It might be hard to believe, but Week 0 is just 100 days out. So we're starting the countdown to that first kickoff, because we're that excited about the 2021 college football season.
We rounded up three of our college football writers to dig into the upcoming slate of games. From bands and smoked meats to new coaches and potential breakout stars, this is what they're getting most amped up about.
Harry Lyles Jr.: We're finally at that beautiful round number: 100 days until the start of the college football season. It's hopefully going to look a lot more normal than 2020 did as we slowly inch toward the end of the coronavirus pandemic. That said, what's any college football thing you are looking forward to this season that we didn't have last season?
Ryan McGee: Um ... not having to spend the next 100 days worrying about having college football at all. Does that count?
Lyles: That definitely counts. I usually get bored with how nothing really happens in the college football offseason, but I appreciate that now after what happened last year.
McGee: For me, it's the cross-conference games. We had so many awesome ones slated for last September and then ... the 'rona.
Dave Wilson: The smell of smoked meats in the parking lot. Bands, for sure. Mostly meats, though.
Lyles: Dave's got the right idea here. I think, aesthetically, it's also the bands for me. A lot of the non-football things help make college football what it is, and if there's one thing I weirdly enjoy about the sport, it's how the band is letting it rip while its team runs up the field after a first down. It's more endearing than whatever NFL teams do.
McGee: Noise. Just noise in general. Crowd noise. Bands playing. Flyovers. Drunk dudes yelling at us when we walk down from the press box in the fourth quarter, because we hate their team. I missed it all. My neighbors yelling at me from their yards just didn't feel the same.
But I am serious about the big nonconference games. I mean, in the Big Ten alone, we hit September with Oregon at Ohio State (speaking of bands), Wisconsin-Notre Dame in Chicago, Auburn going to Penn State, Washington at the Big House ... bring it!
Ohio State's band took us on a trip to Bikini Bottom 🍍 pic.twitter.com/GcBqjHqEZc— ESPN (@espn) October 26, 2019
Lyles: I feel like we deserve those games that early on, with all the noise possible. I think it's really going to hit us in those first two to three weeks what we missed out on in 2020.
McGee: I am moving into [ESPN colleague] Adam Rittenberg's house for the whole month so I can commute.
Lyles: I hear it's nice there. I might have to make my own reservation.
With that said, what's an experience you guys are looking forward to having either again or for the first time in 2021 as we get back into the swing of things?
Wilson: Road trips -- seeing the entirety of college football instead of just football. There's so much about what makes this sport the greatest that doesn't have anything to do with the field.
McGee: Wilson is spot on. The best part for me is getting there early and walking the parking lots. Then getting into the stadium as soon as they will let me. The reunion aspect of everyone back together again, be it tailgaters who have parked door to door for generations or season-ticket holders back in the stands together after a year away (in most places), back in the seats their parents and grandparents sat in ... that's what makes this sport the best.
Wilson: And being able to talk to those folks and hear what they're excited about for their team or season.
Lyles: It's definitely a different kind of joy that fans have for their teams that you just can't find anywhere else. And it looks different EVERYWHERE. I know I'll be trying to make as many trips as possible this season.
Plus, nothing beats trying the best food of whatever region you're in at a tailgate. That food hits differently.
McGee: You think something will always be there, no matter what. Then it isn't. Take that away and you'll appreciate it more than you ever have. And yes, that's a reaction to what Harry just said. I have followed my nose through stadium parking lots my whole life.
A Pac-12 parking lot smells very different than a Louisiana parking lot. And not just because of the legal weed.
Wilson: That's why I made the distinction about the smoked meats rather than just smoke. You never know where that's coming from on campus.
Lyles: I see no lies told.
McGee: I like the fact that when I go to LSU and a total stranger hands me a bowl of something that looks like the frogs that Jabba the Hutt was snacking on in "Return of the Jedi," I don't even question it. I just eat it.
That's college football.
Wilson: OK, Harry, we're not gonna top that. Next subject.
Lyles: I suppose we can talk about actual football. What's a storyline you guys are either going to be following this season or are looking forward to?
Wilson: In Texas, there are some giant expectations for Steve Sarkisian. He has talent and a huge piece to build around with Bijan Robinson already. But first seasons are always interesting, and you never know how long it takes for everything to click.
McGee: To me, that's always the most intriguing preseason storyline: the new coaches. Hey, remember back last fall when we were all saying, "Hey, this won't be like 2019. No big coaching changes this year because of COVID-19 and finances and blah-dee-blah-blah?" Well, WRONG.
Wilson: It took a mere $24 million to fire Tom Herman.
McGee: In the SEC alone, there are four first-time Power 5 head coaches. Four!
Wilson: Oh, and one of the returnees, Jimbo Fisher, said the other day he was gonna beat Nick Saban's ass.
Lyles: Poking the bear is never a good idea. Not that this one was ever asleep.
McGee: As for guys who have actually beaten Saban, the UCF situation fascinates me. Gus Malzahn back in a true underdog role. I know him well enough to know that look on his face. He relishes the chance to be behind the controls of a potential wrecking ball.
Lyles: I'm also interested in what Billy Napier and Louisiana are going to do this season. You mentioned there were four new coaches in the SEC alone. If you would have told me he wasn't going to be one of them at the start of 2020, I would have looked at you funny.
Lyles: And of course we can't mention the Sun Belt without the Chants -- their encore is going to be fun to watch.
McGee: I only witnessed one regular-season football game in person last year and it was Coastal Carolina-BYU. If you had told me that night that Jamey Chadwell wouldn't be on an SEC campus this fall, I would have had the same funny look as Harry did about Napier. But sometimes a place is just the right fit for a guy for a while.
Oh, and speaking of SEC and Gus and Saban and all that, give a nod to Butch Jones at Arkansas State. I don't root for coaches, but it wouldn't hurt my feelings to see Butch climb back up the ladder after he had his fingers stomped on like Indiana Jones hanging on to a cliff.
Me and the George Lucas film references today. I need to see if I can work in a "Willow" or a "Red Tails" quote.
Lyles: I'm always up for adding more fun to the Fun Belt.
But enough coachspeak. I know for me, personally, there's always a handful of players I end up working my schedule around to watch. Last season it was Kyle Pitts, because I mean ... how could it not be?
Who's a guy y'all are looking forward to watching this season?
Wilson: I can't wait to see the continuation of D'Eriq King's many football lives. What a fun player to watch, from a kick returner and wide receiver to a quarterback at Houston, then on to Miami. After a serious knee injury, I'm looking forward to seeing him get another chance.
McGee: Speaking of that BYU-Coastal game, which was put together and played in the same week, can we please use the hurry-up scheduling method to get an Ohio State-LSU matchup? I want to see the Buckeyes' wideouts vs. the Tigers' DBs. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson vs. Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks.
Lyles: McGee, you took the words right out of my mouth, especially with Olave. I don't necessarily think he's going to be the most exciting football player in the same way DeVonta Smith was in 2020, but he's led that team in receiving the past two years and would have likely been a first-round pick this past April in the NFL draft. I've mentioned this on many ESPN platforms and will do so again here: I'm a sucker for great wideouts and will be actively rooting for another to win the Heisman Trophy.
McGee: Amen, pass the potato salad. And if you're really going to give the Heisman to the best player in the nation, then you have to at least have Stingley sitting on the front row.
McGee: I remember them! Tank Bigsby at Auburn breaks tackles like, well, a tank. And people have forgotten about Kennedy Brooks at Oklahoma because he opted out because of COVID[-19]. But he of the two last names is back to help the QB of the two cool names, Spencer Rattler.
Lyles: We are so lucky that Bigsby and Rattler not only have impeccable names but also incredible skills.
Well, y'all, how do you plan on spending the next 100 days to prepare for the season?
Wilson: I've got a finger workout routine going to get ready to type faster and turn the pages of Phil Steele's magazine with confidence.
McGee: My routine is this:
I go cover the Indy 500, and on the flight home, I check the newsstand to buy all of the just-arrived college football preview magazines, especially Steele. Then I meet my family at the beach, where Captain Morgan and I get out the highlighter pen and go to town.
By the time I sober up, it's time to hit the conference media days and count the number of times we hear the word "excited." And I will be.
Lyles: It'll be hard not to be excited. I'm going to read everything published by our good friend Bill Connelly, as well. Might even pester him for a few phone calls (Hey, Bill!).
Wilson: I just covered the FCS championship game on Sunday (after a few phone calls with Bill), and the game was amazing, with a tense, incredible finish. I'm going to spend the next 100 days anxiously awaiting the next one of those.
McGee: As in "Hey, Bill, how does one know so much about South Dakota State's special teams play, and how much do I love that you know so much about South Dakota State's special teams play?"
Wilson: But just imagine, after last season, when nobody knew when things would start, if they'd continue or how they'd finish, just knowing we have a 100-day countdown is thrilling enough. The FCS game felt like a start rather than an ending. There were rowdy South Dakotans in Texas, bars and restaurants were packed, there were fans in the stands, and a great game crowned a champ. Football is back!
McGee: To Wilson's point, that's what I am going to spend the next 100 days doing. Making myself pause and appreciate everything that so many did, from FBS to FCS to Division II and Division III, to ensure that college football was played, no matter when and where or how it happened. Coaches, players, administration, stadium operations folks, trainers, groundskeepers, doctors, everyone. They did what they did so that we could have the game we loved and we could feel a little normal during the last year. Now, we can all feel normal for real.
Lyles: I'm looking forward to it. Let's do this again sometime, y'all.