The start of the 2013 college football season is still a few months away. However, Athlon Sports is already counting down the teams for the upcoming year.
Alabama is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes expected to finish No. 2 nationally.
Athlon finishes its release of its college football rankings with a look at teams No. 101-125.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2013 season
College Football 2013 Team Rankings: 101-125
101. Kent State
Kent State won a school-record 11 games, captured its first title of any kind (MAC East) since 1972 and spent three weeks in the BCS rankings. Expectations are high once again in 2013.
On offense, running backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham must produce, especially since the Flashes will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The offensive line, a major asset last season, must develop in a hurry. On defense, the line and secondary are deep and talent-laden. Defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix is a force who changes game plans. Much will depend on finding linebackers. Special teams should be strong once again.
The schedule provides Kent State with little help. In non-league games, the Flashes travel to LSU and Penn State in back-to-back weeks. In the league, they play two of the top teams in the West (Northern Illinois and Ball State) and must travel to Ohio. Repeating as East champs will be difficult, but Kent State should reach bowl-eligibility for the second straight season.
2013 Kent State Golden Flashes Team Preview
102. Western Michigan
For eight seasons, the Broncos produced exciting offense and tantalizing moments under Bill Cubit, but never quite put it all together. Alex Carder’s hand injury early last fall led to a 4–8 season, the worst of Cubit’s tenure.
P.J. Fleck has fewer years on earth than Cubit does as a coach. But he’s made a number of stops in a short time — coaching in the MAC, at the BCS level and in the NFL. The former All-MAC wideout at Northern Illinois is selling to his players that he’s been exactly where they are and where they want to be.
“We’ve got to prove to them why we should be trusted, why this scheme will work for us. It’s a two-way street,” Fleck says.
Trust is only part of the equation. Like with most of Cubit’s teams, there are a few big-time weapons on the roster. But depth and defense are in question.
2013 Western Michigan Broncos Team Preview
For the last 10 seasons, Buffalo rarely has had a lack of athletes on the field. The biggest problem for the Bulls has been putting it all together, and in 2012, that didn’t happen until late last season. After a 3–9 season in 2011 — including a win over East Division champion Ohio — the Bulls took a slight step forward in 2012, and Jeff Quinn was rewarded with a three-year contract extension. With a solid returning group and a year of experience, the Bulls could take a another step forward in the MAC East.
2013 Buffalo Bulls Team Preview
Many eyebrows were raised when former UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood brought back Bobby Hauck for a fourth season following back-to-back-to-back two-win seasons that included home losses to FCS teams Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Hauck has tried to rebuild using mainly high school recruits and finally has some experience with 14 returning starters and solid depth on both sides of the ball. He likely needs to get to six wins and a bowl game to be invited back for another year.
The schedule, which features two well-positioned byes, is favorable for a momentum-building quick start with four of the first six games at home and another at rebuilding New Mexico.
2013 UNLV Rebels Team Preview
105. Arkansas State
Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn set a high bar for Bryan Harsin, the former offensive coordinator at Boise State and Texas. They didn’t leave the roster barren, either. David Oku, J.D. McKissic, Ryan Carrethers, Qushaun Lee and Sterling Young are among the Sun Belt’s best at their positions.
A coaching transition is nothing new for the Red Wolves, who are on their fourth head coach in as many seasons, but they haven’t lined up without Ryan Aplin since the middle of the 2009 season. Finding an adequate replacement at quarterback is the key to their hopes of earning a third straight bowl bid and making a push for the Sun Belt title.
2013 Arkansas State Red Wolves Team Preview
Larry Blakeney has 169 career wins at Troy, more than the rest of the current Sun Belt coaches combined at their respective schools. But the last two seasons have been very un-Trojan-like, especially after Troy had won or shared the league title the previous five years. Troy surrendered 29 or more points nine times in 2012 and was last in the league in red zone defense, prompting a retooling of the defensive staff and scheme.
With Corey Robinson’s arm, the Trojans will be a threat on every offensive possession, but they won’t be in title contention unless the defense makes a quantum leap forward.
2013 Troy Trojans Team Preview
UAB will be better in Garrick McGee’s second season as the head coach. Will that show in the win-loss column? It should, even though the Blazers’ non-conference slate includes trips to SEC members LSU and Vanderbilt and in-state rival Troy during the first four weeks of the season. If the Blazers are healthy after that stretch, they could threaten to finish in the upper echelon of the revamped Conference USA. If not, then it could be another difficult season.
2013 UAB Blazers Team Preview
108. Southern Miss
Not only does Todd Monken inherit a team that was winless in 2012, but he also faces an early season challenge with consecutive road games against Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State. Expect Monken to quickly restore some credibility on offense, where the Golden Eagles managed only 19.7 points and 322.8 yards per game a year ago. And expect the return of David Duggan as defensive coordinator to address deficiencies there. The Eagles allowed a very un-Southern Miss-like 37.8 points and 426.5 yards per game in 2012.
2013 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Team Preview
Curtis Johnson was 2–10 in his maiden season as a college head coach. It was a difficult year, even discounting the 10 losses, since the toughest thing he faced was the terrifying spinal cord injury suffered by senior safety Devon Walker. Johnson had to hold his team together while working through his own grief over Walker’s devastating injury.
Now Johnson prepares for his second season with a roster that should be improved. If Nick Montana or Devin Powell plays well at quarterback and Orleans Darkwa remains healthy, the Green Wave could double their win total from a year ago.
2013 Tulane Green Wave Team Preview
110. North Texas
The schedule sets up reasonably well. North Texas plays its season opener at home for the first time since 2001, as Idaho comes to Denton. And in their first year in Conference USA, the Mean Green will play three straight home games against Texas schools with late-season contests versus Rice, UTEP and UTSA.
“The first game being at home is a big deal,” Dan McCarney says. “Every offseason, we sell our program and all the excitement around it, and then the first thing we do is get on a plane to play somewhere else. But this year is our 100-year celebration. We have intrastate rivalries starting up. And the program is getting where we want it to be. There are good vibes in the air here.”
Regardless of the optimism, UNT remains a solid yet unspectacular team. The Mean Green went 4–8 last season and have shown moderate improvement under McCarney, and they seem to be on the same steady path in C-USA this season.
2013 North Texas Mean Green Team Preview
111. Central Michigan
In early November, it looked like Dan Enos might not see a fourth season as CMU’s coach. The Chippewas were 3–6, coming off of a home loss to rival Western Michigan, and appeared headed for their third losing season under Enos. Then, improbably, CMU won three straight and snuck into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, where it upset Western Kentucky.
Suddenly Enos had a four-year contract extension. “It was a great thing for our program at the right time,” Enos says of the late-season run and bowl victory.
The vibe is now about taking the next step, rather than rebuilding. The schedule, though, isn’t kind. After a rare seven-home-game slate in 2012 (followed by an in-state bowl game), the Chippewas only have five home games this fall — with two of them coming against MAC West powers Northern Illinois and Toledo. A return to the postseason is unlikely.
2013 Central Michigan Chippewas Team Preview
112. Miami (Ohio)
Significant strides have been lacking in Don Treadwell’s first two seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, and the climb is shaping up to be steep again in 2013, the 125th season of Miami football. After completing 12 consecutive winning campaigns, the RedHawks have finished below .500 in six of the last seven seasons. The non-conference schedule seems to be a little easier, with Kentucky and Illinois replacing Ohio State and Boise State.
Quarterback Austin Boucher proved his raw talent in 2010, but he’s going to have to quickly knock off the rust to get the most out of his one season at the helm. He might end up among the team’s rushing leaders again unless one (or more) of the top three returning ball-carriers shows dramatic improvement. The running game will be better, but not eye-popping.
Defensively, good health will go a long way toward overcoming inexperience issues.
2013 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks Team Preview
There are a few new faces and several revamped job descriptions on the coaching staff. Still, the most anticipated change will be at quarterback. An occasional shotgun look will allow A.J. Schurr to utilize his strong arm and give opposing defenses something to think about beyond the option. The defense has nowhere to go but up, which it will do if enough of the young players who were forced into action in 2012 emerge as difference-makers in 2013. If they fail to do so, it will not matter how Schurr — or any other quarterback — performs.
2013 Army Black Knights Team Preview
The second year of the Terry Bowden Era likely will produce the program’s eighth consecutive losing record. Road games at Michigan and UCF can dim anyone’s lights, and the MAC crossover games are against Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State — which could be the best three teams in the West.
The offense was exciting last season in a move to the spread and likely will be a fun to watch again. Kyle Pohl must follow Dalton Williams’ example — get the ball to his playmakers while limiting turnovers. Jawon Chisholm needs to approach (or surpass) the 1,000-yard mark, and it would be nice if one or two receivers separated themselves from the pack. The defense is generally undersized and may only be better if some of the returnees improve drastically or are pushed aside by newcomers.
2013 Akron Zips Team Preview
115. Texas State
Coming off a 6–6 campaign as an FBS independent in 2011, Texas State opened its second year under coach Dennis Franchione (in his second stint with the school) with an upset of Houston but finished 4–8 overall and 2–4 in conference play in the program’s only season as a WAC member. This season the Bobcats are on the move again as they join the Sun Belt.
This year’s schedule could be a challenge as Texas State will play five bowl teams, including road games against Texas Tech, New Orleans Bowl winner UL Lafayette and two-time Sun Belt champion Arkansas State. The Bobcats hope to build off last season when they had six losses to bowl-eligible teams.
Franchione is optimistic Texas State will have a breakout season after adding eight 3-star recruits (according to Rivals) and 11 junior college transfers. For the Bobcats to improve, they must answer questions at quarterback and running back and make big strides defensively.
2013 Texas State Bobcats Team Preview
Prior to replacing program patriarch Howard Schnellenberger, Carl Pelini served as the defensive coordinator for Nebraska. Still, he didn’t inherit anywhere near the same talent that he had in Lincoln, and the progress of the defense proved uneven in 2012. The offense was uneven, too, as Wright was limited in what he could do with Wilbert.
Now Pelini has a few more of his players, bringing in a recruiting class widely regarded as among the best in school history. FAU appears to be moving in the right general direction in some areas — its penalty yardage, for instance, was way down in Pelini’s first season. The out-of-conference schedule, while still including an opener at Miami, isn’t quite as brutal as in 2012, when the Owls faced Georgia and Alabama on the road in consecutive weeks.
Yet the move to Conference USA, a year ahead of schedule, could make the ride bumpy, as could the inexperience at quarterback.
2013 FAU Owls Team Preview
117. South Alabama
The USA program, which played its first game in 2009, is now eligible for the for the Sun Belt title and a bowl bid. But it will be difficult to compete for either, unless the newcomers are fast starters. A 2–11 record last season included five losses of 10 points or less, but Jones warns that USA must move beyond moral victories.
“If our players think those close losses are suddenly going to flip into wins the next year, they are sadly mistaken,” Joey Jones says. “We have Sun Belt experience now. We’ve been competitive, and that’s good. But now we need to win.”
USA has one win over a full-fledged FBS member in its two seasons of transition to the highest division, but it could be aided by turnover in Sun Belt membership. Texas State and Georgia State will be the newcomers, instantly promoting USA’s status in the league. Most teams making the FBS transition suffer during roster turnover. USA’s evolution will be determined by how much the junior college transfers contribute.
2013 South Alabama Jaguars Team Preview
Last season was a downer, with FIU falling well short of expectations. Still, the dismissal of the popular Mario Cristobal — who ended up at Alabama after a brief stop at Miami — was not well-received by many Panthers backers, who felt he’d done enough to elevate the program that he should have gotten another shot. Now Ron Turner, who won Big Ten Coach of the Year back in 2001, takes over during a transitional time, with the move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, a low number of starters returning, and a rather small recruiting class.
The Panthers had better beat Bethune-Cookman early on, or else they could be 0–4 before the bye. Then it will be even harder to bring back the enthusiasm that was prevalent around this program only two years ago.
2013 FIU Golden Panthers Team Preview
Norm Chow’s first season as Hawaii’s head coach was a struggle, and the schedule only gets tougher for 2013. Chow used the offseason to shake up his coaching staff on the offensive side with the addition of line coach Chris Naeole, coordinator Aaron Price and quarterbacks coach Jordan Wynn. It’s imperative that Hawaii shows significant improvement on offense after scoring 14 points or less in six of its 12 games last season. The Warriors must also start to win the turnover battle; they ranked 110th in the nation last year.
The schedule won’t allow for Chow’s team to ease into the season. The first five games are against bowl teams. Hawaii will have a tough time finishing out of the basement in the new MWC West division.
2013 Hawaii Warriors Team Preview
120. Eastern Michigan
After going 6–6 overall and 4–4 in the MAC in 2011, Eastern Michigan appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough last fall. Didn’t happen. The Eagles slumped to 2–10 in 2012 and won only one game in the league.
With some chemistry issues that hurt last year’s team apparently solved, there is plenty of desire to right the ship in 2013. Desire is one thing. Talent is another. There are some bright spots — the running game should be strong and the secondary has a chance to be solid — but there are too many hurdles for this team to climb. The Eagles will have a tough time finishing out of the basement in the always tough MAC West.
2013 Eastern Michigan Eagles Team Preview
Larry Coker, who won a national championship at Miami, needed only one season to work his magic at UTSA. On the heels of the program’s 4–6 inaugural campaign, the Roadrunners went 8–4 overall and 3–3 in the WAC to finish fourth in the league. All four of their losses were to teams that were bowl-eligible.
Coker now leads UTSA into the new-look Conference USA. The Roadrunners will not be a full FBS member and bowl eligible until 2014, but they are experienced (51 returning letterwinners) and have intriguing non-conference home games against Oklahoma State and Houston. The schedule will be challenging. After facing four non-FBS opponents last year, UTSA will play no lower-level schools and five teams that were bowl-eligible in 2012. The Roadrunners could surprise again, but the offense must continue to thrive and the defense must do a better job limiting big plays.
2013 UTSA Roadrunners Team Preview
122. New Mexico State
These Aggies should be improved in 2013, if for no other reason than they’ll have a more effective gameplan offensively. While there is talent on defense, a new scheme is in place on that side of the ball as well, and there could be growing pains. Doug Martin has brought in a breath of fresh air and a positive outlook since taking over in February.
After the implosion of the WAC, New Mexico State will play as an Independent in 2013 before moving to the Sun Belt (for its second stint in the league) in 2014. The schedule features four games against BCS conference opponents plus tough dates against San Diego State, UL Lafayette and Rice. It’s hard to find more than two wins for the Aggies.
2013 New Mexico State Aggies Team Preview
This is a true transition year for the Idaho program. It will play as an FBS Independent before moving to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The good news for Paul Petrino is that he’ll have a number of young players who’ll get experience and exposure to his system, which should help the Vandals when they make the move back to the conference they called home from 2001-04.
Without a conference championship to play for or an automatic bowl tie-in, Idaho must find motivation from within to make this season meaningful. The schedule features four games against teams from AQ conferences as well as three games against a trio of non-AQ schools (Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Arkansas State) that combined to win 31 games last season. The Vandals could struggle to win more than a game or two.
2013 Idaho Vandals Team Preview
This is UMass’ first season where it’s eligible to qualify for a bowl. But with Wisconsin, Kansas State and Vanderbilt on the non-conference schedule and the MAC coming off its best year ever, playing after November seems like an extreme long shot for the Minutemen.
2013 UMass Minutemen Team Preview
125. Georgia State
There is no question that coach Trent Miles faces an uphill climb in Year 1 with the move from FCS to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Georgia State struggled to compete in the CAA last season, finishing 1–7 and losing six of those games by at least 20 points.
But Miles is no stranger to rebuilds. Indiana State was the worst FCS program in the nation when he was hired in 2008, with a 1–32 record in the three seasons prior to his arrival. He struggled early, but went 19–14 (13–11 in the Missouri Valley) in his final three seasons. The guy clearly knows how to coach.
2013 Georgia State Panthers Team Preview
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