As we covered in part 1, each college football season generally means some change. Though it may not always be drastic, there’s only a small percentage of teams that stay truly great or pathetically terrible. Otherwise teams generally fluctuate somewhere between great, good, decent, and poor. Some years you may jump 2-3 adjectives, some just 1, but very few teams stay the same. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to pinpoint teams that will drop off than it is to fine those that will rise up seeing as there’s only a limited supply of talent available at teams’ disposals and if you lose some of that talent without replacing it, it will be difficult to duplicate the results. In 2012 many teams you will see on this list are ones that will have to wave goodbye to a standout player or two that took them to levels they hadn’t been before or at least in a few years. Spoiler alert: teams like Alabama, Oregon, LSU, etc. that have dominated in recent years and continue to reload also won’t appear on this list despite the numerous talents they each lost after 2011. Like before, there is no order or ranking to the decline these teams will experience. It’s a simple ten team list. When I say “Due for a Fall” I simply mean that 2012 will not be as successful as 2011. Not that the program is going to fall off a cliff. Comments or feedback, feel free to leave it at the bottom down below or get at me on Twitter: @BDohertyTSHQ1.
As a follow up if you’re new to the website or just missed stuff prior, you can check out my post National Signing Day Top 25 by following any of the following links:
Also Part 1 of the offseason preview that preceded this one, 10 Teams on the Rise next year can be found below:
With that said, lets get to what we’ve been talking about from the beginning. Here’s 10 teams that will likely have a few less enjoyable Saturday’s this upcoming fall:
Oklahoma St Cowboys
The Cowboys were close in 2010 before an end of the season loss to Oklahoma at home kept them out of the BCS. Last year they redeemed themselves and overcame their arch nemesis in blowout fashion to win the Big 12 title. In fact they came within decimal places of playing LSU for the national championship game but ultimately a late season loss to Iowa St. hurt them too much to get them over the hump. However, a Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford made for a nice consolation prize for the Pokes. Nonetheless, the Cowboys will look to defend their conference championship without the bread and butter of their team last year, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Weeden couldn’t quite extend his playing career to 30 without graduating and Justin Blackmon understood the real world concept of finance and left for the NFL, leaving the Cowboys without the pitch and catch combo that accounted for 18 TDs and over 1500 yards on their connections last season. Not to be overlooked is the lost of 3 offensive linemen including two all-conference as well as two of their other top 4 wide receivers. Though the defense is bringing quite a bit back, the Cowboys opportunistic defense certainly wasn’t what won the Big 12 for them last season and it won’t carry them if the offense isn’t very strong again in 2012. Right now there’s a three-way race for the QB spot with redshirt junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W Walsh expected to be the leaders heading into spring. Chelf has been labeled more of a running quaterback who sometimes throws while Walsh was rated as one of the top dual-threat QBs in the country with an accurate arm. Nonetheless Chelf is the only QB the Cowboys have who has even marginal experience. Expect Joseph Randle to get a ton of work coming off his great 2012 season and help break in whoever the starter is. With West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, and possibly even Texas (though a little bit of a long shot) in the mix for the conference title, it’s very hard for me to envision them being a top 10 team again, let alone competing for a Big 12 title and BCS bowl bid.
Boise St. Broncos
With TCU’s departure from the Mountain West conference and few other programs to feel great about, it’s not a bold expectation that Boise St. will again be the favorite in the conference heading into next season. With that said, the likelihood of Boise St. being a BCS bowl contender and top 10 caliber team as they were the past few seasons seems all about extinguished. Chris Petersen will get a chance to back up his reputation as arguably the best non-AQ coach in America as he has the challenge of replacing the sport’s all-time wins leader in Kellan Moore, a QB who depending on who you talk to is a debated but undeniably effective leader. Doug Martin, the team’s leading rusher with 1300 yards and 16 TDs is gone. Tyler Shoemaker, the team’s leading receiver with just under 1000 yards and 16TDs has departed. Add in a few more offensive pieces and a defense that was gutted by graduation, returning only a few starters and Petersen has his hands full. The Broncos will turn to Joe Southwick most likely at QB, a junior who has attempted 54 passes in his first two years in Boise and only has the simple task of following in Moore’s shoes. The blueprint (see what I did there?) for success remains the same for the Broncos, as the defense will likely be a key to their chance at immediate success. Schedule-wise, things aren’t as tough as they have been in recent years. The opener at Michigan St. will represent their toughest challenge on the season though non-league games vs BYU, Miami OH and Southern Miss also aren’t games to ignore. Depending how quick the Broncos D regroups, this is a team in the league they’re in that could win probably 10, mayyyyyybe 11 games if they catch a break. But regardless of record, this isn’t the quality of team they’ve had in recent years and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Everyone who has read my college football stuff the last two years knows I think Stanford was overrated most of the past two years as it was. Despite the fantastic talents of Andrew Luck, I haven’t thought much of the PAC-12 the last two years and a win over Virginia Tech in the 2010-2011 Orange Bowl didn’t do much to sway my opinion. Add in the fact that Stanford got thumped by the other perennial contender in their division each of the past couple seasons and there’s very little to point to that will alter my judgment. With that said, regardless of whether you believe they were a true top 5 team or not, nobody will deny the hit they take this upcoming season from Luck’s graduation. The Cardinal program which hadn’t won 10+ games since 1992 reached double figure wins the last two years under Luck as well as two BCS bowls. Now with his departure, the team begins a new era. Joining Luck on the way out the door is TE Coby Fleener who was one of Luck’s safety nets a year ago and led the team with 10 TD catches. In whole the team loses its top 3 pass catchers and two offensive linemen. Defensively they’ll bring back the bulk of a 2011 defense that ranked 26th in the country and 3rd against the run. For Stanford in 2012, Stepfan Taylor, an all-conference back a year ago has to take on the extra weight necessary to carry the offense. While his numbers a year ago were solid across the board, even with an elite offensive line unit, it will be intriguing to see how the offensive gameplan is tweaked for him to adjust to no longer having an elite passing threat under center. Redshirt sophomore Brett Nottingham and redshirt junior Josh Nunes have spent the early part of practice splitting reps with the first team and the two tall, strong-armed QBs are surely to compete throughout the summer for the replacement gig. In either case, the experience of both will be challenged early on in the season. For the Cardinal, road trips to Cal, Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon will show their mental toughness away from home. The home schedule is overall pretty favorable though they will be paid a visit from the USC Trojans. The thinking is they’ll stay as the #2 power in the PAC-12 north, but a BCS bowl and top 10 ranking being repeated seems like a long shot.
The least shocking inclusion on this list resides with one of the biggest surprises in college football in 2011 so naturally they go hand in hand. In 2010 Houston limped to a 5-7 record and missed a bowl after starter Case Keenum was injured early in the season. Simply getting him back on the field last year proved to be enough as Houston stormed out to a 12-0 record before losing one game shy of a would-be BCS berth to Southern Miss in the league title game. For their efforts they were downgraded to the Ticket City bowl where they demoralized an already depressed Penn St. program with a thumping. Then to follow up the season all they had to do was wave goodbye to Case Keenum who rewrote most of the offensive record books in his time at Houston, leading receiver Patrick Edwards and his 1752 receiving yards along with 20 TDs and head coach Kevin Sumlin who took the Texas A&M job. With the pending move to the Big East in 2013, it will be interesting to see how the final year in Conference USA goes for Houston. Tony Levine will have his work cut out for him quite a bit in 2012 looking to replace the key cogs to an offensive juggernaut and one of the most successful seasons in recent memory for the program. They’ll deal with the loss of 6 offensive starters and 4 defense starters as a whole, but without question it comes back to the same thing it did 2 years ago for this team in my opinion. They could return 10 offensive starters and 11 defensive starters from last year’s team. If that one missing starter is Case Keenum, there’s going to be a drop off. Keenum put Houston back on the map last year. His departure will most likely take them back off it in 2012.
I was optimistic about the Bearcats last year due to the large returning starter numbers they had but even I wasn’t anticipating 10 wins and a co-conference title. In fact if Zach Collaros doesn’t break his ankle late in the season and miss a few key Big East games, the Bearcats are probably the Big East champs last year and Clemson probably doesn’t get 70 points dropped on its head. But hey, who didn’t enjoy that game right? The production of RB Isaiah Pead will be missed tremendously by a team that was only 76th in the nation passing the ball a season ago. Pead who rushed for over 1200 yards and 12 TDs on the season saved his strongest showings for the team’s biggest games. Pead went over the century mark 6 times a year ago against Tennessee, NC State, Louisville, Pitt, West Virginia and in their bowl win over Vanderbilt. In whole the Bearcats were wiped out offensively with the loss of 7 offensive starters from the nation’s #57 attack. Defensively the Bearcats had everyone back last year but got mixed results on that side of the ball with a stout 6th ranked rush defense and anemic 91st ranked pass D. With 7 defensive starters back in 2012, one would expect things that again be manageable for the Bearcats but the majority of their losses come up front with Derek Wolfe and John Hughes departing from the defensive line. The non-conference schedule should prove challenging in 2012 with trips to Virginia Tech and Toledo, although Toledo has a pretty large turnover. In league play they’ll get Rutgers, USF and Pitt at home with Louisville on the road being the big challenge. The Big East lacks a truly great team in 2012, but double-digit wins seems like a stretch for a team that has lost this much. I’d put them at a 7-8 win ceiling.
I had Baylor in the teens even if Robert Griffin III came back to school in 2012. With his departure for the NFL, I can’t fathom anyone putting this team in their preseason top 25. Robert Griffin was not only the Heisman Trophy winner a year ago but also one of the most valuable players in the country to his team. Baylor might not even make a bowl game without Griffin III last year. Instead they become a second tier Big 12 team looking to replace an enormous amount of offensive productivity. While Griffin’s role is the biggest key, the losses of both Terrance Ganaway and Kendall Wright aren’t simplistic either. Ganaway flourished last year in Baylor’s high-powered offense and ate teams up on the ground who overplayed the passing game, rushing for over 1500 yards and accounting for 22 total TDs. The way he treated Washington’s defense in the Alamo Bowl (well, same could be said for most players on both teams’ offense) should have been criminal. Then you add in Kendall Wright, 1663 yards receiving and 14 TDs, and Art Briles has a lot to replace. He’ll turn to Nick Florence, the senior backup QB of a year ago to keep their offense on an elite level. While the losses of Ganaway and Wright are huge, Florence will have the bulk of the receiving core back in 2012 to work with as well as 3 starting offensive linemen. Defensively we all know about the mess Baylor was. Pin-pointing the deficiencies on the 2011 Baylor defense would be similar to pointing out the character flaws of Hitler. They couldn’t stop teams on the ground. They couldn’t stop teams through the air. They gave up games of: 48, 31, 36, 55, 59, 39, 38, 42 and 56 points. While the Big 12 has long lent itself to high-scoring shootouts, Baylor essentially elected to play one side of the ball and it showed. Baylor will still be able to score points in 2012, but they don’t have the offensive talent to overcome those type of defensive numbers. With road trips to Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma as well as games against likely top 25 teams TCU, Oklahoma St (maybe not though) and Kansas St. at home, Baylor in my opinion starts out at best 7th on the totem pole in the Big 12. Given what they accomplished last year, it would take a magnificent coaching job from Art Briles to come close to approaching that.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Like their counterparts that they knocked off in the CUSA title game, Southern Miss had a season in 2011 that put them in a BCS-busting position until a late season inexcusable to 3-9 UAB took them out of any conversation. However, they showed why they reached the level they did in thumping Houston in the CUSA title game that wasn’t even as close as the blowout final score indicated. Southern Miss stomped on Houston’s throats early and never took their foot off, shredding a weak Houston defense and rattling their prolific offense. Naturally beyond any personnel, the Golden Eagles will be forced to overcome the loss of head coach Larry Fedora who left to revive a UNC Tar Heels program that came under NCAA scrutiny under Butch Davis. Fedora, in his first major college head coaching gig took Southern Miss to a bowl game all 4 years on the job and matched or exceeded his win total from the prior year each year, culminating in their 12-win season last year. I learned from last year in my praise of Miami, OH just how much a coach can mean to a Non-AQ program and Fedora’s departure I believe will impact them more than any personnel turnover. With that said, Southern Miss does lose QB Austin Davis who accounted for 34 total TDs as well as their top 2 WRs from a year ago. Senior Tracey Lampley will carry the bulk of the offensive load next year as they look to follow up their division title. Defensively they will have to replace essentially half of the defense from a team that was pretty solid across the board a year ago. Another major reason for the likely decline from Southern Miss this year is simply the non-conference schedule. A year ago Virginia represented the toughest non-league game, yet in 2012 the Golden Eagles travel to Nebraska and have Louisville and Boise St. coming to pay them a visit giving them a grueling non-league schedule. Even in league play they’ll travel to UCF and SMU. The division still isn’t strong and as such they could still contend for a division title, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t lose 4+ games.
Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio has done a remarkable job building Michigan State up into a Big Ten heavyweight the last two years, even playing for the conference title game last year. However it’s hard to imagine the Spartans will be able to follow up the last two years with what they face. With Brady Hoke building Michigan back into a national power and the Cornhuskers having the bulk of their talent back from a year ago, Sparty will be looking at an uphill climb to maintain their level of play from the last two years. After winning 11 games last year including a big Outback Bowl win over Georgia, Michigan State has to wave goodbye to its senior QB Kirk Cousins, the winningest QB in program history as well as just about every single meaningful pass catcher from last season. Edwin Baker’s early departure also came as somewhat of a surprise, but with Le’Veon Bell still in school, that loss isn’t as traumatic to Michigan State. It will be an uphill battle to find the offensive parts to replace all that is lost but going in Michigan State’s favor will be one of the two defenses in the league in 2012. The Spartans bring back an uncanny 5 all-conference performers from last year’s defense that essentially dominated every defensive aspect of the Big Ten. The question becomes will there defense be enough to overcome a spotty at best offense? Road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin in back to back weeks with home games against Iowa and Nebraska sandwiched around those make for a brutal 4-game stretch. Ohio St. in cross-division play as well as Notre Dame in the non-conference schedule makes up one very difficult schedule for the Spartans in 2011. As has been stated with most of the coaches on this list, Mark Dantonio needs to have some tricks up his sleeve if the Spartans are going to get back to a Big Ten title game.
The long history of Temple Owls football hasn’t always been pretty. With only four bowl games in their history and gaps of 45 and 30 years accompanying those few bowl games, the Owls program has reached perhaps the height of its existence with two bowl games in the past three seasons. In fact 2010 was a case of simply being passed over at 8-4. The Owls were able to make a great hire after 2010, bringing in Steve Addazio from Florida to replace the departing Al Golden who had taken the Miami job and in his first year delivered on their faith. Temple finished the season 9-4 with a dominant win over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, their first bowl win since 1979. While things were looking up, 2012 will make it awfully hard to duplicate 9 wins. The Owls will have one of the lowest returning starter totals in all of America with simply 2 offensive starters returning and 5 defensive. The senior presence on the team last year proved immensely important and the biggest question is how do they replace all of that in one offseason. The Temple offense which essentially ignored the pass at all costs loses 4 starting offensive linemen from an extremely experienced line as well as leading rusher Benard Pierce who went for close to 1500 yards last year and ran for an astonishing 27 TDs on the ground. Despite the 7th ranked rushing attack in the country, Temple was only 59th in the country in total offense showing that even with a strong rushing game, it wasn’t dominant to the point it made them an elite offense. How they replace all that production and experience from a year ago is the team’s single biggest question. With half the starters gone from the nation’s 13th ranked defense in 2011, Temple will find its defense will be more important than ever in keeping them competitive as they return to the Big East for the first time since 2004 when they were kicked out for poor attendance, lack of competitiveness and plain failure to commit to the football program. Temple is in good hands with Addazio, however despite the Big East not possessing many heavyweights next year, Temple should still likely find itself in for a rebuilding year with 2013 perhaps a chance to get back on the upswing.
Penn State Nittany Lions
2012 was going to be tough for Penn St. under any circumstances. Given the magnitude of scrutiny they came under in light of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that stunned the nation both in and out of sports, Penn St. was looking at their first season without Joe Paterno on the sideline. With the sudden passing of Paterno, the decision to not give Tom Bradley the head coaching gig (which I disagreed and still do with) in order to hire Bill O’Brien from the New England Patriots, as well as the mass defect their recruiting class took, Penn St. has a lot to overcome. The notion that they should be focusing less on football and more on rebuilding their image also won’t help their cause in 2012. The team that was in contention for the Big Ten Leaders division title last year never really recovered from the scandal news breaking and it showed on the field as they limped down the stretch, including an ugly blowout loss to Wisconsin in a winner-take-all game. In 2012 the Nittany Lions will have to deal with the loss of 6 defensive starters from a defense that was the backbone of the Nittany Lions in 2011 and often had to overcome the deficiencies of a subpar offense. Tom Bradley, the long-time assistant and defensive coordinator to Joe Paterno who took over as interim coach after Paterno was fired also won’t be with the team in 2012, electing to resign after he wasn’t given the head coaching gig. Offensively Silas Redd returns as one of the few bright spots from the offense a year ago but won’t have the services of 4 offensive linemen from a year ago in front of him and with the ongoing saga that has been the Penn St. passing game, won’t get much help there either in all likelihood. A tough road slate with trips to Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Virginia is only half of the problem as the Nittany Lions will also be paid a visit from Ohio St, Wisconsin and Northwestern. With very few cupcake games on the schedule for Penn St., it’s nearly impossible to foresee them coming close to the 9 wins and division title contention type season they had a year ago. For most of the college football world however, they probably want Penn St to worry about other more important things.