One of the most commonly used phrases to describe the year-in, year-out national title contenders in college football is that they "don't rebuild, they reload." For the Alabamas and Oregons of the world, that is generally the case. For most other teams, in certain years, the stars just aren't aligned in a way that will lead to a high level of success.
Many factors can contribute to a team losing more games than its fans expect it to in a given season, whether it be coaching changes, few returning starters, a difficult schedule or a combination of these. While these 20 teams might experience some missteps in 2012, smoother sailing beckons in 2013.
Rich Rodriguez flamed out after only three years at Michigan, but he has found a new home in the desert with the Wildcats. He also has something he never had in Ann Arbor - a competent defensive coordinator - after luring Jeff Casteel to Tucson from West Virginia.
He won just three games in his first seasons with both West Virginia and Michigan, so don't expect a huge season in 2012 (despite eight home games). However, his second team in Morgantown went from 3-8 to 9-3. 2013 will be the second year in both Rodriguez's spread and Casteel's 3-3-5 defense, so many of the growing pains should be gone.
In addition, Stanford and Washington roll off of the schedule next season, with Washington State and California coming on board.
Todd Graham has finally found his dream job (chuckle) with the Sun Devils after short stops at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Dennis Erickson didn't leave him with much to work with other than running back Cameron Marshall.
The quarterback situation is a mess, and as we learned last year with Pittsburgh, a bad fit at quarterback in Graham's offense leads to disastrous results (38 yards passing against Utah).
Arizona State also must play Illinois and Missouri outside of Pac-12 play, in which there are five road games. Graham might eventually have the rest of the conference "fearing the fork", but it won't happen this year.
The Kellen Moore era is over at last after 50 wins in the past four seasons. Chris Petersen and the Broncos aren't going anywhere (except to the Big East, maybe), but 2012 might be a step back for the program similar to 2007's 10-3 season.
Boise State is still the favorite to win the Mountain West, but it has a difficult opener at Michigan State and two other challenging non-conference dates at Southern Miss and at home against BYU. Moore's replacement, junior Joe Southwick, is still raw and lacks any significant game experience.
With only seven returning starters, 2013 looks like the Broncos' best chance to return to a BCS bowl.
2011 was a difficult year for the Eagles as the team missed a bowl for the first time since 1998. They were non-competitive in most of their marquee games and salvaged a four-win season with a victory in the season finale over a disinterested Miami team.
Running back Montel Harris was dismissed in the spring, so junior quarterback Chase Rettig will again be searching for playmakers. The Eagles add Georgia Tech to the schedule in place of Duke and have non-conference games with Northwestern and Notre Dame.
2013 looks a bit more promising for a return to the postseason with a senior quarterback and most of the defensive starters returning.
The Bearcats rebounded from a 4-8 disaster in 2010 to share the Big East title last season. Had Zach Collaros not gone down with a foot injury against West Virginia, Cincinnati probably would have played in its third BCS bowl in four years.
Collaros departs, along with star running back Isaiah Pead and top linebacker JK Schaeffer. The Bearcats will be young in 2012 behind a quarterback with of the greatest names in all of college football, junior Munchie Legaux.
The watered-down Big East is still winnable this year with USF, Rutgers and Pittsburgh all coming to the Queen City, but Cincinnati is a year away from making any noise again on the national level.
Despite winning the ACC title, Clemson "Clemsoned" again last year, dropping four of its final six games after an 8-0 start. There won't be an 8-0 start in 2012, although the Tigers should be able to build some momentum later in the season and end it on a higher note than they did in 2011.
The lines on both sides of the ball are a concern, and Brent Venables is installing a new defense after coming over from Oklahoma. All of the Tigers' key offensive players should be back in 2013, which is when national title hopes will really ramp up in Death Valley.
Clemson will be an entertaining team in 2012 and should match last year's 10 wins, but has too many holes to contend for a BCS Championship Game berth.
Jon Embree inherited a mess from Dan Hawkins, who despite claiming his team played Division I football, produced intramural-like results in five losing seasons in Boulder.
The Buffaloes won just three games a year ago, but did cost new "rival" Utah the Pac-12 South title with an upset in the season finale in Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better for a team that just 11 years ago was decimal points away from playing for the national title. The team will be more experienced in 2013 with just 10 starters back this season, and also will bid a fond adieu to Oregon and Stanford from its schedule.
It's hard to imagine once-mighty Florida went just 7-6 last season. However, an anemic offense will do that, especially in the SEC. Will Muschamp had to clean up some of the mess left by Urban Meyer after his half-hearted effort in 2010 following his brief retirement.
The Charlie Weis experiment was a disaster, and now former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease will attempt to help the Gators get their bite back. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will compete for the vacant starting quarterback job.
The schedule isn't terrible, but the Gators have two difficult games in hostile environments before mid-September with back-to-back trips to Texas A&M (Aggies' first SEC game) and Tennessee (must-win for Derek Dooley).
The Hoosiers basketball team may start the season ranked No. 1, but their football team will likely remain in the Big Ten cellar. Second-year coach Kevin Wilson brought his up-tempo spread offense with him from Oklahoma, but the system fizzled as Indiana failed to beat an FBS team last season.
There's potential for a fast start thanks to a soft early schedule, but this team will again be hard-pressed to win a game in conference play. By 2013, Wilson will be in his third year and be surrounded by mostly his own recruits rather than carryovers from the underrated Bill Lynch regime.
It's a long road back for a team that hasn't had success on the gridiron in a quarter-century, and it won't be until 2013 until a glimmer of hope is realized.
Doc Holliday did an excellent job last season getting the Thundering Herd to a bowl game and upsetting Florida International in his second year after coming over from rival West Virginia. Marshall will miss star pass rusher Vinny Curry this season, but the future is bright in Huntington.
Sophomore Rakeem Cato is still developing at quarterback, and the Herd will start just four seniors this season, making 2013 a likely breakthrough year.
With Conference USA losing much of its star power after the 2012 season, the Herd may just find themselves the favorite to win the league in 2013.
Maryland appeared to be an ACC Atlantic Division contender after one week last season, but won just one game the rest of the year. Randy Edsall took a "my way or the highway" approach upon coming to College Park, running off many of Ralph Friedgen's recruits and leaving the team with little depth.
Edsall has made changes at both coordinator positions this season, bringing in monster recruiter Mike Locksley on offense and former Dallas Cowboys coordinator Brian Stewart on defense. With new systems on both sides of the ball, it's likely to be another losing season for the Terrapins in 2012.
However, with Locksley's recruiting prowess and a year to become accustomed to the new schemes, 2013 could be the year the Terps get back to respectability. Edsall is too good of a coach for seasons like 2011 to become the norm as opposed to the exception.
With the Hurricanes likely to sit out the postseason again this year due to pending NCAA sanctions, Miami should be a hungry team in 2013, much as USC will be this fall. Even if they are eligible for a bowl, the 'Canes might struggle just to get to the required six wins.
Stephen Morris takes over at quarterback for Jacory Harris, but his turnover rate in his handful of starts over the past two years isn't any better than that of Harris. Early defections to the NFL hurt Miami at almost every position, with the secondary being the only unit with much game experience.
The program is fortunate to still have Al Golden as its coach. With a senior quarterback and a year for the loaded 2012 recruiting class to develop, the Hurricanes could regain some of their lost swagger in 2013.
2010 was supposed to be the year for the Tar Heels to break through, but an academic scandal ruined the season before it even got started. The effects are still being felt, as North Carolina must sit out the bowl season in Larry Fedora's first year as head coach.
Fedora will succeed in Chapel Hill. The program has been a sleeping giant ever since Mack Brown left after the 1997 season, and Fedora will finally be the guy to make fans not yearn for basketball season by early October.
Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Gio Bernard should both be back in 2013, and the previously mentioned hunger that comes with a season following a bowl ban will be alive and well for the Tar Heels under the fiery Fedora.
The "Persa-strong" Heisman Trophy campaign for Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa never got off the ground last season thanks to his delayed recovery from a foot injury suffered late in 2010. The 'Cats did reach a bowl game, thanks in large part to a stunning upset at Nebraska, but 6-7 was still considered a disappointment.
The Wildcats will be a senior-laden team in 2013, with quarterback Kain Colter, running back Mike Trumpy and wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who was a 5-star recruit in the 2010 class.
The streak of bowl bids could end at four this season, but Pat Fitzgerald will have Northwestern a team to be reckoned with by this time next year.
A lack of an established quarterback combined with the toughest schedule in the nation is not a recipe for success, even at a program with the tradition of Notre Dame. Whoever emerges from the battle in fall camp will be challenged on a weekly basis this season.
Road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC as well as home dates with Michigan and Stanford will likely squelch any hope of a BCS bowl for the Irish, but some well-rounded recruiting classes and a lighter schedule (sort of) in 2013 make next year the year for Brian Kelly to return the Irish to prominence.
Notre Dame may take its lumps this fall, but the program's future is brighter than it has been in almost two decades.
Urban Meyer's track record in his second season is truly immaculate. He had Bowling Green undefeated into November, went 12-0 at Utah and won a national title at Florida in year two at his three prior stops.
He may have even less of a rebuilding project to do in Columbus than he did in Gainesville, as he already has his ideal quarterback in sophomore Braxton Miller. However, probation will prevent the Buckeyes from competing for the Big Ten title this season.
2013 brings division rival Wisconsin to The Horseshoe, and Miller will be a preseason Heisman candidate. Don't rule out a third national title for Meyer.
Texas should never lose five games in one season, let alone 12 in two seasons like they did in 2010 and 2011. Mack Brown made sweeping changes to the program after missing a bowl in 2010, with only minor improvement a year ago.
The Longhorns are getting better, but will not be a national title contender until they find an offensive identity. They may get back to the 10-win plateau in 2012, but 2013 will be the year where Texas will truly get back to being Texas.
David Ash will have a full year starting under his belt, and the three-headed monster in the backfield of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, and Joe Bergeron will all return. With future coaching star Manny Diaz running the defense, all of the pieces will be in place for a national title run in 2013.
Welcome to the SEC, Aggies. Not only is the league placing Texas A&M in the league's toughest division, it is giving them just two home games against the other six SEC West teams.
New head coach Kevin Sumlin, a Mike Leach disciple, brings his version of the "Air Raid" offense to a league known for defense, presenting an interesting contrast from the offense-heavy Big 12. The Aggies will be a very young team in 2012 in addition to the coaching change with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray, wide receiver Jeff Fuller and both starting cornerbacks no longer around.
The entire offensive line should be back in 2013, and Sumlin is recruiting as well as anyone has ever done in College Station. Wins will still be hard to come by in the SEC West, but year two for Sumlin will go better than year one.
Tulsa has provided us with plenty of entertaining games over the past decade under offensive gurus Steve Kragthorpe, Todd Graham and even offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. The Golden Hurricane contended for the Conference USA Western Division title last year in Bill Blankenship's first season as head coach before ultimately succumbing to Houston.
G.J. Kinne, a three-year starting quarterback, must be replaced, but they do welcome Nebraska transfer Cody Green. The November schedule, however is brutal, with games against Arkansas, Houston, UCF and SMU.
2013 bodes well for Tulsa with the Cougars, Golden Knights and Mustangs all leaving for the Big East. A 10-win season and its first conference title since 2005 will have to wait until then.
Tyrone Willingham set the bar very low for Huskies football after going 0-12 in 2008. Perhaps that is why Steve Sarksian's 19-19 record in three seasons in the Emerald City seems better than it actually is.
Keith Price is perhaps a more dynamic quarterback than his predecessor, Jake Locker, who was a top-10 NFL Draft pick. He'll be without star running back Chris Polk this year, however, and Washington will be playing their home games at the Seattle Seahawks' CenturyLink Field while Husky Stadium is being renovated.
When the Huskies return to their home field in 2013, it will be even louder than it was prior to the upgrades. Price will be a third-year starter, USC rolls off of the schedule and Oregon comes to Seattle. That should all add up to the Huskies' best season since going to the Rose Bowl in 2000.
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