College Football Teams with the Most Turnaround Potential Next Season
From the excitement of recruiting and potential breakout stars to spring practice and new depth charts, the college football offseason is loaded with optimism.
Did your favorite team struggle in 2019? Don't worry: 2020 will be different!
Well, that's the hope at least. Hopeful expectations will inevitably go unmet, but a couple handfuls of programs that had a frustrating 2019 have a legitimately promising outlook for 2020. We're focused on teams that finished with a winning percentage no higher than .500 during the 2019 regular season. (Bowl season may have provided a seventh win.)
Returning production, impact newcomers and seemingly favorable schedules all contributed to the choices.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2019 record: 3-9 (2-6 ACC)
Geoff Collins' first season at Georgia Tech had a minimal chance of producing a positive record. In shifting from a triple-option offense to a spread attack, the Yellow Jackets faced an exceptionally challenging transition and mustered only 16.7 points per game.
But now it's time to compete in the ACC.
The schedule is tough, considering both Notre Dame and Georgia are on the docket. The Jackets will also host Clemson in crossover play. It's totally plausible that a much-improved Georgia Tech team could finish shy of a bowl game.
However, the Jackets only lost a handful of starters and are situated in the ever-unpredictable Coastal Division. On that combination alone, ruling out an ascent to six wins seems foolish.
2019 record: 4-8 (2-6 AAC)
Can the defense merely be better than stunningly bad?
Experience doesn't always translate to progression, but Houston leaned heavily on underclassmen in 2019. If a full offseason of growth helps as anticipated, the defense can complement a promising offense.
Clayton Tune tallied 8.6 yards per pass attempt last year, and the Cougs return a dynamic receiver in Marquez Stevenson along with a few rising juniors.
Houston should climb back to bowl eligibility in 2020.
2019 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
If there was a creative way to lose, the Miami Hurricanes found it in 2019.
Disastrous offense, last-minute defensive lapses and missed kicks all contributed to a nightmare of a season. Despite having the 12th-best defense in the nation, Miami trudged to 6-7 with preposterous losses to Georgia Tech and Florida International, among others.
But the 'Canes are winning the offseason again.
Although they're retooling on defense, Manny Diaz has consistently put together a top-tier defense both as a coordinator and coach. If the revamped offense—led by new coordinator Rhett Lashlee and quarterback D'Eriq King—makes Miami even an average scoring attack, The U could win the Coastal.
Yes, the trouble is football fans and analysts alike say the same thing every offseason. We'll need to see it to believe it.
2019 record: 5-7 (3-6 Big Ten)
Scott Frost had better win early, because the final portion of the 2020 schedule is downright spooky.
Beginning on Halloween at Ohio State, Nebraska enters a five-game stretch that includes Penn State, at Iowa, at Wisconsin and home to Minnesota. If the Huskers manage a 2-3 record, that's a reasonably solid ending to a challenging slate.
Before then, though, Nebraska plays five of seven games at home with the toughest opponents being Purdue, Cincinnati, (at) Northwestern and Illinois. As long as quarterback Adrian Martinez is healthy, the path to a 5-2 record is apparent.
A 7-5 finish should be considered a positive step in Lincoln.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2019 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
North Carolina lost six games in Mack Brown's return, but the largest margin was only seven points. And while the late-season competition level wasn't extraordinary, the Heels averaged a 40.7-point margin of victory against Mercer, NC State and Temple. That doesn't happen on accident.
This offense, led by quarterback Sam Howell and two 1,000-yard receivers, could be outstanding. The defense lost a few valuable seniors, but most of the linebacker corps and secondary returns.
Brown might have a Coastal winner in Chapel Hill.
The issue will be navigating a front-loaded schedule. Although the division isn't great, it's consistently weird. And playing each of Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke and Miami before November leaves UNC with a small margin for error.
2019 record: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten)
Last season, Purdue battled a revolving door at quarterback while missing All-American playmaker Rondale Moore for its final eight games. The result, rather predictably, was an inconsistent offense.
OK, everyone, stay healthy in 2020?
If that happens—and that's a major if, for sure—the Boilers have reason for optimism. They played a massive group of freshmen in 2019, including 1,000-yard receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis, who amassed 17 tackles for loss.
Plus, Purdue avoids Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State in crossover play. The Boilers shouldn't be counted out as a West Division contender.
Group of 5 Teams to Watch
East Carolina Pirates (4-8, 1-7 AAC)
In the latter half of 2019, ECU scored 32.8 points per game. Pretty good! The issue was allowing 44 per game during that stretch. Nevertheless, nearly all of the offensive skill-position players are back. There are far worse foundations than a potential top-35 offense. So, can the defense be something better than dreadful?
Old Dominion Monarchs (1-11, 0-8 C-USA)
Hard to get worse, right? Old Dominion ranked no higher than 122nd in points per game, yards per play, yards per game and third-down conversions. Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne is now in charge, and some fresh ideas theoretically will help. Besides, improve even a little, and this defense could sneak out a few victories. The Monarchs finished 66th in yards allowed per play and returns a strong majority of the group.
Rice Owls (3-9, 3-5 C-USA)
Mike Bloomgren headed to Rice after the program trudged to a 1-11 in 2017. The program has since finished 2-11 and 3-9, but Rice ended 2019 on a three-game winning streak. Was that the turning point? The offense needs to settle on a quarterback, but the defense hardly lost any contributors. Rice has a shot to reach six wins for the first time in six years.
Toledo Rockets (6-6, 3-5 MAC)
This is an important year for Jason Candle, who celebrated 21 wins in Toledo's first 28 games after Matt Campbell's departure. Over the last two seasons, though, the Rockets are 13-12. However, they return a fair amount of production on both sides of the ball and consistently sign the MAC's top-rated recruiting class. Given the talent advantage on the roster, Toledo is worth monitoring.