College Football Teams Guaranteed to Improve Their Win Total in 2018

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2018

College Football Teams Guaranteed to Improve Their Win Total in 2018

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    The offseason is promising for every college football team, but that's particularly the case for those programs out there looking to turn the page to bigger and brighter futures.

    So let's take a look at some teams that can expect an improvement in 2018 in the only place that matters—the win column.

    Some of the teams on this list had forgettable seasons in 2017, such as Baylor, Florida State and North Carolina. Others, such as Boise State, Arizona and West Virginia, are looking to take the next step forward because of returning starters and promising leadership or depth.

    Then, there's a sleeping powerhouse in Texas who looks primed for bigger and better things.

    We'll use this formula to calculate a win total:

    • Games that teams should win are worth 0.9
    • Games that teams might win are worth 0.6
    • Games that teams likely will not win are worth 0.1

    Of course, predicting the future is never a sure thing, but increased win totals for these teams are as close to a guarantee as possible. Let's count down a handful of programs primed for a boost on the playing field in the upcoming season.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 7-6

          

    Key Additions

    This season is going to be more about experience than additions. The Wildcats return playmakers on defense like reigning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Colin Schooler and a slew of talented defensive backs. The offense is loaded, too, with wide receiver Shun Brown and running back J.J. Taylor backing quarterback Khalil Tate.

    The recruiting class was ranked just 11th in the Pac-12, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, but last year's was ranked 10th and had a quick impact. Look for defensive end Adam Plant, linebacker Dayven Coleman and guard Steven Bailey to battle for immediate reps.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    With Sam Darnold gone from USC, there isn't a can't-win game on Arizona's schedule. Going to Houston in the early season won't be easy, and road games against Utah and UCLA could pose threats—especially considering nobody knows what to expect from the Bruins now that Chip Kelly is on board.

    New head coach Kevin Sumlin gets USC, Oregon, California and rival Arizona State at home, so that could pay big dividends in a year where things set up nicely for the Wildcats to contend for the South Division title. Their win total could be boosted even more by postseason games.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 9

Baylor Bears

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    John Weast/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 1-11

          

    Key Additions

    No team in the country will be more positively impacted by transfers than Baylor, and, boy, do the Bears need them following an awful one-win season.

    Coach Matt Rhule will welcome former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurdwho plans to play receiver for the Bears—former Clemson starting offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen, former Central Florida O-lineman Christian Beard and former Texas A&M defensive lineman James Lockhart.

    Receiver Tyquan Thornton should make an immediate difference at receiver, and he'll be aided at offensive skill positions by BJ Hanspard, Joshua Fleeks and Craig Williams. Connor Galvin and JUCO transfer Johncarlo Valentin could bolster the offensive front, too.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Anytime you play in the Big 12 and are trying to dig out of a season that yielded just a single win, the schedule difficulty is going to be severe. But the out-of-conference schedule is navigable with Abilene Christian, a return trip to a UT-San Antonio team that won a season ago and Duke.

    At Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State is grueling, but games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State look more winnable than a season ago. I'm not sure if the Bears can become bowl-eligible, but there is certainly more than one win on that slate—especially with the infusion of talent.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 5.1

Boise State Broncos

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 11-3

          

    Key Additions

    One of the biggest recruiting victories in some time came when the Broncos were able to convince California athlete Khalil Shakir to come to Boise instead of heading to Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA or others. With Cedrick Wilson Jr. gone, Shakir could step right into the rotation as a big-play guy.

    Another major pull on national signing day was tight end Tyneil Hopper of Roswell, Georgia, who chose the Broncos over a handful of SEC offers. There will be other contributors, of course, but for a loaded Broncos team needing weapons for returning quarterback Brett Rypien, those are two big ones.

           

    Difficulty of Schedule

    With running back Alexander Mattison and receivers CT Thomas and Octavius Evans back to go along with three starting offensive linemen and a lot of players on defense, Boise is excited.

    The out-of-conference schedule is highlighted by a game at Oklahoma State, but with the Cowboys having to replace quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington, that game is winnable. Troy and UConn should be games where Boise is favored.

    Getting San Diego State, Fresno State and Colorado State at home are key, and sets up nicely for a year where the Broncos should be the early Group of Five favorite for a major bowl berth. With postseason games, Boise will eclipse last year's 11 wins.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 10.2

Florida State Seminoles

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2017 Record: 7-6

          

    Key Additions

    There are a lot of players who could make instant impacts for first-year coach Willie Taggart, but some safe bets are safety Jaiden Woodbey and cornerbacks Anthony Lytton and Asante Samuel Jr.

    Massive 377-pound defensive tackle Robert Cooper could earn reps on running downs if he's in shape, and the Seminoles have a bunch of good-looking receivers coming in, led by Tre'Shaun Harrison, Warren Thompson and Jordan Young, who could bolster a unit that hasn't been great in recent years.

            

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Nothing was easy for the Seminoles a season ago without quarterback Deondre Francois, but he should be healthy to start the season, which will be big news for a team talented enough to win now. 

    The running back situation is fine, the offensive line is a year more experienced and there looks to be a bunch of playmakers on defense. There's no reason FSU shouldn't contend with Clemson and Miami, and though they may not look like the favorite against those teams right now, nobody knows how the 'Noles will look.

    Getting Virginia Tech and Florida at Doak Campbell Stadium is nice, and a late-season road trip to Notre Dame is going to be a fun test. But Taggart can pull more wins out of this team, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that double-figure victories is attainable. That would be a heck of a rebound.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 8.5

Houston Cougars

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 7-5

               

    Key Additions

    Houston got some big news when talented Ole Miss safety Deontay Anderson chose to return home and play for the Cougars, and with his immediate eligibility, he'll be able to step right in and improve the back end of the defense.

    Recruiting took a dip in the post-Tom Herman era, but the Cougars landed shifty athlete Julon Williams, who will help right away, along with JUCO offensive tackle Bo Alexander. The fifth-rated AAC class needs more players to come in and provide depth.

    But the biggest addition was offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who left Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic to return to his home state and tutor quarterback D'Eriq King and running back Duke Catalon. 

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    An early game hosting upstart Arizona, who should be much better with Khalil Tate a year more experienced, could go a long way in determining how good 2018 will be for the Cougars. They follow that up with a road test against high-octane Texas Tech.

    Get through those two, and the AAC is easier than a year ago, especially with Memphis having to replace all that talent. Houston has to go to the Bluff City, but that will be in late November. The Cougars also travel to Navy but host a South Florida team that will be experiencing life without Quinton Flowers.

    This may be Major Applewhite's year to win the conference. Missing Central Florida in scheduling helps.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 9

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 3-9

              

    Key Additions

    This is about who North Carolina returns, with players such as receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, running back Jordon Brown and quarterbacks Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt. But head coach Larry Fedora needs the defense to come along.

    While he's not an addition, the Heels could wind up with Miami quarterback transfer Evan Shirreffs, who would help that position tremendously. He isn't blocked from transferring to UNC, per CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd.

    It was a great class for the Heels considering they fell flat, and receivers Jordyn Adams and Antoine Green should play right away. Offensive tackle William Barnes may wind up being the prize of the class, and they upgraded speed on defense with players like linebacker Matthew Flint and defensive end Chris Collins.

    Georgia safety Bryson Richardson will be a quality player, too.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    After a miserable 2017 season, the Tar Heels need to rebound, or Fedora's job will be in jeopardy. He needs to make it to a bowl game, and while that may seem like a tall order following a three-win season, North Carolina should bounce back.

    An early-season road trip to a California team that beat them a season ago is pivotal for the Tar Heels. Getting Central Florida at home is a tough draw, too, even if Scott Frost is no longer on the sideline. Road trips to Miami and Duke are potential land mines, too.

    But the Heels get winnable games against Pitt, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and N.C. State at home. Reaching six wins looks like a possibility if the offense continues to develop.

            

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 6.6

Missouri Tigers

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    2017 Record: 7-6

          

    Key Additions

    "Key" doesn't always mean "good," so it's going to be interesting to see how head coach Barry Odom's decision to replace offensive coordinator Josh Heupel with former Tennessee head coach and Dallas Cowboys wide receivers coach Derek Dooley pays off. Dooley has never been a coordinator on any level.

    With quarterback Drew Lock and a ton of offensive playmakers back, Dooley meshing with all that talent is vital.

    Mizzou has always underperformed in the recruiting rankings versus the rest of the SEC, but the Tigers always seem to do more with less.

    They were ranked 13th in the league last year, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, but players like defensive tackle Antar Thompson, linebacker Chad Bailey and defensive end Daniel Parker look like ideal candidates to blossom in Mizzou's front seven.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    If the Tigers would have played this out-of-conference schedule a year ago, it would have been daunting, but the foursome of UT-Martin, Wyoming, Purdue and Memphis has lost some luster.

    Mike Norvell's Tigers lost stud quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller, and they'll be reloading. Wyoming will be without surefire first-round quarterback selection Josh Allen, too. The only major test on that list is Purdue, which trounced Mizzou a year ago and will be in its second year under Jeff Brohm.

    Odom's team picks up Alabama on the road, so that's a bad draw, obviously, but the Tigers host Georgia. Road tests at South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida could go either way, but Mizzou has the firepower to take care of business.

           

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 8.5

Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 5-7

          

    Key Additions 

    Though Pittsburgh is already young in the offensive backfield, picking up 4-star Mychale Salahuddin was huge. The all-purpose back has the chance to come in and have a role. Shifty receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis is an instant-impact weapon, too.

    John Morgan and Devin Danielson could help right away on the defensive line, and there are other players who'll benefit from Pat Narduzzi's tutelage, too. 

    Pitt won't have Indiana transfer receiver Taysir Mack this year due to transfer rules, but he will be a big boost in 2019. Until then, the Panthers will make do with a young team and an infusion of prospects.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Last year was a major transition for a team that had a youth movement on top of losing studs like quarterback Nathan Peterman, running back James Conner and defensive lineman Ejuan Price, along with offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

    In 2018, all those youngsters who received valuable (though painful) reps a season ago should blossom. An out-of-conference schedule that includes Penn State, Notre Dame and Central Florida looks daunting, but things are a bit easier in ACC play.

    There's no Florida State, Clemson or N.C. State on the schedule, and while the Panthers must travel to Miami, the other games in the league are winnable.

          

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 6.9

Texas Longhorns

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    2017 Record: 7-6

          

    Key Additions

    The nation's third-ranked recruiting class is loaded with potential studs, but there's nowhere that got bolstered more than coordinator Todd Orlando's secondary. 

    BJ Foster, Caden Sterns, Anthony Cook, DeMarvion Overshown, Jalen Green and D'shawn Jamison is as impressive a defensive back class on paper that has ever been put together. There's talent throughout at other positions, too.

    Wide receivers Brennan Eagles and Joshua Moore are elite, and if Sam Ehlinger/Shane Buechele falter, the 'Horns have two 4-star quarterbacks coming in with Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson. Linebacker Ayodele Adeoye and offensive tackle Junior Angilau may step right in and receive playing time, too.

    This group is loaded.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Texas would love to start the season with a revenge win over Maryland, who began Tom Herman's tenure on a sour note with a win last year. The Longhorns also host USC, and the Trojans would be an attainable "name" win without quarterback Sam Darnold.

    The Big 12 slate gets easier without quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and those close losses from a season ago may become wins. The only tough road trips are to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

    The 'Horns host TCU, West Virginia and Iowa State in huge tests, but getting them in Austin is a nice help.

           

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 8.5

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    2017 Record: 7-5

             

    Key Additions

    Without question, the biggest addition for the Mountaineers is the return of star quarterback Will Grier, who was orchestrating a nice season before going down with a year-ending injury that derailed the Mountaineers. With the Heisman Trophy candidate back, you can expect huge things from WVU.

    But nothing is more vital to the Mountaineers than shoring up a porous secondary that was ranked 91st against the pass a season ago. Coach Dana Holgorsen went out and signed a trio of JUCO defensive backs who need to be good right away.

    Cornerback Keith Washington and safeties Josh Norwood and Charlie Benton all enrolled early, and they need to help out immediately. Strong-side defensive end Dante Stills and safety Kwantel Raines look like impact defenders as well.

          

    Difficulty of Schedule

    The Big 12 isn't so daunting this year with major upheavals at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (though the Sooners are still loaded). Texas looks like it will take a major uptick, as well. But the Mountaineers have things shaping up well for a run.

    Playing Tennessee in Charlotte to open the season could have been worse, but the Vols are down and transitioning to new coach Jeremy Pruitt. That's a game WVU needs. The Mountaineers must go to N.C. State, too, which won't be easy.

    Road trips to Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma State are toss-ups, and the Mountaineers get to host Oklahoma in the regular season's final game. It could have huge ramifications. Youngstown State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Baylor should be wins.

    If WVU does that and sweeps the Vols and Wolfpack, it will be a big year.

         

    Projected Regular-Season Wins: 8.7