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Ten Southern Storylines

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ten southern college football storylines for the 2017 season.

1. Clemson's Continuation
All hail the national champions. Dabo Swinney's Tigers unseated Alabama in last season's College Football Playoff, the ultimate validation for a program that had been right on the verge. Clemson must replace some legendary names, see Watson, Deshaun, but has clearly earned the benefit of the doubt moving forward. The defensive line has the potential to be generationally-good, with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins anchoring the best unit in the country. Now 31-2, with the two losses coming by a combined six points, dating back to late November of 2014, the Tigers' status quo has changed. Hardware-in-hand, Clemson is here to stay.   

MORE: Clemson Remains Championship Good

2. Can Lamar Out-Heisman Himself?
What Jackson did last season was dumbfounding. College football, quite frankly, had not seen anything like it before. Jackson became the first FBS player ever to throw for 3,300 yards and rush for 1,500 in a single season, scoring 51 total touchdowns, including eight in the very first half of his very first game. The youngest Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson's toughest competitor in an attempt to repeat this fall may be the relative nature of the human mind; what more must he do to impress us? Louisville will host defending national champion Clemson on September 16th, a spotlight opportunity on the big stage.   

MORE: Lamar Jackson vs Lamar Jackson

3. Alabama and the SEC West
The Crimson Tide have won the toughest division in the country three years running, with it taking a miracle play in the Iron Bowl to keep Alabama from Atlanta in 2013. Even with heavyweights like Auburn and LSU, the Crimson Tide have not lost a division game by more than one score under Nick Saban. Alabama's consistent dominance in today's era, especially considering the schedule each year, is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in college football history. The two Tigers, Auburn and LSU, appear to be the most formidable challengers awaiting, with many buying into Gus Malzahn's team.    

MORE: Players Reflect on Hurts' Special Moments

4. ACC vs SEC
A very logical argument can be made suggesting that the ACC was, in fact, better than the SEC a season go. Clemson obviously topped Alabama in the College Football Playoff Final, but there was more; Florida State beat Florida and Ole Miss, Georgia Tech won at Georgia and the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide, Auburn and South Carolina. Overall, the ACC was 10-4 against the SEC. Impressively, the ACC is 10-2 vs the SEC on "rivalry weekend" the past three years. At the very least, the ACC has positioned itself alongside the SEC in the national discussion. There is a new, and fun, competitiveness between the conferences and it was on display at league media days.  

MORE: ACC Flexing Its Muscle

5. The G.O.A.T.
The "Greatest Opener of All-Time", as dubbed by the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game folks, is literally as good as it gets: Alabama vs Florida State, who have won two of the past four national championships, in Atlanta in the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. An almost certain pairing of top three teams, this showcase will feature true college football royalty. Though a loss wouldn't eliminate either team from championship contention, the winner will undoubtedly take center stage as an early season narrative is formed. What a way to welcome college football back.

MORE: FSU Respects, Ready For, Alabama

6. Rise of the SEC Quarterbacks
There is a new collection of SEC signal callers ready to rule the roost. It's not quite 2013, which featured a downright staggering stable of quarterbacks, but better production is coming. Super sophomores Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason, Jake Bentley and Shea Patterson, along with veterans Nick Fitzgerald, Austin Allen and Drew Lock and newcomer Jarrett Stidham, give the league plenty of star power. Look for Hurts and possibly Fitzgerald or Stidham to figure into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

MORE: Here Come the SEC QB's

7. Ole Miss' New Direction
The recent resignation of Hugh Freeze, combined with the self-imposed sanctions already in place, leave the Rebels in a very difficult spot. Ole Miss was picked last at SEC Media Days and that was before the coaching change. With interim head coach Matt Luke, the Rebels must now manage both the fallout from what has happened and a brutal schedule on the horizon. There is excitement around talented young quarterback Shea Patterson, who steps into a leadership position for a program hitting the reset button.   

MORE: Ole Miss Should Go After Les Miles

8. Is Mark Richt Leading a Renaissance?
Miami was picked as the overwhelming favorite in the ACC Coastal Division, with well-over twice as many first-place votes from the media as runner-up Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes won five straight contests to finish last season. Though Miami must break in a new quarterback, the Hurricanes return the league's leading rusher (at running back) and receiver, plus multiple defensive standouts. There is a very real energy around the program, which will play at rival Florida State, in Richt's return to Tallahassee, in week three.

MORE: Richt's 'Canes Are Coming

9. Could the Sun Belt Bust Into the New Year's Six?
College football has seen a number of new names burst onto the national scene; could Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Troy or someone from the Sun Belt be next? The Mountaineers, the most likely candidate, have won 21 games the past two years and took Tennessee to overtime to open 2016. The Sun Belt, as a conference, went 4-2 in bowl games last season and could be poised to produce a national name this fall. Appalachian State plays at Georgia in week one, the Red Wolves kick-off with games at Nebraska and vs Miami and the Trojans open at Boise State and play at LSU to finish the month. 

MORE: Sky is the Limit for App State

10. The SoCon's National Positioning
At the FCS level, the Southern Conference made a major statement by placing four teams in the playoffs a year ago, validating the league post-reconfiguration. Among Chattanooga, Samford, The Citadel and Wofford, could a national champion emerge? The SoCon has not won a title since Appalachian State in 2007; the last current member to win it all was Furman in 1988. The new-look league is now off and running.

MORE: Top 50 Players in SoCon

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Matt Osborne and Kevin Thomas on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network and is the sports director for multiple ESPN Radio affiliates based throughout southeast Georgia. @BJBennettSports