Great Programs That Won't Go Anywhere
Auburn DE Nosa Eguae
Which teams are going to struggle to make a big step forward?
By Pete Fiutak
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Some big-name programs are about to be in for frustrating seasons, and it might not be their fault.
A few have to deal with nasty schedules. Some are in the wrong division or conference at the wrong time. A few simply won't be good enough, or will be disappointing after a great recent history.
Below are ten teams that might not be all that bad – a few are going to be among the best in college football – but will have a hard time breaking through to come up with the big year their respective fan bases
might be hoping for. These programs have been a huge part of conference and national title chases over the last few decades, but they're not going to be able to break out.
Welcome to the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s -- a phenomenal team that spent year after year beating its head against the Boston and Philadelphia wall.
The problem is that the Hogs are firmly stuck in college football purgatory. If they were in the Big Ten, they'd probably be the picked to win it. They'd certainly be the favorite in the ACC and Big East, and they'd be in the mix along with USC and Oregon for the Pac-12 title. The problem isn't that Arkansas is going to be bad in any way; the problem is that the team will once again be really, really good and might have nothing to show for it playing in the unfair SEC West.
A reasonable case could've been made that Arkansas was the third best team in college football last season. Unfortunately, it was also the third best team in its own division, and LSU and Alabama aren't about to drop off a cliff. Throw in the expected improvements at Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and with a brutal November date at South Carolina to face, and the grind might be way too much to dream of an unbeaten record.
And that brings up the other raw deal aspect of the 2012 Hogs. Even if they split their home games against preseason No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, that still might not be enough to win the West and be in the national title hunt.
10-2 would be a successful season at just about anywhere else, and it would be at Arkansas, too, but after a few years of greatness, it simply might be too tough to break through the LSU and Alabama ceiling this season. However, if you think things are going to be tough for Arkansas, they're going to be even more difficult for ...
Arkansas has a national title-level team that will need to pitch a perfect game for three months just to be in the BCS championship discussion. Auburn is going to go through a second year of rebuilding after winning the whole ball of wax, and while it will be improved, it's still not likely to make any headway to get back on top of the SEC West mountain.
Gene Chizik and Auburn will have their hands full in 2012.
Even with a good-looking line, the defense will still be iffy, and while the offense has a little bit of potential firepower and pop, it's not going to be strong enough to get by Clemson and Mississippi State and LSU and Arkansas and Texas A&M and Georgia and Alabama. The expectations are always going to be there to work a little bit of magic after Gene Chizik was able to unleash Cam Newton in the 2010 national title campaign, and while no one thinks the Tigers can be in the championship chase, they might be vastly improved and will still struggle to win seven games.
It wasn't all that long ago when Boston College was an ACC superpower, playing for the conference title in 2007 and 2008, winning ten games in 2006, and going to 12 straight bowl games from 1999 to 2010 and winning eight in a row. After going 4-8 last season, can the Eagles stop the slide and get back to their formerly lofty status?
Probably not. The offense isn't going to be significantly stronger, while the defense has to try to move on after losing all-everything linebacker Luke Kuechly. With four road games in a five-date stretch over the first half of the season, and with Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and a trip to NC State to close things out, the Eagles aren't going to make any big steps forward.
There was a time when Colorado went into seasons on the national title short list, and then rebounded from a few down years by turning into one of the Big 12's biggest stars playing in four conference title games in five years from 2001 to 2005. The run ended with a 70-3 Big 12 championship loss to Texas, and nothing fun has happened since with six straight losing seasons.
Unable to pull up out of the nosedive after moving to the Pac-12, there isn't much hope to bust out of the doldrums with the South improving and without much going on with an offense that won't be up to conference snuff. Back-to-back road games at USC and Oregon isn't fair, and it's not going to be easy traveling to Fresno State, Washington State or Arizona. The Buffs should improve a bit after a three-win season, but it won't be back to the 1990s any time soon.
In 2010, Urban Meyer came up with the Scout.com No. 1 recruiting class by a 75-mile margin getting 12 of the top 100 prospects -– no one else had more than nine –- with five five-star recruits, a season-high 16 four-star prospects, and six three-star talents. It was by far the best recruiting class by anyone in college football since the 2007 class brought in by ... Florida.
Last year, the fifth-year seniors from the 2007 haul was supposed to be fully matured and the team didnt come through, but now all the stars from the 2010 class are expected to shine, and it's probably not going to happen. The Gator offense will be better after finishing 105th in the nation and scoring more than 20 points just three times over the final nine games, but can it be night-and-day stronger? Will it have the firepower to keep up in September road games against Texas A&M and Tennessee, two teams with high-octane passing games? Will there be enough in the bag to beat LSU, South Carolina and Missouri at home, Georgia in Jacksonville and Florida State on the road? After going 7-6, winning eight or more games will be seen as a step forward, but this is Florida. Anything less than an SEC East title shouldn't be seen as acceptable.
Iowa could be one of those teams that cranks up a good record, makes everyone think that a dream season is possible -– like the improbable 2009 dash to the Orange Bowl -– and then falls with a crashing thud once it has to face a few great teams. Beating Northern Illinois in the opener won't be a given, and Iowa State is experienced enough to come up with the win in Week Two, but the Hawkeyes should be able to get to 5-0 before going to Michigan State. With winnable games against Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue to follow, 9-1 isn't out of the question.
Of course, no matter what, winning nine of the first 10 games, or even starting out 8-2, would seem like a success, but if it happens it will be a mirage with a road game at Michigan and a regular season finale against Nebraska to finish things off. With no running game, an iffy defensive line and a lack of sure-thing playmakers, it will be tough to finish better than third in the Legends.
Forgetting about the worries coming from the NCAA investigation, the on-field product isn't going to make any big improvements in Al Golden's second year at the helm. Miami was supposed to be a rebuilding project when Golden took over, but there appeared to be just enough talent to get by. Now it looks like yet another year when the former mightiest of the mighty college football superpowers won't even be relevant in the ACC Coastal chase.
There's a stunning lack of depth across the board and the passing game should be a major question mark, but the big problem is a brutal schedule, with rough home games against NC State, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech and South Florida and four road games in the first six.
There will be times when the offense works. The offensive line will step up and blast away on someone like it did when it took over in the win over Ohio State last season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead will come up large once in a while, like they did in the blowout wins over Michigan State and Iowa. However, there will also be times when the predictable O goes absolutely nowhere, and it will be asking for too much to get by Ohio State, Michigan State and/or Iowa on the road -- especially considering all three will be looking for revenge after last year –- and Michigan and Wisconsin at home.
Remember, the Huskers were a nanosecond and a bomb of a Texas field goal away from winning the 2010 Big 12 title, and now they might struggle just to finish in the top three in the Legends.
Is another long season in store for Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech?
When Graham Harrell connected with Michael Crabtree in the final moments to beat Texas in 2008, it seemed like Texas Tech was going to be a fly in the Big 12 ointment on a regular basis from then on. No one really thought the Red Raiders were going to push Oklahoma and Texas aside from the top of the conference mountain every year, but that season showed that the Mike Leach system could produce and win at the highest of levels.
One big controversy, a new head coach, and a collapse of a 2011 season later, and now the Red Raiders might be lucky to merely be in the middle of the Big 12 pack. It's a make-or-break season for Tommy Tuberville, but can the offense be more consistent to make up for a defense that finished dead last in the nation against the run and 114th overall? Yes, and it still won't mean Tech will be any closer to getting into the title hunt in a deep Big 12.
There were coaching staff changes in an attempt to improve the defense, and the offense should have its moments as long as dynamic quarterback Keith Price is in one piece, but the Huskies have three huge problems: schedule, schedule, schedule.
Washington has to face three teams that played in 2012 BCS bowls -– LSU, Stanford and Oregon -– in the first five games, and that's before playing USC. The back half of the slate lightens up considerably with Arizona, Oregon State, Colorado and Washington State to help the cause, but four of the final six games are on the road, including a battle against a vastly improved Cal team. One of the late home games is against Utah, one of this year's under-the-radar key players in the Pac-12.