Predicting the 10 College Football Teams Most Likely to Regress in 2016
Breakout teams will emerge during the 2016 season, but other college football programs will regress compared to their most recent campaign.
Whether due to coaching changes, departing players or a combination of both, the following teams are most likely to fall short of their 2015 achievements—which is not exclusively limited to the win column—next season.
Another key factor in determining the list was a school's respective schedule. Nonconference foes may be more difficult, and crossover games might not be as favorable.
The combination of Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch helped Memphis become the early darlings of the 2015 season. Although the Tigers ultimately trailed off, a 9-4 record was still respectable.
Under Fuente's guidance, Lynch racked up 3,778 yards and 28 touchdowns while tossing just four interceptions. He led Memphis to a 37-24 stunner over Ole Miss.
But after the two significant departures and 19 combined wins over the last two years—the best stretch in program history—the Tigers probably won't be as effective.
Perhaps they'll come close to another nine-win campaign, but Memphis will simply be a "Group of Five" school quietly notching victories while suffering a couple bad losses.
Cal Golden Bears
Most football fans know Jared Goff's name. The quarterback is a surefire first-round selection for the 2016 NFL draft, maybe even as high as No. 2 overall. Replacing him won't be easy.
However, Cal loses most of its best skill-position players, too.
Kenny Lawler, Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe, Trevor Davis, Maurice Harris and Stephen Anderson—the team's top six receivers—all exhausted their eligibility. Daniel Lasco, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014 before battling injuries last season, is also headed to the NFL.
Thanks to all that talent, the Golden Bears boasted the No. 8 offense in 2015. Barring a miracle, that won't happen again. Bowl eligibility should be considered a success in Berkeley next season.
Finishing 8-5—more specifically, 5-3 in the SEC—was a strong year for head coach Bret Bielema and Arkansas in 2015. But there might be trouble brewing in Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks must replace five players who will be selected in the NFL draft, including quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and two offensive linemen in Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola.
Running back Jonathan Williams (missed 2015; foot injury) and center Mitch Smothers are also gone.
Arkansas should have a formidable defense, but even a .500 record in conference play will be a tough mark to reach. The Razorbacks topped each of Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU last season. Duplicating that stretch would be impressive.
Bowling Green Falcons
September losses to Tennessee and Memphis were the primary culprits of Bowling Green not really ever earning the national spotlight, but head coach Dino Babers' squad earned 10 wins and a third straight trip to the MAC championship.
Babers accepted a deserved promotion to Syracuse, though, and he isn't the only important departure.
Quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 4,946 yards and 46 touchdowns in 2015. Travis Greene ended his college career as the program's all-time leading rusher. Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter—a pair of 1,000-yard receivers—left for the NFL and Alabama, respectively.
Bowling Green should remain competitive in the mediocre division that is the MAC East, but don't expect anything close to the nation's No. 4 offense.
Depending on who you ask, a new quarterback coming to Madison is a good thing. Bart Houston must be ready for a tougher slate than Joel Stave faced, though.
The opening game won't be any easier for Wisconsin, which began 2015 with a loss to eventual national champion Alabama. Former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and LSU will challenge the Badgers at Lambeau Field on Sept. 3.
But Wisconsin has, quite literally, the toughest crossover schedule possible in the Big Ten. Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State are each on the docket.
Throw in a road matchup against Iowa, and the Badgers will have a difficult time matching 10 wins.
TCU Horned Frogs
On the bright side, TCU should field a better defense in 2016. Injuries flat-out battered the unit last season.
But it's not looking good for the scoring attack.
Dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin, 1,200-yard rusher Aaron Green, All-American wide receiver Josh Doctson, speedster Kolby Listenbee and four starting offensive linemen are gone.
The Horned Frogs are expected to hand Kenny Hill the keys to the offense, and the Texas A&M transfer should perform reasonably well. That doesn't mean TCU will register 11 wins, let alone earn the program's first outright Big 12 championship.
Heading into 2015, expectations for Iowa weren't particularly high or low—just average, like the school had been for a decade. An undefeated regular season later, the Hawkeyes were College Football Playoff contenders.
The common complaint was that "They haven't played anyone!" Well, that'll change a little bit in 2016.
In addition to hosting Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse North Dakota State, Iowa welcomes head coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes also travels to Penn State, which while not exactly daunting certainly is tougher than 2015 Maryland.
A 10-win campaign would be a strong showing from Iowa, but repeating 12 is highly unlikely.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky retains a solid group of its primary contributors, but Brandon Doughty leaves a massive void at quarterback.
The school's all-time leading passer, Doughty tallied a Football Bowl Subdivision-best 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns last season. He led the Hilltoppers to a program-high 12 wins, shattering the previous mark by four.
Head coach Jeff Brohm runs a superb system, so Western Kentucky shouldn't drop off too far since Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris, Anthony Wales, D'Andre Ferby and even Leon Allen return.
Still, 12 victories is a tall task for a first-year gunslinger who is replacing a Hilltoppers legend.
Michigan State Spartans
A stunning road victory against Ohio State sans quarterback Connor Cook reinforced the notion head coach Mark Dantonio has built an elite program at Michigan State.
However, there's a significant difference between putting together one tremendous game and winning without a star quarterback for 14—unless you want to severely discount the impact of Cook's presence, that is. The school is entering a reloading year.
Michigan State's new quarterback must prepare for a Big Ten schedule that includes Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State as well as nonconference clashes with Notre Dame and BYU.
Fortunately for Spartans fans, their favorite program seems to thrive in the "underdog" role. Nevertheless, 12 wins and a conference title would be remarkable.
Keenan Reynolds propelled Navy to a program-record 11 wins. The triple-option commander ended his career with the most rushing touchdowns in FBS history as well as the most passing scores and rushing yards at the academy.
Not only did the star quarterback depart, the roster had 30-plus seniors. How exactly do you replace that leadership? Time.
A simple look at the schedule shows probable losses against Notre Dame and Houston. Unless the Midshipmen can go undefeated for the rest of the season, they won't match 2015's outcome.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo's decision to return will ease the transition, but Navy needs a year or two to recover from the mass exodus headlined by Reynolds.