College Football: Hardest Teams To Get a Handle On
by Trevor Whenham - 8/2/2011
When you look forward to the upcoming college football season at this point in the summer, the teams in major conferences fall into a couple of categories. There are those that are easy to predict — you feel like you know what they are capable of and what to expect from them. They could be good or they could be bad, but they aren’t likely to be very surprising.
Then there are the ones that just give you a headache. They have some potential to be good or even very good, but they have so many questions and uncertainties surrounding them that it is hard to really feel confident about what they will be like. They are like an optical illusion — they look different from every angle. There are, unfortunately, several major conference teams that fit into the latter category. Here are six that stand out:
Michigan - Let’s look at the positives first. They have a new coaching staff that has brought a whole lot of energy to the team, and they now have a defensive coordinator who actually knows what defense is. The injuries on defense that were so costly last year aren’t an issue right now. The 2011 Michigan Wolverines football schedule is pretty manageable. Denard Robinson is one of the most electric players in the country.
Now the negatives. They were so bad defensively that it was almost impossible to comprehend. They could be seven times better than they were last year on defense and they still wouldn’t be average. Special teams last year were a total disaster, and they have to rely on a rookie punter to address that. The new coaching staff brings with them a new offensive system that doesn’t necessarily fit the personnel they have — including Robinson.
If everything went perfectly could this team win nine of 10 games this year? Absolutely. Given the struggles they have had in the past, though, is a five-win season also a distinct possibility? Yes. This team is an enigma.
Ohio State - It has been one heck of an offseason in Columbus — and not for the good reasons. Scandal has repeatedly rocked the school, and the casualties have included the superstar QB and the previously highly-esteemed head coach.
Now Luke Fickell, a guy who was no one’s first choice, has to lead this team into battle. Terrelle Pryor is gone and others are suspended, so Fickell will be shorthanded heading into battle early on.
Fickell has scrambled to keep things together since he took the job, and confidence will be very fragile. The team still has loads of talent, so they have a chance to be a major force in a conference they have long dominated. The season could easily also completely fall off the rails, though, and turn into one that can’t end soon enough.
Auburn - They are coming off a National Championship, and Gene Chizik has built some major momentum and has shown that he wasn’t nearly as bad of a hire as he seemed to be when he got the job not so long ago. There is no reason to think that he is a total flash in the pan, either.
The problem, of course, is that Cam Newton is now a Panther in the NFL, and many other players have moved on as well. The quarterback position now goes from the biggest strength in the country to a major question. The team is going to have a huge target on their back as well.
It would be easy to be very pessimistic about this team, and if they were another program you could be. They are the defending champs, though, so things get much muddier.
Florida - When we last saw this team Urban Meyer was coaching them and they were pretty underwhelming. Now they have a new head coach who may or may not be ready for primetime, an offense run by a high-profile guy who was incredibly lousy the last time he was coaching in college, and a quarterback who did little last year to make anyone think he had what it takes to be a star.
We’ve come to expect huge things from the Gators, and the combination of a soft SEC this year and some major talent on the roster make it possible that they will deliver big things again this year. Or they could be thoroughly average.
USC - How do you cope with an elite program when they are playing essentially a lost season? They can’t play in the postseason no matter what happens, so motivation is going to be a real issue. Having a total moron for a coach is going to be an issue as well.
They have a defense that should be better, though, and their schedule is manageable. They also have a quarterback who has the chance to be one of the best in the country this year.
This team could roll through the new Pac-12 and make it seem like a tragedy that the BCS has to go on without them, or they could go through a disastrous season that doesn’t end in an even remotely satisfying way.
Utah - Utah looked really good the last few years, but they were big fish in a little pond. Suddenly that pond has become an ocean.
They have a brilliant coach, a strong QB, and plenty of returning talent, but they don’t get to beat up on weaklings any more. The sixth-best team they play this year is way better than the third-best they have played most years, so it’s going to be an intense challenge for these guys.
Are they going to rise for that challenge because they have been preparing for it indirectly for years and intensely for over a year? Or are they going to be overwhelmed and outclassed? Are they a contender to make the conference championship game, or are they a doormat in their new surroundings?
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