Every college football season brings a few surprises. Whether it’s a team finishing in the top 10 that no one expected in the preseason or another program struggling to reach .500 after a successful stretch, each year presents many different case studies when trying to project teams for the upcoming season. And some teams are quick to rebound after a disappointing year to contend for a conference title or crack the top 25 once again.
Projecting which teams will fill those categories and show significant improvement is no easy task.
When it comes to judging improvement in college football, it doesn’t always come in the form of wins and losses. Improvement can simply come as a result of a team being more competitive within its conference and reducing the margin of defeat.
Kickoff for college football’s 2013 season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which teams will be some of the most improved in the nation.
Auburn had a disastrous 2012 season under Gene Chizik, but new coach Gus Malzahn should have the Tigers back in a bowl game. Another team that should see an improvement in its win total is Maryland. The Terrapins bring back only eight starters, but improved health at quarterback should help Randy Edsall’s team return to the postseason.
While Auburn and Maryland are two teams that should showcase their improvement in the win column, Colorado’s will come in a different form. For the Buffaloes, two victories in 2013 will represent improvement from last season. More importantly, this team under first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre should be considerably more competitive in Pac-12 play this fall.
College Football's Top 10 Most-Improved Teams for 2013
2012 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 9
What Went Wrong Last Year: Everything. After Gus Malzahn left to be the head coach at Arkansas State, Gene Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate the offense. The results were disastrous. Largely due to being miscast in a pro-style offense with spread personnel, the Tigers ranked last in the SEC by averaging 305 yards per game. The offense wasn’t solely to blame, as the defense ranked 13th in the SEC in yards allowed.
Why the Tigers Will Be Better: There’s talent in the program. Over the last eight years, Auburn has an average rank of 12th nationally in Athlon’s team recruiting rankings. Malzahn’s return should help spark an offense that was among the worst in the nation last year, especially as the Tigers return to a spread attack. Quarterback is still a question mark, but the offense has a capable one-two punch at running back with Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne, and the offensive line returns four starters. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was one of the offseason’s top assistant hires and three talented incoming freshmen will bolster the defensive line.
Athlon’s 2013 Projection for Auburn: 6-6, 2-6 SEC
With home games against Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina and FAU, Auburn should be 4-0 in non-conference play. Games at LSU and Texas A&M, along with home dates against Georgia and Alabama, are likely losses. However, matchups with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee are winnable.
2012 Record: 1-11 (1-8 Pac-12)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7