Fall Football Preview: College Teams Primed for Resurgence
by Robert Ferringo - 7/29/2009
Every team in the country heads into August with dreams of fame, fortune, and bowling. But unfortunately, more programs than not are going to fall on their face this season and have those dreams shattered, and then rammed through their throat, well before Halloween. However, even the clubs that endured bitter and salty seasons in 2008 feel that they are primed for big bounces in 2009.
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Most teams that sucked last year are going to suck again this year. Hey, I don't make the rules; that's just the way it is. But here are 10 teams that I think are poised for bounce back years - by that I mean a record better by two games or more - in 2009 after somewhat disappointing 2008 seasons:
Well, it can't get worse. Last year the Tigers were the clear-cut ACC favorite and they were a dark horse national title contender. That all lasted about one quarter as Alabama rocked them in the opener and never really recovered. Their offensive line was a severe problem and issues with their quarterback and head coach eventually submarined this team's season. But they bring a lot of talent back on the defensive end and with any luck last year's o-line weakness will be this year's strength. New coach Dabo Sweeney has this club charged up and ready for retribution.
2. South Florida
Last year the Bulls believed the hype. South Florida was another team that was a fringe national title contender and the runaway favorite to win the Big East. Not so much. This club was No. 2 in the country in 2007 and they still have two players - Matt Grothe and George Selvie - among the best in the business at their positions. The Big East is wide open and is the most difficult in the country to handicap. But that opens the door for a team with experience and some money players to make a significant move.
After a breakout year in 2007 the Illini were victims to injury and a vicious schedule in 2008. But it's a make-or-break situation for Ron Zook and all of the "talent" that he has stockpiled in Champagne. Illinois has a brutal early schedule, with games against Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State all taking place in the first five weeks of the year. It's trouble. But this team is much more talented than their 5-7 mark last year suggests and I'll bet just about anything that Illinois will be bowling once again this year.
The Rockets were good enough to beat Michigan in The Big House but bad enough to lose by 31 to Northern Illinois. The Tom Amstutz Farewell Tour was a mess last year but I could see the Rockets doubling last season's three-win total. They have 10 starters back from a defense that showed some signs last year. They also have some nice skill position players and all five starters back on the offensive line. They'll get embarrassed early in the year but I expect them to be a solid spoiler in the MAC East this year.
Once the Huskies lost Mr. Everything, Jake Locker, last year their season was over. Ty Willingham started playing all freshmen and Washington was embarrassed repeatedly during a 0-11 campaign. However, a new coach and Locker's return brings promise to Pacific Northwest. The Huskies have a rough nonconference schedule, but I could see them winning four games this season and being a tough out in their losses. They have seven home games so if they can get three or four of those and steal a Pac-10 road game or two then this club could be in business. Don't be discouraged if they get rocked by LSU and USC in early September; Not many teams can stand up to that test.
The Tony Franklin Experiment was an unqualified failure and was a huge contributor to Tommy Tuberville's departure at the end of the year. Auburn's offense still isn't very good but it can't possibly be worse than last year's No. 110 scoring unit. The Tigers have an elite secondary and seven starters back from the No. 14 defensive team in the nation last year. The Tigers had four losses by six points or less last year and I could see them catching a break or two this time around. Each of their first seven games is winnable - as in they will be favored or very small dogs - and I don't think that eight or nine wins is too much to ask for out of this squad.
Get to Rich Rodriguez now because the Wolverines are not going to be down for long. Rodriguez is still overhauling the Michigan roster in an attempt to bring in players to fit his system. But the bottom line is that Year 2 should be significantly better in Ann Arbor. While this team isn't ready to step in the ring with Ohio State and Penn State the Wolverines also won't be getting beat on by Northwestern and Purdue this time around. Michigan has a severely back-loaded schedule so this club should be feeling pretty good about itself (5-2, possibly) when it lines up with the conference Big Boys. Regardless, I'll be a bit surprised if Rich can't double last season's three wins.
8. N.C. State
Injuries just absolutely creamed the Wolfpack last year and this team was decimated before it took its first snap of the season. But N.C. State came on strong in the last month of the year, winning four straight - three by double digits - over conference foes. Tom O'Brien is just too good to be held down and this will be his third year with the program. This team was extremely physical. And now that they've regained some depth and talent they could end up bowling for the first time in several seasons.
9. Texas A&M
Well, it can't get worse in College Station. And I don't think that it will. Last year was one of significant transition for the Aggies and they didn't respond very well. But with nine starters on offense, seven on defense, and a significantly easer schedule this time around I think that the Aggies could possibly be sniffing bowl eligibility late in November.
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