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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 1

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In just a few short hours, college football season will officially be here. It’s that happy time when everyone is undefeated and every team just knows it is finally their year. But the good times can’t last forever. Here are five burning questions as we enter the 2013 football season:

Can Anyone Stop Alabama?

After winning the last two national championships, the Crimson Tide are a heavy favorite to become the first team in history to win three consecutive titles. It’s easy to understand why, as Alabama comes into the season loaded with talent (four preseason All-Americans) and a very favorable schedule. Aside from an early test in Week 3 at #7 Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide will not face another ranked opponent until November and they avoid all the SEC East powers (#5 Georgia, #6 South Carolina and #10 Florida) during the regular season.

But don’t start engraving “Alabama” on that trophy just yet. Second-ranked Ohio State ran the table last year and, finally freed from NCAA probation, looks to continue its undefeated run. #3 Oregon and #4 Stanford will battle for Pac-12 supremacy as well as a potential national-title shot. And the rest of the SEC certainly isn’t ready to anoint the Crimson Tide just yet, with #5 Georgia, #6 South Carolina, #7 Texas A&M and #10 Florida all waiting for their chance to dethrone the defending champs.

What Will Happen With Johnny Football?

On Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA announced it had reached an agreement with Texas A&M to suspend superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel for the first half of the Aggies’ season opener against Rice. And while that mystery is now over with, another big question still looms: after a tumultuous offseason, how will Manziel handle the bright spotlight as a returning Heisman Trophy winner? Can Johnny Football possibly put together the kind of season he did last year? Or is he looking at the dreaded sophomore slump?

Who Can Take Home the Hardware?

Speaking of Manziel, who will walk away with this year’s Heisman? Can Manziel become just the second player in history to win the coveted award twice? It’s almost a given that the top skill-position player from the nation’s best team gets an invite to New York, so it’s probably a good bet that either quarterback A.J. McCarron or running back T.J. Yeldon will be there to represent the Crimson Tide. Braxton Miller can cement his Heisman front-runner status if he leads Ohio State to another unbeaten season.

While Ndamukong Suh and Manti Te’o have come close in recent years, South Carolina’s freakish defensive end Jadeveon Clowney may have the best shot yet for a full-time defensive player to break through and win the award. (When Michigan’s Charles Woodson won in 1997, he was primarily a cornerback but also returned punts and played occasionally at wide receiver.) Louisville’s cupcake schedule should help quarterback Teddy Bridgewater post some huge numbers that will get Heisman voters’ attention. And while those are some of the big names to watch, look out for a dark horse—remember, this time last year, very few people outside of College Station had ever heard of Johnny Manziel.

Which Big-Name Program Can Bounce Back?

A year ago, USC was the preseason #1 team, with a four-year starting quarterback as the early Heisman favorite. But a promising season took a nose dive as the Trojans lost five of their last six games and limped into the offseason with a 7-6 record. Despite the dreaded vote of confidence from Athletic Director Pat Haden, coach Lane Kiffin is squarely on the hot seat and looking for a season that gets USC back among the nation’s elite. Unlike Kiffin, Texas coach Mack Brown at least has an experienced quarterback (David Ash) as the Longhorns look to climb back to the top. After a nine-year span in which he won 101 games and a national championship, Brown has struggled of late, going just 22-16 the last three years. More importantly, he has gone just 11-15 in Big 12 play in that span and lost three straight to archrival Oklahoma by a combined score of 146-58. While most Texas boosters still support the coach, another subpar season could raise the temperature under the head Longhorn.

How Will the New Concussion Rules Impact the Game?

It was called the Hit Heard ‘Round the World and made Jadeveon Clowney a YouTube legend. But it could get him ejected if he does it again this year. Under new rules aimed at reducing the number of concussions, defensive players who target a defenseless player and hit him above the head or who lead with the crown of their helmet on a hit will be automatically ejected and suspended for the next game. As you can see, the problem is that the terms “defenseless” and “target” inherently involve a split-second judgment call made by officials on the field. While these calls can be reviewed, the penalty will still stand and it will require indisputable proof to overturn an ejection. So not only could the new rule result in potentially game-changing penalties and ejections, some coaches are concerned it will have the unintended consequence of causing more knee injuries as defensive players go low to avoid making contact with a ball carrier’s head.

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