Now that the 2012 season has come to a close, it's time to get excited for the opening week of 2013
Alabama may be reveling in its second consecutive national championship, but college football fans everywhere else are turning their attention to recruiting and spring practice.
Those are just appetizers to the date everyone is really anticipating: The countdown for the 2013 season has begun. This is what you have to look forward to when the season reboots at the end of August.
All games on Saturday, Aug. 31 unless noted. Not all 2013 schedules are complete, so the following list is of games scheduled as of Jan. 7.
1. Georgia at Clemson
How much does a bowl victory mean? Both teams are about to find out. Georgia and Clemson entered 2012 off deflating bowl losses -- the Bulldogs in triple overtime against Michigan State, the Tigers in a rout to West Virginia. Both teams will enter 2013 after pulling out wins in their respective bowl games in the fourth quarter. With quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd announcing their returns for 2013, this should be an offensive showcase between top-10 teams and Heisman contenders.
2. LSU vs. TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
The exodus of LSU defenders has begun with defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon and linebacker Kevin Minter among those leaving early for the NFL. The Tigers haven’t struggled to replace defensive talent before, but all those roster spots won't be filled easily. LSU will face a TCU team in its backyard to open 2013. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin showed flashes of his potential when he unexpectedly became the starter in October. LSU’s Zach Mettenbrger had a nice finish to 2012, too.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Don’t expect a major drop-off from Alabama, who checked in at No. 1 in our early top 25 for 2013. A.J. McCarron is back as the leader of an offense that will feature Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. On defense, the Crimson Tide should have another top-notch squad again, but the offensive line could be a concern in relative terms. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is awaiting a draft decision from quarterback Logan Thomas, who started 2012 as a top prospect before his season fizzled on the field.
4. North Carolina at South Carolina (Aug. 29, Thursday)
The Tar Heels will be bowl eligible in 2013 unless the ongoing academic scandal changes the situation in Chapel Hill. Will it be a great game with Giovani Bernard and a handful of defensive starters gone from North Carolina? Perhaps not, but it will be the first key game in a Heisman campaign for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
5. Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (in Houston)
Oklahoma State named freshman Wes Lunt its starting quarterback at the conclusion of spring practice. After a handful of injuries, Mike Gundy learned he had three QBs capable of winning Big 12 games in Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. All are eligible to return. Mississippi State ended the season on a 1-5 skid, but the starting backfield of Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins will be seniors.
6. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
Doormats no more, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt get a prime opening weekend slot. The Commodores won 27-26 in Oxford on Nov. 19 as part of a seven-game win streak to cap the season. Both programs are riding waves of energy after winning their bowl games by a combined score of 76-41.
7. ULM at Oklahoma
Oklahoma moves on without Landry Jones, likely making Blake Bell the full-time starter. OU will find out if the Belldozer can strike as much fear into defenses on first and 10 from his 20-yard line as he does from the goal line. ULM’s Kolton Browning returns after opening 2012 with an upset of Arkansas and coming within eight total points of doing the same to Auburn and Baylor.
8. Ohio at Louisville
Few teams will enter 2013 with more positive mojo than Louisville. The Cardinals made easy work of Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman-contending quarterback Teddy Bridgewater leads a glut of returning juniors and seniors. And coach Charlie Strong is staying put after overtures for Tennessee. Ohio, who defeated Penn State to open 2012, will be no pushover as quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship return.
9. Northwestern at Cal
Northwestern opens the season riding a bowl win, something the Wildcats haven’t done since the 1949 opener. First-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes will get the Bears’ offense moving soon enough, but Northwestern will have the edge in Berkeley with Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemien back.
10. Boise State at Washington
If you feel like you just watched this game, that’s because you did. Boise State defeated Washington 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, handing the Huskies two crushing losses to end the season along with an overtime loss to rival Washington State.
Others of note:
Northern Illinois at Iowa. The Huskies’ Jordan Lynch should top 173 yards of total offense this time around.
Temple at Notre Dame. From unranked to the national title game in 2012, Notre Dame will open 2013 with expectations.
Penn State vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.). No more Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Matt McGloin. Things are going to get tough at Penn State, but at least coach Bill O’Brien is back.
Toledo at Florida. The Gators ended the season on a down note in the Sugar Bowl and open 2013 against a team they should put away. Emphasis on should put away.
Rutgers at Fresno State (Thursday, Aug. 29). The Scarlet Knights’ defense loses some key cogs. Fresno State is still trying to figure out how it lost 43-10 to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl