The wait is over: Alabama, Washington and more return to national spotlight for college football opening weekend

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Anticipation has been building all summer for the 2018 college football season, and now, as it looms just around the bend, that annual excitement is bubbling up in the typical hot spots around the country.

In places such as South Bend, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, where players’ helmets are painted with 23.9-karat gold paint each game, football is a cornerstone of life. The No. 12 Fighting Irish are currently preparing for their opening-weekend marquee matchup against No. 14 Michigan. Don’t be surprised if a victory in this game turns out to be crucial down the line when selection time for the playoff comes around.

Down in the South, it’s business as usual with Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide occupying the first-place spot in the country despite the signal-caller spot remaining up for grabs. Last season’s starter, rising junior Jalen Hurts, is still competing with rising sophomore Tua Tagovailoa.

The typically composed Hurts has expressed some frustration with the way his coaching staff has handled the quarterback competition.

“No one asked me how I felt,” Hurts said.

It’s easy to see how he could still feel slighted about being benched in the second half of last year’s title game despite leading his team all the way there.

Regardless of who takes the snaps for Alabama, the team is expected to finish at the top of its conference, including over Georgia and Auburn, who also claim spots in the AP poll top 10.

Head coach Gus Malzahn and No. 9 Auburn will face a difficult nonconference test on opening weekend against No. 6 Washington in Atlanta. This game will likely give us insight as to what the College Football Playoff will look like in December.

The Huskies finished at No. 16 last season, falling short of playoff aspirations. With many key players returning this season, especially senior quarterback Jake Browning and senior tailback Myles Gaskin, the Huskies are the Pac-12 favorite and are expected to make their second appearance in the playoff in three seasons.

The conference needs a strong season out of Washington to make up for its failure to reach the playoff and a 1-8 record in bowl play last season.

In other news for the Pac-12, Stanford’s senior running back Bryce Love is a favorite for the Heisman accolade this season. Love boasted a powerful 8.05 yards per carry last season despite dealing with an ankle injury. With a win, he’d be only the second non-quarterback Heisman winner in the last nine.

Also, look out for Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, another running back expected to be in the Heisman race, who broke Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman rushing yard record with 1,977 yards in his first year. Expect him to continue to put up unbelievable numbers this season, thanks to another year in the program and a mighty Big Ten offensive line in front of him.

As teams all around the country switch from offseason training to game-day preparation, every school looks to bring its own local spirit to the field.

Armen Aprahamian writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @armnhammer_.