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Biggest Bounce-Back Candidates for 2012

How about some fun before the college football season gets underway? These are cookie cutter posts that can happen every season, but they are fun in their own sort of way so why not give it a shot. Here are my college football bounce-back candidates for 2012.

FLORIDA GATORS

Florida went 57-10 from 2005-2009 which included a couple of BCS National Championships. The last two seasons have seen the Gators post a 15-11 record! That’s more losses in the last 2 seasons than Florida had in the previous 5 combined! Florida is primed for a bounce-back season. They are in the 2nd year of Will Muschamp’s system, and with this being Florida, the Gators have a ridiculous amount of talent. The defense returns 10 starters from a unit that allowed 20.3ppg. Expect Florida to have one of the nastiest defenses in the nation and I wouldn’t be surprised if their defense was a top-5 unit by season’s end. The Gators deal with some skill player loss, but the talent is ridiculous and the O-Line should be one of the best in the nation. They get LSU & South Carolina at home while having to travel to Florida St. in the season finale. Georgia of course is there in Jacksonville. If Florida can take care of business at home, at worst they’ll finish the season 9-3 with a shot at 10-3 with a bowl win. If they beat Georgia then they could easily be 10-2 & SEC East champions. Note also that last year Florida was -12 in TO margin and 2-2 in games decided by 7 points or less. If Lady Luck shines on the Gators, then Florida will be back in a major way.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

The Volunteers are an historic program with a rich tradition. It’s absurd that this program has posted a record of 23-27 over the last 4 years. Tennessee is struggling with a coaching identity. I’m not convinced Phil Fulmer should have been let go especially considering that in his next to last year he had UT as SEC East champions and 10 victories. Tennessee went through the disaster that was Lane Kiffin and some still aren’t sure that Derek Dooley is right for the job. With all that said, Tennessee brings back a ridiculous amount of starters to a team that went 5-7 a year ago. Offensively UT brings back 9 starters including a nasty duo at receiver in both Justin Hunter & Da’Rick Rogers. Tyler Bray returns at QB and the entire offensive line returns. While the offense did score just 20.3ppg last season, that numbers should at least be 30 if not 35 in 2012. Defensively UT brings back 9 starters from a defense that allowed 22.6ppg. There is some legit star power on defense with LB AJ Johnson, CB Prentiss Waggner & S Brian Randolph. There is talent at every level of the defense so there is no excuse for let downs like the 49 points they let Arkansas score last season! The schedule isn’t easy. They draw South Carolina, Georgia & Mississippi St. on the road while having to host Alabama and play a neutral site game against NC State. Still this is an 8-win team at a minimum. If Tennessee can’t win now then when can they under Dooley?

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

It can’t get any lower in Columbus. After the Jim Tressel scandal the Buckeyes finished the season 6-7, their first losing season since 1988! That’s INCREDIBLE! That’s all water under the bridge now that Urban Meyer comes to town. Nick Saban is the unquestioned best HC in college football. For goodness sake, Saban might be the best collegiate coach ever, but Meyer would be in consideration for the 2nd best coach in college football currently. He takes over a ridiculously talented Ohio St. team and then brought in a Top-5 recruiting class! Ohio St. returns 6 starters on offense, but most importantly is Urban Meyer’s spread offense which QB Braxton Miller seems tailor made for. The Buckeyes bring plenty of skill position talent back and while the O-Line could be a tad inexperienced, the talent is of the highest level. Defensively Ohio St. brings back 9 starters from a defense that allowed only 21.0ppg. Like the offense, the defense is saturated with talent. Ohio St. will have an interesting season because they are banned from postseason play. Why is this so interesting? Because they can’t win the Big Ten Leaders division. They can’t play in the Big 10 championship game. They can’t play in a bowl game. What they can do is go undefeated! The Buckeyes toughest road games will be against Michigan St. and Wisconsin. While those two teams are formidable, both squads will be dealing with first year starting QBs. It would be interesting for Meyer to come into Columbus and go 12-0 in his first year yet Ohio St. be on the sidelines in determining a national champion. It gets even more interesting if no other team in college football is undefeated by season’s end.

INDIANA HOOSIERS

Am I being a homer here? Absolutely, but remember that Indiana went 1-11 last season so bouncing back isn’t going to be that difficult. Indiana brings some pretty nice skill position players back and even Indiana has shown they can score from time to time in previous seasons. The defense has always been horrific, but the Hoosiers bring back three-fourths of their defensive line & both cornerbacks from a season ago. IU also brought in JUCO players who project to be starters at DE, WLB, MLB & SS. That’s a lot of cover over but at least HC Kevin Wilson is making an effort to turn Indiana around. What could be problematic for Indiana is scheduling. All the games they can potentially win are on the road against Northwestern, Navy, Illinois, Penn St. & Purdue. The Hoosiers will probably be dogs in every conference game they play, but if lightning strikes, Indiana could win 8-9 games! That’s ridiculous. Remember I said these are bounce-back candidates. I didn’t say they were guaranteed to bounce back! At 1-11, the Hoosiers as a good a shot as anyone to bounce back although they will no doubt suffer through another losing season in Bloomington.

TEXAS LONGHORNS

In Mack Browns first dozen years in Austin, he led the Longhorns to a 128-27 record. On average that’s a 10-2 record every season. Brown’s worst season was his first season back in 1998 when the Longhorns went 8-3. In his last two seasons at Texas, Brown has gone 13-12 including a disastrous 5-7 campaign in 2010 which was Texas’s first losing season since 1997, the season before Brown came to town. This year should be the first season in which Brown brings back the dominance to Austin. Texas went 8-5 last season including a bowl win averaging 28.1ppg on offense. That offense brings back 9 starters. The talent at the skill positions and the O-line is as good as any other team in college football. The only questions Texas brings with them into 2012 reside with the QB position. If Texas can figure it out, they’ll average as many points as they want to. Defensively Texas brings back 6 starters from a squad that allowed 22.2ppg. By the end of the season people might be saying that UT has the best pair of pass rushers in Alex Okafor & Jackson Jeffcoat and also the best pair of corners in Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom. The rest of the defense should be stellar as well with talent to spare. Texas’s schedule also sets up well. They draw West Virginia & TCU at home. I think Oklahoma St. & Baylor will take a step back given the players they lost from a season ago. They do play Oklahoma in Dallas, but if Texas can win their home games, there is no reason why this team can go 11-1 with the possibility of a 12-0 finish if they beat Oklahoma in Dallas. If the QB issues are settled, Texas will reclaim its spot at the table of the truly elite.

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

FSU has gone 19-8 over the last 2 seasons so can we really say they are a bounce-back candidate? I’m going to say yes for a couple of the reasons. The first is that the pressure to win was really high on FSU last season. Remember that the Noles finished the regular season 8-4 and didn’t win the ACC Atlantic division, finishing behind a Clemson team that was badly embarrassed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. In fact, I think West Virginia just scored again! A bowl win over Notre Dame pushed FSU to 9 wins. The 2nd reason I’m calling for a bounce-back is that Florida St. was synonymous with truly elite when it came to college football for a significant period of time. Over the last 10 seasons, FSU has won 85 games which is absurdly low for the standards Bobby Bowden established. Florida St. returns 8 starters to an offense that averaged 30.6ppg last season. If EJ Manuel can stay healthy all season, he’s a legitimate Heisman front runner who can beat teams by himself. The O-Line is experienced and the skill positions are stacked. Defensively the Noles bring back 9 starters from a team that allowed just 15.1ppg in 2011. Florida St. ranked 4th nationally in both total defense & scoring defense. With so many starters returning, they might have the best defense in the entire country. Unlike the last couple of seasons, there is no Oklahoma on the schedule early on. The toughest road game FSU faces is at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night in November, but FSU has a week off preceding that game. If the Seminoles take care of business at home, they should be 12-0 when the dust settles. Now that would be a bounce-back!

BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES

I sort of view BC as I do Tennessee although with less history & tradition. From 2004-2008, Boston College posted a 48-17 record over 5 seasons. That averages out to a 10-3 record. The last 3 years under HC Frank Spaziani has been one slow decent into ACC hell as BC has posted an 11-14 record over the past two seasons. I’m not entirely sure where Boston College falls within the ACC Atlantic hierarchy, but they should be closer to FSU, Clemson & NC State than they are to Wake Forest & Maryland. This season the Eagles bring back 10 starters on offense. Granted the offense scored less than 19ppg in 2011, but there is some talent here and if QB Chase Rettig plays well, BC could score some points this season. Defensively BC has never been that bad in recent years. Last year was a horrific defensive year for BC and they still only allowed 23.5 points per game. A team like Indiana would take that and feel like they had the best defense in college football! Despite losing guys like Mike Herzlich & Luke Kuechly, BC should have another solid defense. If the Eagles play up to potential they should at least win 7 games. If they can play up to potential and take care of business at home the only guaranteed loss is a road game against Florida State. BC was -4 in TO margin last year, -13 in sack margin and 2-4 in close games. If Lady Luck turns around, Boston College could have a very good bounce-back season. If not, Spaziani is out and the Eagles are looking for a new head coach.

UTAH UTES

I’m pretty high on Utah, but I think they are ripe for the picking when it comes to bounce backs. From 2007-2010, Utah posted a 42-10 record including a 13-0 season in 2008. Last year they went 8-5 which was a bit of a disappointment, but remember that Utah was 7-5 before the bowl victory which is way off the pace they set from 07-10. A large part of that is likely from their move from the MWC to the much more competitive Pac 12, but I don’t that problem will last for long. Utah returns 9 starters to an offense that averaged 25.oppg. The 2007-2010 Utes saw their offense always average around 30ppg and I think Utah gets back to those marks in 2012. Ten of the projected 11 starters are upperclassmen and the talent gap is closing between Utah and the rest of the Pac 12. If Jordan Wynn can step up and have a big senior season, I think Utah’s offense is going to be very good. Defensively Utah 7 starters to a unit that allowed just a tick above 20ppg. What’s interesting for me about Utah is how big they are. The average projected starting D-Linemen is 6’5/288lbs. The average projected starting LB is 6’2/231lbs. The average projected starting CB is 5’11/193lbs while the average projected starting safety is 6’2/208lbs! That’s a big defense and 5 of the players should content for all-conference honors. Remember too that Kyle Whittingham is an outstanding coach. He’s going to get the best out of his players. I know Utah was +10 in TO margin a year ago, but I don’t see massive regression coming in a single season. The schedule sets up nice and Utah does avoid Oregon & Stanford out of the Pac 12 North! Utah’s toughest games should be the home game they get against USC and the road game they play against Washington. I’m not sure they can beat USC even at home with 2-weeks to prepare, but a win over Washington could mean an 11-1 season. If USC is 12-0 and is #1 in the nation and Utah keeps it respectable against the Trojans in their only loss on the season, can’t Utah argue they are at least potentially at top-3 or top-5 team? That’s a big bounce-back for a 7-5 regular season team a year ago.

SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

It’s tough to say the Bulls are bounce back candidates when they haven’t established themselves on the national scene, but from from 2006-2010 the Bulls had at least 8 wins in each season, posting a 42-23 record. Last season was a major disappointment as the Bulls failed to make a bowl game since 2005 and had their first losing record since 2004! HC Jim Leavitt had USF poised to be a top-20 program for the foreseeable future before his controversial dismissal. Now HC Skip Holtz kept things going with an 8-5 2010 campaign but the 5-7 record last season has the Bulls Faithful wondering if Holtz is the right man for the job. USF brings back 8 starters to an offense that averaged just a tick under 30ppg. With QB BJ Daniels entering his senior season and experience at every single position, you can bet the Bulls should be lighting up scoreboards every chance they get. USF also returns 7 starters on a defense that allowed 22.yppg. Ten of 11 projected starters are upper classmen with 9 being able to contend for all-conference honors. They should have the best front-7 in the Big East and challenge Rutgers for having the best defense in the conference. USF’s toughest road game should come against Louisville, but the Bulls get an off week before playing the Cardinals. The same is true when USF travels to Coral Gables to take on the Hurricanes. If USF can manage their home slate of games, at worst this team is 9-3 and they should finish 11-1 at best. The only guaranteed loss is a home date against Florida St. In year’s past USF has had a way of shooting themselves in the foot. If they can avoid that fate, they should be heading to their first BCS bowl. If they can’t win games, then like Derek Dooley in Tennessee or Frank Spaziani in Boston, the question will become whether or not Holtz can ever win at South Florida.

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

According to Phil Steele, the Irish have the most difficult schedule of any team in college football. That in and of itself might prevent the Irish from having a bounce-back season, but like Florida State, I’m calling for ND to have a bounce-back season because they are bouncing back to history. While HC Brian Kelly has caused some in Irish Nation to question is ability as a game day coach, I still am a huge believer based on his body of work at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan & Cincinnati. I realize Notre Dame is an entirely different animal, but this is only Year 3 of the Brian Kelly Era. The Irish bring back 8 starters on an offense that averaged 29.2ppg. Kelly can recruit with anyone and ND has as much talent as anybody on offense, but they have significant questions at QB. Tommy Rees isn’t the answer and I believe it’ll come down to either Everett Golson or Gunner Kiel. Golson is a rFR while Kiel is a true frosh. That doesn’t bode well given the schedule, but who knows? Defensively the Irish allowed 20.7ppg last year and this season should be even better. Yes they lost Harrison Smith to the Minnesota Vikings and Aaron Lynch transferred to South Florida, but Kelly has made the defense a priority and the defensive front-7 should be the best ND has seen in maybe 20 years. The schedule is BRUTAL, but it has a chance to be a banner year at Notre Dame. The only guaranteed losses are road games against Oklahoma & USC and even then I think the Irish will acquit themselves well. Notre Dame does have home games against Michigan, Stanford and BYU, but if the Irish take care of business in South Bend and handle a pesky Michigan State team in East Lansing, they could easily be looking at a 10-2 record against the most difficult schedule in the country.  That would mean a BCS bowl which would give the Irish a shot at 11-2. That wouldn’t be a bounce-back. That would be a coronation! Keep in mind too that ND was -15 in TO margin and murdered themselves with penalties. If ND fixes the mistakes they would have won at least 11 games last season. It could get interesting for ND this year.

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July 15, 2012 - Posted by | Boston College, Florida, Florida St., Indiana, Notre Dame, Ohio St, South Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Utah

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