So 2011 didn't quite go as planned. That doesn't mean all hope is lost, does it?
The nature of college football is not every team achieves great success every season. But as fans and pundits grumble, the head coaches across the nation get down to work, seeking a way to bounce back from the previous season's disappointments.
It's only February, and National Signing Day is barely a week behind us. But we're going to make some bold predictions by naming the college football coaches poised for a bounce-back season in 2012.
Despite beginning the 2011 season ranked No. 20 in the nation, the Mississippi State Bulldogs stumbled their way through the year, winning just two conference games en route to a 7-6 finish.
For head coach Dan Mullen, 2011 was definitely a big step backwards, after the Bulldogs had finished 9-4 in 2010. But Mullen is poised for his make-or-break fourth season in Starkville.
The SEC is the toughest of the tough when it comes to conferences, and even teams with names like Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Auburn have troubles keeping the programs humming along at break-neck speed.
When you're an “also-ran” in the SEC, the task is that much more difficult.
Mullen is faced with the gargantuan task of building a program to compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU—and do so quickly.
While Mullen hasn't been able to attract the big-name recruits that his counterparts at the aforementioned schools have, Mullen seems intent on doing more with less.
This next season may very well provide the opportunity to do just that—or Mullen may soon find growing warmth on his backside.
There are numerous reasons why a team might finish a season with a 4-8 (3-5) record.
Boston College certainly has some excuses.
First, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers took a medical leave just as the season got underway. Rather than hastily finding a replacement, head coach Frank Spaziani opted to move forward, shuffling positions with the coaching personnel already in place.
The difficulties on offense as a result were apparent, as BC ranked 112th in total offense during the 2011 season.
Spaziani has also had problems on the recruiting side. While New England isn't known as a hotbed of college football recruiting, a program like Boston College should be able to attract decent talent. But the Eagles were ranked just 11th out of the 12 ACC programs by Rivals.com, after landing just two 4-star and eight 3-star prospects.
Still, the biggest challenge facing the Eagles has to be the anemic offense.
Moving forward, Spaziani has to be hoping that stability on the coaching staff will translate into more consistent output from his offense. Even just a modest improvement in 2012 could see the Eagles rebound quickly and catapult the program back into the ranks of perennial bowl teams.
Some might call 2011 a bounce-back year for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns.
Sure, 8-5 is a heckuva lot better than 5-7, and the Longhorns seemed to regain at least a portion of their swagger over the course of last season.
But 8-5 still isn't where we normally expect to see Texas, and there's no doubt that Brown isn't satisfied.
As if to announce to the world that the Texas football powerhouse is alive and well, Brown went out and recruited a top-five class this offseason.
As a whole new generation of Texas football players take the field this fall, Brown will take the next step towards rebuilding his program that was competing for BCS titles just a few short seasons ago.
A new-look Big 12 will also provide Texas with the opponents necessary to prove they can still win big games on a big stage, and a win over a particular rival from just north of the Red River would go a long way towards a true bounce-back season for Brown.
OK, so the Big Ten isn't quite the cakewalk the Nebraska fans were thinking, or at least hoping it would be compared to the Big 12.
Nebraska not only posted a 5-3 record in the Big Ten in 2011, the three losses could all be defined as embarrassments to one degree or another.
The Cornhuskers began their inaugural Big Ten season with a whipping on national network television at the hands of Wisconsin. Midway through the season, the Huskers found out the hard way that any team can win any game on any given Saturday in the Big Ten, as the Northwestern Wildcats pulled off an upset in Lincoln. Finally, as the season was winding down, the Huskers were thoroughly outplayed by Michigan, losing a game that was never close.
But Nebraska didn't climb to the top levels of the national college football food chain without knowing how to win games, and head coach Bo Pelini has his program in great position to begin the long climb up the Big Ten ladder.
While missing out on any 5-star recruits this season, Pelini did manage to snag a small handful of 4-star prospects and the returning talent for Nebraska can't be understated.
This past season, one of the biggest strikes against Pelini's Huskers was their relative youth.
Pelini's staff is sure to spend most of the spring and fall camps working on minimizing mistakes and capitalizing on the strengths inherent in the Cornhuskers' current game plan.
While it's doubtful whether the Huskers can make a run in 2012 in the cut-throat Legends Division, we should all expect Nebraska to avoid the pitfalls of 2011.
It's been quite a while since we've been able to say Florida had a ho-hum season, but 2011 was definitely a year that didn't cause much excitement for Gators fans.
Florida finished a disappointing 7-6 (3-5 in the SEC) this past season. While there weren't any delusions of national titles in Gainesville back in August, there weren't many expecting the Gators to limp into a bowl game with a 6-6 record.
Will Muschamp's first year at the helm at Florida was a rough one, and some have already begun to wonder aloud if he's the right man for the job.
Muschamp was right to say at the end of the regular season that the problems the Gators faced in 2011 stemmed from “a lot of things.”
Now, if Muschamp can develop some chemistry with his coaching staff, his sophomore effort at Florida should be much more productive in the win column than 2011 was.
We'll stay in the Sunshine State for our next stop as we head up to Tallahassee to visit Jimbo Fisher at Florida State.
After being named to the Football Writers Association of American Freshman All-America Team in 2010, the Seminoles started the 2011 season with high hopes and even loftier expectations.
The SU hype machine was in full swing at the start of the season, and pollsters around the nation bought what was being sold, and FSU climbed as high as No. 4 (in the Coaches' Poll released after Week 1) before falling like a rock with losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest over the next three games.
Florida State didn't reappear on the Coaches' Top 25 until Week 13.
After a 9-4 finish, the question has even been raised about Fisher's seat temperature.
But it's far too soon to count Fisher out at Florida State. After all, nine wins isn't that bad.
Sure, it wasn't quite the BCS season everyone in Tallahassee was looking for, but how realistic was that, really?
Plus, Fisher seems to have snagged himself a top 10 class, according to Rivals.com. While top recruiting classes don't automatically translate into successful teams the way so many would have us all believe, it does show that Fisher is at the very least able to keep the traditions alive at FSU after the departure of legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
Nine wins isn't bad, but you can bet that Fisher and the Seminoles have their sights set squarely on the ACC title in 2012. As of now, they have as good of a shot—if not better—than any other team in the conference.
The Oklahoma Sooners finished 2011 with a 10-3 record, but their 6-3 mark in the Big 12 was only good enough for fourth, losing to both Oklahoma State and Baylor, who finished first and third, respectively.
While 10 wins can hardly be called unsuccessful, considering where the Sooners began the 2011 season—a consensus No. 1 team—the final game of the season taking place at the Insight Bowl wasn't exactly the target for which head coach Bob Stoops was aiming.
But Oklahoma is still Oklahoma, and the team that has dominated the Big 12 conference for much of the past decade-plus (winning seven conference titles since 2000) isn't about to slip silently into that good night.
Stoops has put together yet another top-10 recruiting class this offseason, and you can rest assured that the Sooners will be right back near the top of the polls come next August.
Like Texas, Stoops and the Sooners will have to contend with a new-look Big 12 next season, and while the road to a conference title will look differently, the reward will remain the same: a return to the BCS.
Despite the performances put in by teams like Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State this season, Stoops should have his program back in position to be the conference favorite by the time we kick off the 2012 season.