By Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service
— There’s little sign of fall in the air, but it's Kickoff Week and that's enough to get one ready for tailgate parties and college football. The long Labor Day weekend has most teams trotting onto the field for the first time. For starters, fans can pick from about 20 games that will be televised on Thursday night , including North Carolina at South Carolina and Ole Miss at Vanderbilt.
Before we get to the coin toss, let’s look ahead at what the 2013 season – the last year for the Bowl Championship Series -- has to offer.
The Fabulous Five
1. Alabama. Picking Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide is too easy. Nobody beats him at recruiting or preparation. Quarterback play with A.J. McCarron and a bevy of backs and receivers makes the offense look unstoppable. One question is the offensive line, where graduation left some spots to fill. A fourth national championship in five years looks possible.
2. Oregon. Great athletes and a great offense make the Ducks the team to beat in the Pac-12. The quick striking offense features two Heisman Trophy candidates -- Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas. With Chip Kelly gone to the NFL, Mark Helfrich steps up from offensive coordinator to run the team. A favorable schedule should help.
3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes breezed through last season’s relatively weak schedule unbeaten, but remained in Columbus during the bowl season on probation. Coach Urban Meyer should have Ohio State competing for championships thanks to the magic of quarterback Braxton Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier.
4. Georgia. The Bulldogs won 12 games last year and were a play or two away from beating Alabama, thanks to a high-powered offense. Coach Mark Richt counts 10 returning starters on offense led by QB Aaron Murray. If Georgia can survive early-season matchups with Clemson and South Carolina, the Bulldogs could join the championship hunt.
5. Stanford. The Cardinal have flirted with hopes of winning a national championship the past few years. With a break or two, that could happen this season. Experience is Stanford’s strong suit, with 17 starters back. Defense wins championships and 10 starters return there. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is more than adequate to carry Coach David Shaw’s offense.
Five Heisman Hopefuls
1. Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina): Some say defensive players can’t win this award. It’s sad but probably true. If there is a breakthrough, the 6-foot-6, 274-pound defensive end might be the one. Watch his sack stats.
2. A.J. McCarron (Alabama): All he does is win. He’s 24-2 as a starter for the Crimson Tide with a National Championship in his pocket. No one had better passing efficiency numbers.
3. Johnny Manziel (Texas &M): Unless the NCAA says otherwise, the A&M quarterback has a chance to be the first repeat Heisman winner since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin. Off-season PR blunders will hurt.
4. Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville): More than a sleeper. The Cardinals quarterback threw for 27 TDs last year and should top that in 2013. He’s an ultimate team player – he asked U of L not to mount a Heisman campaign.
5. Braxton Miller (Ohio State): If the Buckeyes make a championship run, the dual threat QB will be the man in the spotlight. Passed for 15 touchdowns and ran for 13 last season as Ohio State won all 12 games.
Five Must-See Games
1. Georgia at Clemson (Aug. 31): Both teams have big hopes for 2013. This ACC-SEC clash has coaches Mark Richt and Dabo Swinney shoving all chips onto the table in this one.
2. Alabama at Texas A&M (Sept. 14): So many storylines to ponder. Can “Johnny Football” do it again? Will he even play? Nick Saban gets two weeks to prepare for a trip to College Station.
3. Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 7): Whoever wins this late-season game could be in line to gets its ticket punched to the National Championship game Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.
4. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 30): Stakes are huge in this Big Ten faceoff. Urban Meyer vs. Brady Hoke -- that’s a showdown. Talk about a tough ticket
5. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 12 @ Dallas): This matchup of Top 20 teams has plenty on the line. Fans at both schools are getting anxious for a big winner.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at email@example.com.