7 Teams Who Will Ride Bowl Season Momentum into Huge 2014 Campaigns
Though all but one of this season’s bowls were meaningless, the 17 teams that came out on top in the non-title contests have eight months to bask in the glory of a win.
And that’s a better fate than 240 days with the bitter taste of defeat in your mouth. In other words, it’s something to build on rather than something to try and forget.
Of this year’s postseason winners, a handful are in position to parlay their strong finish in 2013 into a historic 2014.
While making their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988 was a huge accomplishment in itself, beating Stanford will pay huge dividends for the “other” team from Michigan.
If Michigan State can win the Big Ten by beating No. 2 Ohio State and then go on to defeat the No. 5 team in the nation in a BCS bowl, what can’t it do?
If not for a four-point loss to Notre Dame in September, we may not have gotten the answer to that question this season.
In 2014, the Spartans will have the benefit of a more experienced offense but will have to fill some holes on the team's stellar defense. This is a task that will be easier if defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi opts to return to East Lansing next season.
Either way, now that Michigan State has broken through the BCS ceiling, the sky is the limit.
Why is it that the only time we hear about UCLA is when Jim Mora’s name is mentioned for a job opening?
The truth is, UCLA is a program just a few wins short of being in the championship conversation.
In 2013, the Bruins lost to Stanford and Oregon on the road and dropped a home game to Arizona State— all ranked opponents.
The season ended with a 42-12 beatdown of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Remember, the Hokies were ranked as high as No. 16 this season and had the No. 11-ranked scoring defense in the FBS.
Coming into 2014, quarterback Brett Hundley will be back, as will most of the offensive line. Gone is a chunk of the defensive front seven that ranked No. 72 against the run.
A Week 3 game in Arlington, Texas, against Charlie Strong’s Texas squad will give a good indicator of how far the Bruins can go.
Though beating unranked Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl wasn’t as big of a momentum charge as others, Oregon’s postseason win provides a solid launch pad into 2014.
The key to the win, and perhaps to next season, was the healthy return of quarterback Marcus Mariota, who struggled with a knee injury in 2013.
Along with Mariota, almost the entire offense is due back for Oregon in 2014—good news for a unit that ranked No. 3 in the FBS in points this season.
On the minus side is attrition on a defense that ranked No. 66 against the run that gave up 304 yards of rushing in the 42-16 loss to unranked Arizona.
Look for the Ducks to be a preseason Top 10 team coming into next season, something that would not have happened if they would have dropped their bowl game to Texas.
Kansas State’s 8-5 finish and 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl are more impressive when you remember that the Wildcats were among the least-experienced teams in the nation in 2013.
How young were they?
Well, how about a No. 122 ranking in returning starters with only eight coming back from 2012’s 11-2 squad?
In 2014, K-State will have some much-needed stability at the offensive skill positions and can build on a defense that gave up only 22.9 points per game in the score-happy Big 12.
An early indicator of the Wildcats’ readiness will come in a Week 4 home showdown with Auburn in Manhattan.
The game will prove—once again—that Bill Snyder and company should never be overlooked.
Flying way under the radar in “big wins” is Ole Miss’ 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl.
The win capped off an eight-win campaign that included victories over Vandy, Texas, LSU and Arkansas. The losses were to Alabama, Auburn, Mizzou, Texas A&M and Mississippi State (the latter being an overtime shocker on the road).
Ole Miss is a program that is moving in the right direction, which is a trend more difficult to quantify given its SEC West affiliation.
Most of the Rebels’ 37th-ranked scoring defense is set to return in 2014, as is the heart of a receiving corps that that ranked 23rd in yards in 2013.
What Ole Miss will have to overcome is the loss of several offensive lineman, a key to improving a scoring offense that averaged 30 points per game this season.
The other factor to keep in mind for the Rebels is their huge gains in recruiting. Next season may be the year when the seventh-ranked class of 2013—according to Rivals—starts to pay dividends in Oxford.
What also bodes well for Ole Miss is a schedule that draws Tennessee and Vanderbilt from the East and features home games against Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State.
Perhaps the biggest shocker of the bowl season, the Sooners get from January to August to savor hand-delivering Alabama its first bowl loss since 2009.
What’s important to remember about Oklahoma in 2013 was how young it was. With only 11 starters coming into the season, the Sooners ranked No. 98 in the nation in returnees.
In 2014, Oklahoma will return all but one member of the offensive line and most of the front seven on defense.
What also bodes well for the Sooners is a schedule that has Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all visiting Norman in 2014.
Oklahoma’s bowl win over the Crimson Tide will provide more momentum than a Big 12 title would have. To illustrate, Baylor finally captured a conference crown, only to end its season with a 52-42 loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
The first outcome validated the Sooners’ season, while the second ended Baylor’s otherwise glorious 2013 with a forgettable thud.
There is no greater bridge between one season and the next than winning the final serving of the big, cheesy BCS enchilada.
The Seminoles should ride their national championship run to the top of the 2014 preseason polls, a position that will be tested early with a Week 1 bash versus Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas.
The 2014 forecast will have much to do with which players opt to declare for the NFL draft. Though Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston will be back, the ‘Noles could suffer serious losses at the other offensive skill positions.
The good news is that almost the entire offensive line will be back, as will most of a D-line that led the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation.
On defense, the biggest concern is a linebacker corps set to lose two starters.
Despite the attrition, Florida State comes into 2014 as one of the most complete teams in the nation, with the confidence only a national championship can produce.