College Football Handicapping: Teams Set to Take Big Step Forward
by Trevor Whenham - 8/22/2014
One of the many, many things that can make college football great is how quickly the fortunes of a program can turn around if everything goes their way. Just look at Missouri - 5-7 in their first year in the SEC and 11-1 in the regular season last year. That's just one example of what every down-and-out team dreams of. Bettors who can spot these teams that are ready to rise from the ashes can cash in as well. As we look towards next season, here are three teams that could take a big step forward this season. Two of them are a bit different than the Missouri example because their records were, on the surface, decent last year. It's how they play, and how impressive they are when you look beyond the record, that is poised to shift this year:
TCU Horned Frogs: It seemed reasonable to expect the team to struggle a bit moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12, but their ugly 4-8 record in their second year in the league was nothing short of shocking. It has been a tumultuous time for the team. First, now-departed QB Casey Pachall faced off-the-field issues. More recently, superstar defensive end Devonte Fields has departed the program with issues of his own. Gary Patterson is a strong coach, though, so it's a reasonable bet that he isn't going to let his struggles continue for too long. The offense of the team has been an issue for too long - since Andy Dalton left - but bringing in two new offensive co-coordinators - former Texas Tech QB Sonny Cumbie and former Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham - is a clear sign that he isn't complacent. Those two have to find a new QB, but in junior Trevone Boykin, who started when Pachall was unavailable, and senior Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel, they have two good options and plenty of potential. The schedule they have is reasonable as well. The nonconference schedule is soft, and they get to play five of their nine conference games at home. The Big 12 is reasonably tough this year, but there is a good chance that TCU can at least double their wins from last year.
Washington Huskies: The team went 9-4 in coach Steve Sarkisian's last season, so they are hardly rising from the ashes. What stands out, though, and qualifies them for this discussion, is the disparity in how they played good teams. Against the class of the Pac-12 - Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State - they were 0-4. Against everyone else, 9-0. They weren't good enough when it really mattered. Now they face the loss of a pretty good quarterback, so on the surface it could seem like a challenging year. I am optimistic, though. New coach Chris Petersen is dramatically better than Sarkisian is, and he will be much better positioned to get the best out of the team he has. He has some excellent players on defense, and his offensive line is largely intact, so he isn't starting from scratch. They have a very soft early schedule, so they essentially have a four-game preseason to get the kinks worked out and get on the same page. They also get to host Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA this year. They are a rare team that is playing 13 games, so the trip to double-digit wins is slightly easier than other squads. Last year they were a nine-win team that didn't really impress many people. This year they will be a 10 (or more)-win team that earns the respect of those who see them.
Ole Miss: On the surface their 8-5 record wasn't bad, but given the hype surrounding Hugh Freeze and his recruiting, the 3-5 mark in the SEC was close to a full-on disaster. I like their chances of improving on that mark - by a fair margin - this year. In a league that is going through a lot of QB upheaval, Ole Miss has Bo Wallace back. He has a lot to work with - most notably potential all-American sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell. On defense, Robert Nkemdiche, the top recruit in the class of 2013, is ready to break out, and he is far from the only player who could really shine. We'll have a much better sense of where this team is at after two potential trap games in the first three weeks - against Boise State in Atlanta in the opener, and a Week 3 matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette. If they can come out of those games unscathed then there is a chance that they can make some noise in the SEC and reap the benefits of their recruiting prowess.
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