5 College Football Blue Bloods Primed to Re-Enter the Spotlight in 2014
2013 was a down year for some of college football's traditional powers. As a result, some coaches, like Texas' Mack Brown, lost their job. Others are now squarely on the hot seat heading into 2014.
Can this be the year that Texas or Florida turn things around? Can Michigan finally start trending upward again with head coach Brady Hoke? Usually, talent isn't an issue at these programs. But because of injuries, coaching struggles or both, results haven't been up to par.
The good news for these programs is that they can bounce back quickly.
Which five blue-blood programs are primed to re-enter the national spotlight this season? Our answers are in the following slides.
It doesn't get much worse than 4-8 and a loss to Georgia Southern, but that's exactly what happened to Florida last season. Head coach Will Muschamp knows that he has to do better—a lot better—to save his job.
The Gators defense was fine last season—excellent, even, in categories like pass defense—but the offense was statistically the worst in the SEC. Of course, the team was also significantly hampered by injuries.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is out, and in is former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Anyone who follows B/R colleague Barrett Sallee knows by now that he's a huge fan of Roper and what he can do for Florida.
Running the ball shouldn't be an issue for the offense, but the receivers have to step up in Roper's uptempo, quick-strike offense. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to take the next step and become the elite player he was projected to be out of high school.
Defensively, Florida should be fine with players like defensive end Dante Fowler and defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III.
Sallee has Florida realistically going 8-4 this season, which would probably save Muschamp's job. But there's also a high ceiling for this team. A 10-win season or better isn't as far-fetched as some might believe—as long as the offense can come together.
What's this? Two SEC East teams primed for a rebound in 2014?
That's going to be hard to do if Missouri and South Carolina are going to be as good as advertised. Someone has to lose, right?
But these are teams primed to re-enter the national spotlight, and the Bulldogs are more than capable of doing so. Last year's 8-5 record wasn't awful, but it's certainly not what the program had in mind.
Georgia's chances, not unlike Florida's, rely on being healthy. That starts with running back Todd Gurley, who is among the best players in the country and a legitimate Heisman candidate. Hutson Mason will replace Aaron Murray at quarterback, but he has plenty of playmakers around him to take the pressure off being a first-year starter.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were a mess last year, ranking near the bottom of the SEC in passing defense and points allowed. However, most of the starters from that group are coming back, and first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt arrives from a one-year, national championship effort with Florida State.
The pieces are in place for Georgia to finally get over the hump and into College Football Playoff as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
Michigan had issues from the moment the 2013 season kicked off, but the losses didn't start piling up until November. By the time the Wolverines lost the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Kansas State, they had dropped six of their final eight games.
Head coach Brady Hoke brought in Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to repair an offense that finished 87th in total offense and could barely run the ball at times.
Quarterback Devin Gardner has been getting plenty of competition from sophomore Shane Morris. If Gardner can't provide the consistency Michigan needs, don't be surprised if the coaching staff goes with the next big thing.
But it's not all doom and gloom; there's some exciting young talent on this roster. Running back Derrick Green should be a major player in this offense, and incoming defensive back Jabrill Peppers could see some playing time right away.
Add in Devin Funchess, one of the best tight ends in the country, and there's a lot of promise and talent in Ann Arbor. The pieces are there for Hoke to get the ship righted and back in double-digit wins.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
One season removed from a BCS championship appearance and an undefeated regular season, Notre Dame slipped to a 9-4 record.
Quarterback Everett Golson returns this season after being forced to sit out the entire 2013 season because of an academic problem. Leading running back Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle, should he stay healthy, return to boost the running game.
On paper, the Irish lose what looks like a lot of starters. However, head coach Brian Kelly started 19 different players on that side of the ball last season, according to ESPN.com's Matthew Ehalt. And a lot of those rotational players are returning.
With so many players coming back, Notre Dame should be favored in most of its games; road games against Florida State (Oct. 18) and Arizona State (Nov. 8) stand out as the toughest challenges.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to like Notre Dame as a possible playoff contender.
Texas went through it all last season.
The Longhorns started 1-2 with a pair of ugly losses to BYU, which resulted in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz being demoted, and Ole Miss. Then, Texas won its next six games, only to lose three of its final four games.
Mack Brown "resigned" and in comes Charlie Strong from Louisville.
Strong is a defensive guy, and he's put together an A+ defensive staff. With Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown holding down the defensive line, the 'Horns should be stout up front. Cornerback Quandre Diggs provides quality help in the secondary.
Playing with an edge has been an issue for Texas in recent years. That shouldn't be a problem under Strong.
The biggest question marks are going to be on offense at quarterback and offensive line. Redshirt junior David Ash has all the physical tools to be a great quarterback, but he's never been consistently healthy or able to put everything together.
Since it doesn't appear Texas will get help at quarterback with a transfer, this is likely Ash's job to lose.
Expect Texas to rely on its stable of talented running backs and play stingy defense to win games. It may not be flashy, but it's possible for this team to surprise folks in Strong's first year.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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