This is the first in a series of seven 2009 college football story lines. Next week, national columnist Chris Dufresne begins a daily countdown of his preseason top 25.
It's about from here to Happy Valley between now and the first week of 2010, when the Rose Bowl will host the Bowl Championship Series title game for the third time. August represents helmet fittings and hope. School is out, two-a-day sweat has yet to trickle and blocking sled slates are clean as coaches, from the cool of Palo Alto to the saunas of the South, preach the gospel of promise.
A few important dates on the journey toward January:
Saturday: USC opens camp. After seven consecutive BCS games and Pacific 10 titles, this is a dynasty-in-transition year as the Trojans overhaul their defense while trying to prove this program has always been about Pete and repeat.
Aug. 10: UCLA opens camp. Year 2 of Rick Neuheisel's nudge-it-along era opens with the proposition of transforming last year's offensive unit into a team that can get to 6-6 and back to a big bowl . . . the Emerald.
Sept. 3: Oregon at Boise State. Memo to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch: The playoff in college football starts here, before Labor Day, on a Thursday night, with a game both teams must win to stay talked-about around the national water cooler.
Sept. 5: Oklahoma vs. Brigham Young (at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas). See "Oregon at Boise State." Another prove-it game between a BCS power-conference program and one from a league Hatch has described, for the congressional record, as "underprivileged."
Also: Nevada at Notre Dame: the first game in what could be Charlie Weis' last season if he loses to something called the "Wolf Pack" in South Bend. Last year, remember, a San Diego State team coming off a loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo came inches short of ruining the Irish's home opener.
Also: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (at Atlanta's Georgia Dome). The winner stakes an early claim in the national title race; with the loser having some explaining to do back on campus.
Sept. 12: USC at Ohio State. The Buckeyes, 35-3 losers last year at the Coliseum, won't have Beanie Wells in the lineup again this year, either. This is a huge, early-season tangle, although both programs have gaps to fill and seem more likely to meet again in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.
Sept. 19: Texas Tech at Texas/Tennessee at Florida. Two roadside accident games -- you shouldn't look, but you can't help it. Texas is going to payback-clobber Texas Tech for costing the Longhorns a possible national title last year, while first-year Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin is going to feel scorching Swamp scoreboard pain for calling Florida Coach Urban Meyer a cheater.
Oct. 3: USC at California. Six years after Cal pulled off that triple-overtime win over USC in Berkeley, the Bears seek another win over the Trojans while praying star tailback Jahvid Best doesn't pull a groin.
Oct. 10: Alabama at Mississippi. Ole Miss is coming off a nine-win season and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. This game, though, for the Rebels, is more about avoiding cotton mouth.
Also: Florida at Louisiana State. These schools have each won two BCS national titles since 2003, meaning this showdown in Baton Rouge could decide team of the decade.
Oct. 17: Texas vs. Oklahoma. Given the way last year's Big 12 race ended (poorly, with a lot of yelling), it seems appropriate these schools ended up tied for first in preseason balloting for the South Division.
Oct. 31: Texas at Oklahoma State. Here's hoping this is as wildly thrilling and season-defining as Texas' trip last year to Texas Tech.
Nov. 7: Ohio State at Penn State. If you liked the Nittany Lions' 13-6 victory last year in Columbus, you may love the rematch in Joe Paterno's backyard.
Nov. 28: Florida State at Florida. Hmmm . . . Bobby Bowden's last game?
Also: UCLA at USC. Never mind, it's not even the Pac-10 conference closer for USC this year. (Trojans finish up with Arizona on Dec. 5.)
Jan. 1: Rose Bowl. Looking forward to Nevada vs. West Virginia.
Jan. 7: BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. The bar is set very, very high. Last time Pasadena hosted, we got Texas 41, USC 38.