College Football Handicapping: Even Top Teams have Issues
by Trevor Whenham - 8/9/2012
If you look closely enough, you can find reasons to be cautious or concerned about every highly-ranked and highly-regarded team in college football this year — and every year for that matter. There are some teams that have more immediate issues than others, though. And this year every team in the Top 10 has reasons to be concerned.
Some are obvious — LSU has questions at quarterback, sooner or later Alabama’s annual massive turnover of talent is going to catch up with them, Michigan combines a young defense with a brutal schedule that opens with a game in Dallas against the Crimson Tide, and South Carolina and Arkansas may not be good enough to compete at the highest level in the very tough SEC.
The five teams I haven’t yet mentioned in the preseason Top 10, though — USC, Oklahoma, Oregon, Georgia, and Florida State — have issues that are of more concern. They may not prove to be fatal, but as I await the start of the season they certainly have me feeling uneasy:
Something interesting is happening in southern California right now. Lane Kiffin is pulling the same magic trick with the general public that he has repeatedly pulled with the teams that have hired him.
Though he hasn’t yet actually done anything to earn it, he has made the shift in the public eye from bumbling idiot to budding genius. This offseason I have frequently seen him called one of the two best coaches in the Pac-12, an improvement over Pete Carroll, and other versions of ridiculousness.
It may turn out to be true, but aside from great recruiting he has yet to earn that acclaim — and to me he still seems like the same pretentious idiot he has always been. Guys like Mark Richt (more on him soon) have long shown us that you can recruit like crazy and never really accomplish anything.
The Trojans are unquestionably talented, but there are still some concerns and they still have to play their games before we crown coach and team.
To me they feel like the kind of team that could find ways to overwhelm and disappoint, but not before they attract ridiculous and unwarranted amounts of public betting money.
I’m a big Bob Stoops fan — always have been. I can’t help but notice, though, that it has been too long since he has been able to perform up to the talent level he seems to have on paper when each season starts. In other words, he has wasted a lot of talent in recent years.
Aside from that there are some real issues — developing holes in what was once a very strong offensive line, a wide receiver shortage, and so on.
The Big 12 is tough this year, too, so there is a shortage of tough games on the Oklahoma football schedule.
The Sooners could hold their ranking all year long, but they could just as easily disappoint and fall hard.
The Ducks are deep, fast and talented, as always. They also have one of the most laughable nonconference schedules out there — opening at home against Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech will only barely cause them to break a sweat.
That start makes me feel uneasy because there is a real possibility for complacency and subordination to leak into the foundation of this team.
Chip Kelly’s flirtation with the NFL this winter, the looming danger of NCAA sanctions, and frustration over the inability to shine in the biggest games have the potential to erode the focus and commitment of the team. It may not be an issue, but it easily could — especially if the team starts to feel like they can’t be beaten.
After that stupidly easy opening schedule they face two conference weaklings in Arizona and Washington State that they will also beat up on. That means they will almost certainly be an overwhelmingly strong 5-0 before they are tested at all, and quite likely 8-0 before they really have to get serious.
I’d feel much better if a real test came sooner to get them out of their own heads and focused on their season.
I’ll keep this one brief. Georgia is Georgia, and until they prove that they can live up to expectations under Mark Richt, play to their full potential, and not lose at least one game they shouldn’t then I will always be immensely skeptical of any ranking they get or anything generous or optimistic anyone says about them.
They have the potential to be very good, but they have been brutal after heading into the season with better teams in the past — and that was back when Richt seemed to care more and had a stronger grip on his team.
You could take what I said about Georgia and only adapt it slightly for Florida State. Something about the Seminoles under Jimbo Fisher always captures the imagination of pundits and bettors before the season starts.
Something about the makeup of the team, though, seems to make it impossible for them to come through when it matters most. They may come through sooner or later, but until they prove they are worthy of hype and affection it only makes sense to me to be skeptical.
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