2010 Spring Preview
- No. 7
Teams That Will Disappoint
The idea of a disappointing team is all relative. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State were disappointments last year, right? After all, they were supposed to be in the national title hunt and were supposed to at least challenge for their respective conference titles, but they weren’t even close to doing either one. Even so, going 9-4 was still tremendous, while USC going 9-4 was world-is-coming-to-and-end time.
There were teams like Illinois, who were supposed to be dangerous but weren’t even close, and on the other end of the spectrum, Florida, who set the bar at a national title, didn’t win it, and the season became a failure. Keeping in mind that there are different levels of expectations and different levels of disappointment, especially considering that only one team will be holding the crystal trophy on January 10th in Glendale (before taking it over to a Wal-Mart), here are the teams in each conference that are most likely to fail to live up to their preseason hopes and dreams.
ACC – Miami
Miami Might Disappoint
Big East - Pitt
How many years in a row has Pitt had the most talent in the Big East? Under head coach Dave Wannstedt, the Panthers should’ve won at least two conference titles by now and been regulars in the BCS, but instead there’s always some misfire, some gaffe along the way that screws things up.
This year, Pitt not only has to start out the year at Utah, who might be just a shade under the unbeaten level it was at two years ago, but it also has to deal with Miami, a trip to Notre Dame, and post-October conference road games at Connecticut, South Florida, and Cincinnati. The team will be good enough to win most of those, and should be talented enough to be at least favored against everyone on the slate except Utah (because it’s a road game), Miami (because it’s Miami), and West Virginia, but it always seems like there’s a clunker just around the corner.
Last year it was a loss at NC State and a late collapse against Cincinnati. Two years ago it was a loss to Bowling Green.
But even with some major holes to fill, there’s undeniable talent across the board, led by RB Dion Lewis and DE Greg Romeus, and after coming within 11 points of being unbeaten (with the loss to the Wolfpack by seven, a loss to West Virginia by three, and a loss to Cincinnati by one), this should be just about everyone’s preseason favorite to win the Big East title. The bar will be set high once again with anything less than a Big East title at this point under Wannstedt being a mega-disappointment.
Big Ten - Wisconsin
Traditionally, Wisconsin almost never does well with high expectations. It doesn’t need to be disrespected to do well, but more often than not the successful seasons have been mirages with great records amassed against average to mediocre teams. Rarely have there been great wins over top squads, but last year’s Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami appeared to have changed things a bit. All of a sudden, the season with just four wins over bowl-bound heavyweights in Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Michigan State, and Minnesota (who all lost their respective bowl games, by the way) became validated. With all the returning talent on both sides of the ball, the thought is that this is the year the Badgers could get back to Pasadena.
The offense should be terrific as long as QB Scott Tolzien stays healthy (after great-looking backup, Curt Phillips, suffered a season-ending knee injury this spring), RB John Clay is John Clay behind a typical bruising Badger O line, and the veteran receiving corps progresses, but the defense has to replace O’Brien Schofield and two other starters up front. The hopes will be sky high for a team with so much returning talent, but under head coach Bret Bielema, the team has had a strange way of letting easy wins become nail-biters and soon it will prove costly.
The 2008 team gagged in losses to Michigan and Michigan State on the way to a 7-6 record, and the 2009 team did its best to give away wins last year. The 10-3 season would’ve been far different had the Badgers not held on against Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, and Miami, who all had the puck on their sticks late in games they were out of in the third quarter. The easy schedule (with Ohio State coming to Camp Randall, no Penn State to face, and the second toughest road game, after the trip to Iowa, at Michigan State), means there won’t be any excuses, however, the Badgers likely won’t be able to hold on in close game after close game for a second year in a row.
Big 12 – Oklahoma State
2009 was supposed to be the big year when the program finally went nuclear, and while the 9-4 campaign was actually impressive considering all the drama and all the distractions, including the loss of star WR Dez Bryant, it wasn’t what Cowboy fans were hoping for. Now it’s rebuilding time.
On the plus side, the pressure is off considering the major turnover in top-shelf talent (with the preseason South predictions likely to vary between a third place finish and fifth), this is still going to be a team many will think can make some noise with Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma coming to Stillwater.
Even without Bryant, QB Zac Robinson, OT Russell Okung, and CB Perrish Cox, this is still a decent team with some great athletes, but four starters have to be replaced up front and nine starters are gone on defense including the entire linebacking corps. Throw in the question marks at quarterback, with the hope that Brandon Weeden can get the job done, and at receiver, with the hope that Hubert Anyiam can go from good to great, and OSU could be in for a long year.
Granted, the expectations aren’t going to be sky high compared to last year, but this is supposed to be a program with enough athletes and enough talent to be 8-4 with a good bowl bid every season. It’ll take a few big upsets to get there.
Conference USA – East Carolina
This falls into the It’s All Relative category. After two straight Conference USA titles, anything less than a third in a row will be a major disappointment.
The hope is that the train keeps on rolling with Ruffin McNeill a very, very good hire after Skip Holtz skipped out to South Florida, but there’s one major problem: the schedule.
ECU will be better than almost everyone in Conference USA, and the one team that should be better, Houston, isn’t on the slate. However, there’s a nasty run of three road games in a row facing Virginia Tech and North Carolina before having to play a solid Southern Miss team in a key conference battle. Hosting NC State isn’t going to be a peach, and facing Navy in the middle of the conference season, and with only a few days to prepare, will be a nightmare. The run of three road games in four weeks late in the season isn’t that big a deal considering they’re against UCF, UAB, and Rice, but the trips should still be taxing before finishing up with a resurgent SMU.
Both lines have rebuilding to do, QB Patrick Pinkney was a good veteran whose leadership will be missed, and the secondary that struggled so much last season loses heart-and-soul safety Van Eskridge. McNeill can coach and Holtz didn’t leave the cupboard totally bare, but the ingredients to win another Conference USA title don’t appear to be there.
MAC – Central Michigan
It’s asking a lot for new head coach Dan Enos to bring Central Michigan a fourth MAC title in five years. It’s asking a lot for any head coach to do that.
The program was able to overcome the loss of former head coach Brian Kelly and made the adjustment to Butch Jones without a problem, but it helped that Dan LeFevour was under center with a ton of veteran talent around him. Enos won’t have the luxury of, arguably, the greatest player in MAC history running the attack and will have to do some major rebuilding with a new style and a new look. The spread might not be totally ditched, but the goal will be to go to a more pro-style offense to get more dangerous through the air. However, besides losing LeFevour, CMU also has to go on without Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown, two of the MAC’s better receivers. The defense also needs some retooling losing three starters from a secondary that gave up 221 yards per game last year along with star DE Frank Zombo up front.
On the plus side, the Chippewas have a quarterback prospect in Ryan Radcliff who fits with what Enos wants to do vertically with the passing game, and LB Nick Bellore and DT Sean Murnane should be among the best defenders in the league, but it’s still asking a lot to win another title in a rebuilding year when the league has improved.
The strongest of CMU teams over the last few seasons struggled in non-conference play against the better BCS squads, and this year’s team should pen in losses at Northwestern, Virginia Tech, and Navy. Playing road games at Northern Illinois and Temple might ruin any dreams of another MAC championship, while the season finale at Toledo might be a must win to come up with a winning season.
Mountain West – Wyoming
Didn’t we just do this with the Cowboys? Wyoming was supposed to be the new it team after beating UCLA in the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl, and then came a 4-7 2005 and there wasn’t another winning season until last year. While head coach Dave Christensen has certainly relit the fire around the program with a 7-6 campaign and a New Mexico Bowl win over Fresno State, there was a slight little problem: the team wasn’t very good.
The Cowboys finished 109th in the nation and last in the Mountain West in total offense, struggled on defense allowing 393 yards per game, and got almost no production out of the offensive line and the passing game. Outside of the bowl win over Fresno State, UW didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record or went to a bowl game. The second best victory came against UNLV, who went 5-7 and was hardly a player in the Mountain West race. Against the five teams on the schedule that went to bowl games (Texas, TCU, Utah, BYU and Air Force), the Cowboys went 0-5 losing by a grand total of 170-30. This year’s team has plenty of experience, and should be great at linebacker, but will the overall results be any better?
There will be a win in the opener against Southern Utah, and then the next sure-thing win will come … um, uh … San Diego State? Probably, but that’s on October 30th. The easy part of the slate is late, but the seven games after the opener are brutal: At Texas, Boise State, Air Force, at Toledo, at TCU, Utah, at BYU. Have fun with that.
Pac 10 - UCLA
The Bruins might be better talent-wise, and there’s an influx of great young players to get excited about, but there are eight games against teams that went to bowl games last year including road trips to Texas, California and Oregon and a season-opener at Kansas State, who went 6-6 but didn’t play in the post-season. Throw in home games against Stanford, Houston, Arizona, Oregon State, and USC, and the word you’re looking for is yeeeeeesh.
There’s plenty of returning talent on offense with nowhere to go but up after finishing 94th in the nation in scoring averaging 22 points per game, and was 101st in passing efficiency. But the rise in the offense should coincide with a drop in defensive production with some huge losses including Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year, DT Brian Price, and All-Pac 10 LB Reggie Carter and CB Alterraun Verner. Again, there are several top prospects coming in and the team should be far better talent-wise, but it might take a year or two before everything comes together. Patience has never been a virtue around Westwood.
2010 was when the Bruins were supposed to be good enough to take advantage of a limping USC. 2010 was when the great coaching staff was supposed to do wonders with the talent already on campus. 2010 was when a Pac 10 title was expected to be on the radar. Unfortunately, considering the Rick Neuheisel era hasn’t gotten off to a rousing start, another ho-hum campaign might make 2011 a hot seat season.
SEC – Florida
Florida Might Disappoint
Sun Belt – Troy
Troy has been so good for so long, moving into the role as the star of the Sun Belt going to three bowl games in the last four years, four in the last six, and with five winning seasons in the last six seasons, but the league has gotten a lot better. Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana, and Middle Tennessee all are good enough to win the conference title, and the Trojans are due to take a step back.
The offensive line will be solid, WR Jerrel Jernigan should be one of the Sun Belt’s best talents, and the system is in place to plug in new starters in key spots and produce. However, Levi Brown was a special quarterback who bombed away, linebackers Boris Lee and Bear Woods were special and will be sorely missed, and ends Cameron Sheffield and Brandon Lang are NFL talents who also can’t just be replaced.
The schedule doesn’t help in a rebuilding year with non-conference road games at Oklahoma State and South Carolina, along with a date at UAB, and with a nightmare of a Sun Belt slate facing Middle Tennessee, ULM, and Florida Atlantic on the road. The Trojans have to win two of those three games and have to hold serve at home against Arkansas State and Louisiana, and that’s not a given.
WAC – Boise State
It’s all about expectations, and at this point, with the spotlight shining blazing-bright on a program that will be given every chance and every benefit of the doubt by a college football world ready to allow Rocky to finally get a shot at the title, it’s time to set the bar higher.
Head coach Chris Petersen can talk all he wants to about winning the next game and not thinking about the possibilities, but enough is enough. If Boise State wants to wear the big boy pants and be considered among the five best teams in America this preseason, then it has to play the part, do a little self promoting, sell the phenomenal streak of success both in WAC play, at home, and in the BCS, sell the fact that everyone back. Well, almost everyone with star corner Kyle Wilson off to the next level, but 21 players on the offensive two-deep return along with all the key defensive players but Wilson. Throw in the return of all-star punter and placekicker, Kyle Brotzman, and a good recruiting class, and it’s time to stop thinking that a BCS bid is enough.
Boise State will get a high preseason ranking, almost certainly a top five spot along with Alabama, Ohio State, Florida and Texas, but it doesn’t mean anything without a win in the opener. Virginia Tech is also a top five caliber team with, arguably, the best backfield in America, and should be favored and looking to make a huge statement on a national scale. On the plus side, if Boise State wins in what should be a Hokie home game in Landover, Maryland, it’ll show the world that yeah, this really is a team that deserves a national title shot. But a loss means the dream is over in the first week of the season. 11-1 and a great bowl would be nice, but that’s not what a team this loaded is shooting for. It’s a two game season the rest of the way with Oregon State looking to finally break the Broncos’ hex at home and a date at Nevada dangerous, but a team good enough to think about the national title should roll in those. Forget about the rest of the slate; Boise State will wake up and have a double-digit win season.
But again, the whole point is to find the teams that will disappoint, and it’s possible this could be a tremendously frustrating season even with a 12-0 record. Boise State could go unbeaten and beat everyone, including Virginia Tech, by two touchdowns, and it won’t matter in the BCS title hunt if the SEC champion and Ohio State or Texas goes unbeaten.