College football is back, folks. Fans should be giddy with excitement from Coral Gables to Lake Washington.
Teams in Columbus, Eugene, Palo Alto, Austin, Louisville and basically every college town in the SEC are preparing for a run at the final BCS National Championship. Others in Madison, Berkeley and Lubbock are delirious with anticipation of exciting new head coaches.
“Hope springs eternal,” “everyone is undefeated,” and “anything can happen on any given Saturday” can be heard all over the place. And rightly so. There is no more anticipated time of the year than when the calendar flips from August to September.
That doesn’t mean that certain teams don’t need to take a deep breath and rethink reality. Everyone has a right to be excited about their team but only one can claim the national championship, only 10 will win a conference championship and only 12 will land in a BCS bowl.
That leaves a lot of disappointed fan bases come December. And since self-awareness is one of the most underrated aspects of being a sports fan, I thought I’d let a few teams down easy on the front end.
Here are 10 teams that are highly combustible and should lower expectations. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean the teams below will have “bad” seasons. It means, relative to expectations, fans might want to be prepared for some degree of disappointment.
Jim Mora has one season of college coaching under his belt and a great quarterback in Brett Hundley. But he also has no offensive skill players returning, an extremely young offensive line and a completely rebuilt secondary. This team is talented but has to play four games on the road against preseason ranked AP teams — Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC. UCLA also has to play Washington and Arizona State at home. The media picked the Bruins to win the Pac-12 South Division for the third straight season but this team will be lucky to win eight games this fall.
Here is the deal with the Cardinals. They have elite, long-term leadership at key positions, namely athletic director Tom Jurich and head coach Charlie Strong, and will move into a much better league next year. Teddy Bridgewater is an elite quarterback, the defense returns largely intact and the schedule is extremely manageable. But there is a good chance that even with a perfect 12-0 season, that the Cardinals will be left out of the BCS title game. With a razor-thin margin of error, fans in Louisville should be prepared for a potential snub at year’s end.
The Tigers are the clear-cut front-runner to win the ACC championship this fall. But this team has won a league title just once in the last 21 seasons despite consistently having one of the most talented rosters in the league. Clemson faces No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 11 Florida State as well as typically tricky (for Clemson, at least) road games with NC State and Maryland. This team is stacked on offense and talented as usual everywhere else. But questions still loom large for a defense that ranked 63rd and 71st nationally in total defense the last two seasons. Would anyone really be that shocked if Clemson finished the year with at least three losses?
James Franklin has elevated the expectation levels at Vanderbilt in just two seasons. He has posted the two best seasons in school history and appears to have assembled the most talented roster in school history. But this program is still struggling to sell tickets and has had to deal with a community-shaking rape investigation that could cost the team as many as five scholarship players. Top it off with four games against top-10 preseason AP teams as well as games with Ole Miss, Tennessee and Missouri. An unprecedented third bowl game is certainly possible but another nine-win season is highly unlikely. Credit the coaching staff for growing expectations but the 2013 team could quickly become a victim of its own success.
The Frogs are probably the best-coached team in the Big 12, have easily the best defense and might boast the best quarterback. That said, the Frogs hadn’t lost a conference game since November 2008 (24-0) before it dropped five of nine Big 12 tests last year. Gary Patterson’s bunch will face four teams ranked in the preseason top 16 and have a daunting road slate: at Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State. And that doesn’t include the Frogs' sneaky good arch rival from Waco. There is a lot to like about this team but it's hard to see TCU winning the Big 12.
This team is going to be really, really good if Kevin Sumlin can continue to recruit over the next half decade like he has in his first 18 months on the job. One great player can pull a historic upset on any given Saturday as the nation saw last year, but it takes an entire team stacked with elite players to win an SEC title. The schedule isn’t all that daunting but the defense has major holes and key road games with LSU and Ole Miss will be challenging. Johnny Manziel can handle the pressure of his off-the-field behavior and it won’t impact his play, but the same cannot be said for the other 84 guys on scholarship. The word championship shouldn’t be in the mix for a team that needs more time to develop into an SEC power.
Les Miles has consistently fielded a roster that can compete for the BCS National Championship and a fan base that expects excellence. But with one of the toughest schedules in the nation and mediocre quarterback play, this team clearly won’t be one of his best. There is tons of young talent on defense that should develop into one of the nation’s best units… in 2014. And while the O-line is outstanding and the wideouts are explosive, Zach Mettenberger threw an atrocious five touchdown passes in eight SEC games last year. There is no way the Tigers can beat Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida with that type of offensive production. This team might finish second in the West but won’t be near the BCS conversations like in years past.
This is the most talented roster in the Big 12. It has a veteran quarterback who is entering his third season as the starter. It has a head coach who has led his team to two BCS National Championship Games, including one win for the ages. But this team is soft and the 11-15 Big 12 record over the last three years proves it. Rivalry games are a great indicator of effort, coaching and commitment and the Longhorns have quit by the end of the first quarter in each of the last two losses to Oklahoma. The Sooners have embarrassed the Horns 118-38 the last two years.
The starting 22 for USC is as talented as any in the nation, including the two-time defending BCS champs. But from 23-85, the Trojans have major issues. Depth will always be a concern for a team with reduced scholarships, but few saw the six-loss debacle of last year coming. This team is once again ranked in the preseason and Lane Kiffin is beginning to feel the heat beneath his rear end. A quarterback battle that could rage through the first half of the season only adds to the uncertainty. Missing Oregon helps and this team should be improved but 10 wins feels out of the question, despite playing 13 regular season games this fall.
At Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas and Missouri at home. That is what Hugh Freeze and his extremely young Rebels face in 2013. Even a veteran SEC team would struggle with that slate. If fans in The Grove are expecting to challenge the big boys in the West, they got another thing coming. If Freeze can repeat his recruiting performance from last cycle a few more times, however, that narrative will change in a hurry.
Other teams that need to pump the brakes this fall:
The roster is seriously depleted and the Hogs will finish right where they are predicted: Last in the SEC West.
The Knights are taking a major step up in competition and some are predicting big things in 2013. That’s a mistake.
Mark Stoops has things pointed in the right direction, but hold your horses Big Blue Nation. This one will take time.
The State of Oklahoma
How many starting quarterbacks are there exactly in this state? Questions on defense also should be concerning for Sooner and Cowboy fans.
The Mountain West
Fresno State and Boise State are awesome but an unbeaten champ will get snubbed. Mark it down.
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