College football is in for some big and, some say, much-needed changes with the switch to a four-team playoff.
Before we get to that, there are still a couple more seasons under the current system; the playoffs don’t begin until 2014.
And this season will be worth watching.
Nationally, there are plenty of interesting story lines, from Penn State trying to rebuild in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal to Urban Meyer’s return to coaching with Ohio State.
The Southeastern Conference has reeled off an unprecedented six consecutive BCS national championship game victories. Last season, the outcome wasn’t ever in doubt. It was an all-SEC rematch with LSU facing Alabama.
Can another conference end the streak? Leading contenders are Oregon and USC from the Pacific-12, Oklahoma from the Big 12 and Wisconsin from the Big Ten. The favorite just might be the Trojans.
After spending the past two seasons in NCAA postseason exile, USC is ready to reinvent itself and rise to challenge the SEC for gridiron dominance.
The sleeping giant is awake and that’s bad news for other college football powers.
“We’re two years removed from what was handed down as people saying (USC) is over, and being a preseason No. 1 team two years later is extremely exciting for our university and for our fans,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
If every blockbuster needs a star, then quarterback Matt Barkley is USC’s.
Barkley, who finished sixth on the Heisman Trophy ballot and is a preseason favorite to win college football’s most coveted individual award, passed on a sure chance in the NFL to return to school and help his team resolve some unfinished business.
Joining Barkley is an all-star cast of players, including receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee, who combined for 2,435 yards receiving and 27 total touchdowns last season.
Throw in former Penn State running back Silas Redd, and you have the nucleus of a pretty good team.
A team capable of winning the championship in January.
So to get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of some of the things to watch out for this season.
HEISMAN TROPHY WATCH
Matt Barkley, USC, QB
Like Stanford’s Andrew Luck last year, Barkley enters the season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. What can Barkley learn from Luck’s unsuccessful Heisman campaign? That taking care of business is only one part of the race. Like Luck, Barkley needs to produce while hoping not to be outdone by a fast-rising underdog – the way Baylor’s Robert Griffin III went from a borderline contender last August to the Heisman winner in December.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin, RB
Ball, a senior, has already impressed Heisman voters with his numbers. This season, he will look to prove that he can carry Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl without Russell Wilson at quarterback. While Ball’s junior campaign was among the most prolific in college football history, he will need to lead the Badgers to at least another title in the Big Ten Leaders division to remain in Heisman consideration.
Denard Robinson, Michigan, QB
It feels like Robinson has been a perennial Heisman Trophy candidate since the first day he set foot on the Michigan campus. Last season, he racked up more 3,340 yards of total offense and 36 touchdowns. He led the team to its first double-digit win season and its first Bowl Championship Series game victory since 2006.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Clemson had the No. 1 offense in the league thanks to QB Tajh Boyd who led the ACC in total offense (4,046 yards) last season. … With 13 starters back, including senior QB Mike Glennon, North Carolina State could have one of its best seasons in recent memory.
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels seems to have turned the corner developmentally and is poised to lead a talented Bulls lineup favored to win the title. … Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater proved he’s a strong dual-threat quarterback capable of helping the Cardinals sustain the surprising success they had last season.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson showed he could lead his team to a winning season and a BCS bowl win, but he still craves a conference title. ... The Big Ten has struggled recently turn its success into something off national proportions. Wisconsin and Michigan could take care of that on the field this season.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones is looking to finish out his career by leading the Sooners to their first national championship since the 2000 season. … With Texas A&M and Missouri bolting to the SEC, the Big 12 added West Virginia and TCU.
SMU running back Zach Line is looking to for his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season with the Mustangs this season. … With four teams — UCF, SMU, Memphis and Houston — jumping to the Big East next season and new members joining in 2013, the league is in flux.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson earned the starting nod with his strong arm and mobility. … After back-to-back eight-win seasons, Notre Dame is looking to finally get over the hump and make a bigger splash.
The league is loaded with top-quality quarterbacks, including Toledo’s Austin Dantin, Miami’s Zac Dysert, Bowling Green’s Matt Schilz, Western Michigan’s Alex Carder and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton.
Fresno State RB Robbie Rouse was the most dynamic rusher in the WAC last season. … The league has undergone a major face lift with the additions of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii.
South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore is coming back following an ACL injury and is looking to return to the sort of form that saw him rush for close to 1,200 yards as a freshman. Add newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M and the league continues to grow.
Arkansas State’s Ryan Aplin is a dual-threat QB. … FIU running back Kedrick Rhodes ranked fourth last season in total rushing and will be the favorite to lead the league this year.
Western Athletic Conference
Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron looks to the lead the Bulldogs to a conference title. … This could be the final season of football in the WAC.
Six schools to note
QB Tyler Wilson and RB Knile Davis are back, coach John L. Smith has calmed the storm after scandal erupted following Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle crash and subsequent firing. All the Razorbacks have to do now is get by Alabama and LSU — their only two losses a year ago. Both visit the Natural State.
The Seminoles’ return to prominence has been rumored for years. Under coach Jimbo Fisher, it may actually happen this season.
The Badgers are hungry after consecutive Rose Bowl losses. If new QB Danny O’Brien is up to the task of replacing Russell Wilson, watch out.
Behind running back Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans could be on the verge of breaking a Rose Bowl drought that goes back to 1988.
Mack Brown’s crew appears to be headed back to the big stage behind a helmet-rattling defense.
The Mountaineers could make their mark with a championship in their first season in the Big 12.
NINE fACES in NEW PLACES
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Burned out no more, the two-time national champion coach returns to the sideline with one of the country’s premier programs — and too many references to an Urban renewal.
Bob Davie, New Mexico
Away from coaching for a decade, Davie tries to turn around a program plagued by embarrassments on and off the field under Mike Locksley.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
The fast-talking Texan has done everything right in Tempe so far, soothing concerns about bouncing around while building excitement for the program.
Charlie Weiss, Kansas
Weiss’ first stint as a head coach petered out at Notre Dame. The Jayhawks are hoping he can turn around a program that languished under Turner Gill.
Bill O’Brien, Penn State
The former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots might have the toughest job in the country, considering all that has happened with the Nittany Lions.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
RichRod’s three-year run at Michigan didn’t go so well, but he has Tucson buzzing about football again with his souped-up offense.
John L. Smith, Arkansas
The Razorbacks needed someone to smooth over the ugliness of Bobby Petrino’s firing. The even-tempered Smith should be a good fit.
Jim Mora, UCLA
The former Seahawks coach has his first college gig after spending the past two years as an NFL Network analyst. He replaces the fired Rick Neuheisel.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
After four seasons at Houston, which consistently ranked among the nation’s top offensive teams, Sumlin leads A&M into the SEC.McClatchy news services