A lead can turn into a loss in a split second, and a title run can turn into a losing season overnight in college football. The game is known for its dramatic momentum shifts, and the coming season will not disappoint.
This is a look at the Associated Press Top 25 and the worst-case scenarios for each team heading into the offseason.
Who can’t afford to face injuries? Which teams are facing NCAA investigations?
There are a lot of things that could go bad before this season gets rolling, but these are the worst cases for each team in the AP Top 25.
Nebraska finished the year as the lowest-ranked 10-win team in the final AP poll. The Cornhuskers lost big to close the year in the Big Ten title game and in the Capital One Bowl.
Bo Pelini has found the way to win consistently at Nebraska, but his team continues to burst when it gets to the tip of success.
If Nebraska lost key playmakers, this offseason would be the worst possible. If Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah were to fall to injury before the next year, it would put a major kink in the Huskers' 2013 goals.
Stay healthy, Huskers.
The Michigan Wolverines head into the 2013 offseason with a lot of momentum coming out of 2012. The season ended with a close loss to South Carolina, but the bigger picture was the success the Wolverines had at quarterback.
Denard Robinson is out, and Devin Gardner is in. Gardner took over for an injured Robinson at the end of the season and did a great job. He should be the returning starter for 2013.
If Brady Hoke adds a competition to the quarterback race, it could cause issues. Give the position to Gardner, keep a balance and move into the new season with an experienced signal-caller.
Gardner proved his worth last year. Avoid controversy.
The Commodores are heading into next season with a lot of momentum following a nine-win year this past fall. A big portion of their on-field success has come from the gains on the recruiting trail by James Franklin.
Heading into the new year, the Commodores are sitting at No. 31, according to the 247Sports.com composite ranking, but they don’t have a premier star on the commit list.
In the past few years, Franklin has landed a marquee player to headline the class, and it has helped him turn Vanderbilt into a winner. He can’t let recruiting taper this season; if it does, Vandy will fall as fast as it rose.
Every team tries to protect its star quarterback during the offseason, but there are times at which injuries still happen. If Northern Illinois has any injury issues at quarterback, it is done for 2013.
Jordan Lynch is the primary reason that the Huskies earned a BCS bowl bid. Without him, the team is not the same.
If Lynch were to fall to an injury this offseason—even a small nagging injury—this team will struggle to repeat the success found in 2012. Lynch has to stay completely healthy if the Huskies want to make another run.
San Jose State has put together two consecutive seasons of impressive winning football and is getting ready to notch another major chapter in the its history.
The Spartans are leaving the WAC and heading to the MWC during the offseason. By the beginning of the new year, San Jose State will be a Mountain West team.
While this is a good move for the future of the program, it is a worst-case scenario for continued success. The Spartans are leaving the easiest conference in FBS to take on a talent filled non-AQ conference. This will be a tough transition for this squad.
The Beavers were on a tear through the Pac-12 to start the 2012 season, but an injury to starting quarterback Sean Mannion put a kink in the perfect season for Oregon State.
Cody Vaz came in and played well in reserve, but eventually, the losses began to fall, as the Beavers had lost rhythm on offense.
What this team can’t afford this offseason is a quarterback controversy. Mannion needs to be the leader of the offense, and it should already be settled. Vaz did moderately well when called upon, but as the season progressed, the open competition killed this team's momentum.
Another race for the starting job will create more issues than solutions.
The Texas Longhorns tumbled to a nine-win season and a bowl win to finish the 2012 season. The expectations were higher than an Alamo Bowl win entering the year, however.
By midseason, the whispers to fire Mack Brown had begun.
Brown has been a major piece of the climb back to the top for Texas football, but his time is beginning to wear thin. With each passing mediocre season, he gets closer to an exit from Austin.
This offseason, the discussions about job security have to go away. They have hung over this program for the past three years, and it has hurt the product on the field. This coaching staff has to settle in and win ballgames.
They can’t if they are constantly looking over their shoulders.
Chris Petersen is 84-8 at Boise State. Most say he isn’t going anywhere, while others say he will leave soon.
Who knows what Petersen wants to do with his career, but the worst thing that could happen for Boise State would be for Petersen to leave. With the recent opening at Oregon, it is a very real possibility.
The openings in the NFL could also be a draw for the proven college winner. If Boise State lost Petersen, it would fall back into oblivion overnight.
Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best head coaches in college football. Say what you will, but that guy has turned Northwestern into a consistent contender in the Big Ten and a Top 25 program over the past half-decade.
To conclude 2012, the Wildcats earned their first bowl win since 1949. What happens if this team begins to believe it is good, but fails to prepare as well as it has in the past?
It will lose a lot of games.
The last thing that Northwestern can do is think it is better than it is. This Wildcats team is good, but it out-executes, not out-muscles, opponents. If the Wildcats let the bowl win go to their head and lose focus during the offseason, next season could be a major flop.
The worst-case scenario for the Utah State Aggies program has already occurred this offseason. Head coach Gary Andersen—the man who is credited with getting this program to the heights it now has achieved—departed from Utah State and headed to Wisconsin.
This program now faces the tough challenge of adjustment to a new staff after being led by Andersen since 2009.
The Aggies promoted from within, hiring offensive coordinator Matt Wells as the next head coach. Wells will attempt to keep things as similar as possible, but his style will be different than Andersen’s.
This transition may look smooth on the surface, but it will be an extremely difficult shift to overcome.
Oklahoma may be seeing the end of an era in Norman, Okla. Landry Jones is out as quarterback after four strong years of passing efficiency, and there is no clear leader to take over this offense and pick up where Jones left off.
Blake Bell is the assumed starter heading into spring, but he has only thrown for 115 yards in the past two seasons. Bell is a bruising runner, but he isn’t the most prolific passer.
Will this mark the end of the air-raid era in Norman?
It’s possible, but this team may not be prepared for a dramatic offensive identity change. This will be an interesting transition to watch for the Sooners. Can Bell be the future? Stoops hopes so.
Whether it has been Tyrann Mathieu’s drug arrests or Jordan Jefferson’s bar fight, the Tigers program can’t stay away from offseason problems.
Many teams have issues during the offseason, but lately, it feels like LSU has been hit especially hard with the dumb problems.
The distractions appear to finally be catching up to this team. After a mass NFL draft defection by juniors, this team can’t afford to lose any more experience bodies.
Les Miles has to ensure that his players stay out of trouble and avoid the nagging offseason distractions that have lingered in Baton Rouge over the past two years.
Multiple teams having success in an athletic department is a great thing for a university or college. Right now, the Cardinals are No. 1 in the nation in men’s basketball, and they just won the Sugar Bowl in football.
Charlie Strong is battling to make a national brand for his football program, and the win over Florida was a major leap forward. The problem is that his team may get overshadowed by the success of the basketball program.
Last preseason, Strong got so mad about the media coverage of basketball and the lack of attention to football that he banned local media from Louisville practices.
It was a dumb idea, and he hurt the image of the team. Still, he had a valid point. The Cardinals football team must find a way to stay in the discussion during the offseason. It needs the attention to keep the climb alive.
The Kansas State Wildcats have been a part of the national college football discussion over the past few seasons, with stud quarterback Collin Klein helping the program reach No. 1 during the 2012 season.
Unfortunately for Bill Snyder’s program, Klein is gone after this year, and there is no clear leader to take over the quarterback position.
The Wildcats offense needs a strong leader at quarterback. Without one, the team will struggle. It will come down to Daniel Sams and Sam Johnson, with Sams holding the early edge.
If neither player steps up his game exponentially over this offseason, it will be a long 2013 for the boys in purple.
The Clemson Tigers lost star receiver DeAndre Hokins to the NFL draft this winter, so the returning leader at the receiver position will be Sammy Watkins.
The problem is that Watkins is not the most reliable player off the field. An early-season suspension kept him sidelined during the early part of the 2012 season, and he struggled to find his groove after his return.
Without Watkins in the offense, the Tigers are stale. The 2013 season will hinge on Watkins’ success, and for him to have it, he has to stay out of trouble this offseason.
The Seminoles finished the year with a strong showing in the Orange Bowl, crushing the Northern Illinois Huskies from start to finish.
The major difference in the game was the power of the Seminoles defense.
Mark Stoops was the defensive coordinator for the Seminoles for the past three years, and he helped usher in a new era of defensive football in Tallahassee. It was ‘90s style FSU defense.
For Florida State to continue to own the ACC like it has the past two years, it has to stay strong on defense. Jeremy Pruitt was hired away from Alabama to take over the position, marking his first coordinator position at the college level.
This will not be an easy transition for Pruitt or the Seminoles, but a major defensive setback would ruin the 2013 season.
New Orleans leaves its mark on you when you visit. Whether it's Bourbon Street or a kick in the teeth in a bowl game, the city always gives you something to remember.
But the Florida Gators they need to forget their beating quickly. Some would say use it as motivation, but I say forget about it.
The sooner this team gets over the embarrassment, the quicker it can return to contender status in 2013. This team made it to No. 2 at one point in the year, and to return there, it has to keep focus.
The Gators start the year against Toledo and then travel to Miami (Fl.). To start the year with wins, the Sugar Bowl has to be a distant memory.
South Carolina saw star running back Marcus Lattimore fall to a devastating knee injury in late October. It ended his season and ushered in his departure to the NFL, leaving no one behind to pick up where he left off in the ground game.
Mike Davis is the only returning back with significant time. He rushed 52 times for 275 yards and two touchdowns last fall. Connor Shaw was the second-leading rusher for the team and he returns, but without a solid ground option beside him, he is rendered useless in the option game.
The Gamecocks have to find an explosive runner by fall or the offense will struggle. They need the balance. So far, no one has stepped up.
Chase Thomas was the gel that kept the Stanford defense on task over the past few seasons. Now, Thomas is no longer with the team, and the Cardinal will be looking for a major leader at linebacker.
Without Thomas, the Cardinal will still be talented, but his leadership is impossible to replace.
The loss of Terrence Stephens at nose tackle will also hurt this defense. Leadership is key, and this team will lack it heading into spring on the defensive side of the ball.
The sophomore slump is a common occurrence for second-year players who had major impacts as freshmen. But the Aggies are hoping that Johnny Manziel is good enough to overcome the curse of the second year.
If Manziel drops off slightly, it wouldn’t be a major loss for the program. But this is a team that now has title aspirations after last season. Anything less than better results will be a disappointment.
The worst-case scenario for the Aggies this offseason is that Manziel lets the Heisman hype and all that goes with it distract preparation and keep him from being the student of the game that landed him the Aggies starting job.
He is a unique talent, but it will be tough to come back stronger in 2013.
The Georgia Bulldogs face a lot of transition heading into this offseason, as they lose both nose tackles and two stud linebackers to the NFL draft. They also lose some depth at linebacker with graduation.
Replacing four starters in the front seven is going to be tough for Georgia. The worst scenario for this team is for the new players to fail to develop. Jordan Jenkins is a rising sophomore who played a ton last year, but three other holes need to be filled.
A major concern is nose tackle, with virtually no experience returning. If Georgia can’t develop the front seven in the next few months, it will struggle to challenge for a third straight division title.
Notre Dame enters the spring with a number of questions swirling around the team, but one of them should not be who the starting quarterback is.
Everett Golson had a career day against the best secondary in the game in the BCS National Championship Game and played lights out to finish the year. He struggled early, but became the offensive leader for the Irish.
The problem is that Golson isn’t alone at QB drills. Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees, Gunner Kiel and Malik Zaire will be there this spring as well. There is a wealth of talent to challenge Golson.
However, an open competition will hurt this team.
Notre Dame was blasted by Alabama in Miami. But the Irish needs to build on the positives, not question them. A quarterback controversy equals disaster for this team.
Ohio State is a proud program and a proud fanbase. Sometimes, pride can become an issue and lead to the fall.
A 12-0 run through a weak schedule and down Big Ten has Buckeyes fans on cloud nine heading into 2013. Urban Meyer arrived and immediately made this program a title contender.
But the Buckeyes can’t afford to walk with their chest out just yet. They haven’t won anything, despite a perfect record. What got this team to this level was relentless preparation in the first offseason.
If that slacks because of recent success, this team will fall hard and flat out of the gate. Meyer has to keep his team focused on the future, as past success does nothing but distract from goals.
On January 16, 2013, it was official: Chip Kelly had left the Oregon Ducks program and was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Behind him, he left a lot of wins and the most explosive offense in college football.
Kelly also left behind an NCAA investigation.
Recently, Yahoo! Sports reported that Oregon’s attempt to close the investigation through summary disposition failed. Oregon is now preparing for a hearing before the NCAA committee on infractions.
Nothing about that is positive.
This wouldn’t be the first time a Pac-12 coach jumped to the NFL before sanctions fell—think Pete Carroll—and it won’t be the last. If this was a part of the move, then the long-running dynasty that has been built in Eugene will begin to crumble.
The Crimson Tide will lose three starters along the offensive line heading into the 2013 season. This will be a tough transition point for the offense.
Alabama relies on its ability to control the line of scrimmage to win games. The Crimson Tide don't out-think you, they out-muscle and out-execute you. Getting three new starters ready on the offensive line to keep up that tradition is a tough business.
A.J. McCarron relies on time in the pocket to be an effective passer. A number of Alabama routes take time to develop downfield.
The Crimson Tide also rely on the line to pave the way for the running game. The Tide will already have to find help in the backfield; rebuilding the lead blockers adds to the pain.
This is going to be a great squad in 2013, but if the Tide can’t find continuity upfront early, it won’t be a repeat title year.