2012 College Football: 8 Teams That Will Turn It Around

Kevin KingSenior Analyst IIJune 20, 2012

2012 College Football: 8 Big-Name Teams Turn It Around

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    In 2011, there were some surprisingly well-known teams that finished the year with less-than-stellar records. Since then, we have seen coaches come and go, recruits added to the fold and spring practice completed.

    The following takes a look at eight of the better-known teams expected to turn it around this year. Read on to see if your favorite team made the list, and what you can expect from them in 2012.

No. 8: East Carolina Pirates

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    After a disappointing 5-7 season in 2011, third-year head coach Ruffin McNeill hopes to challenge for the East Division Championship of Conference USA. They return 15 total starters in 2012. Eight of them are from last year's offense, and averaged 26 points per game. That number will improve immediately if they keep up with the ball. East Carolina was minus-14 in turnovers last year and gave up an average of 32 points per game on defense.

    This year they lose record-setting quarterback Dominique Davis, but have two capable players with some game experience in junior Rio Johnson (four games last year) and senior Brad Wornick (five games in 2010). The running back corps is more experienced and the offensive line returns seven of the top 10. The line is healthy this year and that should help a lot, as they had injury problems late last year.

    ECU had 3 close losses last year, and their schedule only ranks 90th in toughest schedules, according to Jim Steele's preseason publication. As a more veteran team, and hoping to get more out of the new quarterbacks than many expect, will lead to:

    Best Case: 9 and 4, Mid-Tier Bowl

    Worst Case: 6 and 7, Lower-Tier Bowl Loss

    Likely Case: 7 and 6, Lower-Tier Bowl Win

No. 7: UCLA Bruins

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    It's hard to believe that UCLA appeared in the inaugural Pac 12 title game, then finished the season 6-8! USC helped them qualify because they were ineligible to play. The crazy 2011 season did in Rick Neuheisel, though he will likely resurface sometime in the future. He must have naughty pictures of someone important...

    Anyway, Jim Mora, formerly HC of the Atlanta Falcons and Seahawks, is the new head coach. He inherits 16 returning starters and doesn't play Oregon this year. Overall, both the offensive and defensive units rate as solid, though there isn't much all-star power. Depending on how quickly the team buys into the new staff and their plans, this could be a very good year at UCLA.

    Best Case: 10 and 3, Upper-Tier Bowl

    Worst Case: 7 and 6 Lower-Tier Bowl

    Likely Case: 8 and 5, Lower-Tier Bowl

No. 6: Pittsburgh Panthers

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    You think Tennessee had it tough with three coaches in a single season a couple of years ago? Try what Pitt did since the bowl game in 2010. Dave Wannstedt was fired and an interim coached the bowl. Then, they hired and fired Mike Haywood in 16 days, then hired Todd Graham from Tulsa. Graham left for Arizona State after his first (6-6) season, and they used Keith Patterson as their interim HC for the bowl game. They finished the year at 6-7 and hired Paul Chryst.

    Chryst is a good coach and comes from a pounding run game background at Wisconsin, where he was the OC in '05 and '11. His DC is Dave Huxtable, who did a very good job in the same position at UCF from '08 through '10.

    The talent on hand at Pittsburgh is good for what these guys have in mind. If the players can get up to speed on their third system in about a year, this season should play out pretty well.

    Best Case: 9 and 4, Upper-Tier Bowl

    Worst Case: 6 and 7, Lower-Tier Bowl Loser

    Likely Case: 8 and 5, Lower-Tier Bowl

No. 5: South Florida Bulls

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    After the Bulls opened the season with a win at South Bend and a 4-0 start, it was hard to imagine they would finish 1-7 over their next eight games. But the wheels just came off the little green bus as they lost five of seven games by a single score or less.

    This year, Holtz and company have 15 returning starters and a new defensive coordinator in Chris Cosh. Cosh was the DC at Maryland from '06-'08, and most recently at Kansas State from '09-'11.

    Obviously, turning some of those close losses into wins will make all the difference. Skippy (I know his dad, he signed an autograph for me, so it's OK) has the top receiving corps in the Big East. His QB and running back units rank in the top 3, and the offensive and defensive lines are the class of the conference according to Phil Steele's rankings.

    Everything points towards a solid turnaround from last year's 5-7 disappointment. My guess is:

    Best Case: 12 and 1, Big East Champion, BCS Bowl and Top 5 national ranking

    Worst Case: 8 and 5, second in The Big East, Mid-Tier Bowl

    Likely case: 10 and 3, Big East Champion and possible BCS Bowl Game

No. 4: Central Florida Knights

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    Last season, UCF finished a disappointing 5-7, losing six games by a single score or less. Though the losses were very close, 5-7 isn't a typical George O'Leary coaching job.

    O'Leary has coached here for eight seasons. In that time, his Knights have been to the CUSA Championship Game three times, winning two. He led them to their only 4 bowl appearances in school history and his 2010 team even beat SEC powerhouse Georgia (10-6) in the Liberty Bowl. He has been CUSA Coach of The Year in '05, '07 and '10. In short, the guy can coach.

    This year, the Knights return 16 starters. Eight from a defense that only allowed opponents 18 points per game average. According to Phil Steele's preseason unit rankings, they are No. 1 (out of a possible 12) in Conference USA in running backs, defensive line and linebackers. They rank in the top three with all other units, except No. 6 in receiver.

    This is a quality team with a quality head coach. I expect them to rebound well from last year's losing season and challenge for the CUSA title.

    Best Case: 12 and 2, CUSA Champion, Upper-Tier Bowl

    Worst Case: 8 and 5, Mid-Tier Bowl

    Likely Case: 11 and 3, CUSA Champion, Upper-Tier Bowl 

No. 3: Florida Gators

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    Last year, Will Muschamp's Gators won their bowl game and salvaged a winning record (7-6). Though they will certainly take it over a losing season, seven wins in a year are not what the fans at The Swamp have become accustomed to the past 20 years or so. A losing conference record (3-5) wont get it, either.

    A Gator offense that averaged 25 points per game fattened up on their out-of-conference foes. When they played the five SEC teams that were in contention, the Gators averaged less than 12 points per game. The defense held up their end of the deal in all but the Alabama and LSU games. They gave up a total of 79 points in those two games, but who didn't get torched by those guys?

    Look for the Gators to slowly improve on offense as the year gets going. Losing their No. 1 QB and Charlie Weis as OC will create a bit of a learning curve. I expect both the upcoming QB corps as well as Brent Pease, the former OC at Boise State, to get things going as they gain experience. The only question is, how long will it take? 

    Best Case: 12 and 2, SEC East Champion, Possible BCS Bowl Bid

    Worst Case: 7 and 6, Lower-Tier Bowl

    Likely Case: 9 and 4, Mid- to Upper-Tier Bowl

No. 2: Tennessee Volunteers

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    Nobody is in a hotter seat going into the 2012 college season that UT's Derek Dooley. While he did inherit a monstrous mess, coming in after Lane Kiffin moved on to USC, just before recruiting season started in 2010. Not only that, but Kiffin's only recruiting class in 2009, who should be Dooley's seniors this year, was the biggest bust of a recruiting class in UT history.

    That's not saying the eight kids (that's right, eight) who still remain on the team from that class aren't appreciated, and much needed. It's just when a class gets a consensus Top 10 ranking by all the recruiting services, you would normally expect more than eight to still be around, contributing for their senior, or redshirt junior, season. Makes you think Kiffin was looking ahead to USC even while he was singing Rocky Top...

    All that said, Dooley has recruited well and it's time for his team to start performing up to expectations. Last year's 6-7 disappointment was made even worse by losing to an undermanned Kentucky team (10-7) for the first time in 26 years.

    New athletic director Dave Hart says there isn't a number of wins Dooley must hit in order to stay. I say the over/under is around eight. With a Bama or Florida win, that number goes down to seven.

    Best Case: 12 and 2, SEC East Title, Possible BCS Bowl

    Worst Case:  6 and 7, Lose Lower-Tier Bowl

    Likely Case: 9 and 4, Mid- to Upper-Tier Bowl

No. 1: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    What can you say? Urban Meyer won two national championships in six seasons at Florida, winning 13 games three different years. He spent two years at Utah just prior to that, going 10-2 and 12-0, and finishing third in the country there. The guy is just a flat-out winner when he is involved with a program that can attract talent. Enter Ohio State!

    The team he inherits finished 6-7 last year. Five of the seven losses were within a single score. He has put together an excellent coaching staff, surrounded by great talent recruited by Jim Tressel and his staff. The team has 15 returning starters and a starting QB that fits the Meyer offensive system to a T.

    Look out, these guys are going to be good right out of the chute!

    Best Case: 13 and 1, Big Ten Champions, BCS Championship Runner-Up

    Worst Case: 8 and 5, Mid-Tier Bowl

    Likely Case: 10 and 3, Upper-Tier Bowl