Top 10 storylines to watch for this NCAA football season
After a long, hot summer, the NCAA football season is finally upon us. The campaign opens with an 18-game slate on Thursday night, followed by a full weekend of action across the board.
It's been a while since we've seen college action on the gridiron, so before you fully immerse yourself in this year's action, let's run through the key topic to keep an eye on heading into the season.
Ohio State quarterback battle
Ohio State is facing a truly rare dilemma -- there's too much talent at the quarterback position.
You'll remember J.T. Barrett took the reigns at QB after Braxton Miller went down with an early season injury -- before Barrett went down with a season-ending injury of his own. That's when sophomore Cardale Jones stepped in for the three most important games of the Buckeyes' season: the final game of the regular season against Wisconsin, a playoff matchup against Alabama and the National Championship Game against Oregon. And what did Jones do? Win all three.
The issue here is that both Miller and Barrett were legitimate Heisman hopefuls before they went down. Miller helped alleviate coach Urban Meyer's issues by voluntarily changing positions to wide receiver, but Barrett and Jones still figure to compete for snaps under center.
Meyer has said that the two will split time evenly, but only time will tell who will win the majority of the time at quarterback.
Harbaugh back in the college ranks
Jim Harbaugh goes from dominating NFL headlines last in 2014 to doing the same in the NCAA this year. At Michigan, he'll be resuming his college coaching career after a four-year hiatus with the San Francisco 49ers.
He coached Stanford from 2007 through 2010, taking the team from a 1-11 cellar dwellar in the year before he arrived, to two bowl game appearances in his final pair of campaigns.
After a few underwhelming seasons under Brady Hoke, the Wolverine faithful are desperate for a splash onto the big stage once again. Whether Harbaugh can bring that is yet to be seen.
What's in store for Vernon Adams at Oregon?
After three successful seasons with Marcus Mariota running the show, Oregon now has to move on at quarterback -- and they're doing so with an FCS transfer. Vernon Adams is coming over from Eastern Washington -- who happens to be Oregon's Week 1 opponent.
Adams impressed in the lower ranks, but operating in the Oregon offense on the big stage is a different story. Week 1 will surely shape an interesting narrative, depending on how Adams fair.
How does TCU respond to its best-ever preseason ranking?
Entering his 15th season as TCU head coach, Gary Patterson is facing the highest expectations of his life. Ranked second in the country heading into the year, armed with Treyvone Boykin as one of the best players in the nation, the sky-high expectations aren't without good reason.
After disappointingly missing out on the playoff last season, the team has its eyes on making the field of four in 2015.
Can the SEC return to dominance?
After being touted as the NCAA's dominant conference -- and rightfully so, after seven consecutive national championships -- an SEC team hasn't won a title since 2012.
Three SEC teams make up the AP preseason top 10, which almost seems light compared to the SEC talent overload of years past. Alabama surely figures to compete for a national title, with Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Clemson some of the best teams in the country as well. How well they fair against out-of-conference competition will tell us a lot about the SEC's status.
Can Florida State compete for the playoff post-Jameis Winston?
The Seminoles lost Heisman winner Jameis Winston to the NFL, but his replacement isn't exactly unfamiliar with the big stage. Everett Golson, after two years as Notre Dame's playmaking quarterback, will run the show in Tallahassee.
Just last season, Golson threw 29 touchdowns and ran for eight more. Winston is much closer to a pro-style quarterback than Golson is today, but in terms of winning NCAA games, the former Fighting Irish shotcaller should see a ton of success. Florida State cracks the top 10 as of today, but whether they can finish higher than that will largely depend on how Golson fairs.
Is this the year for Notre Dame?
We find ourselves asking the question every year: Can Notre Dame returns to championship contention? The school reached the title game in 2012 but got embarrassed, and hasn't had an easy time returning to dominance. They were ranked as high as fifth last season but finished outside the top 25.
They open this season ranked 11th in the country. Entering his sixth season as head coach, Brian Kelly will be relying heavily on Malik Zaire, who started just a single game last season at quarterback. That one game, though, was the team's bowl game, which they won, and Zaire was named MVP. The 6-foot, 200-pound quarterback rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries last year, making him a dual-threat whenever he's on the field. Look for plenty of read option from the Irish this year.
Is USC back for real?
Similar to Notre Dame, USC always tends to find itself in the "Is this the year?" conversation. They've finished each of the last two seasons on the outskirts of the top 20, at 10-4 in 2013 and 9-4 last year.
The team showed good signs in Steve Sarkisian's first year, but the program knows that it'll need to improve to return to the success Pete Carroll brought throughout the 2000s. Cody Kessler has impressed under center, throwing 39 touchdowns to just five picks last year. They've lost lead rusher Javorius Allen to the NFL, just as they did with leading pass-catcher Nelson Agholor.
Young players will need to step up, but the structure seems to be in place for SC to make a decent run.
Will Alabama return to competing for a title?
Suddenly, Alabama hasn't won a postseason game since the 2012 season. After back-to-back losses in the Sugar Bowl -- last year's being a playoff game -- the Crimson Tide missed out on playing in the title game in consecutive years for the first time since 2007 and 2008.
The team still hasn't made a firm decision at the quarterback position, while T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper's production need to be replaced. With Nick Saban at the helm, though, and a wealth of versatile talent on the defensive side, the Tide should shape up near the playoff conversation by season's end.
Can Dak Prescott and Mississippi State sustain success over a full year?
After catching the entire college football world off guard through the early portion of last season, Mississippi State will have their work cut out for them in 2015.
The nation has certainly caught on to athletic quarterback Dak Prescott, who found himself in Heisman talk mid-2014, before Mississippi State's drop-off. The raw talent surely seems to be there, but unless his arm has sharpened up, Prescott's limitations could prove to be harrowing for the Bull Dogs.
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