17 Offseason Questions For ’17: No. 16
What big teams from 2016 are going to tumble in 2017?
17 for ’17 Offseason Questions
17. Who Are The Sleeper Conference Contenders?
No. 16: What big-name teams from 2016 will disappoint in 2017?
Last year at this exact time, what if I told you Michigan State – after winning the Big Ten title and going to the College Football Playoff – was going to finish 3-9?
What if you were told Notre Dame – who was a loss to Stanford away from probably going to the CFP – was going to be 4-8? Or what if someone said Oregon – just two years after playing for the national title – was going to finish with just four wins?
There are always going to be bad years, big clunkers, and teams that can’t find the right chemistry. Maybe – like Arizona and UCLA – injuries turn out to be a disaster, sometimes the schedules are nasty, and sometimes, the team just doesn’t have it.
Who’s in danger or being the Ducks, Spartans or Fighting Irish of this year? These teams in each conference aren’t guaranteed of tumbling, but the conditions are right to be extremely disappointing.
American Athletic: Temple Owls
There are rebuilding jobs, and there are gut jobs – Temple has to completely overhaul everything after winning the American Athletic Conference championship.
Head coach Matt Rhule is gone to Baylor, and way too many star defensive players are gone after lose almost all of the top tacklers and players, while RB Jahad Thomas and QB Phillip Walker are done, too.
The Owls might get Houston, Army and UCF at home, but they have to go to South Florida, Cincinnati and Tulsa. After all of last year’s fun, it might be a fight just to get bowl eligible.
ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
After a massive first season under Justin Fuente, Year Two might need a little work.
Schedule-wise, the Hokies have to deal with West Virginia, get Clemson from the Atlantic, and need to go to Boston College, Miami and Georgia Tech, and get the rivalry game at Virginia to close out the regular season. At home, dealing with North Carolina, Duke and Pitt isn’t easy.
Losing QB Jerod Evans early to the NFL stinks. Losing star targets Isaiah Ford and TE Bucky Hodges stinks. Losing most of the defensive front four stinks.
Most of all, though. Taking a step back in an improving ACC really stinks.
Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines
You can’t just lose that much talent and be better.
The Wolverines have a ton of young talent, they have a NFL-potential quarterback in Wilton Speight, and they have the coaching staff to make sure that things don’t fall totally off the map. But when the goal now is to win something big – like a College Football Playoff national title – going 10-3 again would be a total disaster.
Can you be better after losing all 11 defensive starters and seven on offense? Probably not.
Florida, Air Force, Michigan State, at Indiana, at Penn State, Minnesota, at Wisconsin, Ohio State. It’s not a brutal schedule with most of the big games are at home, but this is Year Three under Jim Harbaugh. This is when the machine is supposed to be humming.
Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners
Put OU into the I-don’t-really-believe-it’ll-crash-but-the-conditions-are-right category.
First, there aren’t that many options to choose from in the Big 12 to actually take a fall. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia were the only teams to finish with a winning record.
The Sooners have enough talent to win the Big 12 title again, but they’ve got to go to Ohio State early on, the Texas game in Dallas is always dangerous, and they have to hit to road to face Kansas State and Oklahoma State – likely the two other top Big 12 contenders – along with Baylor.
What happens if Baker Mayfield gets hurt, or if there are any more issues? What happens if the offense doesn’t immediately reload in the backfield and the receiving corps? The schedule has too many sure wins to completely collapse, but 8-4 would be a disaster.
Conference USA: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
It can’t possibly happen, can it? Just ask Marshall, who went 10-3 in 2015, and came up with a 3-9 clunker last season.
There’s a lot of retooling to be done, losing some killer talents like OT Forrest Lamp to the NFL Draft first round.
Not only is head coach Jeff Brohm off to Purdue, but the high-octane attack loses the unstoppable receiving combination of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, along with 1,621 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns from Anthony Wales.
On paper, the schedule isn’t that bad, but Conference USA East is a massive wild-card. Will Marshall be better? That game is on the road. Will Butch Davis rock right away at FIU, and will Lane Kiffin roll at Florida Atlantic? There are enough landmines to drop to 6-6 if things don’t break the right way.
MAC: Western Michigan Broncos
Bowling Green went 10-4 with a MAC title in 2015, but hit the skids going 4-8 last year. Why did the Falcons crash? There was a coaching change, the loss of several key parts, and the offense didn’t blow up like it did to overcome a bad defense.
Western Michigan should still be good, but it’ll be 0-2 to start the season – at USC, at Michigan State – after losing just once all of last year. Closing out with road games at Northern Illinois and Toledo will be hanging out there after a nice and easy middle eight games.
Coaching change, no QB Zach Terrell, no Corey Davis and other top receivers – there are 2016 Bowling Green-like holes to fill. Even if it’s not a total clunker of a season, after getting to the Cotton Bowl, 8-4 would be a dud.
Mountain West: Colorado State Rams
Colorado State has a team good enough to win the Mountain West title. The passing game should be great, the defense should be better, and the coaching staff has the pieces in place after building up the program over the last few years.
What’s the issue? This is a 9-3 team with a 6-6 schedule.
But the Rams have to deal with Colorado and Alabama by mid-September, host Oregon State, and then go on the road for four games in six weeks. And they have to play Air Force. And they have to play Boise State.
And they have to roll through this brutal schedule without a week off.
Pac-12: Washington State Cougars
QB Luke Falk is back, and even with the loss of several key receivers, the system is strong and the talent is there to keep on exploding. The defense that was so good last year is full of veteran talents – so what’s the problem?
The Pac-12 is about to be a lot better.
Washington is still great. Oregon is going to be a whole lot better, Stanford is loaded, and Cal and Oregon State aren’t going to be pushovers. The Cougars have to go to Eugene, and Seattle, and Berkeley, and they go to Utah, and to Arizona, and they have to face Boise State and USC.
SEC: Tennessee Volunteers
It’s sort of hard to be the league’s biggest disappointment this year when you were one of the league’s biggest disappointments last year, but there’s a chance Tennessee could fall even further.
Not only do the Vols have to go to Florida, but they have to go away from Knoxville to play Alabama, Kentucky, and an improved Missouri. Throw in the date with Georgia, and the battle with LSU from the West, and the schedule – especially considering the East should be better – is a big problem.
Considering the quarterback situation is a question mark, several of the other key offensive playmakers are gone, and even though there’s a ton of experience returning on defense, it was a bad D that needs to be far better.
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
It was a disappointing year for the Ragin’ Cajuns, but they still got to a bowl game and were in the Sun Belt title hunt for a while. However, it’s going to take some rebuilding to get to at least six wins again.
They need an overhaul at the skills spots, and now the offense is going to be a work in progress. The line should be great, but several of the other defensive spots are getting fresh new starters.
The big problem, though, is a nasty schedule with conference road games at Idaho, Arkansas State, South Alabama and Appalachian State, to go along with non-conference games on the road against Tulsa, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss.
17 for ’17 Offseason Questions
17. Who Are The Sleeper Conference Contenders?