The Top 15 College Football Programs with the Most to Prove in 2010
It's not that 2009 doesn't mean anything. Believe me—it does. It's just that in the landscape of college football, the only thing that REALLY matters is 'what have you done for me lately?' It's about the "now."
There are a lot of teams in the FBS who are looking to make a statement in 2010. Some will be trying to take it to the next level, like Navy. While others will simply be looking to find legitimacy again, like Louisville.
This is about the teams who find their position somewhere between No.'s 1-25 in the preseason polls. The teams who have, perennially, found their programs at the center of great expectations.
As 2010 brings a new set of expectations to the doors of some of the nation's best programs, I offer to you 15 of them who will have a lot to prove come September.
You would think that, by now, Boise State has done all the proving they need to do. After all, they do have one of the winningest records in the FBS over the last four years.
Well, 2010 will be the year where people will actually have to take notice of Boise as a legitimate BCS contender. Their WAC schedule still might not sit well with most, but their non-conference schedule is considerably more challenging with the likes of Virginia Tech and Oregon State on the docket.
Will it be enough to bolster them into a national title game—should they go undefeated? Maybe. Either way, this is the year that many feel will tell a lot about where the Boise program is heading under Chris Petersen’s leadership.
The Broncos will return 23 starters in 2010.
It’s amazing that a team can go undefeated, have a Heisman winner, beat the No. 1 team in the nation—a team that was led by a QB who many felt was the best there ever was—in dominating fashion, and defeat a Texas team that was thought to be a near-lock for a championship and, yet, still have to prove something in 2010, but, they do.
For starters, I can promise you that there are a ton of folks out there who are wondering what the outcome of the national championship game might have been if Colt McCoy had not been knocked out.
Even more, close wins against a perceived ‘midling’ Tennessee and an ‘upstart” Auburn have some questioning the legitimacy of the Tide’s talent—feeling there was more luck than skill riding on the side of Nick Saban’s crew. That has to stick in the craw of both the fans and the players.
With Greg McElroy returning along with the talents of both running backs—Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson—you have to think that the Tide will be back to try and run the table once again. The loss of nine starters on defense will hurt, but this is Nick Saban, and you have to guess he will have plenty of players in the hopper who will be ready to step up.
Despite the troubles faced by the Ducks this offseason, Chip Kelly has the program heading in the right direction.
Last season, his team started the season with a punch, but ended it with a bang as, at one point during the year, they were flying high in the Top 10. The players they have dismissed so far will hurt depth a bit, but none were key starters last season—if LaMichael James gets suspended, however, that would seriously hurt.
With USC facing sanctions and Cal looking for a way to replace Jahvid Best, this may be the year that the Ducks emerge as the Pac-10’s best—assuming that neither Stanford or Washington do so—and after what Kelly did last season, you have to feel confident that he can do it again. No time like the present.
The NCAA could decide to make life more difficult for the Big Blue Faithful, but this season won’t see any interference from that whole “how many hours” fiasco that came to light last season.
This year is about results and it’s about time that Rich Rod had a few—starting with a bowl appearance—because he has pretty well worn out his welcome in Ann Arbor, and another season without a bid will likely see him handed his walking papers.
The Wolverines will bring back 15 starters and should be able to compile a seven or eight win season if their defense can get it together. Either way, this will be the year that Rich Rod will either flame or flame out.
Randy Shannon’s club toiled in relative obscurity in the two seasons prior to 2009’s 9-4 run. Miami looks good in 2010, despite the questions surrounding Jacory Harris and Graig Cooper.
This is the year that Randy Shannon can take advantage of a manageable schedule as well as a talented defense that will return eight starters.
Virginia Tech will be the likely favorite, but with Clemson losing Spiller and Georgia Tech saying goodbye to both Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas, the Canes’ are in a position to make a solid run at the ACC title. It’s time for them to put their money where there mouth is.
Steve Sarkisian put his stamp on the Huskies program last season with signature wins over USC and California—both in Seattle. This season, Sarkisian welcomes back Jake Locker along with 19 other starters.
The team took a big step last season by nearly making it to bowl season after suffering through a winless '08. However, in year two of Sarks' reign as head coach, much more will be expected as the Huskies look to reach their first bowl game since 2002.
The defense will need to be stingier than it was in 2009 where it gave up 320 points to the opposition—almost as many points as the offense scored (313). If they can achieve balance, they should be fine, but the question remains—can they?
Texas and Oklahoma may be the Kings of the Big XII, but it would be dangerous to overlook the 2010 Missouri Tigers. Mizzou is competitive every year and brings back 20 starters this coming season.
The Longhorns will be looking to fill the hole left by Colt McCoy and Oklahoma will meet the Tigers in Columbia for Homecoming. If the Tigers can steal one from the Sooners and Texas stumbles—or both—they will be in good position to make a Big XII Championship run.
Blaine Gabbert could also find himself in the conversation as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman. Last season, the talented sophomore put up solid numbers at QB—passing for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Steve Spurrier is bringing back the most balanced team he has ever had at South Carolina. The Gamecocks not only return Stephen Garcia, the talented quarterback who grew by leaps and bounds last season, but also a talented defense as well.
Despite the huge loss of Eric Norwood (LB) and Clifton Geathers (DL), the Gamecocks are still seen as the team to beat in the East—behind Florida, of course. If Spurrier is ever going to salvage his time in Columbia as something better than average, he has to take the team to the SEC Championship Game this season.
With Florida breaking in a new quarterback, Georgia breaking in a new defense, and Alabama coming to Columbia, this is ‘The Ol’ Ball Coach’s’ best shot at leaving his mark.
The Yellow Jackets busted through the ACC again in 2009, running roughshod over the competition for eight straight weeks before stumbling in their final game of the regular season—a loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. Redemption came with an appearance in the ACC Championship game where they outlasted the Clemson Tigers.
However, in what many felt should have been a no-contest win against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Jackets fell alarmingly short, highlighting some big issues on the defensive side of the ball.
Tech has brought in Al Groh to fix what ails them on defense and they should be the Kings of the ACC yet again, but anything less than that would be viewed as a disappointment.
It’s not that the Irish have been bad, they’ve actually been fairly good over the years. The problem has been their penchant for underachieving on defense. If their defense was even a little more aggressive, they would—and could—be a bowl season staple.
In the last 10 seasons, their record is 70-52, which is as good as Alabama (79-48) or California (71-53), both of whom are BCS respected. The latest coach to stumble is now gone and coach Brian Kelly has arrived—presumably to save the day.
If his offensive genius is anything as advertised, he should have the Irish sitting pretty come December of this season. Of course, that depends on how well Bob Diaco does at directing his nine returning starters in the art of tackling and pass defense.
Still, though, the Irish have a lot of promise. Their seven losses last season were by a combined 28 points. The foundation is there. The only thing left to be seen is whether they are building their new house out of bricks or straw.
The Dawgs demise has been predicted for some time now, or, at least their coaches’ demise has been. However, 2010 will be the make or break year for the Dawgs who overhauled, nearly, their entire defensive staff.
Mark Richt has staked his good name on new defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham. A man who, by reputation, works wonders on a defense—at least in the NFL. This is college, though, and the result may or may not be the same.
If Georgia can’t get back to its 10-win ways, many think the fire under Mark Richt’s seat will reach ‘blaze’ status. As they like to say in the south, it’s time to ‘you know what’ or get off the pot.
Last season, the Badgers had an opportunity to show what they were about and, although they ran through most of the competition, losses to both Ohio State and Iowa took the wind out of their sails just a bit. Even more, a late loss to Northwestern likely didn’t sit too well with their rabid fan base either—even if they are 2-4 against them in their last six meetings.
2010 looms with greater expectations as both Iowa and Michigan will be winnable games and they get the Buckeyes in Madison. The Badgers have ten offensive starters returning from last season and, if they can get more consistency on the defense, there is no reason why they should not be in the Big Ten Championship game next season—none.
The Mountaineers have flirted with a Big East Championship berth in both seasons under head coach Bill Stewart. In 2008, close losses to Cincinnati and Pitt (a combined seven points) kept them from making a run. In 2009, it was their offensive futility against USF and another close loss to Cincy that was their undoing.
2010 should see the Mountaineers running all over the Big East, despite the return of 20 starters for Syracuse and 16 for UConn. They have the luxury of playing both USF and Cincinnati at home and, even though UConn will be tough in Storrs, you have to believe that in this, Bill Stewart’s third season at the helm, the Mountaineers are due to make some noise.
There would be no time like the present as both Charlie Strong of Louisville and Butch Jones of Cincy will no doubt begin to loom larger in 2011, not to mention this is Noel Devine’s final season at running back. The time is now.
Les Miles took quite a beating in the press last season for his clock mismanagement. The Tigers never fail to impress with their stellar recruiting classes each year, but it’s time for Miles to show that he can be just as effective on his own two feet.
It’s no secret that many feel that his national championship in 2007 came courtesy of Nick Saban’s players and a little luck on the part of the BCS. He’s had the talent to be successful, but continually falls short of expectations.
2010’s team is chock full of great prospects as well as six offensive starters returning from 2009’s squad. Truthfully, Miles should get a mulligan for 2010 since so much of his defense and offense left due to graduation and/or the NFL (Charles Scott, Rahim Alem, Trindon Holliday, etc.), but to be honest, for many, he’s out of time and needs to start showing something more than potential.
The clock is ticking.
The Cornhuskers are no longer ‘flying under the radar.’ The days of people and pundits overlooking them is, officially, over. Last season, Bo Pellini’s team came within a second of being the Big XII Champions and sending the Texas Longhorns home in tears.
Well, this season, Nebraska won’t have to worry about Colt McCoy, Sergio Kindle, or Jordan Shipley. All are gone from Texas. Secondly, they will not have to play Oklahoma as they are not on the schedule in 2010.
They will get Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but they will be a drastically different team minus Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson, and Russell Okung. Add to that a non-conference schedule that will be a bit less daunting than the one that included Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, last season, and the recipe is there for Nebraska to finally go from Division to Conference Champs next season.
Suh’s loss won’t be easy to recover from, but with eight other starters from the defense returning, the Cornhuskers are still sitting pretty for 2010.