One of the most popular topics of conversation this summer has been whether there will be football this fall. There was always going to be football, of course, though not necessarily the professional kind.
This is good news for true football fans. The college game arguably brings a more interesting brand of play, rather than the NFL's repetitive series of run/play-action pass/pass on third-down-and-long/punt. And unlike the NFL, there's no doubt the season will begin Sept. 1.
Here's some of the top storylines for the 2011 season, assuming they can all stay out of the NCAA's crosshairs.
Auburn's new QB
The pressure is considerable on any quarterback following Cam Newton at Auburn, but when that new QB is potentially a freshman with similar playmaking skills, the pressure is immense. He's not quite 6-foot-5, 240 pounds like Newton, and he doesn't have any scandal surrounding him, but Kiehl Frazier is a talent worth paying his father for. (Too soon?)
Star power at the real USC
Quick, who won the SEC East title in 2010? Alright, the header probably gave it away, but most casual fans probably forgot that South Carolina won one half of the traditional Best Conference in America after its shocking win over "unbeatable" Alabama. Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 recruit, is the best high school player to come to Columbia, S.C., in a long time, and he might have Frazier watching his back Oct. 1.
Brady is back in Ann Arbor
One of the most popular programs in the nation lost a lot of fans the last four years while Rich Rodriguez took everything Lloyd Carr made beautiful about Michigan and drove it into the ground. Thankfully for Wolverines fans, a Carr disciple has arrived to put things right. Brady Hoke has said and done all the right things, including refusing to even speak the name "Ohio State" and stealing a number of top high school players from the Buckeye State.
It's not on the same level as Alabama or Texas, but the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware region loves its college football. With Rutgers in decline, Penn State facing its annual QB debate and 2009 Division I-AA champ Villanova still undecided on whether to make the jump to the big kids' table, now could be the time the Owls could assume a prominent position in the region, led by new coach Steve Addazio.
Arkansas's scary offense
The Razorbacks' schedule is hellish, as one would assume for an SEC West team. Their first three conference games — at Alabama, vs. Auburn, at Ole Miss – are against teams that finished 2010 ranked in the top 25. Working in their favor, though, is the most awesome receiving corps in the country. Seniors Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright each caught more than 40 passes last season, and they'll have a competent QB in Tyler Wilson, who handled himself well while Patriots draft pick Ryan Mallett was injured.
UMass packs its bags
The 1998 Division I-AA champions and 2006 finalists are playing their final season at the Football Championship Subdivision level before moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) in 2012. Previous I-AA powers have had mixed success moving up, with Western Kentucky and UConn fading into irrelevance nationally while Marshall has enjoyed intermittent success. The good news is the Minutemen already have a leg up on Buffalo, which moved up in 1999 and has been good at neither level.