College Football Teams Guaranteed to Improve Their Win Total in 2017

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 19, 2017

College Football Teams Guaranteed to Improve Their Win Total in 2017

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    Michigan State should return to form as an annual participant in a bowl game.
    Michigan State should return to form as an annual participant in a bowl game.Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Following unexpectedly disappointing seasons, Michigan State, Oregon and Notre Dame rank among the top college football teams guaranteed to win more games in 2017 than they did in 2016.

    Every season, there are dozens of teams that drastically improve their win total. Just this past season, Army, Colorado, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Tech, Troy, UCF and Wyoming each won six more games than they did in 2015. In total, there were 27 teams that won at least three more games than the previous year.

    Based on a combination of roster/coaching changes and difficulty of schedule, we've pinpointed 10 teams that are guaranteed to win more games in 2017 than they did this past season.

    Projected wins on these slides are calculated as follows:

    • 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

    Each of our top 10 teams has a minimum of two more projected winsnot including potential bowl games.

10. Ole Miss Rebels

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    It's time to find out what Shea Patterson can do with a full season of work.
    It's time to find out what Shea Patterson can do with a full season of work.Associated Press

    2016 Record: 5-7

    Key Additions

    One year removed from signing seven of Scout's top 100 freshmen, Ole Miss is taking more of a veteran approach in adding four of Scout's top 100 JUCO transfers. Of the bunch, Markel Winters figures to make the biggest positive impact. The Rebels averaged just 1.7 sacks per game last season and could desperately use his help off the defensive end.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Playing in the SEC West is no picnic, but the Rebels scheduled South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, California and Louisiana-Lafayette in their four nonconference games—each of which should be an easy win. They also get Kentucky and Vanderbilt in their SEC East crossover games and might be able knock off either Arkansas or Mississippi State.

    (Then again, Ole Miss self-imposing a postseason ban in 2017 may well keep this team from reaching its talent's potential.)

    Projected Wins: 7.2

9. Arizona Wildcats

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    Brandon Dawkins and Arizona only need four wins to improve upon last season.
    Brandon Dawkins and Arizona only need four wins to improve upon last season.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 3-9

    Key Additions

    With Samajie Grant graduating, the Wildcats needed to add a new playmaker. 4-star athlete Nathan Tilford should help fill that void. He did most of his damage in high school as a tailback, and he scored a pair of TDs in a recent scrimmage, according to Matt Moreno of GOAZCATS.com. Zach Green will likely start at RB, but Arizona will be able to run some fun option packages when Tilford and QB Brandon Dawkins are out there together.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Early games against Northern Arizona and UTEP should be easy wins, but the rest of the slate is loaded with coin flips. Home games against Houston, Utah and Oregon State could go either way. Road games against California and Arizona State likely fall into the same bucket. But Rich Rodriguez has won at least seven games in each of his first four seasons in Tucson, and it's unlikely he'll lose at least nine for a second straight year.

    Projected Wins: 5.3

8. Virginia Cavaliers

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    For the first time in his career, Bronco Mendenhall experienced a losing season.
    For the first time in his career, Bronco Mendenhall experienced a losing season.Ryan M. Kelly/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 2-10

    Key Additions

    Head coach Bronco Mendenhall did not sign a single Top 300 freshman, nor a Top 100 JUCO transfer. But don't be surprised if true freshman Jamari Peacock becomes an immediate factor in the backfield. With Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid both graduating, the Cavaliers are left with Jordan Ellis (61 yards) and Daniel Hamm (four yards) as their only returning running backs.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Virginia isn't likely to play its way into a bowl game, but it only needs to win three games for improvement. Early home games against William & Mary and Connecticut all but ensure the Cavaliers win at least as many games in September as they did in the entire 2016 season. As long as they can also win at least one of their other home games against Boston College, Duke or Indiana, they'll exceed last year's win total.

    Projected Wins: 4.3

7. TCU Horned Frogs

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    TCU has a backup plan if Kenny Hill has another disappointing season.
    TCU has a backup plan if Kenny Hill has another disappointing season.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 6-7

    Key Additions

    TCU doesn't need much, as it gets back just about everyone other than a couple of defensive linemen. But head coach Gary Patterson is going the JUCO route to help with that deficiency, adding Scout's No. 49 junior college transfer, defensive tackle Ezra Tu'ua. One other potential impact addition is freshman QB Shawn Robinson. The Horned Frogs had little choice but to suffer through Kenny Hill's 13-interception season, but Robinson could give them a second option if and when Hill struggles in 2017.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Road games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State figure to be a serious problem, but every other game on TCU's slate is winnable. The Horned Frogs should win their home games against West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas, as well as the road games against Iowa State and Texas Tech. Factor in the nonconference games against Jacksonville State and SMU, and you've got at least seven victories.

    Projected Wins: 8.3

6. Missouri Tigers

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    Damarea Crockett ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman at Missouri, but can the Tigers stop anyone from running against them?
    Damarea Crockett ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman at Missouri, but can the Tigers stop anyone from running against them?Wade Payne/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 4-8

    Key Additions

    Missouri's defense was downright awful last season, particularly when trying to stop the run. And the Tigers lost the two bright spots from that unit in Donavin Newsom and Charles Harris. They're trying to reload as soon as possible, though, adding three defensive linemen from Scout's JUCO Top 100. If those guys are enough to at least provide a speed bump for opposing teams, Missouri has a reasonable shot at ending a two-year bowl drought.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Missouri's non-SEC games come against Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho and Connecticut, so the Tigers should at least match last year's win total regardless of what happens in conference play. They also host South Carolina and have winnable road games against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas.

    Projected Wins: 6.4

5. Texas Longhorns

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    Can Tom Herman revive Texas in his first season?
    Can Tom Herman revive Texas in his first season?Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 5-7

    Key Additions

    With the notable exceptions of 2,000-yard rusher D'Onta Foreman, QB Tyrone Swoopes and head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns bring back pretty much everyone from last season. That didn't stop them from adding one of the best JUCO transfers in the nationinside linebacker Gary Johnson. Nor did it prevent them from picking up six 4-star freshmen, including Toneil Carter Jr., who could immediately be a significant factor in the backfield.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Season-opening home games against Maryland and San Jose State should set the stage for a rebound from back-to-back five-win seasons. What new head coach Tom Herman needs to do is figure out how to take that show on the road. Texas has winnable games at Iowa State, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia, but it is just 2-8 away from home over the past two years. We're not asking for the Longhorns to win at USC, but they'll be headed for a bowl game if they can just beat two of those four Big 12 foes.

    Projected Wins: 8.0

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Can Notre Dame return to form by winning at least eight games under Brian Kelly?
    Can Notre Dame return to form by winning at least eight games under Brian Kelly?Mel Evans/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 4-8

    Key Additions

    Though the Fighting Irish didn't land any 5-star recruits, they are reloading in a big way with nine of Scout's Top 200 freshmen, including a pair of tight ends and four offensive linemen. The most noteworthy of the bunch is probably QB Avery Davis, who figures to challenge Brandon Wimbush for the starting gig with DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire both out of the picture.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    Per usual, Notre Dame's schedule is anything other than a walk in the park. Over the final six games of the season, it hosts USC and travels to Miami (FL) and Stanford. But there are five games (vs. Temple, at Boston College, vs. Miami OH, vs. Wake Forest, vs. Navy) that the Fighting Irish should win, as well as a few toss-ups (at Michigan State, at North Carolina, vs. N.C. State) that could go their way. Don't expect them to be in the CFP picture, but do expect a bowl game.

    Projected Wins: 7.2

3. UCLA Bruins

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    Getting Josh Rosen back behind center will be a huge boost for UCLA.
    Getting Josh Rosen back behind center will be a huge boost for UCLA.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 4-8

    Key Additions

    The Bruins get back the vast majority of their offensive weapons, including QB Josh Rosen returning from a shoulder injury that cost him the second half of the 2016 season. But they had a lot of defensive holes to plug. Signing the No. 1 defensive end (Jaelan Phillips) and No. 1 cornerback (Darnay Holmes) in this year's recruiting class is a fantastic start. In total, UCLA added six of Scout's top 300 playersall on defense.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    With road games against Washington, USC and Stanford, there's little to no chance of UCLA winning the Pac-12. But outside of those three doozies, the schedule is rather favorable. Nonconference games against Hawaii and Memphis will likely result in wins, as will the conference tilts against California, Arizona and Arizona State. How the Bruins fare at home against Texas A&M, Colorado and Oregon will determine whether this is a minor turnaround or a major one.

    Projected Wins: 7.5

2. Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon's most important addition might be new head coach Willie Taggart.
    Oregon's most important addition might be new head coach Willie Taggart.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 4-8

    Key Additions

    After getting repeatedly torched through the air in 2016, Oregon's primary offseason goal was to fix its secondary. The top three freshmen the Ducks signed are all cornerbacks, and they stole defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt away from Colorado. Oregon also signed head coach Willie Taggart, who turned around both Western Kentucky and South Florida almost overnight.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    With home games against Southern Utah, California, Arizona and Oregon State, it's a given that Oregon will at least match last year's win total. The Ducks just need to get a couple of the coin-flip games (vs. Nebraska, at Wyoming, at Arizona State, vs. Washington State, at UCLA, vs. Utah) to go their way. If all those defensive upgrades can get their average points allowed down to a more manageable number than 41.4, they should win most of those games.

    Projected Wins: 7.7

1. Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State needs a big junior year from LJ Scott.
    Michigan State needs a big junior year from LJ Scott.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    2016 Record: 3-9

    Key Additions

    In Malik McDowell, R.J. Shelton, Josiah Price and Tyler O'Connor, Michigan State is losing considerably more than it is gaining. But the Spartans do add four of Scout's top 300 recruits and still have another year of backfield duo LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. Whether they have a bounce-back year will come down to the QB battle. It appears to be Brian Lewerke's job to lose, but redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver might steal it.

    Difficulty of Schedule

    The home game against Penn State and the road games against Michigan and Ohio State are likely to result in losses, but the rest of the schedule screams "Bowl Eligible!" The Spartans host Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Indiana and Maryland and play one of their five road games against Rutgers. Factor in potential home wins over Notre Dame and Iowa and possible road wins over Minnesota and Northwestern, and it's unfathomable to dream up a scenario in which Michigan State fails to win at least four games.

    Projected Wins: 7.2

    Stats are courtesy of Sports ReferenceRecruiting information courtesy of Scout.com.

    Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.