens, this will be an interesting story to follow.

    If he isn't the starter, then the media is going to throw an impromptu circus at his expense. If he does start, then they'll all be asking Boykin, "How does that make you feel?"

    Pachall could be one of the legendary turnaround tales, or Boykin could be the quintessential story of the scrappy guy who would not be outdone.

    Either way this goes, it's a book worth reading.

1. Preseason Top 25 Lists

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    Whether you believe they are completely useless or awesome, preseason polls tell us one major thing: The season is almost here.

    The reason this is the No. 1 storyline to watch for this offseason is exactly that. As soon as they come out, it's time to brush the dust off all the tailgating gear and break out the designated sports calendar to keep track of all your favorite matches.

    Whether the preseason polls are even remotely correct about the final standings in December, everyone gets to know exactly what every game is going to sound like from the TV announcers' perspectives.

    If USC enters the season No. 1, then every loss is going to be met with utter disdain. We will hear about all the reasons that Team X should be winning games instead of losing, because it was loaded with talent coming into the season.

    When the lists come out, you know it's time for the all-too-short college football season to kick off. For about six months, fans can put away the DVDs of the glory days and can finally watch new things happen on the field.