- Mike London's arrival at U.Va. is the top story in the state
- Virginia Tech will be a bonafide national title contender
- And 97 other storylines
When Hampton native Mike London took over in December as Virginia's new football coach, he talked about changing U.Va.'s football culture, taking care of players who already were on the roster and, maybe most important from a public perspective, re-establishing relationships with high school coaches and recruits in Virginia's recruiting hotbeds.
He doesn't have long to wait to see just how close he can get to executing his plan.
As we celebrate the fact we're a mere 99 days away from the start of college football season, (1) Mike London's arrival at U.Va. may be the most anticipated football story within the Commonwealth, but it's a mere appetizer for what to expect around the nation. With that in mind, we present to you 99 faces, places, games and issues to look forward to as we count down to kickoff.
While London will be busy trying to revive U.Va.'s program, (2) Virginia Tech will stroll into the season as a bona fide national title contender. Of course, the aforementioned U.Va.-Tech setup is starting to sound a bit like a broken record, and will continue to do so until London and his staff make serious inroads on the recruiting trail.
Along with Tech, you'll probably hear way too much in the preseason in terms of national championship aspirations in association with programs such as (3) Alabama, (4) Texas, (5) Boise State, (6) Ohio State, (7) Florida, (8) Iowa, (9) Texas Christian, (10) Oklahoma, (11) Nebraska, (12) Oregon, (13) Louisiana State and (14) Southern California.
Speaking of USC, how does Rocky Top public enemy No. 1 (15) Lane Kiffin perform in his first season in the Trojans' corner coaching office, his self-described "dream job"? Granted, they will be a favorite against visiting Virginia in September, but will he finally be able to coax more than seven wins out of a team for the first time in four seasons as a coach? An offense that includes (16) quarterback Matt Barkley and three starting linemen returning should help.
What's the atmosphere going to be like in Ann Arbor for (17) Rich Rodriguez? There's going to be considerable pressure to get it done, since (18) Michigan has completed an internal investigation and awaits the drop of the NCAA hammer in response to violations ranging from general non-compliance to the more-specific excessive practice time. Michigan's season could hinge on settling the quarterback situation, where incumbent starter (19) Tate Forcier is in a serious tussle with (20) Denard Robinson.
Is there life in Florida (21) A.T. (after Tebow)? (22) Urban Meyer, who assumedly won't be shuttling back and forth from Gainesville to Denver to defend Tebow from the big, bad media vultures, is about to find out. Might A.T. life make Meyer want to take an even longer hiatus than the 21/2-month respite he took this past winter for health reasons? At least (23) John Brantley, the newly anointed starter at quarterback, is getting rave reviews.
Will (24) Chip Kelly be able to keep his sanity in his second season as Oregon's coach amid the reality that top-10 expectations exist in Eugene though (25) quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is suspended for the season for basic knuckle-headedness (stealing from a local frat house)?
What has (26) Derek Dooley gotten himself into at (27) Tennessee, which will have to deal with the unexpected departure of running back (28) Bryce Brown, a former five-star recruit who decided in March to transfer before his upcoming sophomore season? (29) Tauren Poole, who had just 10 carries for 85 yards last season, will get his crack at running back for the Volunteers.
On the other hand, how good is it to be the coach in Austin? It's May 29, and (30) Mack Brown already has 20 commitments for the Longhorns' recruiting class of 2011. Wow. It wouldn't be surprising if Texas had a future (31) Heisman Trophy candidate somewhere in the midst of its '11 class.
Here are a dozen serious contenders we'll be talking about for the most overhyped bronze trophy in the nation: (32) Alabama running back Mark Ingram (after all, he is the defending winner of the award), (33) Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis, (34) Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams, (35) Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, (36) Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, (37) Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rogers, (38) Wisconsin running back John Clay, (39) Penn State running back Evan Royster, (40) Washington quarterback Jake Locker, (41) Houston quarterback Case Keenum, (42) West Virginia running back Noel Devine and (43) Oregon running back LaMichael James, who will be suspended for the first game of the season.
There doesn't appear to be a defensive Heisman candidate along the lines of Nebraska's (44) Ndamukong Suh from last season to watch out for this year, but some of the most dynamic defensive players should include (45) Texas A&M linebacker/end Von Miller, (46) Iowa end Adrian Clayborn, (47) Ohio State tackle Cameron Heyward, (48) Oklahoma end Jeremy Beal, (49) Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, North Carolina linebackers (50) Bruce Carter and (51) Quan Sturdivant and (52) free safety Deunta Williams, (53) Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, (54) Miami end Allen Bailey, (55) U.Va. cornerback Ras-I Dowling and (56) Clemson strong safety DeAndre McDaniel.
Looking for potential game-breakers on special teams? Look no further than (57) Houston kick returner Tyron Carrier (four kick returns for touchdowns last season, most of any returner in the nation), (58) Texas kick returner D.J. Monroe (nation's returning leader with 33.6 yards per kick return), (59) Stanford kick returner Chris Owusu (three returns for touchdowns last season), (60) Florida State punt returner Greg Reid (national-best 18.4 yards per return last season) and (61) Ohio punt returner LaVon Brazill (national-best three returns for touchdowns last season).
Though Ryan Williams certainly will grab the Heisman hype in Blacksburg, there's absurd depth in Tech's backfield with the return of (62) Darren Evans and possible emergence of (63) David Wilson (if he doesn't redshirt). All of which means the most critical cog in Tech's quest for (64) Bowl Championship Series greatness will be whether the Hokies can continue to get consistent decision-making from rising senior (65) Tyrod Taylor, a Hampton High graduate who was the (66) Atlantic Coast Conference's most efficient quarterback last season with 13 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
A few other offensive ACC players who will have crucial leadership roles this season include (67) FSU quarterback Christian Ponder and (68) running back Jermaine Thomas, (69) North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson, (70) Boston College running back Montel Harris, (71) UNC quarterback T.J. Yates, (72) Miami quarterback Jacory Harris and (73) Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt.
While no ACC non-conference game will garner more attention than Virginia Tech's matchup (74) Sept. 6 against Boise State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., there are plenty of sexy out-of-conference games around the nation to absorb throughout the season. Make time for these early-season treats: (75) Sept. 4 — Oregon State vs. Texas Christian in Arlington, Texas, and (76) UNC vs. LSU in Atlanta; (77) Sept. 11 — Miami at Ohio State, (78) FSU at Oklahoma and (79) Penn State at Alabama; (80) Sept. 18 — Nebraska at Washington; (81) Sept. 23 — Miami at Pittsburgh; (82) Sept. 25 — West Virginia at LSU and (83) Oklahoma at Cincinnati.