College Football Handicapping: Teams that Could Self Destruct
by Trevor Whenham - 8/26/2013
Last year the USC Trojans really defined self-destruction for a program. They started the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll. By the end of the year they were just 7-5 and had limped to a lousy 5-4 mark in the Pac-12. It was humiliating in so many ways. Matt Barkley had gone from media darling to draft afterthought after a very ugly season, and the struggles were not his alone.
It certainly isn’t every year that we see a team blow up quite as badly as the Trojans did last year. Will there be another Trojan-like implosion this year? And, if so, which team is most likely to blow up? Here are five good candidates:
The Trojans only barely qualify here this year since they are ranked just 24th in the preseason AP Poll. In the eyes of many, though, they are under-ranked given the talent they have. And given that Lane Kiffin is still the coach, the ability to self-destruct is at least as high as ever. Barring a very good season, Kiffin is probably coaching on borrowed time. He is already breaking in a new defensive coordinator because even his own father couldn’t handle working with him. Kiffin excels at one thing above all others — creating a circus atmosphere. Last year was a truly epic disaster for this program, but if anyone is capable of finding even darker depths it is Kiffin.
The Buckeyes come into the season with very high expectations. In the eyes of many they have already swept the Big Ten en route to an undefeated season and a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game and beyond. Braxton Miller is favored to win the Heisman, and he’s far from the only player on the team facing heavy preseason praise. Urban Meyer won a championship in his second season at Florida, so it is presumed that he will do it again by a surprising number of observers. While that all could happen, there is also the chance that things could really come off the track. I’ll admit I have never been the biggest fan of either Meyer or the Buckeyes. Even with that in mind, though, I think it’s fair to question whether he is as sharp and as hungry as he was back in Florida. His whole non-retirement debacle was strange, and while he has had obvious success so far at Ohio State, circumstances helped last year as much as anything. He certainly didn’t have a strong offseason, with discipline issues occurring at well beyond an acceptable level. The lack of control combined with the potentially head-inflating buzz surrounding the team could affect the hunger and intensity of the squad. They have a tougher schedule than last year, with games at Northwestern and Michigan not getting the respect they deserve. If this team were to lose in the first half of the season — especially against an opponent they should really beat like Cal or Wisconsin — I could see things really spinning out of control.
It’s Mark Richt with a talented team with high expectations. That pretty much says it all. In 2008 Richt started the season ranked No. 1 and was just 10-3. The next year he started ranked 13th and needed wins in his final two games to get to 8-5. Richt is better than anyone at turning recruiting gold into on-field mediocrity. Coming into the season ranked fifth, he has a long way to fall, and with a brutal early schedule that features Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first four weeks, the conditions are ideal for Richt to pull a Richt.
It’s never a good sign when a coach isn’t convincing when talking about whether his team deserves a ranking. Steve Spurrier has seemed downright confused about why his team is ranked sixth, and he has not oozed confidence when it comes to the prospects of staying there. While this is a solid-and-reasonably-deep team, there is no question that they are ranked several spots higher than they would otherwise be because of the massive aura of Jadeveon Clowney. If Clowney shows a hint of mortality then this team could start to doubt themselves as well. Spurrier’s squads in South Carolina have not exactly been noted for their enduring toughness, so it’s quite possible that this one won’t be, either.
The highest-profile college quarterback in history has to adapt to a new offensive coordinator and QB coach while embroiled in a major media witch hunt as the team’s opponents paint massive targets on the back of the Aggies. What could possibly go wrong?
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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