Every season, we discover that some teams were overrated and that some teams were underrated, based on what prognosticators said before the season started. This list will feature eight teams that I feel prognosticators have regarded too highly heading into the 2013 season.
The teams on this list are some of the teams we’ll be saying this about come December: “They were supposed to be good. I wonder what happened.” Well, for these teams, nothing fell apart, they just were not as good as prognosticators said they would be.
Typically, a high preseason ranking will get a team lots of exposure. Athlon Sports already has released its preseason rankings for every FBS team, and I have taken these rankings into account when compiling my list of teams that will get too much exposure in 2013. Some of these rankings are warranted, but some I believe are just too high.
With that, let’s look at the list. Also feel free to debate in the comments section below.
I have ordered the slideshow beginning with the lowest-ranked of the teams and ending with the highest.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 56
A Top 60 prediction for West Virginia is quite generous considering how much the program lost this offseason.
In the Big East, the Mountaineers thrived against inferior competition. In the Big 12, they discovered that both sides of the ball need to be strong to succeed.
Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey have moved on to the NFL. Even with those guys on offense, the defense was horrible in 2012. Neither unit looks as promising this season.
With Smith, Austin and Bailey, West Virginia finished 2012 with a 7-6 record and a bowl loss to former Big East rival Syracuse. Without them, earning the same record would require a lot more coaching genius from Holgorsen.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 33
Things are looking up for Ole Miss.
This will be the first time Freeze will coach a team for a second season, though. Freeze left Arkansas State after one season, which was his only other FBS head coaching gig. Completely new experiences always bring many questions. Can Freeze succeed in Year Two? Sure. Has Freeze succeeded in Year Two before? That answer remains to be seen.
The biggest obstacle for the Rebels is the schedule. Ole Miss plays four of its first five games away, but then six straight at home before ending the season at Mississippi State for the Egg Bowl. To make things more difficult, the Rebels have to navigate an SEC schedule and play Texas on the road.
Four of the team’s opponents—Texas, Auburn, Arkansas and Missouri—should vastly improve from 2012. Alabama and LSU also appear on the calendar, as does dark horse national championship contender Texas A&M.
If we could take Ole Miss’ team and put it in another conference, nine or ten wins would be a reasonable expectation. Unfortunately we can’t do this, so nine or ten wins would get Freeze SEC Coach of the Year honors in 2013.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 28
Vanderbilt plays football in the SEC, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Athlon Sports’ ranking of the Commodores suggests the former, but I suggest the latter.
James Franklin has returned Vandy to respectability in just two seasons. In 2012, the program earned its first Top 25 ranking in the final AP poll since 1948 and its first nine-win season since 1915. Franklin has recruited some great talent into the program too.
The conference strength still is the black cloud hanging over Vanderbilt’s head. The Commodores have to play Ole Miss, South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee in 2013, among others. In my opinion, a .500 record in these eight games would be satisfactory.
Also, despite having an All-American caliber wide receiver in Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt must replace its No. 1 quarterback and running back from 2012. That’s a tough task for any program, but there aren’t many opportunities on the schedule for the replacements to get acclimated.
Athlon Sports thinks Vanderbilt is for real, but the Commodores can be for real in my eyes with another eight or nine win season. The program needs to prove a little more before I think of it as a perennial Top 25 contender. Franklin brings a lot of promise, but the history of Vanderbilt football isn’t on his side.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 24
Northwestern’s stock could be at its highest in a half-century, as the Wildcats finally have its first bowl victory since 1948. Pat Fitzgerald could be the best coach in the Big Ten over the past five years, as he has led the Wildcats to at least six wins every season since 2007. Everybody’s talking about the guys in purple, and rightfully so, but is it a Top 25 team? I think those discussions are premature.
Northwestern arguably had its best season since 1995, when it went to the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats also finished 15th in the final AP poll in 1996, and they finished 17th in the same poll after 2012.
Running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter return, which leaves the Wildcats with a dangerous rushing attack. Athlon Sports suggests the offense needs to be more dangerous through the air to provide that balance that the elite teams have. Plus, Mark will not surprise any opponents in 2013.
We also must consider the schedule. Northwestern opens its season on the road at Cal, which is quite a distance from Evanston, Illinois. Also, the Wildcats play the Big Ten’s heavy hitters. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska are all ranked in Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25.
Everybody loves a good underdog—or in this case, under cat—story, but even with Northwestern’s recent improvements, I still see the team finishing outside the Top 25 discussion.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 22
After one strong season with a new head coach Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State has gotten some legitimate top 25 talk. Settle down folks.
The Bulldogs have one of college football’s top quarterbacks in Derek Carr and experience all over the field, but realistically, they will have to breeze through their schedule to maintain a high ranking through the season.
Fresno State’s placement in the Mountain West, and outside of the BCS conferences, should lead to many wins. With that said, the Bulldogs cannot afford to drop any games (aside from Boise State) if they want to live up to the hype.
Quarterbacks Cody Fajardo of Nevada and David Fales of San Jose State can give Carr a run for his money. Nobody should be surprised if Fresno State struggles to put away either opponent.
If the program can repeat or improve on it's 2012 success, which actually ended with a bowl loss, I would give Fresno State more respect.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 19
Wisconsin has undergone too much change this offseason, in my opinion, to warrant a Top 20 ranking heading into 2013.
Wisconsin is one of two programs in Athlon Sports’ Top 20 that has a new head coach. Gary Andersen, the Badgers’ new head coach, came from Utah State and brought a new staff with him. The other, No. 3 Oregon, hired someone from within: former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Advantage Oregon there.
Wisconsin is raw all over the offense. There are a few quarterbacks on the roster with starting experience, but none really stand out as a No. 1 guy. Jared Abbrederis is one of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers, but nothing stands out besides him. Most importantly, Montee Ball has moved on to the NFL. The Badgers have able bodies to fill in, but it will be challenging to replace one of the most productive running backs in NCAA history.
On defense, the coordinator and scheme changes, so we have to wonder how Bret Bielema’s guys will fit in.
Three straight Rose Bowl appearances have put Wisconsin in a privileged position in regards to exposure, but a fourth consecutive Big Ten title looks unrealistic.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 14
I don’t think Michigan should be considered the second-best team in the Big Ten, but based on its rankings, Athlon Sports does.
First, the schedule. I think the Wolverines will lose their first home game in the Brady Hoke era when they host Ohio State. Other home games where this could occur include Notre Dame and Nebraska. Road contests at Michigan State and Northwestern will not be easy either.
Second, I’m wary of teams that break in new quarterbacks. Okay, so Devin Gardner has starting experience from last season, but now there’s no doubt he’s the guy under center with Denard Robinson in the NFL.
Third, according to Joseph Zucker of B/R, Michigan committed too many turnovers in 2012. Denard Robinson was a significant contributor to this, but the defense was not very good at forcing turnovers either.
The Maize and Blue always will get a lot of exposure as one of college football’s most storied programs. I’m just unsure the Wolverines will finish inside the Top 15.
Athlon Sports Ranking: 11
For Boise State to finish within the top 10 of most polls, it would need to go undefeated. I don’t think this will happen.
The Broncos have a number of road games that could cause them fits, including BCS school Washington, Fresno State, Utah State, BYU and San Diego State. The Fresno State game could be the most difficult, as Athlon Sports has the Bulldogs ranked in its Top 25.
Boise State has lost a lot of firepower from its 2012 defense. Athlon Sports says “Boise State lost three of its top four defensive tackles, all three starting linebackers and both starting cornerbacks. That exodus includes three All-Mountain West first-teamers.” Most of the offense from 2012 returns, but we all know defense wins.
Chris Petersen has led the Broncos to ten wins in each of his seven seasons as head coach. Only once (2007) did the program finish outside of the final AP Top 20. Boise State certainly has earned all the good press it has received, and the program will likely be in the Top 20 at season’s end, but Top 10 seems a little too ambitious to me.
As always, thanks for reading, and check me out on Twitter at @MCarroll_Philly!