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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

After a miserable summer, it's finally time for college football

College football fans can concentrate on games beginning Thursday after the Penn State scandal rocked the sport. A playoff system is two years away, but Nov. 3 could feel much like the postseason.

August 29, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • USC and quarterback Matt Barkley shouldn't have much of a problem dispatching Hawaii on Saturday, but are the Trojans capable of winning a national championship this season?
USC and quarterback Matt Barkley shouldn't have much of a problem… (Grant Hindsley / Associated…)

Usain Bolt with the wind at his back couldn't get us to this season fast enough.

Louisiana State's inability last January to cross midfield until the fourth quarter against Alabama seems like an eon ago with the heavy months that followed.

Penn State's creepy story polluted the pond.

What a pleasure, relatively speaking, to focus on scandals that involve only boosters (Miami), systemic academic fraud (North Carolina) and phony recruiting-service practices (Oregon).

The games start Thursday with first-year UCLA Coach Jim Mora taking his team to the stadium at Rice where in 1962 John F. Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

UCLA hopes to put a quarterback in the NFL draft by the end of this century.

USC, cleared for bowl takeoff after a two-year ban, puts its No. 1 preseason ranking by the Associated Press on the line Saturday at home against Hawaii. No one is expecting a Honolulu — the Trojans are favored by 40 points.

Penn State stumbles back to the field against Ohio, lucky the NCAA didn't shutter its doors.

"They let us play football, and let us be on TV," first-year Coach Bill O'Brien said.

Penn State moves forward without Joe Paterno for the first time since the Johnson administration. Players who haven't been poached by other schools will break tradition and put names on their jerseys. The program has gone from generic back to Genesis.

Other season-opening notes and observations:

•The Bowl Championship Series is not dead yet. The new four-team playoff agreed upon in June won't start until the 2014 season. That means the wacky BCS system gets two more shots at picking the wrong two teams.

The Orange Bowl plays host to this season's national title game, with the Rose Bowl closing out the BCS era on Jan. 7, 2014. Officials plan to commemorate the BCS era with a Rose Bowl flyover that ends with "Hip-hip-hooray!"

Can't wait two more years for that four-team playoff?

Lean forward then to Nov. 3. USC plays host to Oregon on the same day Alabama plays at LSU. That could be the No.1 vs. No. 4/ No. 2 vs. No. 3 semifinal that helps produce this year's BCS title matchup.

College football's other marquee day is Nov. 24: Auburn at Alabama, Florida at Florida State, Michigan at Ohio State, Notre Dame at USC and Oklahoma State at Oklahoma.

•Don't pick against Alabama. The state has claimed the last three BCS titles. The order has gone Alabama-Auburn-Alabama, which might make you think it might be Troy's or Alabama Birmingham's turn.

The Southeastern Conference's quest for a seventh straight BCS crown seems to be about an even-money bet seeing as how it has five schools in the preseason top 10.

•The preseason Heisman Trophy pecking order: Matt Barkley (USC), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Denard Robinson (Michigan), Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Aaron Murray (Georgia).

Chances hampered because of suspension: Sammy Watkins (Clemson). Chances eliminated because of dismissal: Tyrann Mathieu (LSU). Second Gamecock from South Carolina who could win the award: Marcus Lattimore. Dark-horse candidate based on averaging 77.5 yards on two carries in last year's Rose Bowl. De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon).

•Josh Nunes has been handed the impossible task of replacing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. But come on now, how hard could it be? In 1999, Tennessee won the BCS title the season after Tee Martin replaced Peyton Manning. Luck has now replaced Manning with the Indianapolis Colts. See the symmetry there?

•Note these important rule changes: As a player safety issue, kickoffs have been moved up five yards to the 35. This should promote fewer returns. Also, a player taking a knee in the end zone will result in the ball being placed at the 25.

Players who leap over a multiple-player wedge to block a punt will receive a 15-yard penalty. Any player who loses his helmet during the course of play, for any reason, has to sit out a play.

•First-year coach who will have the biggest impact: Urban Meyer (Ohio State). First-year coach who will win a game he shouldn't: Mike Leach (Washington State). First-year coach mostly likely to bolt after one year: Todd Graham (Arizona State). Third-year coach hoping for a fourth year: Brian Kelly (Notre Dame).

•Transfer likely to make the most impact: running back Silas Redd (Penn State to USC). Freshman who could make the biggest impact nationally: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Some predict he'll end up the greatest quarterback in Ducks history, which will come to news to fans of Dan Fouts and Norm Van Brocklin.

•School from non-BCS conference most likely to earn automatic major bowl bid with top-12 finish in final standings: Accepting applications.

Texas Christian can't do it because it's now a major player in the Big 12.

Boise State lost several starters on offense and opens the season at Michigan State.

Start your BCS engines, though, should Bowling Green (5-7 last year) finish unbeaten with wins at Florida and Virginia Tech.

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