With the season drawing to an end and a lot of awards being given out, I figured I'd list 10 teams that are going to be on the rise next year and 10 that are in decline. Some of these teams have fared well, while others have struggled:
Teams "On the Rise"
1. Cincinnatti Bearcats (10-2) #13
While Brian Kelly was expected to help improve this program, the Bearcats weren't expected to finish 10-2 and claim their first Big East title and a BCS bid. With a senior-laden defense and Quarterback Tony Pike recovering from a broken arm to lead them, the Bearcats have been a pleasant surprise.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3) #14
That's right, Mike Gundy is 41, and he's a man. It would appear that benching Bobby Reid has turned out all right for the Cowboys, as they have improved from two 7-6 seasons to 9-3 this year. Their three losses came to the No. 1-, No. 2-, and No. 3-ranked teams (Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma), which is a first in NCAA history. Look for them to play well in '09 as well.
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-3) #15
Paul Johnson wasn't expected to do big things with GT, but with the help of his triple option offense, the Yellow Jackets have exploded onto the national scene, trumping mighty rival Georgia last week as well. With a solid recruiting class, the foundation is there. Look for this team to challenge in the ACC for years to come
4. Buffalo Bulls (7-5)
Turner Gill took a former MAC doormat and turned them into a very competitive team that will challenge Ball State for the MAC title this week. Gill has done it the right way and is attracting major attention from BCS programs. Buffalo is definitely on the rise.
5. Ole Miss Rebels (8-4) #25
Who'd have thought Houston Nutt would improve a very mediocre Ole Miss team this much in one year? The Rebels became the first team in NCAA history to defeat the previous two national champions (LSU, Florida) in the same year. Beware the wildcat.
6. Ball State Cardinals (12-0) #12
It's taken Brady Hoke a few years, but with a fearsome offense, the Cardinals look to clinch the MAC title this week and also look to make their mark against a quality opponent in a bowl game. But this won't be a one-year wonder. No, the Cardinals are going to be very good in the coming seasons.
7. Rice Owls (9-3)
Being a Conference USA team, the Owls haven't gotten much attention, but have quietly put up massive numbers on offense and have played strong much of the season. With the team's second bowl game in sight, the future is looking bright for the Rice Owls.
8. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3) #22
Pat Fitzgerald brought youth and enthusiasm back to the Wildcats, and it showed, as they posted nine wins for the first time in many years. No longer will the Wildcats be considered "doormats" or an "easy win" in the Big 10 conference.
9. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0) #1
Sports fans around the nation expected Nick Saban to turn things around, but after only one year? The Tide play football the way Bear Bryant taught it. Tough, punch-you-in-the-mouth running with a strong defense to boot. Better watch out, there's greatness in Tuscaloosa once more.
10. Michigan Wolverines (3-9)
So many streaks broken, including winning seasons, bowl games, etc. Michigan has to, and will get better next year. Mediocrity is not tolerated for long for the winningest program in NCAA history. But Rodriguez will be getting his players and must prove that he is a viable coach for the Wolverines.
Teams "On the Fall"
1. LSU Tigers (7-5)
The highly documented "Mad Hatter" Les Miles saw all his luck evaporate when QB-in-Waiting Ryan Perrilloux continually broke team rules and transferred, and left the Bayou Bengals with Andrew Hatch, Jared Jefferson, etc. The defensive play-calling was dismal, and if changes aren't made soon, LSU fans could be reminded of Jerry Dinardo.
2. South Florida Bulls (7-4)
Preseason talk of a Big East title and Heisman rumors for QB Matt Grothe were proved false as the Bulls faltered in Big East play. A few key losses on defense from last year seemed to hit the team hard, and though they are bowl eligible, work needs to be done to ensure another collapse doesn't occur next year.
3. Miami (OH) RedHawks (2-10)
It wasn't long ago that this team was at the top of the MAC, but injuries and struggles have coupled together to make a difficult season. Head Coach Shane Montgomery was fired after going 17-31 in four seasons as head coach. But luckily for Miami, many good coaches have earned their keep there (Bo, Woody Hayes), and there may be a former assistant coming home soon.
4. Washington University Huskies (0-11)
Ty Willingham had not done a good job with a program that, in the early 2000's, was in the Rose Bowl. With California coming up, it looks like a winless season is on the way, but is a savior coming soon? Maybe it's time for Gary Pinkel to return home.
5. Washington State Cougars (2-11)
After former coach Bill Doba left the cupboard virtually empty, Head Coach Paul Wulff didn't have much to work with. The Cougars has lost so many quarterbacks, they literally fielded open tryouts on campus to try and find a scout team quarterback. But with a solid recruiting class and a good coach, the Cougars may be on the rise again soon.
6. Tennessee Volunteers (5-7)
Philip Fulmer had a very good career with the Volunteers, including the 1998 national championship. But a struggling offense and a lack of top-flight talent forced his firing this year. Lane Kiffin takes over a highly prestigious football school in a talent-deficient state. We'll see how he can do.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-4)
After consecutive BCS bowl wins against Georgia and Oklahoma, the stage was set, and the talent was there for another strong year for WVU. But lack of a third down back and inconsistent play-calling led to struggles in Morgantown. Now, I don't know if Bill Stewart is a bad coach yet, but does this make Rich Rodriguez a bigger loss than anticipated?
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-6)
While the struggles of the Irish are highly documented, their record is an improvement over last year. Dozens of elite recruits have flocked to Notre Dame, but Charlie Weis hasn't prepared them properly, and the team lacks fire and leadership on the field. It may be time for a new coach, but Brian Kelly isn't interested.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-7)
After a strong 2008 Rudy Carpenter was on the Heisman watch list, the Devils were looking like a BCS possibility. But terrible protection, coupled with a poor run game, hobbled Arizona State this season. With bowl eligibility on the line and Carpenter gone next year, this team "will be interesting" to watch in '09.
10. Auburn Tigers (5-7)
While they remain a very good defensive team, the offense has truly struggled this season. After Tony Franklin sought to revitalize Auburn with his spread offense, he was fired early in the season, but his struggles didn't leave with him. Is Tuberville's career winding down? Anxiety is starting to take hold on the plains.
So there are my 20 teams! If you feel a team belongs or doesn't belong, feel free to comment.
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