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 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’s going 9-4 was world-is-coming-to-and-end time.
Keeping in mind there are different levels of expectations and disappointments, especially considering that only one team will be holding the crystal trophy on Jan. 10 in Glendale (before taking it over to a Wal-Mart), here are the teams that are most likely to fail to live up to their preseason hopes and dreams.
(Part 2 of 2)
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 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 after 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 past few seasons struggled in nonconference 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 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 Oct. 30. 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.
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, and ranking 101st in passing efficiency. But the rise in the offense should coincide with a drop in defensive production with some huge losses, including the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, DT Brian Price, and all-conference 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.
The 2010 season was when the Bruins were supposed to be good enough to take advantage of a limping USC, when the great coaching staff was supposed to do wonders with the talent already on campus and 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.
At any other school, losing (arguably) the greatest college quarterback of all time (Mr. Tebow), a heart-and-soul defensive leader (Brandon Spikes), one of the most productive corners of the last decade (Joe Haden), the best center in college football (Maurkice Pouncey), two soon-to-be starting defensive ends (Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham), the best tight end in the country (Aaron Hernandez) and the No. 1 target (Riley Cooper) would make the idea of a rebuilding year understandable. But Florida isn’t like most programs.
Because the 2010 recruiting class was jaw-droppingly good and because there are athletes to burn on both sides of the ball, the Gators should be just good enough to be around the national title hunt yet again.
The backfield is unbelievable, with star recruit Mack Brown adding even more firepower to a running game loaded with talent, while John Brantley is a real, live pro passer who should add another element to an offense that relied so much on Tebow’s running and short-range accuracy. Considering Urban Meyer was able to win a national title in 2006 by throwing a slew of young players and freshmen into the mix, he’ll be expected to use some of the same magic again.
For all the great things he has done, he has yet to go unbeaten in Gainesville and has had far more complete teams than this one. Even so, the expectations will be sky-high for another SEC East title with one brutal road game at Alabama, the LSU game at home and nothing else to worry about the rest of the way for a team that’ll be more talented than everyone on the schedule and every bit as good as the defending national champs.
And that’s the problem.
This really is supposed to be a season of change and adjustment (or call it reloading if you want to), but those don’t exist at Florida, where it’s national title or bust from this point forward. Florida will be everyone’s preseason No. 3 team behind Alabama and Ohio State (or will be fourth behind those misguided enough to slip Boise State into the discussion), meaning the BCS championship is there for the taking. Win the SEC title with an unbeaten year or go 12-1 with the lone loss at Alabama and with a win in the conference championship rematch and play for the whole ball of wax. It’s that simple.
But will Meyer’s health go in the tank again after the first sign of adversity? He hasn’t exactly handled himself well this offseason and appears rudderless whenever Tebow’s name is brought up. Will the new recruits live up to the hype after constant reminders that true freshmen win national titles at Florida? Will this year’s team be as butt-clenchingly tight as the 2009 version that took uncomfortable tension to a level that even a Tiger Woods news conference can’t achieve?
It doesn’t matter. Florida is supposed to win the national title. Anything less is a waste of time, and no one can live up to that standard.
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 past four years, four in the past six, and with five winning seasons in the past six seasons, but the league has gotten a lot better. Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana and Middle Tennessee 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 nonconference road games at Oklahoma State and South Carolina, along with a date at UAB and with a nightmare of a Sun Belt slate that includes 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 blazingly 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 in WAC play, at home and in the BCS and sell the fact that everyone’s back. Well, almost everyone, with star corner Kyle Wilson off to the NFL, 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 place-kicker 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 Hokies 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.
An 11-1 record 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 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 go unbeaten.
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