10 College Football Teams That Will Crumble Under Pressure
Preseason rankings can be pretty fickle.
Every season, there are the familiar favorites near the top of the polls, and there are always a few Cinderella candidates with which pollsters fall in love during the offseason.
But if there's one constant in college football, it's that the preseason Top 25 bears no resemblance to the final BCS Rankings that are released in December.
So which teams will live up to their potential (and hype) and which teams will fall out of favor with the poll voters and general public?
Here's our list of 10 teams that will crumble under the pressure of the national spotlight during the 2012 college football season.
Note: Since there's no “official” Top 25 released until August, we're going to use ESPN's “Way Too Early” Top 25 opinion poll.
No. 23 Virginia Tech
Over the past 17 seasons, Virginia Tech has been almost a lock to win 10 or more games. In fact, the Hokies have failed to reach double-digit wins just four times over that span, and are currently riding a streak of eight years of 10-plus wins.
So why would we pick Va Tech to crumble under the pressure this season?
It comes down to a simple matter of experience.
The Hokies return just three offensive starters for 2012 (plus a part-time starter). No matter how good those players are (and Logan Thomas is good), the increasing level of competition in the ACC could very well mean we won't be seeing the Hokies in the ACC Championship Game for only the second time in six seasons.
No. 21 Washington
There's nothing particularly wrong with picking Washington to be a decent team in 2012.
But putting all your hopes on the Huskies finishing the year in the Top 25 might be a bridge too far.
The Huskies have been consistently mediocre over the past few seasons, and that was with some pretty impressive talent at the quarterback position.
Now, the Huskies lack any truly big name players, and although there will be a wealth of experience back (16 combined starters), we're not ready to believe Washington can get past teams such as Oregon, Stanford and USC—meaning there's no realistic chance the Huskies will come anywhere close to earning a Pac-12 North Division title.
No. 19 Texas
Texas fans are some of the most loyal in the nation, but along with that loyalty comes a little self-induced inability to see or at least acknowledge the truth.
While Mack Brown has put together an impressive win-loss record—which currently stands at 141-39 at Texas—he has fallen short in the “games that matter.” Brown is just 6-8 against Oklahoma, or just two conference titles over 14 seasons (compared to Oklahoma, with seven over the same span).
If raw wins is your measuring stick, Brown is clearly a success. If shiny things in a trophy case is what you go by, Brown might be coming up a bit short.
Either way, Texas is a big name in college football, and nine straight seasons (2001 to 2009) of 10-plus wins will buy the Longhorns a lot of preseason street cred.
But after two less-than-impressive seasons, which included the bowl-less 2010 (5-7), we have to wonder what's next in Austin.
While Texas does have 16 returning starters from 2011, many of the starters—particularly at quarterback—haven't been the kind of player you gush over.
It seems unlikely that Brown will magically be able to solve his biggest problem of the offseason—quarterback play—by the time September rolls around, and with danger lurking around every corner in the Big 12, Texas will be hard-pressed to earn that third conference title in a decade and a half.
No. 17 Ohio State
For much of the past decade, the Big Ten has been the Buckeyes' playground.
Ohio State went where it wanted, and beat who it wanted, and said what it wanted, and did whatever it wanted.
It was that last part the did the Buckeyes in.
The shocking hubris that pervades every aspect of Ohio State culture finally ran into the brick wall of the NCAA. Contrary to popular belief in the state of Ohio, the Buckeyes can do wrong—and it turns out, they frequently did.
Now, in the aftermath of the “resignation” of Jim Tressel, and the NCAA-imposed sanctions that followed, Ohio State will embark on the long journey to restore some sense of honor to the program.
Mind you, no single Ohio State fan will admit that this needs to be done because in his or her eyes, obviously, Ohio State is still the greatest program God saw fit to bestow on the world.
But if you can shove the mountain-sized landfill of arrogance aside, you'll see an Ohio State that is navigating far choppier waters in a rejuvenated Big Ten.
Whether it's because the rest of the conference caught up, or Ohio State has slipped, the end result is a conference that no longer bends to the will of the Buckeyes.
And while Ohio State has nothing more to play for this season that the considerable pride of the scarlet and gray, it's possible that pride could finally be tempered by another season of failing to finish at the top of the standings.
No. 16 Clemson
Clemson is one of those very intriguing contradictions in the world of sport.
Just about the time no one pays attention to the Tigers any more, they go ahead and win eight straight games to start the season, catapulting themselves from the roster of unranked teams to a program everyone is talking about—and even being paired with the phrase “national championship run.”
Of course, once the spotlight turns towards Clemson, the Tigers fizzle almost as quickly as they emerged.
It must be tough to be a Clemson fan. The Tigers toy with your emotions more than probably any other team in the nation.
It's all well and good to look at the Tigers for 2012, and put great faith in the chances for a second-straight ACC championship. But history has told us that the minute expectations are raised for the Tigers is also the same time Clemson starts spiraling downward.
Until they prove otherwise, it's probably best not to stake much on the Tigers.
No. 15 Wisconsin
Wisconsin has had a couple of very successful seasons, winning at least a share of back-to-back Big Ten titles.
But curiously enough, Wisconsin wasn't even able to top the No. 10 spot in the final BCS Rankings last season. Although that, along with the Big Ten championship was enough to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, it still placed any notion of a BCS National Championship Game berth far out of reach.
The Big Ten is notorious for beating itself up, and in today's college football world, that never leads to BCS titles.
While it's probably not a good idea to assume Wisconsin is headed for a major fall off, it's likewise foolish to believe that the Badgers will somehow manage to improve upon their recent 10- or 11-win seasons—especially with the upward trend of teams like Michigan State and Michigan.
No. 14 Texas Christian
With the possible exception of Boise State, no non-AQ program in the nation has seen more success over the past few years than TCU.
The Horned Frogs have not only torn through their slate of conference opponents, but TCU has also been able to win the really big games against AQ programs—like Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
But there's a big difference between beating a team like Wisconsin on any given Saturday and taking on teams like Texas and Oklahoma each and every week.
As TCU moved to the ranks of the Big 12, the Frogs will find out that the long, grueling haul through a major conference takes more than a Herculean one-game effort.
While we truly believe TCU can and will become a major player in the Big 12, that likely won't happen overnight.
No. 12 Stanford
Okay, be honest now. Do you really think Stanford can be just as good as it was when Andrew Luck was the quarterback?
Anyone who says “yes” isn't giving Andrew Luck his due credit and fooling himself into thinking Stanford can somehow ride Luck's success through a very difficult Pac-12.
It's true that there were other talented players suiting up for the Cardinal, and a good many of them will return for 2012. But it's similarly true that Luck was the focal point of all the talent on the team, and he focused that talent into back-to-back BCS bowl trips.
As rough-and-tumble as the Pac-12 is likely to be this season, we're going to see Stanford's run of BCS trips finally come to an end.
No. 11 Michigan State
It's hard for many to believe, but over the past two seasons, no team in the Big Ten has more wins than Michigan State.
No, really. It's true. The Spartans have put together two 11-win seasons, setting single-season program records for one and two-season spans.
The Spartans have beaten every Big Ten team—other than newcomer Nebraska—at least once under Mark Dantonio, and MSU got a huge boost with their long-awaited win over SEC East champion Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl.
It really has been a wonderful accomplishment for a program that was once called the “little brother” of Michigan (it's worth noting that Michigan hasn't beaten Michigan State since those comments were made).
But Dantonio and the Spartans are now facing the dreaded “R” word: rebuilding.
With the loss of so much talent and leadership on offense, it's a wonder how anyone can honestly pick the Spartans to repeat as Legends Division champions.
And when you look at MSU's 2012 schedule—which includes Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin, it's easy to see why picking against the Spartans to win the Big Ten isn't such a bad bet.
Of course, if Michigan State did manage to win all of those games...
No. 8 West Virginia
West Virginia was the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde program last season.
After slipping past Maryland in Week 3, West Virginia was on the receiving end of a old-fashioned SEC beatdown at the hands of LSU in Week 4.
The Mountaineers then took out some frustration on Bowling Green State from the MAC and conference foe Connecticut before completely laying an egg against Syracuse—which finished with a 1-6 Big East record, by the way.
West Virginia also lost to Louisville, and finished with a 9-3 regular season record, and a 5-2 Big East mark. That meant West Virginia shared the Big East crown with two other programs, and only received an Orange Bowl berth by virtue of a slight edge in rankings.
Then, West Virginia responded to all the naysayers by absolutely demolishing a highly-touted Clemson team.
So how on Earth are we supposed to figure out what Dana Holgorsen's squad is going to do for an encore?
About the only thing we can go on is history.
History tells us that West Virginia has constantly good finishes, but has had trouble sustaining that success over the course of an entire season. For instance, West Virginia has now lost to a pretty bad Syracuse program two years running. Before that, it was South Florida and Cincinnati that derailed a possible BCS run for the Mountaineers.
So while we applaud West Virginia's move to the Big 12, and the Mountaineers are clearly stepping up in class from the likes of the Big East, it's that added level of difficulty that gives up pause about West Virginia's chances to blow through the Big 12.
Dana Holgorsen will certainly feel comfortable picking apart Big 12 defenses—something he has experience in doing—and senior quarterback Geno Smith will have all of his favorite targets back for 2012.
But WVU's lack of week-in, week-out consistency is reason enough to believe the Mountaineers will be just one of several teams to crumble under pressure in 2012.