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.
Appearing in the 81-100 range is a mixture of BCS and non-BCS programs. After a strong second half of the season, Rice checks in at No. 81 and should be Tulsa's biggest challenger in Conference USA's West Division. Connecticut, Boston College, Colorado, Illinois and Kansas are some of the BCS teams that appear in this range, and each program wants to erase a disappointing 2012 season. The Jayhawks are relying on a handful of JUCO transfers, while the Buffaloes welcome standout receiver Paul Richardson back to the team after a one-year absence due to a torn ACL.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2013 season
College Football 2013 Team Rankings: 81-100
The Owls won their last five games to finish 2012 with a 7–6 mark, and coach David Bailiff believes there will be a carryover this season. The offense has weapons and a solid offensive front, while 10 returning starters should be enough to help Rice be more formidable on defense.
Having quarterback Taylor McHargue around helps, because of his leadership, but if the Owls want to be more than just a hair over .500, they must be more effective at every position. Rice showed it could do that in the bowl win. It’s time to do it for 12 games.
2013 Rice Owls Team Preview
82. Air Force
If Kale Pearson wins the quarterback battle, the Falcons’ option attack will be dangerous, with the possibility of Pearson and Jon Lee sprinting to 60-yard gains. If Jaleel Awini emerges, the Falcons’ passing attack might be more dangerous than their rushing attack for once. But the defense must transform. Last season, the Falcons rushed for 4,111 yards, averaged 27.4 points per game and finished with a losing record.
During his first four seasons, coach Troy Calhoun pushed his teams beyond their talent while excelling in winning close games. Calhoun and his program have tumbled into a slump, but this edition of the Falcons has the potential for revival. If Lee can hang on to the football and defensive end Alex Hansen can harass quarterbacks, the Falcons could surprise.
2013 Air Force Falcons Team Preview
This is a critical season for Paul Pasqualoni and his staff. The Huskies have recorded consecutive 5–7 seasons since Randy Edsall took the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. UConn fans are hoping for some new wrinkles from offensive coordinator T.J. Weist in his first season in charge of what has been a predictable and conservative attack. The schedule is challenging, with home games against Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers, South Florida and Louisville. The Huskies probably need to win three of those five to entertain thoughts of a postseason game.
2013 Connecticut Huskies Team Preview
84. Boston College
Coach Steve Addazio doesn’t have a lot to build around. The Eagles’ last three recruiting classes have lacked an impact player, so there’s not much depth behind a strong senior class. The Eagles can score points with their passing attack, but they lack an effective running game or a tight end to exploit the middle of the field. The Eagles have liabilities at all three levels of defense and are destined to endure a third straight losing season.
2013 Boston College Eagles Team Preview
After a failed two-year run with Jon Embree, Colorado made one of the offseason’s best coaching moves by hiring Mike MacIntyre. He will have his hands full this season, as the Buffaloes were one of the worst major conference teams of the BCS era in 2012. The quarterback position is a question mark, and Colorado needs to replace its best offensive lineman. Last season, the defense allowed 46 points per game (most in the nation), and even with seven starters back, this unit may not be much better in 2013. The Buffaloes will show improvement, but wins could be difficult to come by this year.
2013 Colorado Buffaloes Team Preview
Coach Tim Beckman inherited a team that won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. He went 2–10. In the “win now” age, some fans actually wanted Beckman dismissed after one season. The school leaders didn’t listen. To limit the negative talk, Beckman’s second team will need to show improvement. Changes to the staff should provide a boost, especially on offense with the addition of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Beckman also added immediate help with 10 mid-year enrollees, five from the junior college ranks. While a bowl game is always the goal, four wins is a more realistic expectation as Beckman tries to rebuild the program.
2013 Illinois Fighting Illini Team Preview
87. Bowling Green
The Falcons should continue moving up the ladder in the MAC, and the top rung is next. Bowling Green went 8–5 last season, after going 5–7 and 2–10 in the previous two years, respectively. With eight starters back on offense, nine on defense, and a pair of veterans returning in the kicking game, fifth-year coach Dave Clawson has his program in position to win a division title for the first time since 2003, when Bowling Green won the MAC West.
The Falcons’ schedule is favorable. They don’t play Northern Illinois and Ball State — two of the top teams in the MAC West — and they host fellow East contender Ohio.
2013 Bowling Green Falcons Team Preview
Buoyed by the return of a group of running backs that made KU one of the top rushing teams in the Big 12, coach Charlie Weis is confident that, with Jake Heaps now eligible at quarterback, the Jayhawks will be more productive on offense. The defense should be improved as well, thanks to an influx of ready-made junior college players. Still, the 2013 season figures to be a struggle. Kansas was by far the worst team in the league last year and will need to show significant progress this fall to climb out of the Big 12 basement.
2013 Kansas Jayhawks Team Preview
Ohio was 7–0 and flying toward the MAC East title when an abnormal number of injuries helped to send the Bobcats to a 1–4 regular-season finish. Their dominant Independence Bowl performance has renewed hopes for another assault on the elusive MAC crown that hasn’t happened since 1968. Presuming the lines mature as coach Frank Solich projects, every game on the schedule is winnable — including the opener at Sugar Bowl champ Louisville.
2013 Ohio Bobcats Team Preview
90. Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech should expect another season of bowl-eligibility, but winning Conference USA in its first year in the league under a new coach may be too much. The offense has potential with the explosive Kenneth Dixon at running back, but the offensive line and quarterback positions are still question marks. The schedule is not overly challenging, with the toughest league games coming late in the year. So if the newcomers can get acclimated, Louisiana Tech may find itself playing in some very meaningful league games in November.
2013 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Team Preview
91. Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky made a big splash when it hired Bobby Petrino to replace Willie Taggart, who parlayed the school’s first trip to a bowl game into the head coaching position at South Florida.
Petrino sees the WKU opportunity as a step in rehabilitating his career after departing Arkansas in disgrace for non-football (and highly publicized) indiscretions. He might not be the most popular guy, but he can coach football, especially offense. With Petrino and offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm running the show, the Hilltoppers should feature one of the top offenses in the Sun Belt. If the defense cooperates, Western can challenge for the title in its final season in the league.
There will be lots of eyes — locally and nationally — on how Petrino’s team fares, and how he conducts his business in the process.
2013 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Team Preview
There are many reasons for optimism around the Cougar program. Houston moves into the American Athletic Conference, where as coach Tony Levine says, “the winner goes to a BCS bowl.” The school is building an on-campus, 45,000-seat stadium that will open in 2014, and the last two recruiting classes have brought in plenty of talent.
But if the Cougars want to compete in the American — or anywhere else, for that matter — they must tighten up the defense. Houston should be able to score plenty of points, thanks to its surfeit of skill performers, although quarterback David Piland needs to be more accurate. The Cougars’ ultimate success depends on whether or not they can stop people.
2013 Houston Cougars Team Preview
After a 4–8 finish last fall (3–5 in the MWC), this is a pivotal season for the Pokes. And coach Dave Christensen knows it. With the revamped Mountain West bringing new talent to the competition — and with more eyes focused on the league — the Cowboys need to finish in the upper half to prove that last year was a misstep, not a preview of more disappointing seasons to come.
There’s a lot on the line in Laramie this season. Expect Christensen’s team to play like it.
2013 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview
The June Jones era has featured four straight bowl games. Reaching a fifth could be difficult as the program makes the move from Conference USA to the more challenging American Athletic Conference. A tough non-league slate that includes Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU means SMU likely will be 1–3 entering league play. For the bowl string to continue, the Mustangs would then have to go 5–3 in the American against some unfamiliar opponents. For that to happen, quarterback Garrett Gilbert must take a step forward as a senior, a leader needs to emerge in the receiving corps and some playmakers must develop on the defensive line.
2013 SMU Mustangs Team Preview
95. Colorado State
Coach Jim McElwain, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, cobbled together four wins in his first season, including three in league play. That marked progress for a program that had won a combined three MWC games in the previous three seasons. On closer inspection, however, you realize that the Rams’ victories came over teams that went a combined 10–40, while they lost eight games by an average of 19.4 points.
Unlike last year, McElwain has two experienced quarterbacks, which should help immensely. The running backs and line should be good, and if the receivers come through, the Rams should be able to score enough to be in most games. Defense remains the primary concern. Unless they can find a way to stop the run and get off the field on third down, every game will be a struggle.
Realistically, the Rams are a year or two away from having a legitimate chance of cracking the MWC’s upper echelon. In the meantime, they should be better in 2013 — even if it doesn’t show in their record.
2013 Colorado State Rams Team Preview
Coach Justin Fuente made significant strides in his first season, and this year’s team should show similar improvement. A big key will be continuity: Fuente was able to retain each member of his coaching staff even though several received job offers from bigger programs. Still, the Tigers will be playing in a more difficult league and may not be able to better last year’s record of 4–8 despite an upgrade in talent.
2013 Memphis Tigers Team Preview
Last year, the Owls transitioned to a new league. Now, the transition is to a new coach. Coach Matt Rhule, who was on the Temple staff from 2006-11, was a popular choice, given his ties with the program and familiarity with most of the players on the roster. Temple won 26 games from ’09-11, and Rhule played a vital role in the team’s renaissance. Now, it’s his show, and the first-time head coach has some lofty goals. “We’re here to win championships,” Rhule says. “We’ve been to bowl games and won bowl games, but that’s the one thing that’s missing from the trophy case.”
A conference title, even in the reconfigured (and weaker) league, likely is not in the Owls’ immediate future, but this program will have an opportunity to raise its profile in the newly named American Athletic Conference in the coming years.
2013 Temple Owls Team Preview
Last season’s Middle Tennessee squad overachieved with an 8–4 record, but it suffered a bowl game snub in its final season in the Sun Belt Conference. Now 14 starters return from that team, which still feels vexed by the exclusion as it enters Conference USA. The schedule includes several unknowns, as the Blue Raiders have not played seven of its 2013 opponents in the past decade. But head coach Rick Stockstill still believes his team could contend for a title in its debut season.
“Our goal is to win this conference,” Stockstill says. “Are we good enough to do that? I don’t know because I haven’t seen the other teams in Conference USA. There’s an unknown there of how we stack up, but our mindset is on winning the conference.”
Middle Tennessee’s C-USA slate should be comparable to past Sun Belt competition, so bowl-eligibility is realistic. But the Blue Raiders must keep quarterback Logan Kilgore and running back Jordan Parker healthy and develop more playmakers on defense to make a serious run at the conference crown.
2013 MTSU Blue Raiders Team Preview
A softer non-conference schedule (New Mexico, Colorado State and Texas A&M replace Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ole Miss) and a revamped league schedule that includes five C-USA newcomers should give the Miners a chance to be competitive in coach Sean Kugler’s first year. Much will depend on how quickly the new staff can implement new schemes on both sides of the ball.
A good start in a manageable first four games, when UTEP will probably be leaning on running back Nathan Jeffery and its tight ends, will be a key. An offense that struggled last year returns most of its big names, but a defense that was much better loses most of its starters, resulting in an upcoming season that is hard to predict.
2013 UTEP Miners Team Preview
100. New Mexico
There was nowhere to go but up when coach Bob Davie came in last season to a program that had won only one game in each of the previous three seasons and was routinely blown out. Not only did the Lobos win four in Davie’s debut season, but they also lost five others by seven points or less. Can the improvement continue? The staff has certainly proven to be an upgrade, so one year under its belt should help. But there are still significant personnel issues. The defense, once Davie’s calling card, and the passing game must improve for the Lobos to break through and reach .500.
2013 New Mexico Lobos Team Preview
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