Originally Published: August 26, 2013

Season predictions: players, coaches and teams

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

ter waiting more than eight months, the 2013 college football season is finally here.

The season kicks off with Thursday night's appetizer of 17 games, including No. 6 South Carolina's home game against North Carolina (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET) and No. 24 USC's trip to Hawaii. There are eight more games on Friday night, a full slate of contests on Saturday, two more games on Sunday and one more on Labor Day night.

Will the SEC extend its streak of seven consecutive national championships in the final season of the Bowl Championship Series? Can Urban Meyer guide Ohio State to an undefeated record for the second straight season? Is Louisville the country's best national title sleeper?

With only four days left before the start of the season, On the Mark takes a closer look at each conference:

American Athletic Conference

The American

The American champion: Louisville

Offensive player of the year: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater, a junior from Miami, might end up being the No. 1 quarterback selected in next spring's NFL draft if he plays as well as he did in 2012. Last season, Bridgewater completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

Defensive player of the year: Greg Blair, LB, Cincinnati
New Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville's first defense will be built around Blair, who led the Big East with 138 tackles in 2012. The former junior college transfer also had 2½ sacks, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He's dropped about 25 pounds and should be even more active this season.

Newcomer of the year: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
Lynch sat out last season after transferring to USF from Notre Dame, and he's already predicting big things for new coach Willie Taggart's defense. Earlier this month, Lynch tweeted: "We will be the most feared front seven … They will name us 'The Green Plague.' He had 5½ sacks in his only season with the Irish.

Coach of the year: Charlie Strong, Louisville
It's still hard to believe that Strong spent more than two decades working at places like Florida, Notre Dame and South Carolina before landing his first head-coaching job. He's 25-14 in three seasons at Louisville, and the Cardinals have a legitimate shot at finishing 12-0 this season.

Coach on the hot seat: Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, Louisville

Team climbing: Louisville

Team falling: Temple

Best conference game: Louisville at Cincinnati, Dec. 5

Best nonconference game: Michigan at Connecticut, Sept. 21

ACC

ACC

Atlantic Division champion: Florida State

Coastal Division champion: Miami

ACC champion: Florida State

Offensive player of the year: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd, a senior from Hampton, Va., is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after throwing for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. Most of his offensive line returns, along with receiver Sammy Watkins, and he should be even better in his third season in the fast-paced spread offense.

Defensive player of the year: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, FSU
After playing strong safety the past two seasons, Joyner moves back to cornerback, at which he's a better fit. He's very physical in run support and forms a potent tandem with free safety Terrence Brooks. FSU lost a plethora of defensive stars to the NFL draft, but it has recruited on that side of the ball better than any team outside of Alabama.

Newcomer of the year: Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
FSU coaches have been raving about Winston's athleticism and leadership since spring practice, when he emerged as departed starter EJ Manuel's heir apparent. A pitcher on FSU's baseball team, "Famous Jameis" is already drawing comparisons to 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, another two-sport star.

Coach of the year: Al Golden, Miami
Golden deserves a lifetime contract for remaining loyal during the seemingly never-ending NCAA investigation. Despite off-field distractions and self-imposed penalties, Golden guided Miami to a 7-5 record in 2012. With quarterback Stephen Morris and tailback Duke Johnson coming back, the Canes should be even better in 2013.

Coach on the hot seat: Randy Edsall, Maryland

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson

Team climbing: Miami

Team falling: Virginia

Best conference game: FSU at Clemson, Oct. 19

Best nonconference game: Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31

Big 12

Big 12

Big 12 champion: Texas

Offensive player of the year: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
The Oregon transfer has already predicted he'll win the Heisman Trophy, and if he picks up where he left off in 2012, he might end up being right. After playing sparingly through October, Seastrunk ran for 831 yards with six touchdowns in the final six games last season. He's the primary reason the Bears are a big-time sleeper in the Big 12.

Defensive player of the year: Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Fields, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, might have a difficult time matching last season's breakout performance because he's suspended for the first two games of the season. The Big 12 freshman of the year in 2012, Fields had 53 tackles, 18½ tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He's a Texas-sized commodity in a league that loves to throw the ball.

Newcomer of the year: Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
After transferring to West Virginia from Houston, Sims figures to be a big part of coach Dana Holgerson's spread offense. He ran for 851 yards with 11 touchdowns at Houston last season, while catching 37 passes for 373 yards with three scores. Sims might fill the role of departed star Tavon Austin, who ran for 643 yards and caught 114 passes in 2012.

Coach of the year: Mack Brown, Texas
After the Longhorns went 22-16 the past three seasons combined, Brown is gambling on a hurry-up spread offense to help both sides of the ball this coming season. The Big 12 seems to be wide open, but the Longhorns still have more talent and resources than every other team in the league.

Coach on the hot seat: Charlie Weis, Kansas

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator, Baylor

Team climbing: TCU

Team falling: West Virginia

Best conference game: Oklahoma State at Texas, Nov. 16

Best nonconference game: LSU versus TCU (Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31

Big Ten

Big Ten

Leaders Division champion: Ohio State

Legends Division champion: Nebraska

Big Ten champion: Ohio State

Offensive player of the year: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Miller was fantastic in his first season in Meyer's spread offense, and then he spent time in the offseason working with quarterback guru George Whitfield to improve his accuracy and footwork. He passed for more than 2,000 yards and ran for more than 1,000 in 2013 and might be even better this season.

Defensive player of the year: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The junior was the Big Ten's second-leading tackler with 115 tackles in 2012, and he didn't really get going until the second half of the season. He was the first OSU sophomore since James Laurinaitis in 2006 to finish with 100 tackles in a season. He also had five sacks, three forced fumbles and 12 passes defended.

Newcomer of the year: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Ranked the country's No. 1 pocket passer and No. 15 prospect overall by ESPN Recruiting, Hackenberg stuck with his commitment to the Nittany Lions, even after the NCAA hammered them with probation. Coach Bill O'Brien hasn't yet named Hackenberg the starter, but he figures to become the centerpiece of PSU's rebuilding efforts.

Coach of the year: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
While Meyer has been greatly criticized for his teams' off-field problems at Florida and now Ohio State, it was only a matter of time before he turned the Buckeyes into a national powerhouse again. It might happen in his second season, as the Buckeyes are overwhelming favorites for a Big Ten title.

Coach on the hot seat: Tim Beckman, Illinois

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State

Team climbing: Indiana

Team falling: Iowa

Best conference game: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 30

Best nonconference game: Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 7

Pac-12

Pac-12

North Division champion: Oregon

South Division champion: USC

Pac-12 champion: Oregon

Offensive player of the year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
After throwing for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and running for 752 yards in 2012, Mariota figures to carry an even bigger load in new coach Mark Helfrich's offense this coming season. The Honolulu native completed 68.5 percent of his passes and threw only six interceptions in 336 attempts as a freshman.

Defensive player of the year: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
A running back in his first two seasons with the Bruins, Barr moved to linebacker last season and was one of the top defenders in the Pac-12. He led the Bruins with 13½ sacks and 21½ tackles for loss and was second with 83 tackles. The senior from San Pedro, Calif., might be even more disruptive in his second season on defense.

Newcomer of the year: Su'a Cravens, S, USC
Ranked the No. 1 safety and No. 12 prospect overall by ESPN Recruiting, Cravens is making a push to start in USC's secondary from day one. Cravens, 18, enrolled at USC in January and had arthroscopic knee surgery during spring practice. He's fully recovered and has shown great instincts in preseason camp.

Coach of the year: David Shaw, Stanford
If the Cardinal can somehow unseat Oregon in the Pac-12 North again this season, it might be time to include Shaw among the top three or four coaches in the country. Since replacing Jim Harbaugh, Shaw has guided the Cardinal to a 23-4 record and back-to-back BCS bowl games. Even more impressive, he's getting it done while having to recruit to Stanford's high admissions standards.

Coach on the hot seat: Lane Kiffin, USC

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Derek Mason, defensive coordinator, Stanford

Team climbing: Arizona State

Team falling: California

Best conference game: Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7

Best nonconference game: Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 30

SEC

SEC

East Division champion: Georgia

West Division champion: Alabama

SEC champion: Alabama

Offensive player of the year: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
After deciding to return for his senior season, Murray will have a chance to break numerous SEC and UGA passing records. He is the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, and he set UGA single-season records with 3,893 passing yards and 36 touchdowns in 2012. Murray will be surrounded by one of the country's best tailback tandems and receiving corps this coming season.

Defensive player of the year: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney would probably have been the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft after his sophomore season, and he'll surely be the top pick next spring if he stays healthy this season. Last season, Clowney finished with 54 tackles, 13 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss. He's the most disruptive player in the country and can rarely be blocked by one player.

Newcomer of the year: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban loves big, bruising running backs, and they don't get much bigger or better than Henry. A 6-foot-3, 248-pound native of Yulee, Fla., Henry is the No. 1 ranked athlete by ESPN Recruiting after running for more than 12,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in high school. He'll share carries with T.J. Yeldon as a freshman at Alabama.

Coach of the year: Mark Richt, Georgia
If the Bulldogs hold off South Carolina and Florida in the East for the third consecutive season, Richt might finally get the respect he deserves after going 118-40 in his 12 seasons at UGA. The Bulldogs play a more difficult schedule and must replace much of their defense, but they might have explosive an offense as any in the country.

Coach on the hot seat: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Assistant coach most likely to get a head-coaching job: Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama

Team climbing: Ole Miss

Team falling: Arkansas

Best conference game: Alabama at Texas A&M, Sept. 13

Best nonconference game: Georgia at Clemson, Aug. 31

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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