With college football season less than a month away, some (but hopefully not all) preseason predictions and projections will be moot. Trust us, we’ve been digesting our thoughts on the upcoming season since the end of spring practice and even the end of bowl season.
As is the case each season, some of the summer’s biggest talking points will fall flat once the season begins. And after a few games into 2012, we’ll be sure to ask ourselves “how did we overlook that?”
We’d like to step ahead of the curve in the final weeks before kickoff and point out a few things you may be overrating during the offseason as well as a few you may be overlooking, too.
How much of West Virginia’s preseason love is based on a gaudy bowl score -- and is that fair assessment? Which numbers just didn’t add up for Kansas State’s 10-3 season?
Conversely, how much are we overlooking statistically sound teams who simply ran into a case of bad luck or untimely injuries?
We’re sure you have your picks for the overrated or overlooked storylines from the summer, but here are our picks:
West Virginia as a Big 12 contender.
We’re on the West Virginia bandwagon as much as anyone. Athlon ranked the Mountaineers 12th nationally and third in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith checked in as a second-team All-American. The Mountaineers’ eye-popping win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl handed West Virginia momentum into 2012, but don’t forget to look at the whole picture. West Virginia was 9-3 at the end of the regular season, winning its final three games by a field goal or less. The Mountaineers may not have even reached the Orange Bowl had Cincinnati starting quarterback Zach Collaros stayed healthy. The Bearcats were 3-0 in the Big East and West Virginia was 2-2 when the two met at Nippert Stadium. Collaros suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter of West Virginia’s 24-21 win and didn’t return until the bowl game.
Related:West Virginia preview
Kansas State’s offense.
The Wildcats return 11 starters, including quarterback Collin Klein, to a team that finished 10-3 last season and 7-2 in the Big 12. That’s all good news, but there’s reason to hesitate. Statistically, Kansas State looked more like a team on the bowl bubble than on its way to the Cotton Bowl. Kansas State was outgained by every Big 12 opponent except Kansas. In those eight games, Kansas State’s opponents topped the Wildcats by an average of 142.6 yards per game. K-State also was ninth in the Big 12 in yards per play (4.9) and sixth in yards allowed per play (5.7).
Related:Kansas State preview
Rich Rodriguez’s debut at Arizona.
The influx of new coaches and offensive gurus has been one of the biggest stories in the Pac-12 since January, but let’s not get carried away with any of these coaches being miracle workers in Year One. Start with Rich Rodriguez -- he’s 9-32-1 all-time in his debut season at a school, including Salem College (2-8), Glenville State (1-7-1), West Virginia (3-8) and Michigan (3-9). And with the Mountaineers and Wolverines, Rodriguez took over programs with winning records a year earlier. Rich Rod may have success at Arizona, but history says it’s going to have to wait a year or two.
Related: Arizona preview
Michigan State’s run game.
The departure of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins combined with the return of Le’Veon Bell (948 yards, 13 touchdowns) and a veteran offensive line seems to indicate Michigan State will return to a run-first approach. That may be a good idea, but there are signs it might not be a seamless transition. Michigan State was 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (137.9 yards per game) last season and tied for ninth in yards per carry (3.95). The Spartans haven’t finished better than sixth in the Big Ten in rushing in four seasons.
Related:Michigan State preview
NC State’s turnover prowess.
With Florida State and Clemson struggling to get out of their own way, NC State may be poised to take advantage in the ACC Atlantic. Quarterback Mike Glennon is a game-tested senior, so the Wolfpack probably will be stronger out of the gate than it was last season. Still, we have reasons to be skeptical about NC State. First, the losses -- 30-point losses to Cincinnati and Florida State, not to mention 14-10 to lowly Boston College. Turnover margin can be a finicky statistic, too, and NC State was plus-14 in that category. The Wolfpack probably shouldn’t count on David Amerson to repeat his 13-interception performance, either. Meanwhile, NC State finished 11th in the ACC in yards gained per play (4.64) in conference games.
Related:NC State preview
Knile Davis as the second coming of Darren McFadden.
Don’t get us wrong: We’re excited to see an Arkansas offense featuring both quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. But don’t forget: All our opinions of Davis are based on a seven-game stretch in the second half of 2010 before he missed all of last season with an ankle injury. It was a seven-game run that propelled him to lead all SEC running backs in rushing that season, but it was still just seven games.
Related: Arkansas preview
The Gators ranked eighth in the nation in total defense last season, but they were rarely mentioned in the same breath as Georgia and South Carolina, and that’s just the SEC East, never mind the West with Alabama and LSU. The reason? An alarmingly low number of takeaways. The Gators forced only 14 turnovers last season, tied with Notre Dame for the eighth fewest nationally. That’s bad news for an offense that needs all the help in can get.
Ohio State’s close losses.
A major reason Athlon ranked Ohio State sixth this season is the combo of Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and a standout defense. Besides those factors, Ohio State was awfully close to better record than 6-7 last season. The Buckeyes last six losses all came by a touchdown or less, including four on the road or at a neutral site. All that was with an interim coach and two quarterbacks, one being a freshman and the other Joe Bauserman. Meyer was 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less in his first two seasons at Florida (and then 3-6 thereafter).
Related: Ohio State preview
Illinois is the mirror image of some of the “lucky” teams mentioned above. The Illini were in the top three in the Big Ten last season in yards allowed per play, per carry and per pass attempt, leading to a top-10 finish nationally in total defense. The offense couldn’t bail out the defense, though, turning over the ball a Big Ten-worst 28 times. During Illinois’ six-game losing streak, the Illini averaged only 11 points. While Illinois loses defensive end Whitney Mercilus, the Illini have pro talent in tackle Akeem Spence and end Michael Buchanan.
Related: Illinois preview
Oklahoma State’s turnover trend.
The Cowboys’ defense was never as bad as its 456.8 yards allowed statistic indicated. Oklahoma State was middle of the pack nationally in yards allowed per play, a more telling statistic with so many hurry-up offenses. The Pokes also led the nation in takeaways with 44, five more than the next best team. Normally, we’d caution against getting too wrapped up in high turnover numbers, but it’s too much of a trend in Stillwater to ignore. The Cowboys have led the Big 12 in takeaways in each of the last two seasons and were tied for third in defensive coordinator Bill Young’s first season in 2009.
Related:Oklahoma State preview
Texas A&M’s SEC-readiness.
Don’t laugh. The Aggies may be a little more ready to compete in the SEC than onlookers would realize. No, this doesn’t mean A&M is ready to compete with Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, but the Aggies’ defense and offensive line might give them a leg up in the SEC. Texas A&M ranked 59th nationally in total defense, but the Aggies could blame part of that in a leaky pass defense and second-half turnover problems. The Aggies faced four quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Robert Griffin III) last season who ranked ahead of the SEC’s top passer (Tyler Wilson). After WilsonIn addition, the Aggies were solid against the run. Their 2.6 yards allowed per carry was better than LSU and behind only Alabama in the SEC last season -- though only Ole Miss in the SEC allowed more rushing TDs. Throw in A&M’s pro prospects at offensive tackle, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, and the Aggies may be able to keep the SEC’s top pass rushers at bay.
Related:Texas A&M preview
USF’s season of bad luck.
USF’s good luck ran out after Notre Dame’s turnover-filled opener, which propelled the Bulls to a 23-20 win in South Bend. After breezing through the non-conference schedule, USF did everything wrong late in the season. The Bulls’ lost seven of their last eight games, losing a fourth-quarter lead in five of those games. Blame it on poor third-down defense or turnover margin. Or blame it on a strange schedule, which included four non-Saturday games in the final eight games and only two games total in October. Before things went haywire last season, quarterback B.J. Daniels was on his way to a career year. Through the first seven games (all before top receiver Sterling Griffin was hurt), Daniels was on his way to career highs in completion percentage and pass efficiency. He also ranked ninth nationally in total offense (he finished ranked 17th). With a more predictable schedule featuring one Thursday game and one Friday game more than two months apart, USF should have some much-needed stability.
Jordan Wynn’s return.
Don’t forget: If not for an inexplicable 17-14 loss at home to Colorado on Nov. 25, Utah would have played in the Pac-12 title game. Most of the results last season was with a quarterback, Jon Hays, who slipped behind freshmen on the depth chart in spring. Jordan Wynn, who is 13-6 as a starter over parts of three seasons, returns after missing the final nine games following surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Utah faces USC at home and misses Oregon and Stanford altogether, so the Utes could be in position for a winning Pac-12 record in only their second season in the league.
Boise State’s schedule.
For the first time in four seasons, Boise State is lacking preseason buzz. Even teams like Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State are receiving more fanfare among non-Big Six teams. When the season is over, don’t be surprised if Boise State has one of the nation’s best records, despite heavy personnel losses. Boise State faces one major conference team, Michigan State, all season. Like Boise State, the Spartans are replacing one of their best quarterbacks in school history in the 2012 opener. After that, Boise State’s toughest games are BYU at home and Nevada in Reno in the finale. The Broncos still have an experienced offensive line, playmakers at running back and receiver, and a handful of upperclassmen players on defense despite just one returning full-time starter. Boise State is an upset over Michigan State away from being in the BCS-buster conversation again.
Related:Boise State preview