Teams That Might Disappoint
By Pete Fiutak
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Teams That Will Surprise
Whether the expectations could be too high, the schedule is too tough, or the season turns out to be mediocre, every year there are always key teams that come into the season expecting big things only to fall flat. While the teams below might not be bad and could turn out to have strong years, they're probably not going to be quite as good as the respective fan bases are hoping for.
Yeah, Bobby Petrino was that good. The Hogs might be high in the preseason rankings and there might be some hope that things will be business as usual after all the turmoil, but there’s a razor-thin fine line between being great and special in the SEC, and losing Petrino could tip the scales. Getting Alabama and LSU both in Arkansas might seem like a break, but home-field advantage doesn’t necessarily mean much to those two. There are only four road games, but going to Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State aren’t exactly layups. The non-conference slate is a breeze, but Rutgers is good enough to win the Big East title and won’t be an easy out.
The hope is that the production will keep on rolling from the one-year campaign from Hugh Freeze, and an argument could be made that the team got an upgrade with Gus Malzahn. The team will still be terrific, and QB Ryan Aplin will be special, but after coming up with a tremendous 10-3 year it’s going to be harder to keep up the pace with road games at Oregon and Nebraska early on and with the two toughest games on the Sun Belt schedule –- FIU and Louisiana -– on the road.
The hope will be that the addition of new head man Norm Chow will be the difference for a team that just barely missed out on going bowling last year, but the schedule won’t be much help. The offense needs some adjusting and has to find a sure-thing quarterback to rely on. More than anything else, though, the problem will be a schedule with way too many road trips. There aren’t any big boy non-conference games in Honolulu making dates at USC, BYU, San Diego State, Fresno State and Air Force all a problem. Nevada and Boise State at home are going to be rough, meaning there won’t be any margin for error whatsoever.
Collin Klein and Kansas State will have their hands full this season.
Where are the sure-thing wins going to come from? Eastern Washington is better than most lower end FBS teams, and it’ll take a major upset to come up with any other wins until New Mexico State comes to town. The offense needs a ton of work and reloading under new offensive coordinator Jason Gesser, but will it do enough to overcome the always struggling defense? Don’t assume wins over UTSA or Texas State, but beyond anything on the field, the team’s biggest disappointment is the snub from the Mountain West and others. The Vandals, along with New Mexico State, don’t have a conference home going into next year.
No one gets on the right side of every close game two years in a row. Nine of the 13 Wildcat games last season were decided by a touchdown or less, and Kansas State went 8-1 in the tight ones. They weren’t lucky last season, but they managed to come up with tight victory after tight victory with an offense that didn’t show much through the air and with a defense saved by the O that dominated the time of possession. Collin Klein will throw more and the team will still be good, but another 10-win season is asking for a lot with five road games, including trips to Oklahoma West Virginia and TCU.
How are the Huskers going to be any better? 9-4 wasn’t bad last season considering there wasn’t any passing attack and the pass rush was non-existent at times. The schedule is far more difficult this season with defending Conference USA champ Southern Miss and defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State coming to Lincoln early, wrapped around a road game at UCLA. Going to Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa will be rough, and hosting Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State won’t be a picnic.
The Wolfpack is one of this year’s trendy sleeper picks in the ACC, but why? Sure, QB Mike Glennon and CB David Amerson are next-level players, and there's plenty of experience returning, but the roster in Raleigh is somewhat mediocre. The Pack couldn’t run the ball a year ago and won’t be able to stop anyone's ground game this fall on a consistent basis. The front seven, especially at linebacker, has been gutted by injuries, leaving the defense vulnerable to opponents who won’t want to test a terrific secondary anyway. And what about Glennon’s supporting cast? The backs are average, and three of last year’s top four receivers are gone. State will be back in the bowl picture, but those expecting serious league contention are going to be disappointed.
Schedule, schedule, schedule. There might be measurements or formulas that say someone else has the nation’s toughest slate, but they’d be wrong. The Irish only have one back-to-back home tilt, and it’s not exactly easy facing Stanford and BYU. They have to start out by going to Ireland to face Navy before coming back to turn it around in a hurry to deal with Purdue, at Michigan State, and Michigan in a three-game Big Ten run. With road games at Oklahoma and USC and no dates with anyone from outside a BCS conference –- with the exception of independents Navy and BYU -– good luck.
David Shaw still has a good team at Stanford, but how far will they drop off?.
The defense is going to be fantastic, but will that be enough to finally get this program over the hump as many have suggested throughout the offseason? Even in a watered-down Big East, the Scarlet Knights are going to need more from the offense in order to get beyond the likes of Louisville and South Florida. The quarterback situation remains unsettled, the line is a work-in-progress and the early departure of WR Mohamed Sanu leaves a cavernous void that’ll be tough to fill.
Despite the fact that Kyle Flood was an in-house successor on the sidelines, there’s no telling how Rutgers is going to react in its first year since 2000 without Greg Schiano in the captain’s chair. And then there's the Big East factor. The league might not be the SEC, but it should be decent from top to bottom; Rutgers could finish anywhere in the pack.
As Houston and Southern Miss adapt to life without star quarterbacks, the Mustangs are being held up as a possible frontrunner for Conference USA supremacy in 2012. But will they have enough proven talent to deliver? Sure, if Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert can deliver at quarterback and he gets help from RB Zach Line and WR Darius Johnson. However, SMU has holes at less visible spots of the two-deep that need to be shored up. The offensive line, for instance, which lost all five starters to graduation. No program returns fewer lettermen or starters than the Mustangs, who are going to need the first few weeks of the season just to adjust to all of the newcomers to the lineup.
Conventional wisdom says that the Cardinal is still no lower than No. 3 in the Pac-12 pecking order, looking up at Oregon and USC. But what happens if the program begins to drift a little in the standings? Cal, Washington and Utah, for instance, are all eager to get a better look at the league’s two heavyweights. While Stanford has been on a historical run, it has also parted with some all-timers in recent years, like RB Toby Gerhart, QB Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh. The school will have to prove it can remain a national player without Luck calling signals, a tall order. Plus, two of last year’s offensive linemen, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, were high NFL draft choices. The Cardinal will remain a very good program. However, those expecting a third straight 10-win season are going to be a little disappointed.
The talent is there and the hope is for life to continue to move on with Tim Beckman now coaching at Illinois and Matt Campbell knowing what he’s doing as a holdover, but the schedule could make it a rough ride to try to win the MAC West. The Rockets have to go to Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, while conference dates at Eastern Michigan and Buffalo won’t be a breeze. If they lose the opening two non-conference games on the road at Arizona and Wyoming, and if they can’t handle Cincinnati at home, it could be a long year.
Teams That Will Surprise