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Final BCS season should be wild ride

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Nick Saban and the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide are top-ranked in The Associated Press preseason college football poll released Aug. 17, 2013, as they try to become the first team to win 3 straight BCS titles. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Nick Saban and the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide are top-ranked in The Associated Press preseason college football poll released Aug. 17, 2013, as they try to become the first team to win 3 straight BCS titles. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The BCS farewell tour is about to begin.

Love it or hate it — we're guessing there are far more in the hating camp — the system for determining college football's national champion will be mothballed after this season, replaced by the new, aptly-named College Football Playoff.

As farewells go, this one has a chance to be a memorable one, filled with intriguing story lines, great players and great teams, led by two-time defending national champion Alabama.

And, because this is the BCS, we can probably expect plenty of debate about what team should be where in the rankings.

This final go-round starts on Thursday, so here's a few things to look for:

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TOP TEAMS

Alabama. All those future pros, an unflappable quarterback, one of the game's all-time great coaches — hard to pick against the Crimson Tide making it three straight titles.

Ohio State. The Buckeyes went 12-0 in their first season under Urban Meyer, but were tattooed out of the national title game because of NCAA sanctions. They're still loaded with talented players.

Oregon. Don't expect any drop-off under Mark Helfrich. Chip Kelly left the cupboard plenty full before leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Stanford. The defending Rose Bowl champions are eyeing the big prize this season.

Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel is good to go after the NCAA looked into whether he was paid for signing autographs.

Georgia. The Bulldogs have to replace a few players on defense, but their offense is loaded with playmakers, led by QB Aaron Murray.

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TOP PLAYERS

Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Football may still have something to prove this year after a difficult offseason.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. The most disruptive force in college football could become the first full-time defensive player to win the Heisman.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama. He has as many national titles (two) as losses. 'Nuff said.

Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California. One of those threat-to-score-on-every-touch guys.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona. Nation's leading rusher should continue to thrive in Rich Rodriguez's snap-before-they're-ready offense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon. Possibly the most dynamic player in the country.

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BEST GAMES

Alabama at Texas A&M, Sept 14. Manziel had the signature game for his Heisman resume by handing Alabama its only loss of the season. The Crimson Tide want payback — in a bad way.

Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7. The ultimate in contrasting styles could have a huge impact on the national championship race again this year.

LSU at Alabama, Nov. 9. Another Game of the Century? Maybe, but will have national championship implications and fun to watch no matter what.

Georgia at Clemson, Saturday. The No. 5 Bulldogs and No. 8 Tigers have two of the nation's best quarterbacks in Murray and Tajh Boyd. The marquee game of the opening weekend should provide plenty of fireworks in Death Valley.

Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 30. The Fighting Irish won last year's game in overtime on a goal-line stand and went on to the national title game. The Cardinal had to "settle" for the Rose Bowl and will be looking for payback at home.

Wisconsin at Arizona State, Sept. 14. The Badgers' speed vs. the Sun Devils' power in an early-season test for teams that have BCS bowl aspirations.

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HOT SEATS

A handful of coaches head into the season needing to win a few games or they could be looking for a new job. Here's a few:

Randy Edsall, Maryland. He's won three conference games in two seasons since taking over for popular Ralph Friedgen and it won't get any easier with the Terps headed to the Big Ten after this season.

Lane Kiffin, USC. He's been hamstrung through a postseason ban and limited scholarships from the Reggie Bush-related sanctions, but excuses have a limited shelf life in the land of Troy, particularly after last season's flameout.

Mack Brown, Texas. The Longhorns are 11-15 in the Big 12 since playing for a national title in 2009 and have been ripped by rival Oklahoma three straight years. That won't fly in Austin for very long.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV. A highly-successful coach at Montana, he's struggled in the move up to the FBS, winning three games in each of his three seasons.

Gary Pinkel, Missouri. A move to the SEC could be Pinkel's undoing if the Tigers don't start winning in their new league soon.

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BEST NAMES

Run through college football rosters across the country and you'll find some interesting names. Here's some of the coolest we could find:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama defensive back.

Taco Charlton, Michigan defensive end.

Spiffy Evans, Boston College receiver.

Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn linebacker.

Thor Jozwiak, South Florida offensive lineman.

Silverberry Mouhon, Cincinnati defensive lineman.

Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati quarterback.

Pharoah McKever, North Carolina State receiver.

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Follow John Marshall at www.Twitter.com/jmarshallap

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