Kevin Sumlin's Aggies could take a step back in the win column next year.
College football’s 2013 season is officially in the books. While kickoff for the 2014 season is still months away, it’s never too early to start looking at rosters, depth charts and coaching changes for teams poised to make a jump in the rankings next year.
Of course, with a few months to dissect rosters, opinions can change on teams.
No matter the conference or school, there are always a handful of teams that will be poised to regress in the win total department. Whether it’s injuries, lost personnel, a tougher schedule or other various reasons, some teams just aren’t built to maintain a high level of success in back-to-back years.
So what teams have our attention as potential programs that will struggle to match their win total from 2013 in 2014? Fresno State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and UCF get the nod as our top five teams on the decline. And while all of those teams fit the profile to regress in win total next season, most seem to have a bright future, including Texas A&M where there’s no shortage of talent set to deliver over the next couple of years in College Station.
Five College Football Teams on the Decline for 2014
Tim DeRuyter will have his work cut out for him in 2014. The Bulldogs have won 20 games over the last two years, but the departures of quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams will be tough to overcome next season. With Carr at the helm, Fresno State averaged 546.2 total yards per game and claimed the Mountain West title over Utah State in 2013. The Bulldogs have been to six bowl games in the last seven years and recorded only two losing seasons since 1999. Clearly, the program is on solid ground, and DeRuyter is one of the top coaches in the Mountain West. But how quickly can the Bulldogs reload from replacing one of the top players in school history (Carr), along with one of the nation’s top receivers (Adams) over the last two years)? Zack Greenlee, Myles Carr and Brian Burrell are the frontrunners to replace Carr at quarterback. But none of the three candidates have a start at Fresno State, and last year’s backup (Burrell) has thrown just 12 career passes. In addition to replacing Carr and Adams, standout left tackle Austin Wentworth, defensive end Andy Jennings, tackle Tyeler Davison and cornerback L.J. Jones will be missed. Don’t expect Fresno State to slip too far in the Mountain West. However, asking the Bulldogs to win 11 games again seems unrealistic, especially with non-conference matchups against Utah, Nebraska and USC, along with a road trip to Boise State in Mountain West play.
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The Cowboys said goodbye to 28 seniors after the Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri. Included in the departing group was quarterback Clint Chelf, standout defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis. And as expected with several key players leaving, Oklahoma State’s coaching staff is certainly going to have its hands full. Replacing Chelf is the biggest priority on offense, with J.W. Walsh and incoming freshman Mason Rudolph expected to be the top options to earn the starting job. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a good supporting cast, as Desmond Roland returns at running back, and Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman are ready to fill the void left behind by Josh Stewart at receiver. One other piece of good news for Oklahoma State will be the return of tackle Devin Davis, who missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. Despite the losses on offense, the Cowboys are still in relatively good shape there and have a track record of success on that side of the ball under coach Mike Gundy. But the defense has several voids to fill and is arguably the biggest concern for Gundy. With Barnett, Lewis and Lavey departing, the front seven will have a new look in 2014. The secondary also needs to be revamped, as Gilbert, and Tyler Patmon are gone at cornerback, and both safeties (Shamiel Gary and Daytawion Lowe) have expired their eligibility. Since 2008, Oklahoma State has not won fewer than eight games in a season. Also, the Cowboys have claimed three years of at least 10 victories since 2010. Gundy has a solid foundation in place in Stillwater, but the departure of 24 seniors, along with an improved Big 12 will make it tough for Oklahoma State to match its 10 wins from 2013. The schedule provides few breaks for the Cowboys, as a date against likely preseason No. 1 Florida State is ahead in the opener, while road dates at TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State will be tough to overcome. Oklahoma State may take a step back in 2014, but the Cowboys could be reloading for a run at the conference title in 2015.
With the way Kevin Sumlin and his staff are recruiting, Texas A&M isn’t going to be down for long. However, with quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans leaving for the NFL, there were be a few growing pains in College Station next year. Both sides of the ball have significant question marks, but none are bigger than finding a replacement for Manziel. While the former Heisman Trophy winner leaves big shoes to fill, there is talent waiting in the wings. Kenny Hill ranked as the No. 219 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one score in four appearances this year. Incoming freshman Kyle Allen looks like a future star in the SEC and ranks as the No. 22 national recruit by 247Sports for the 2014 class. Allen and Hill will benefit from a strong supporting cast next season, which includes redshirt freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and running backs Brandon Williams, Tra Carson and Trey Williams. Another factor working in the new quarterback’s favor: Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi announced his intention to return for his senior year. In time, the offense for Texas A&M will be explosive. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the Aggies can maintain their 2013 averages (538.4 ypg and 44.2 ppg). And a regression on offense is a huge problem for Sumlin, especially if answers on defense aren’t found in preseason practices. Texas A&M ranked last in the SEC in yards allowed (475.8) and opponents averaged 32.2 points per game in 2013. There’s promising young talent, but can this unit make enough improvement to make up for the losses on offense? Another problem for the Aggies is the schedule. Road trips at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn could equal four losses. Again, Texas A&M is going to be fine over the next five seasons. But the Aggies may take a step back in the win column with Manziel taking snaps on Sundays in 2014.
2013 is easily one of the top seasons in UCF program history. The Knights finished 12-1, claimed the American Athletic Conference title and defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. George O’Leary’s team also scored a huge upset win at Louisville (38-35) and nearly defeated South Carolina (28-25) in late September. But the success came at a price, as quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Bortles and Johnson formed one of the top duos in the American Athletic Conference last season and will be missed. Quarterbacks Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo have potential but replacing Bortles’ production in one offseason will be a challenge. UCF also has to replace three starters on the offensive line. With Bortles departing, non-conference games against Penn State, Missouri and BYU suddenly look less winnable, and the American Athletic Conference is up for grabs at the top. Repeating last year’s 12 wins is simply too much to ask. But if Holoman or DiNovo settles into the quarterback job, UCF could win the conference championship once again.
Frank Beamer has been one of the nation’s most consistent coaches during the BCS era. From 2004-11, Virginia Tech won at least 10 games in every season and played in five BCS bowls. However, the last two years haven’t been as prosperous. The Hokies are just 15-11 since 2012 and only 9-7 in ACC games. Every coach is due a mulligan or two at various times during their career, but Virginia Tech has posted back-to-back seasons of at least three losses in ACC play for the first time since 2002-03. The unpredictability of the Coastal Division in 2014 should help the Hokies push for a spot in the conference title game, but how far has the program slipped in recent years? That’s what college football is about to find out next year. With Bud Foster calling the plays, Virginia Tech should be solid on defense in 2014. But end James Gayle, tackle Derrick Hopkins, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Kyle Fuller will be missed. And with Logan Thomas departing at quarterback and question marks about the rushing attack and offensive line, the defense will have to carry the Hokies early in the season. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, but Virginia Tech will have to play at Ohio State and hosts a dangerous East Carolina team on Sept. 13. The conference slate features three tough road games (Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh), with Miami and Georgia Tech visiting Blacksburg. Don’t expect a major regression in the win total, but those expecting Virginia Tech to win 10 or 11 games again will be disappointed in 2014. Considering the personnel question marks, 7-5 overall and just hitting .500 in conference play would be a good season.