40 Biggest Storylines Headed into 2013 College Football Season

Alex CallosCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2013

40 Biggest Storylines Headed into 2013 College Football Season

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    From Johnny Manziel to conference realignment, college football has had its fair share of excellent storylines all offseason long. But, what will be the biggest storylines during the 2013 season?

    The Manziel saga is likely to continue and conference realignment also does not appear to be over. What about the SEC's attempt at winning its eighth-straight national championship?

    All of those are likely to be talked about all season long, but what else makes the list?

    Here are the 40 biggest storylines as the college football season is only days away. 

No. 40: Opening Night

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    The college football season starts on Thursday night with a huge showdown pitting the ACC's North Carolina Tar Heels against SEC power South Carolina. That's not the only notable matchup as Ole Miss and Vanderbilt will square off in an all-SEC showdown, UNLV will battle Minnesota and No. 24 USC will open its season at Hawaii.

    These matchups can't come soon enough for college football fans who have been waiting months.

    While Saturday is when most of the games are going to be played, Thursday night will be quite a group showdowns in front of a national television audience.

No. 39: Rivalry Games Should Be Better Than Ever

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    There is nothing in college football like an excellent rivalry game. This year, that will be the case as much as it has been in quite some time.

    The state of Florida is the perfect example, as the three major programs (Miami, Florida and Florida State) will all battle it out. 

    Ohio State and Michigan will likely both be near the top of the Big Ten and Oklahoma and Texas should be fighting for the Big 12 title. Notre Dame also takes on its rivals, Michigan and USC.

    It should be a great year in college football as far as rivalries are concerned.

No. 38: Can Major Programs Bounce Back from Awful 2012 Seasons?

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    Every year, there are teams who surprise, but also some who disappoint. The 2013 season is likely to be no different.

    Last year, teams like Iowa, Auburn, California, Illinois, Virginia, Wake Forest and a few others struggled big time. Will these teams be able to bounce back in 2013? Stay tuned to find out.

No. 37: Who Will Come out on Top in the MAC?

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    The MAC was an excellent conference last year, and the 2013 season will be no different.

    Last season, five teams from the MAC won nine or more games and Bowling Green had eight victories. Both the East and West Divisions were very competitive.

    This year, teams like Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ohio and Toledo will once again be at the top of the list.

    Look for another excellent season out of the MAC in 2013.

No. 36: What New Coaches Will Have Sustained Success in the SEC?

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    There are new head coaches all over college football, but which ones will have success in their first season at a new university? 

    The SEC welcomes Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Mark Stoops at Kentucky and Butch Jones at Tennessee.

    Last year, Kevin Sumlin was instrumental in the success of Texas A&M. What coach will step up this season and lead his team near the top of the league?

    It is easy to see that each of these coaches has their work cut out for them.

No. 35: Who Will Win the Big Ten Legends Division?

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    Ohio State is clearly the favorite in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten, but who will come out on top of the wide-open Legends Division?

    There are a few viable options, including Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and possibly Michigan State.

    It will certainly be a very interesting season in the Big Ten this year. 

No. 34: Targeting Players Above the Shoulders

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    Jadeveon Clowney put the most memorable hit of the season on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.

    Now there is a new rule concerning players who target the head, as anyone who does so will be ejected. 

    Will that rule come into play this season? If so, who will it affect? 

No. 33: Battle for the Mountain West Conference

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    The Mountain West Conference looks like it is going to be one of the more underrated leagues in the country this season.

    The league added San Jose State and Utah State. Throw in the fact that it retained Boise State, and this is a dynamite conference. It is going to be a battle for the conference crown between Fresno State, San Diego State, Nevada, Utah State, San Jose State and Boise State.

    This could be one of the more competitive leagues in the country in 2013.

No. 32: Louisville Set to Dominate in New League

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    The American Athletic Conference will be a BCS member this season, and it looks like Louisville is the team to beat.

    The Cardinals are one of the top 10 teams in the country. There are no other teams in the league ranked that high. It would be shocking if they did not win the league.

    Whether or not the Cardinals can run the table and go undefeated remains to be seen, but this is a team that has burst into the national spotlight in recent years. They will be one of the most talked about teams in the nation in 2013.

    It will be a short stint in the AAC, as Louisville will make the ACC its home in 2014.

No. 31: New Conference for Syracuse and Pittsburgh

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    There has been a lot of conference realignment, and there is still more to come, but Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be two of the more high profile teams coming into a new league this season.

    They are now members of the ACC. It will be interesting to see how these two teams fare. Basketball and some other sports might not be a problem, but football could be a struggle in 2013.

    Both teams have a lot of talent to replace, and joining the ACC might make it even more challenging.

No. 30: Overrated Teams

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    Every season when the polls come out, there are a handful of teams who many consider to be overrated for one reason or another.

    This year, there is already speculation by fans from all over the country about which teams are a little too hyped. Topping the list are the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Louisville and even USC.

    It is still too early to tell for sure, but overrated teams are definitely out there.

No. 29: Impact Freshmen

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    Every year, there is a freshman or two who make an immediate impact. Who will that be in 2013? Last year, there was a trio of redshirt freshmen who played very well.

    Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley were three of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and were also freshmen.

    This season, there are plenty of young players who will see big-time action, like last year's No. 1 overall recruit defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and Oregon running back Thomas Tyner.  

    Which ones will have the success their predecessors did?

No. 28: How Will Teams Fare Without Their Stars?

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    In college football, one star player can take a team a very long way. When that superstar moves on, sometimes it takes time for a team to get back to that level. Just take a look at Auburn's dropoff after Cam Newton left for the NFL.

    That is the case for several teams this season, but Kansas State perhaps tops the list. The Wildcats have to replace star quarterback Collin Klein. That could be a daunting task for a team that reached No. 2 in the BCS at one point last year. 

    USC will have to find a quarterback as Matt Barkley is gone. Other teams who need to replace stars include Florida State with E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith at West Virginia.

No. 27: Heisman Darkhorses

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    Every season, there is a player or two who comes out of nowhere to make some noise in the Heisman conversation.

    Last season, Johnny Manziel had a surprise performance and ended up taking home the Heisman. 

    Who will emerge this season? There are plenty of candidates, including Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.

    Stars at smaller schools like Derek Carr of Fresno State, David Fales of San Jose State and Chuckie Keeton of Utah State could also be potential candidates.

No. 26: Non-Conference Showdowns

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    Everybody knows about the highly anticipated conference matchups, but there are also some non-league games that are worth mentioning.

    It all starts off opening weekend as TCU battles LSU, Georgia takes on Clemson and Alabama plays Virginia Tech.

    Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Notre Dame vs. Stanford, Notre Dame vs. Michigan, Florida State vs. Florida, Florida vs. Miami and plenty of others will keep us entertained throughout the season.

No. 25: Battle for the ACC Between Florida State and Clemson

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    There is an excellent chance that the ACC will come down to an October 19 game between the two heavy favorites in the conference. Clemson and Florida State appear to be a cut above the rest when it comes to the ACC in 2013.

    They square off midway through the season at Clemson. That will likely decide the Atlantic Division winner and a possible BCS berth.

No. 24: New American Athletic Conference

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    The new American Athletic Conference will begin its inaugural season this year. It is not often that a completely new league comes about, so this is certainly headline worthy.

    Louisville and Rutgers are two of the top teams in the league, but will only be playing in it for one season. After that, the reins will be handed off to teams like Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis, Temple and South Florida.

    It will be interesting to see how this league handles itself during such difficult circumstances.

No. 23: Miami Investigation

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    The two-year NCAA investigation has been complete for two months now, and the Miami Hurricanes are awaiting their fate.

    What will the NCAA decide? Who knows, but its decision will have a huge impact on a Miami team that appears ready to turn the corner and contend for a national title a year or two from now. 

No. 22: Who Will Win the Wide-Open Big 12?

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    The Big 12 is as wide-open this season as it has been in quite some time. There are a handful of teams who have a legitimate shot to win the league.

    The usual suspects are at the top of the list. Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU are all right there in the mix. There are also a few sleepers to keep an eye on, including Kansas State and Baylor.

    There is a chance that the winner of this league could easily have two or three losses.

    It should be a very interesting year in the Big 12.

No. 21: Aaron Murray Selected for All-SEC First-Team

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    Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was selected over reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as the first-team All-SEC preseason selection at quarterback by the coaches.

    That is certainly hard to believe considering how talented Manziel is, and it is certainly one of the bigger headlines heading into the season as far as the SEC is concerned.

    Murray is a senior, so that could have been part of the reason why, but this omission seems glaring.

No. 20: Coaches on the Hot Seat

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    A college football season is not complete without dozens of coaches worrying that this might be their last year with their respective teams.

    The 2013 season will be no different, as there are plenty of coaches on the hot seat. Names like Lane Kiffin at USC, Charlie Weis at Kansas, Gary Pinkel at Missouri and Kevin Wilson at Indiana top the list this season. There are also plenty of other names that will emerge over the next few months.

    Either way, by the middle of the season, there are likely to be more than a handful of coaches who are in the running to lose their jobs.

    Stay tuned, as this topic always gets interesting.

No. 19: What Sleepers Will Emerge?

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    Every season, a team seemingly comes out of nowhere to make a splash on the national scene.

    Last year, it was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish began the season outside of the Top 25, but by the end of the year, they were playing for the national championship.

    Plenty of teams could emerge this season, and Fresno State is among them. The Bulldogs have a talented senior quarterback in Derek Carr and are coming off a 9-4 season in 2012.

    Other possible breakout teams include UCF, Miami, Arizona State and North Carolina.

No. 18: Quarterback Battles Across the Country

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    Quarterback battles are more of a preseason storyline, but some of that controversy could stretch well into the 2013 season.

    The Big 12 is where most of those controversies lie. TCU's battle between Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin will be one of the most interesting. Another competition to keep an eye on is between Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh at Oklahoma State. The Kansas State job is also up for grabs. 

    The three-horse race between Max Browne, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler at USC has also been talked about at length this offseason.

    There will be plenty of intense battles all season long across the college football landscape.

No. 17: Can Anybody Run the Table and Go Undefeated?

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    Last season, Ohio State and Notre Dame were the only teams that managed to run the table and go undefeated during the regular season. Will anybody be able to do it this season?

    While the SEC might have the most talented teams in the country, there are a few in other leagues who could go undefeated. Topping the list is Ohio State. The Buckeyes play a very favorable schedule with no preseason top 15 teams on the slate. Louisville could also pull it off in the AAC, and Oregon could have a perfect year even with Chip Kelly gone to the NFL. 

No. 16: Battle for the Pac-12

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    With all due respect to the rest of the Pac-12, this league is likely going to come down to Stanford and Oregon. These two teams are both ranked in the top four nationally. They will do battle on Nov. 7 in a Thursday night game.

    This will be one of the most anticipated games of the entire season. It will likely decide the champion of the Pac-12 and have national title implications.

     

No. 15: How Will Penn State Fare?

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    Penn State did an excellent job last season, winning eight games despite the turmoil that surrounded the program.

    Many are interested in seeing just how the team adjusts in Bill O'Brien's second season. Will the fan support still be there like it was last season despite the fact that the team can't go to a bowl game once again?

    Can the Nittany Lions somehow manage to put together another season like they did in 2012, or will the scrutiny finally get to them?

No. 14: Can Oregon Transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich?

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    Not many teams undergo a head coaching change and still end up in national title contention. But the Oregon Ducks just might do that this season. Former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich takes over the head coaching job for the departed Chip Kelly.

    It does not appear the Ducks are going to miss a beat with the amount of talent returning on both sides of the ball. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Oregon fares under new leadership this season.

No. 13: Who Will Emerge as the BCS Buster?

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    Boise State and TCU have made a name for themselves as BCS busters.  Last year, Northern Illinois crashed the BCS party only to get handled by Florida State.

    The 2013 season will be the final one for the BCS, but which team will emerge and threaten the big boys with a possible undefeated season?

    There are plenty of candidates, including Utah State. The Aggies return star quarterback Chuckie Keeton after winning 11 games a year ago. Fellow 11-game winner San Jose State also returns some talent, including quarterback David Fales.

    As mentioned earlier, Fresno State is also a team to look out for. But it is never safe to sleep on Boise State.

No. 12: Will Mack Brown and Texas Live Up to Expectations?

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    Mack Brown is always under scrutiny no matter what Texas is doing on the field. This season, his Longhorns are nationally ranked and one of the favorites to contend for the Big 12 title.

    If Texas goes through another disappointing season, Brown might find himself on the hot seat.

    Texas is always one of the most talked about teams in the country, and the 2013 season should not be any different.

No. 11: Who Will Control the State of Florida?

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    When it comes to college football, the state of Florida might be back to what it was a few years ago. Miami appears to be on the verge of becoming a national title contender. Florida and Florida State are already there.

    All three teams play each other with one coming at home and one on the road. That should be very interesting as the season progresses.

    Who will be the top team in the state of Florida by the end of the year?

No. 10: What Will Happen to Lane Kiffin and USC?

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    USC was one of the most disappointing teams in the country last season. The Trojans began the year No. 1 in the country, according to the AP Poll, but finished the season not even receiving votes in the final poll.

    Expectations are not nearly as high this season. The Trojans are picked to be behind the big boys in the Pac-12, but should still have a solid squad.

    If USC manages to struggle like it did last season, head coach Lane Kiffin could be on his way out the door.

No. 9: Can Notre Dame Remain in the National Spotlight?

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    Notre Dame came out of nowhere to play for the national championship this past season. Will the Fighting Irish be able to remain relevant again this year? 

    Even with the loss of quarterback Everett Golson, Notre Dame will still be one of the top teams in the country, particularly on defense with players like Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt returning. 

    The media always flock around Notre Dame, but the attention increases when the Irish are playing well. 

    What will happen with one of the most hated and loved teams in 2013?

No. 8: Who Will Win the Alabama-Texas A&M Rematch?

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    There is little question that the most anticipated game of the 2013 college football season is between Alabama and Texas A&M.

    The Aggies were the only team to beat the Crimson Tide last season. Nick Saban and his squad will be looking for a little revenge this year while searching for their third consecutive national title.

    Johnny Manziel's status is still up in the air due to the recent autograph signing scandal. This game should not be much of a challenge for Alabama if Manziel isn't available. But if he is not suspended, this will be the toughest game on the schedule for the Crimson Tide.

    Every college football fan with a pulse is looking ahead to this game on Sept. 14.

No. 7: Will Jadeveon Clowney Remain in the Heisman Conversation?

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    There is very little question who the most talked about defensive player in college football is.

    South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is an absolute freak. If he puts together the same numbers as he did last year, he will likely be in the Heisman conversation all season long.

    Whether or not he can win it remains to be seen. Most people are well-aware of how challenging it is for a defensive player to win the prestigious award.  Charles Woodson (1997) was the last non-quarterback or running back to win the award.

    But if anybody can do it, Clowney can. 

No. 6: Conference Realignment

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    A lot has happened over the past few years as far as conference realignment is concerned.

    This year, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be playing their first seasons in the ACC. Next year, Rutgers and Maryland will join the Big Ten. Louisville will also become a member of the ACC in 2014.

    Does that mean conference realignment is completely over? Not quite. It appears conferences like the Big Ten, and possibly the SEC, might add even more teams in coming years to get to that magical number of 16.

    It might not happen during this season, but sooner or later, more changes are going to come.

No. 5: Final Year of the BCS

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    College football will be going to a four-team playoff in 2014. That means that this is, thankfully, the final official season of the BCS.

    For many college football fans, it couldn't come soon enough. While there have been plenty of complaints as far as the BCS is concerned, it has had its fair share of positives during the 15 years it has been in existence.

    With that being said, most people will be thankful the BCS will be gone after the 2013 season.

No. 4: Will It Be Eight Straight for the SEC?

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    What the SEC is doing is unprecedented in this day and age in college football. The conference has won seven straight national championships.

    Will it be able to win eight straight? That is certainly not an easy thing to do, but there are many viable candidates, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida and LSU.

    It will be one of the hot topics all season long on college football discussion boards.

     

No. 3: Will Johnny Manziel Repeat as Heisman Trophy Winner?

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    Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy last season. 

    Will he be able to do it again in 2013? If he can stay on the field, he is a favorite without question.

    It will no doubt be a hot topic by the middle of the season, as former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only player to win the award twice.

    As long as he's not suspended, Manziel will be a name on the tip of nearly every analyst's tongues all season.

No. 2: Can Alabama Three-Peat?

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    Alabama has a chance to win its third straight national championship this season.

    There only appears to be a few games that could get in the way of the Crimson Tide and a third straight berth in the national championship. They could still be eligible even if they only lose one game, like last year. 

    The Crimson Tide could very well be the most talked about college football team this season.

No. 1: What Will Happen with Johnny Manziel?

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    Word spread like wildfire about an NCAA investigation surrounding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

    Manziel could face serious penalties if he is found guilty of the accusations that he signed autographs for money. If he is, it would certainly rock the college football landscape.

    As it looks right now, Manziel's attorney believes he will be the starter in the season opener against Rice.

    No question this will be the most talked about story this college football season.