College Football Teams That Could Regress the Most in 2018

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2018

College Football Teams That Could Regress the Most in 2018

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    Western Michigan won its first 13 games in 2016 and earned a bid to the Cotton Bowl. But after losing several key players as well as coach P.J. Fleck, the Broncos fell back to earth in 2017 with a 6-6 record and failed to earn a bowl invite.

    In 2016, Colorado won the Pac-12's South Division and recorded its first 10-win season in 15 years, but the Buffaloes followed that up with a 5-7 campaign. And Florida, after back-to-back trips to the SEC title game, fell to 4-7 in 2017 and fired the coach who had won 19 games in those previous two seasons.

    Regression is a common occurrence in college football. For every program like Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State, there are dozens that go from great one year to not-so-good the next.

    Which teams are most likely to see a significant backslide in 2018? Below are the top candidates, each of which won nine-plus games in 2017 but could see their win total dip by at least three games in the coming season.

Army

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    Army is coming off its first 10-win season since 1996 and is in possession of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy after beating Navy for the first time in 21 years. What coach Jeff Monken has accomplished at West Point, going from 2-10 in 2015 to 10-3 in 2017, is nothing short of phenomenal.

    But winning on a consistent basis at the service academies isn't easy. It's even harder when the key piece of the offense is graduating.

    Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 1,746 yards this past season, pacing a triple-option attack that averaged 362.3 yards per game. 

    Three players other than Bradshaw who ran for 600 or more yards are back for 2018, but an effective option begins and ends with the QB. And his backup, sophomore Kelvin Hopkins Jr., ran for 40 yards total.

Georgia

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    From 8-5 in his first season to 13-2 and a national championship appearance in his second, Georgia coach Kirby Smart has quickly lifted the Bulldogs to the level their fanbase expects on an annual basis. Now anything short of another trip to the College Football Playoff is going to be a major letdown in 2018.

    And of the four playoff teams from this past season, Georgia is the most likely to not make a return trip based on what it has to replace.

    First and foremost, it loses two of the three most-prolific running backs in school history in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They combined for 2,572 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns in 2017. D'Andre Swift had a solid freshman debut as the third-stringer, but he will be hard-pressed to make up all of that production.

    Georgia must also replace three of its top four tacklers on defense.

    Smart has signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2018, which bodes well for the Bulldogs' long-term success, but not before UGA takes a step back.

Memphis

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    Memphis only lost two regular-season games in 2017, both to unbeaten UCF, and was second in the nation in scoring at 45.5 points per contest. Coach Mike Norvell has managed to sustain the success that Justin Fuente achieved before going to Virginia Tech, with the Tigers winning 37 games in the past four years after going 12-48 in the previous five.

    To avoid a rebuilding year, Memphis is going to have to replace some serious weapons.

    Gone from that explosive offense are quarterback Riley Ferguson (4,257 yards and 38 touchdowns) and leading receiver Anthony Miller (96 catches, 1,462 yards, 18 TDs).

    The defense says goodbye to linebacker Genard Avery, whose 22 tackles for loss were fifth-most in FBS, and safety Jonathan Cook.

Oklahoma State

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    The last time Oklahoma State had to replace its career passing leader, the Cowboys dipped from 12 wins in 2011 to eight in 2012. What kind of a drop-off should they expect in the post-Mason Rudolph era?

    Rudolph leaves Stillwater having obliterated Brandon Weeden's single-season school record for yards (4,904) and thrown 37 touchdowns this past season. The Cowboys went 10-3 in 2017 and were 32-9 with Rudolph as the starter.

    Whoever succeeds him also has to establish some new primary targets, as receivers James Washington and Marcell Ateman and their combined 133 catches, 2,705 yards and 21 TDs are also moving on.

    Oklahoma State's defense loses three of its top four tacklers as well as defensive tackle DeQuinton Osborne, who led the team in sacks and tackles for loss.

South Florida

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    Charlie Strong found himself a pretty cushy landing spot after getting pushed out at Texas. He inherited a South Florida cupboard that was far from bare. He coached Willie Taggart's leftovers to a 10-2 record. The Bulls' losses were by a combined 11 points.

    Now comes the real work for Strong, who loses 25 seniors, including more than a dozen starters. Among the departed are do-everything quarterback Quinton Flowers, running backs Darius Tice and D'Ernest Johnson, and leading receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

    That quartet accounted for more than 4,800 of the Bulls' 6,156 yards of total offense. Flowers alone was responsible for 3,989 yards and 36 total touchdowns.

    South Florida's underrated defense, which allowed 23.5 points per game, must replace six starters, including four players with 10 or more tackles for loss.

UCF

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    If you believe in the transitive property of sports, UCF was the true college football national champion in 2017.

    The Knights were the only unbeaten team in FBS and capped that perfect season with a Peach Bowl win over Auburn, which sported victories over College Football Playoff champ Alabama and runner-up Georgia.

    That final game was coached by Scott Frost, who stuck around to see things through despite being hired away by Nebraska. The program is now in the hands of first-time head coach Josh Heupel, who has the unenviable task of trying to follow up perfection.

    He'll be doing so with a completely overhauled defense that is losing five key starters, including cornerback Mike Hughes, who declared for the NFL draft. Hughes had four interceptions and scored four touchdowns, one on a pick and three on a punt or kickoff return.

    UCF's potent offense still has quarterback McKenzie Milton but not his leading receiver. Junior Tre'Quan Smith (1,171 yards, 13 TDs) also turned pro.

Washington State

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    Washington State coach Mike Leach
    Washington State coach Mike LeachAssociated Press

    Washington State was already facing some significant losses from a 9-4 team, then tragedy hit the program Tuesday with the news that sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski had been found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

    Hilinski had started the Cougars' Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State in place of Luke Falk, the Pac-12 career passing leader who missed the game because of wrist surgery. Hilinski threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-17 loss in which WSU also played without its top two wide receivers (Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack), who had both left the program earlier in December.

    Falk was a senior, as was three-fifths of his offensive line and pass-catching running back Jamal Morrow. Hilinski appeared in eight games in 2017 and threw for 509 yards in relief of Falk in a loss at Arizona.

    WSU's defense, which ranked second in the Pac-12, loses four starters as well as standout junior defensive tackle Hercules Mata'afa.

           

    Statistics are provided by CFBStats unless otherwise noted. Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.