College football preview: Can Alabama end trend for preseason No. 1s?

To the surprise of no one, Alabama will open the season as the consensus front-runner to claim the Crimson Tide’s third consecutive BCS national championship.

Alabama earned the top spot Saturday in The Associated Press’ preseason rankings and, earlier this month, opened as the No. 1 team in the coaches poll. The Tide returns eight defensive starters and most of its primary offensive playmakers from a 13-1 team.

But nothing is certain in college football. The last team that started the season atop the AP preseason poll and finished No. 1 in the final poll was USC in 2004.

Alabama’s quest for a three-peat faces many potential potholes, most notably a Sept. 14 game at Texas A&M, the lone team to defeat the Tide during last year’s championship season. With games scheduled to start Aug. 29, here are some key dates and storylines to track during the 2013 season:

Meeting expectations

None of the past eight teams that began the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press’ preseason poll finished there after the BCS National Championship Game. Below is a look at how things have unfolded for preseason favorites since 2004, when USC started and finished the season as the top team in the AP poll:

Year AP’s preseason No. 1 National champion
2013 Alabama TBD
2012 USC Alabama
2011 Oklahoma Alabama
2010 Alabama Auburn
2009 Florida Alabama
2008 Georgia Florida
2007 USC LSU
2006 Ohio State Florida
2005 USC Texas
2004 USC USC

Top telecasts

For the consummate college football couch potato, we offer this baker’s dozen collection of games (for non-doughnut eaters, that’s 13) when you will want fresh batteries in the remote control:

Sat., Aug. 31: Georgia at Clemson, 7 p.m., WFAA/8

Sat., Aug. 31: TCU vs. LSU (at Arlington), 8 p.m., ESPN

Sat., Sept. 7: South Carolina at Georgia, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Sat., Sept. 14: Alabama at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m., KTVT/11

Fri., Sept. 20: Boise State at Fresno State, 8 p.m., ESPN

Sat., Sept. 28: Oklahoma at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m., KXAS/5

Sat., Oct. 12: Oklahoma vs. Texas (at Dallas), time TBD

Sat., Oct. 19: Florida State at Clemson, time TBD

Thurs., Nov. 7: Oregon at Stanford, 8 p.m., ESPN

Sat., Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama, time TBD

Sat., Nov. 30: Ohio State at Michigan, time TBD

Thu., Dec. 5: Louisville at Cincinnati, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Sat., Dec. 7: SEC Championship Game (at Atlanta), 3 p.m., KTVT/11

Hidden Heisman Hopefuls

Everyone knows the high-profile quarterbacks, along with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who are expected to lead the charge in the 2013 Heisman Trophy race. But here’s a look at five players who could alter preseason projections if their production is prolific or their team exceeds modest preseason projections, much like Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel did on both fronts last year:

RB Lache Seastrunk (Baylor) Emerging star topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season despite minimal carries and ground out 138.5 yards per game during the Bears’ 5-1 closing stretch in 2012.

WR Marqise Lee (USC) Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner (118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14 TDs) has NFL-ready skills and plays for a team capable of bouncing from a 7-6 record to the Pac-12 title.

RB Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona) Last year’s leading rusher among FBS players (1,929 yards, 23 TDs) could join Heisman mix with a 2,000-yard season and notable improvement on his team’s 8-5 mark last season.

RB T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) The sophomore will be hard-pressed to outshine Tide QB A.J. McCarron but could do it. Yeldon rushed for 1,008 yards and 12 TDs last year while sharing time with fellow 1,000-yard rusher Eddie Lacy. Now, Yeldon is the featured back.

RB Duke Johnson (Miami) Versatile sophomore rushed for 947 yards and 10 TDs last season, including 492 in the Hurricanes’ last four games. Also a dangerous receiver and return man, he’ll have a bigger role this year for an ACC title contender coming off a 7-5 season.

DFW big game spotlight

In addition to some intriguing home games for TCU, SMU and North Texas, a collection of neutral-site matchups at AT&T Stadium (Arlington) and the Cotton Bowl (Dallas) will give Dallas-Fort Worth fans a strong collection of college football games to watch this season. Here is a list of notable games that will not require a trip outside the Metroplex:

Aug. 30: Texas Tech at SMU (7 p.m., ESPN)

Aug. 31: TCU vs. LSU, Arlington (8 p.m., ESPN)

Sept. 28: SMU at TCU

Oct. 5: Rutgers at SMU

Oct. 5: Notre Dame vs. Arizona State, Arlington (6:30 p.m., KXAS/5)

Oct. 12: Texas vs. Oklahoma, Dallas

Oct. 26: Texas at TCU

Nov. 2: West Virginia at TCU

Nov. 2: Rice at North Texas

Nov. 9: UTEP at North Texas

Nov. 16: Baylor vs. Texas Tech, Arlington

Nov. 30: Baylor at TCU

Dec. 30: Armed Forces Bowl, Amon Carter Stadium (10:45 a.m., ESPN)

Jan. 1: Heart of Dallas Bowl, Cotton Bowl stadium (11 a.m., ESPNU)

Jan. 3: AT&T Cotton Bowl, Arlington (6:30 p.m., KDFW/4)

Notable newcomers

A look at transfers with Texas connections who could have a major impact on their new teams in 2013:

RB Brandon Williams (Texas A&M) Five-star signee for Oklahoma in 2011 was one of the stars in Aggies’ spring game.

RB Tra Carson (Texas A&M) Transfer from Oregon is expected to be part of Aggies’ deep RB rotation this season.

WR Josh Doctson (TCU) Mansfied Legacy graduate was a productive freshman at Wyoming in 2011 (35 catches, 393 yards, 5 TDs).

WR Ja’Juan Story (TCU) Considerd a top-50 national recruit in Florida’s 2011 class, Story has yet to play in a college game.

RB Traylon Shead (SMU) Heralded Texas signee in 2010 spent last season at JC, is expected to start for Mustangs.

WR Darius White (Missouri) Former Fort Worth Dunbar standout spent two seasons at Texas, has two years left to play for Mizzou.

RB Charles Sims (West Virginia) Rushed for 851 yards, 11 TDs last season at Houston before graduating with immediate eligibility at WVU.

QB Scotty Young (Louisiana Tech) Former Denton Ryan star and Texas Tech signee is expected to start for the Bulldogs.

QB Jameill Showers (UTEP) Texas A&M graduate has immediate eligibility at UTEP, where he is expected to start.

DT D.J. Yendrey (Texas State) Dismissed by TCU after a campus-wide drug bust in February 2012, Yendrey is now a Bobcat.

Toughest schedules

A look at the nation’s five toughest schedules, based on 2013 opponents’ winning percentages from last season:

School Opp. rec. Opp. win %
Kentucky 103-50 67.3%
Arkansas 99-54 64.7%
Purdue 96-56 63.2%
Missouri 96-56 63.2%
Kansas 96-57 62.7%

Toughest schedules: Big 12

A look at the strength of schedules for Big 12 teams, based on 2013 opponents’ winning percentages from last season:

School Opp. rec. Opp. win %
Kansas 96-57 62.7%
Oklahoma 96-60 61.5%
TCU 90-63 58.8%
Oklahoma St. 89-63 58.6%
Iowa State 89-64 58.2%
Baylor 88-66 57.1%
Kansas State 88-68 56.4%
Texas Tech 83-69 54.6%
Texas 82-72 53.2%
West Virginia 75-75 50.0%

Toughest schedules: SEC West

A look at the strength of schedules for teams in the SEC West Division, based on 2013 opponents’ winning percentages from last season:

School Opp. rec. Opp. win %
Arkansas 99-54 64.7%
LSU 93-61 60.4%
Mississippi St. 86-65 57.0%
Auburn 86-66 56.6%
Texas A&M 87-68 56.1%
Mississippi 81-69 54.0%
Alabama 68-79 46.3%
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