Somewhere in Georgia, two college football writers sit on a bench. Both have southern drawls. Yes, it looks a little like Forrest Gump and that other guy waiting for the bus. Looking down at his watch, the first writer — Mark Schlabach — realizes that the first full weekend of college football kicks off in precisely 100 days. Looking at Schlabach, the other writer — Ryan McGee — suggests that to pass the time between now and Thursday, Aug. 31, they should make a list of the 100 things they can’t wait to see in the 2017 season. The conversation that followed went as, um, follows …
Mark Schlabach: I’ll start. How long will it take Lane Kiffin to say that he was the brains behind Alabama’s success (1)? The Tide return a deep stable of running backs, but if Jalen Hurts doesn’t show improvement as a downfield passer, you can bet Kiffin will have something to say about it. Alabama needs to replace more than half its receiving production, and 43 percent of Hurts’ pass attempts last season were at or behind the line of scrimmage. It will be fascinating to see how he develops under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Did you realize that Alabama is 0-3 in its last three games without Kiffin running the offense?
Ryan McGee: That can’t be right. (Searches “2013 Alabama Football” on phone, sees the Tide ended the season with losses to Auburn and Oklahoma and adds that to their Clemson title game loss.) Dang, it is right.
Schlabach: There’s the second thing I can’t wait to see: Nick Saban having another three-game losing streak (2).
McGee: How about all those new coaches in the state of Florida? Kiffin at Florida Atlantic, Butch Davis at Florida International, Charlie Strong at South Florida. Which one of those three can get his team to a bowl game first (3)? The smart bet is USF. The Bulls won 11 games last season. Maybe this is strictly a Bottom FI(notA)U vs. FA(not I)U debate. Which reminds me, I can’t wait to start writing the Bottom 10 again (4).
Schlabach: All seven FBS head coaches in the state of Florida have won a national title as either a head coach, an assistant coach or a player, so the pedigree is strong. Speaking of Strong, how about his old team? Will the Texas soap opera consume Tom Herman like it did its previous coach (5), and what can Herman do with a roster of talent like the one he’s inheriting (6)? Texas returns 33 of 44 players from last season’s two-deep.
McGee: Is being awesome on Twitter enough to keep people off your back when you’re losing games (7)? Herman’s act is great, but it’ll wear thin quickly without results. The Horns aren’t College Football Playoff contenders, but they’ll need to become so soon. To that point, I want to know if the Big 12 has any playoff contenders (8).
Schlabach: It’ll be up to the winner of Bedlam, so you can already mark down when Oklahoma visits Oklahoma State on Nov. 4 (9). Baker Mayfield had an FBS-best 92.9 QBR in 2016, and I can’t wait to see him for one more season (10). He’ll be without Joe Mixon or Dede Westbrook, but at least Oklahoma fans will be able to cheer without a guilty conscience (11).
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Sooners a 77 percent chance to win the Big 12. If the Cowboys are to overtake the Sooners (12), Mason Rudolph and James Washington will need to be as productive as the Mayfield-to-Westbrook combination from 2016 (13).
If the Pokes win the Big 12 and reach the CFP, Mike Gundy might finally get some credit for his coaching (14).
McGee: I can’t wait to see how long Gundy’s mullet is by the time we get to Bedlam (15). The last time I saw it was in the Wisconsin Waterfall phase. By November, it will have grown into full-on Achy Breaky Big Mistakey. Speaking of handsome men of the Big 12, can Kliff Kingsbury turn the corner (16)? This is Year 5 for him at Texas Tech. The first four went 8-5, 4-8, 7-6, 5-7.
McGee: I can’t wait to see if TCU can finally have a non-weird season (18). After two seasons of horrible breaks, it feels like the Horned Frogs are just a couple of lucky strikes away from a big year.
Schlabach: The biggest unknown in the Big 12 has to be down the road in Waco. How will Baylor fans react the first time Matt Rhule runs the ball nine straight times (19)?
McGee: The best reaction will be when the Big 12 merges with the Pac-12 (20). But that probably won’t happen in 2017. Probably.
Schlabach: Okay, Pac-12. Has Chris Petersen built a program at Washington or only a team (21)? Jake Browning and the running backs are back, but John Ross and those killer DBs are gone. Kevin King, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones combined for 25 pass break-ups last season, and all three were taken in the first 43 picks of the NFL draft.
McGee: They’ll have some time to sort it out before their schedule toughens up at the end of October. That’s when UCLA comes to town. At least I think that’s toughening up. It depends whether Bruins QB Josh Rosen is ready to live up to the hype (22).
Schlabach: Falk will break a book full of records and strike a blow for guys who decide to come back for their senior seasons (25).
McGee: And he has USC and Darnold coming to Pullman for the last game of September.
Schlabach: USC needs to avoid another terrible start (26). The Trojans begin with three home games, but those include both Stanford and Texas coming to town. Man, I just want to see if they can put together four straight quarters (27). They can look so good and then so bad.
McGee: Slow starts aren’t just a USC problem. Can any team in the Pac-12 get off to a decent start (28)? After Week 3 last year, eight teams in the conference had at least one loss. The season was already spiraling, especially in Eugene. Willie Taggart has the biggest challenge in the league in trying to reignite Oregon (29).
Schlabach: Will he try to slow the Ducks (30)? It won’t matter what he does offensively if he can’t fix a defense that allowed an FBS-worst 67 offensive touchdowns last season.
McGee: It will be fascinating to see if this is all just a bump in the road for the Ducks and they get rolling again, or is this a legit break in the chain (31)?
Schlabach: They go to Arizona State in Week 4 for their Pac-12 opener. The Pac-12’s two hottest coaching seats might be in the state of Arizona. Which coach will get fired first (32): Rich Rod at Arizona or Todd Graham at Arizona State?
McGee: The Mountain West is still all about Brett Rypien back on the blue turf at Boise State (34). The Broncos were 10-3 last year. This is Bryan Harsin’s fourth year as head coach. They have a couple of Power 5 games and key conference games at home, including Wyoming. Can the Broncos get back to their old New Year’s party-crashing ways (35)? You know me, I’m a Group of Five underdog junkie. I can never wait to see who might pull a Houston-ish run and force themselves into the big bowl game talk (36).
Another team to watch is Memphis (37). The Tigers host UCLA in Week 3, and if they can hang a bunch of yards and points on the Bruins, they could assume the now-annual role of American Athletic Conference interloper previously held by Houston, Navy, Temple, etc.
Schlabach: There are plenty of big first-month matchups (38), but I want the season to build and gain momentum as the weeks go by (39). Last season’s Biggest Opening Weekend Ever was great, but a lot of the featured teams fizzled as the season went on.
There’s less chance of a letdown this season, considering the slate we have in Weeks 2 and 3. I’m already excited about Week 2, when we’ll see Auburn-Clemson (40), Oklahoma-Ohio State (41), Utah-BYU (42) and Georgia-Notre Dame (43). Which of Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame assistant coaches will wear the bull’s-eye this season (44)?
McGee: I can’t wait to see Notre Dame join the ACC full-time (45) and see Kelly’s head look like a Crock-Pot every time reporters ask him about Notre Dame joining the ACC full-time (46). In Week 3, I’m looking forward to a rematch of the best game I saw last year, Clemson at Louisville (47), as well as Wisconsin–BYU (48), Tennessee at The Swamp (49), Texas-USC (50) and Ole Miss–Cal (51) just because it looks weird. Oh, and Miami–Florida State (52)!
Schlabach: I can already hear all the talk about “The U is back!” Which means they’ll start the year 2-0 … and then go to Tallahassee (53).
McGee: Forget Miami. What kind of record will the Noles have coming into that game (54)? Will it be 2-0 or 1-1?
Schlabach: It has taken us way too long to discuss the season’s massive opener (55). Alabama and Florida State in Atlanta? Are you kidding? Since the AP Preseason Poll debuted in 1950, there has never been a matchup of No. 1 and No. 2 in the opening week. The Tide and the Seminoles might be the first. But top team beware — no matter which it is — the last preseason No. 1 to win the national championship was USC in 2004.
Also, we know the game is in Atlanta, but we might not know where in Atlanta. There have been reported problems with the construction of the roof of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Hopefully, it will be fixed by Labor Day weekend (56).
McGee: Then we have to dig up and rewrite our “Farewell to thee, Georgia Dome” columns from January (57). The player I’m most interested in watching in that game is Deondre Francois. How different will he look with a year’s worth of experience under his belt (58)?
Schlabach: For me, it’s Derwin James returning to the field with his knee healed (59). And he isn’t the only player I’m hoping to see return to 100 percent health. Can Georgia RB Nick Chubb return to his freshman year form? (60). If so, the Bulldogs will win the SEC East (61) for the first time since 2012.
McGee: Florida will win the SEC East again because that’s what the Gators do every year (62).
Schlabach: They’ll finish third (63). At least, that’s where Jim McElwain wants us to pick them. The Gators coach always says to me. “You guys are going to pick us to finish third again because that’s what you always do.”
McGee: Coach Mac needs to get off that shark and put his clothes back on.
McGee: Ouch. I seriously can’t wait to see if Tennessee can finally get over the hump (66). The Vols haven’t been to the SEC championship game since 2007! And keep an eye on their SEC West doppelganger (67). Arkansas is entering its fifth year with Bret Bielema. I don’t think his job’s in imminent danger, but it’s time to pair some signature wins with his signature personality. Same for the Hogs’ first SEC opponent, Texas A&M. Can Jake Hubenak keep Kevin Sumlin from suffering through another November collapse (68)?
Schlabach: The Aggies start November with Auburn at home. What should we expect from Jarrett Stidham (69)? Is he another Jeremy Johnson?
McGee: Gus Malzahn better hope not. His team will be going to both Death Valleys this year. On Oct. 14, Auburn goes to LSU, where I can’t wait to see if Ed Orgeron is still as beloved among his fellow Cajuns as he was last fall and if he’s able to stick to his own plan of not making the mistake he made at Ole Miss and USC — meddling with his assistants too much (70). With all that in mind, has he been able to stick to his other plan of weaning himself off his 8-10 per day energy-drink habit (71)?
Offensive overhaul promises aside, the Tigers’ offense will run through Derrius Guice now that the starting tailback job is fully his (72). Guice accounted for 38 percent of his team’s scrimmage touchdowns last season, the third-highest rate in Power 5.
Schlabach: But before LSU, Auburn goes to the other Death Valley, the one at Clemson, for Week 2. The champions of actual college football, not of life, are missing Deshaun Watson. I can’t wait to see if Dabo Swinney is really building a dynasty (73).
McGee: Me too. Are they sticking around for the long haul post-Watson or were they just Wake Forest basketball with Tim Duncan? Also, how long will it take before they put a baby gate on that slide in their new football offices after a player tears a meniscus scooting down it after a position meeting (74)?
Schlabach: You mentioned that Clemson-Louisville game in Week 3. Has there ever been a returning Heisman Trophy winner with more to prove than Lamar Jackson (75)?
McGee: I don’t think so. Maybe Jameis Winston? Jackson made himself a household name after his performance against Winston’s old team. The Cardinals visit Tallahassee on Oct. 21, and if they are both undefeated, the hype will be unreal (76). Regardless of record, Jackson’s shot to tie Archie Griffin’s winning back-to-back bronze men will likely be on the line (77).
McGee: I really can’t wait to see what he might do in an offense built by new OC Kevin Wilson (79). But I want to see another Big Ten team crash the Ohio State-Michigan talk (80).
Schlabach: Wisconsin will make us all look like fools again (81).
McGee: The Badgers do that a lot, actually.
Schlabach: James Franklin has done a nice job of proving us both wrong too. We both said he wasn’t a great fit at Penn State, but would you be surprised to see him prove everyone wrong and hang another conference championship banner at the end of the year after we’ve all picked Ohio State or Michigan again (82)?
McGee: Not if Trace McSorley throws for 3,600 yards again and ends up representing the conference at the Heisman ceremony (83).
Schlabach: The real surprise would be to see Kirk Ferentz earn a million-dollar bonus through Iowa winning it all (84).
McGee: Then again, brand names are brand names, and rivalry hate is rivalry hate. So deep down, I can’t wait to see the Big Ten’s CFP title shot come down to The Game at the Big House over Thanksgiving weekend (85).
Schlabach: How will Michigan fans react if the Wolverines lose that game (86)? If they do, Jim Harbaugh would become just the second coach to start 0-3 vs. Ohio State. The first was Rich Rod.
McGee: Going back to our talk earlier about Tom Herman and Texas, I wonder when the magic of Harbaugh’s hype will begin to wear off a little (87). Sweet Tweeting and awesome photo ops can get you only so far. It’s like Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham.”
Schlabach: If you grow fungus on your shower shoes and you’re winning, then people say you’re colorful. If you’re losing, then they say you’re a slob.
McGee: If you can climb a tree in a recruit’s yard and you’re winning, you’re cool. If you and that recruit lose to Ohio State again, you’re just losers.
Schlabach: Speaking of recruiting, with this early signing period in December, expect to see Alabama sign 20-something five-star recruits when there are still 20-something bowl games left to play (88).
McGee: The team from Alabama that I’m most happy to see play is UAB (89). The coach I can’t wait to see is Bill Snyder back for his 26th season at Kansas State (90). And I really can’t wait to see him get his clear-of-cancer diagnosis (91).
Schlabach: I’m counting on Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson beating Georgia’s five-stars with his two-stars … again (92).
McGee: I can’t wait to see the ACC championship back in Charlotte (93).
Schlabach: Who will be this season’s Colorado? Can the Buffaloes back up what they did last year (94)?
McGee: I’ll be watching them play Colorado State at Mile High (95).
Schlabach: He was criticized last season, but J.T. Barrett will surpass Drew Brees as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in career touchdowns (96). He enters the season with 100 and needs seven more to overtake Brees.
McGee: How’s this for a record? Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson can break the FBS record for career field goals (97). He has 69. The mark to beat is 96. But I don’t want him to break the SEC record for consecutive PAT kicks made. He’s at 141, and the all-time mark of 161 was set by Tennessee’s John Becksvoort. He was a friend of mine in college.
Schlabach: Nick Chubb could break Herschel Walker’s record for 100-yard games at Georgia (98). He’s at 19. Herschel had 28.
McGee: I can’t wait to receive the first Tweet that we are too obsessed with the SEC (99). When I hear that racket, I know the season is getting close.
Schlabach: And that brings us to the 100th and most important reason we’re excited for the start of college football.
McGee: What’s that?
Schlabach: I can’t wait for the college football season to start so we can stop listening to Lavar Ball (100).