College Football Handicapping: Which Teams Can Run the Table?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/3/2012
As we head into October, there are still 23 undefeated teams in college football. That means that there are 23 fanbases harboring hopes of running the table and finishing the year undefeated. By the end of November, those dreams will be dashed for most of the programs. Time and again we have seen very good teams with favorable schedules falter when the pressure intensifies. It’s almost certain that a team or two will pull it off, though, so let’s look at the chances of all 23 remaining undefeated squads:
As likely as not
Alabama – The Crimson Tide face a tough SEC schedule as always, but nothing they have done makes me believe that any team is on the same level as they are. LSU is the obvious big test, but they will be the better team in every game they play, so if they falter it will be their fault.
Ohio - The Bobcats have been set up to run the table ever since they won their toughest game in the opener at Penn State. They are still very much capable of doing so, though a near loss to UMass last week was scary. If that serves as a wake-up call then they will be potent.
Could happen, but probably won’t
Florida State – The Seminoles have passed the tests they have faced, and they certainly are capable of winning every game. Tough trips to Miami and Virginia Tech and a season-ender against a reborn Florida squad make it difficult.
Louisville – The Cardinals have a very easy schedule owing to their place in the Big East, with a home game against Cincinnati and a season-ender at Rutgers as the toughest remaining games. They are a solid team capable of winning each game, but the offense isn’t as strong as it could be, and QB Teddy Bridgewater is only a sophomore.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes have looked solid and the Big Ten is lousy, so they have a good look at it. They are still in the first year of a new system, though, and their young QB doesn’t pass with authority yet. They also have to host Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan and travel to Wisconsin, so there are plenty of places left to stumble.
Oregon - I flirted with moving the Ducks up beside Alabama. The Pac-12 has a tendency to be cannibalistic, though, and trips to USC and Oregon State and a home game against Stanford are all big tests.
LSU - On paper the Tigers are good enough to run the table — or at least to give Alabama a big test. They have been so unfocused and lackadaisical against everyone but Washington this year, though, that it’s hard to really believe in them yet. If their heart could match their skill they would be dangerous, but I’m not buying it.
Probably won’t happen
Kansas State - I find it hard to believe anyone in the Big 12 will run the table this year because the league is just so deep and there isn’t a team without issues of some sort. The Wildcats have a relatively good schedule, and they may already have won their toughest game. However, it is still too much to expect from this team.
Texas - The Longhorns have looked very good this year, but I can’t forget how many troubles they had last year. One year isn’t long enough in college football to completely erase those problems, so at some point they will be haunted by their past.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers offense is awe-inspiring and Geno Smith may not be human. Their defense is so incredibly bad, though, that against teams with a competent offense and a solid defense — like Texas, TCU, or Kansas State — they could be tested in a way they haven’t been so far.
Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish defense is legitimate, but not as good as people think. They have played three teams — Navy, Michigan State and Michigan — that all have big issues on offense and all three teams did as much to beat themselves as Notre Dame did to beat them. Their offense just isn’t good, and their schedule is tough as always. There are multiple losses coming.
Cincinnati - It has been a nice start, and the win against Virginia Tech was particularly nice, but it’s hard to see the Bearcats sustaining it. They aren’t exceptional in any aspect of their game, and are vulnerable as a result.
Rutgers - A very nice start, but when your biggest win is against an Arkansas team that is impossibly troubled then you haven’t accomplished much yet. It’s the first year with a new coach after a long run with Greg Schiano, and there will be inevitable hiccups along the way as a result.
Oregon State - It has been a great start, but any team that beat Arizona by only three will struggle at Stanford or at home against Oregon.
Georgia - I’ll admit that this team has been much better than I expected. Their defense is just average, though — at least compared to what they have been in the past, and to what there is elsewhere in the SEC. If the Bulldogs are undefeated in three weeks after playing at South Carolina and at home against Florida, though, then their chances are much improved.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks haven’t beaten anyone of note yet, so it’s hard to get too excited about the impressive defensive numbers they have put up. Similarly, the offensive numbers that are just average right now are going to falter when the opposition gets tougher.
Florida - Big steps forward have been taken this year after the disaster of the last few, but with LSU, South Carolina, and Georgia in their next four, and FSU at the end of the year, the chances of running the table are slim.
Louisiana Tech - If it weren’t for one game they would be much higher on this list. The Bulldogs host Texas A&M in two weeks, though, and that’s a huge test for a plucky team that will ultimately be outmatched in terms of talent and depth.
Northwestern – The Wildcats have been a great story so far, but they just aren’t good enough — especially at defending the pass — to keep it going. They host Nebraska and Iowa and then travel to Michigan and Michigan State. There are multiple losses in that month.
TCU - They are off to a good start in their return to a major conference, but they haven’t played anyone yet. Their last five games — at Oklahoma State and West Virginia, hosting Kansas State, at Texas, at home against Oklahoma — is as tough a month as any team will face all year, and they just aren’t good enough to pull it off.
Texas Tech – The Red Raiders best win is against Iowa State, and second-best is probably Texas State. Things are going to get ugly when the opponents are real.
Mississippi State - The story is the same as always — the Bulldogs do some things well, but just aren’t good enough to compete with the best of their division.
UTSA - This is an amazing start that shows just how good Larry Coker can be as a coach when he wants to. Last year this team was an FCS Independent, though, and the Roadrunners football team didn’t exist at all the year before that.
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