by Bryan Doherty
It’s a yearly occurrence honestly. Every year there winds up being one or two teams that are penciled into everyone’s top 15 teams in the country and wind up falling flat. In 2012 those two teams were Southern California and Arkansas. The Hogs were a a train wreck all of 2012 and I as much as anyone tripped over their roster and specifically talent on offense. Between Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis and Cobi Hamilton I paid no attention to offensive line woes that didn’t slow their success in 2010 or 2011. Ultimately the team fell apart under the guidance of John L. Smith and I shared the misery of many college football writers around the country rubbing the egg off of my face. Still while Arkansas may have been the biggest flop of all the top 10 preseason teams, another team gladly took the attention away from them by December and that was Southern Cal.
The Trojans were a trendy national championship pick going into the season given their finish to the 2011 season and their dynamic talent at quarterback and wide receiver. As the season got closer and closer my faith in USC waned and ultimately I figured they’d lose a few games and not win the PAC-12, giving the nod to Oregon instead. While 7-6 was unimaginable for even the most detailed of prognosticators, the signs USC wasn’t nearly as good as their ranking were there from day one. The Trojans secondary that had been mediocre all of 2011 was back and Silas Redd was the lone answer to carry a pedestrian run game. If the passing game had an off game this team was vulnerable and as we came to learn the defense was so poor that even when Matt Barkley and co. played well, it wasn’t always enough.
While the 2013 off season coverage will expand and be more in-depth going forward, I felt this would be a worthy topic to scratch the surface with as the rest of the website preps you for the NFL draft. Three teams were identified as candidates for high rankings in 2013 that may wind up meeting a fraction of their off season expectations (in no order):
*Returning Starter figures used from Phil Steele’s Blog
Why The Gators Could Live Up To Their Ranking:
The Gators defense, even in 2011 when the team limped to a mediocre season, was stout and few things figure to change in 2013 for Will Muschamp’s unit. The Gators finished the 2012 season number five in the nation in total defense but it will be the Sugar Bowl performance against Louisville that everyone remembers. The Gators won ugly more often than not in 2012 but by season’s end had the best collection of wins of any team in America with wins over Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. They only return five starters on defense but 13 of their 22 recruits in 2012 came on the defensive side of the ball with seven rating as four stars or better. The 2013 class already has eight signed recruits with five on the defensive side of the ball including three linebackers rated as four star or better and five-star linebacker Alex Anzalone. The Gators are deep on the defensive side of the ball and as is the case with many SEC defenses, while the losses always sting, the carryover from year to year almost always guarantees a solid defense and the Gators defensive 11 will keep them strong next season.
Why The Gators Could Wind Up Disappointing:
The 2012 schedule set up nicely for the Gators. Texas A&M was the only respectable opponent of the first four and after a very tough LSU game they got a solid but not great Vanderbilt team. In fact the only stretch of the season where they had two difficult games back to back was Georgia and South Carolina and they wound up losing the Georgia game. The first half of the year isn’t too bad at all for Florida with only a Miami, FL team who should be improved on the road. However once mid-October hits the schedule picks up tenfold. They start with back to back road games at LSU and Missouri and while Missouri has a ways to go to become an SEC East threat, a road game there after a game in Death Valley could spell letdown.
After a bye, three of their final five come against Georgia, South Carolina on the road in a game the Gamecocks must be hungry to avenge 2012 and then Florida State at home. That stretch over the final seven games could easily spell three losses. The Gators offense that struggled all of 2012 and saw Jeff Driskel fail to do much of anything in the Sugar Bowl loses top back Mike Gillislee as well as three of their top four pass catchers. If the Gators offense was pedestrian last year and has significant holes to plug in 2013, the Gators will need a major progression from Driskel this year or the defense will be left to prevent and provide points for the Gators to succeed.
Why The Cardinals Could Live Up To Their Ranking:
Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. As in the Louisville Cardinals don’t play much of one in 2013. In fact when I graded out all the BCS league non-conference schedules earlier this offseason, I graded it as one of the worst out there. Once in league play the Cardinals don’t have it much tougher as the league welcomes in very few teams that figure to challenge them for a league crown and one of the toughest, Boise State, won’t even wind up on their schedule. The Cardinals have one difficult road game in league play at Cincinnati and otherwise get UCF, Rutgers and Houston at home. Another factor that will lead to the high expectations for the Cardinals is the return of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The junior quarterback was known throughout the circles of loyal college football followers well before his Sugar Bowl performance . However it was during that game his stardom nationally rose to new heights when he carved up a Gators defense that had been one of the best in the nation all season. With an elite passer coming back with playmaker Devante Parker on the outside (44 catches, 744 yards, 10 scores in ’12) and a defense that brings back nine starters including 3/4′s of a secondary that ranked 16th in the nation a year ago, there’s enough talent in Louisville to get results. Add in Charlie Strong’s first two years on the job which leave little doubt he’s becoming (if not already) an elite coach and there’s no way the Cardinals disappoint in 2013, right?
Why The Cardinals Could Wind Up Disappointing:
Louisville reminds me more of 2012 USC more than either of the other teams on this list. When you look at 2011 USC and 2012 Louisville you see the same story. In 2011 the USC Trojans had a relatively underwhelming resume’, losing to Stanford and getting blown out by Arizona State and not beating anyone until Oregon. Then late in the season USC for one week put together a great week and knocked off the Ducks in Eugene. Come the offseason everyone looked at the passing attack and referenced the big win in Eugene to “send them off strong into the offseason” while ignoring glaring issues in the secondary and at running back. Come 2012 those issues reared their head as the defense was atrocious and the running game rarely complemented the passing game enough. As a result the team struggled and didn’t approach their high expectations.
Louisville’s 2012 resume’ is very similar to USC’s. Of course everyone remembers the blowout of Florida in the Sugar Bowl which will be the talk of the offseason but prior to that it was very marginal for a team supposedly primed to become elite. You had a blowout loss to a decent, but not great Syracuse team and a loss to UConn. On top of that was a survival win over UNC, a narrow victory over FIU, as well as a less than dominant victory over Southern Miss. Two essentially coin flip wins over Cincy and Rutgers and you have a team who played a LOT of close games against less than elite competition. Thanks to Matt Smith at College Football News, I was also informed Louisville was one of the top teams in terms of fumble recovery rate. How many one-score games can a team count on winning as well as having that much luck in terms of fumbles?
Why The Bulldogs Could Live Up To Their Ranking:
Obviously the majority of the talk surrounding the Bulldogs going into 2013 will center around one of the most talented offenses in college football. Aaron Murray elected to not go pro and return for his senior season which was a huge boost for a program at which he already holds numerous career records. On top of that the backfield has freshman phenoms Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall back to give Georgia one of the top backfields in the country. All five offensive linemen are back as well as the majority of their receiving unit which loses Tavarres King but otherwise doesn’t take many lumps. In a league that preaches defense and running the football, Georgia showed last year that being able to throw the ball can pay off at times as well. In a division with South Carolina and Florida serving as the primary competition for a spot in Atlanta, both offenses won’t have nearly the potency to score with Georgia and so both teams will need a repeat defensive performance from 2012 to have a chance against the Dogs.
Why The Bulldogs Could Wind Up Disappointing:
One of the more obvious reasons is the overhaul on defense that left the Bulldogs forced to replace eight starters from a year ago. While the defense as a whole ranked 32nd in the nation (in large part to a 7th ranked secondary), the run defense was poor throughout the season. How Georgia replaces those personnel losses could determine whether this is a national title contender or simply a team that looks forward to a January 1st bowl as a fifth-sixth slotted SEC team. However one glaring issue that can’t be overlooked in 2013 is the Bulldogs schedule. Georgia opens the season with Clemson on the road in Death Valley, a stadium the Tigers under Dabo Swinney have been near lights out in with a 24-4 record since Dabo took over full-time in 2009. A week after that they get the South Carolina Gamecocks at home, a team who throttled them last year and could be considered the SEC East favorites. After facing the high powered offense of Clemson, how do they adjust to the relentless defense of South Carolina? As if that wasn’t enough they get LSU in town before the month of September ends. It’s not crazy to think by the end of the first month of the season the Bulldogs could be out of the national title race. Road games at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Georgia Tech also sit on the schedule, all the while having the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Florida being thrown in. Georgia’s benefited from a favorable schedule the last two years but in 2013 they’ll have to earn it.
We’ll get cracking on the 2013 preseason Top 25 in a week or so after recruiting classes have been solidified once and for all.