Keeping The Streak Alive – College Football Edition

Derek Worley
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Going back to the year 2012 where quarterback Matt Barkley was still in college, there’s been a team every season that starts inside the top 10, finding itself in unranked territory by seasons’ end. That year, his USC Trojans started as the #1 ranked team by the Associated Press (AP), only to find themselves out of the top 25 completely by week 12.

On the flip side, an unranked team at the start of the season has finished inside the top 10 every year of the past decade except for 2016 when the Nebraska Cornhuskers got as high as #8 but finished in the top 20.

The BYU Cougars comes to mind from last season as they started unranked and made that exact climb into the top 10. Though they never received the love from the College Football Playoff Committee, this was just one of the many times it has happened. The 2016 Penn State squad was one of the most notable teams to follow suit with the rise up the boards.

In this piece, we’ll visit these repeating trends as I try to pinpoint the teams destined for failure, as well as address some teams I see ascending throughout the season. Let’s jump right in.

The Hard Faller

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish actually slid in at #9 for the AP preseason rankings. I had them outside the top 10 in my personal rankings and feel like they’ll be the ones to continue the trend. Nothing against them as they are indeed one of the better teams in the country, but that schedule is absolutely brutal. Plus, replacing Ian Book with the less mobile and more pro-style Jack Coan, may hurt them on third downs as Book was able to use his legs and escape to extend the drive.

They start with the Florida State Seminoles which could be a real trap game in Tallahassee. With McKenzie Milton, the Noles could unleash a bunch of unforeseen plays and put the Irish in a hole. They will be able to see what worked against the former Cincinnati Bearcats defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman, when he was there and game plan against it.

Their schedule also features this five-game stretch from September 25th to October 30th with games against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and then North Carolina. Notre Dame schedules these games years in advance and it just so happens that they have to play four top 15 teams in a six-week span. It’s reminiscent of the days of NCAA Football dynasty mode where you would custom create the toughest schedule… but in real life.

As it sits currently, I don’t see them getting a win against anyone except Virginia Tech in that span. Obviously, as they get on the field and get into a game rhythm, maybe they can alter my beliefs but I just don’t see it as we sit here today. If they can run through that span and drop only one game, it’ll be a miracle.

Maybe Coan and Freeman can kick it into high gear against their former teams, Wisconsin and Cincinnati respectively, to steal some games.

Likely To Fall

Iowa State Cyclones

The depth on offense is where I have a lot of concern as Breece Hall was ran into the ground last season. Kene Nwangwu is no longer in Ames, which means the next highest carry total last season by a running back was only 13. Even though Hall put up incredible numbers en route to becoming a Doak Walker Award finalist, that wear-and-tear on those tires could come back to haunt them.

Hopefully he and Brock Purdy can stay healthy but I just fear they’re one injury from being top 10, to unranked. Tight end Charlie Kolar and wideout Xavier Hutchinson are good but I just feel like something is missing. It has to be a Big 12 title or bust mindset for the Cyclones with all that success from last year. With some of the teams they play in conference and even out of it, I just can’t see a repeat.

Let’s not forget that the Cyclones welcome in their rival, the #18 Iowa Hawkeyes, in week two. The Hawkeyes were the #1 defense in the country in yards per play last season and were fifth best with 2.84 yards allowed per rush. Iowa State will be in a real dogfight if they can’t get the ground game going against Iowa, and a Week 2 setback could put a massive wrench in their season.

Though they were able to recover last season following an embarrassing Week 1 loss to Louisiana, I don’t think they can flirt with disaster twice.

Borderline Pick

Texas A&M Aggies

The SEC West is the most competitive place in college football. A&M got fortunate with the draw of Missouri and South Carolina from the eastern division but if they slip against some of the non-powerhouses, they’ll be in trouble. The LSU Tigers got better as the season progressed and Ole Miss will be on the rise. A&M could be a potentially 11-1 football team or 7-5, and that’s why they’re so hard to pick.

Haynes King will do his best to replace Kellen Mond as the quarterback but it may take time to make his mark. The ideal situation would be that the highly athletic King comes in and has a Johnny Manziel type effect to spark the team with his playmaking ability. He’s great at moving the pocket and throwing on the run but this style of play would become even more effective if running back Isaiah Spiller was able to produce early and often on the ground.

Either way, the Aggie defense has plenty of star power to get the ball back. They’re fast and physical enough to compete if not always forced back onto the field from offensive mishaps. The bottom line, this team should be entertaining to watch as I see them playing in a ton of close games, hence the borderline prediction.

 

Comfortable Pick To Rise

TCU Horned Frogs

I’ve been over the moon about the potential of this team, especially on the ground. Back in February, I talked about how they had three freshman running backs all average above 5.9 yards per carry. Throw that stat line in with quarterback Max Duggan who has progressed as a thrower and a runner, and that is why this team is going to be great on offense.

The schedule sets up nicely with both FCS Duquesne and then California at home before a bye in Week 3. They also get to host Texas and avoid heading to the renovated DKR Texas Memorial Stadium. The only game I have them losing is in Norman against Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be challenged.

Risky Riser Selection

SMU Mustangs

Heading just down the road from Fort Worth where the Horned Frogs are, we find SMU in Dallas. Remember when I said TCU was going to be challenged? SMU will be one of the teams to do so, and honestly, this game should springboard the winner.

If the Mustangs can get past TCU, Cincinnati should be the only team that could slow them down. Their offense will be on a different level with Reggie Roberson Jr. returning on the outside. Also add that is Grant Calcaterra coming out of retirement, catching passes from his former teammate in Norman, Tanner Mordecai. The defense will be middle of the road but in the race to 50, they should be able to come out on top against everyone in the AAC.

The Sleeping Giant

Ole Miss Rebels

This pick, which has all the makings to explode, is the Rebels. It’s hard not to see the writing on the wall as Lane Kiffin is building a program in Oxford. Recruits are starting to flock to him and the show on the field is only going to get greater. The offense was all about hitting the home run last season, it seemed but if quarterback Matt Corral can cut out the mistakes then strap yourselves in.

This team went for 555.5 yards per game last season, placing them third best in the whole country. The lackluster performance of their defense was what led to an underwhelming 5-5 record with that incredible offense. I foresee this defense getting better and the Rebels being a tough out for everyone to include Alabama.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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