With the college football season less than two months away, the anticipation for the new year is starting to loom over the college football world. While we wait for opening kickoff on August 29th, let’s take a look at the teams with the most to gain and the most to lose in the 2013 season.
Teams with the most to gain:
Arkansas – Before the unraveling of Bobby Petrino and the experiment gone wrong with John L. Smith, the Razorbacks were in good position in the SEC, finding themselves among the conference’s elite squads. After last season’s abysmal chapter, new head coach Brett Bielema hopes to restore the winning tradition back in the program. If the Razorbacks can get back on track under Bielema this season, it will allow Arkansas to remain relevant in the recruiting game and give the university a chance to win its first ever SEC title. That title might be a few years away, but a good showing from Bielema and his squad this year could set the program up for that future success.
Northern Illinois – The Huskies were thrust into the national spotlight last season, as their 12-1 season and MAC championship earned a bid to the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Though this Cinderella was thumped by the Seminoles, Northern Illinois has made its mark on the college football world, winning 11-plus games in each of the past three seasons. If the Huskies can continue their dominance in the MAC this season, they will become the new Boise State of college football.
Louisville – The shift from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference, though not a major change, is a favorable one for a Cardinals team that finished the 2012 campaign with an 11-2 mark, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida. Louisville is typically known for its performance on the hardwood rather than the gridiron, but there is a buzz surrounding the Louisville campus for football season thanks to head coach Charlie Strong and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is a Heisman Trophy candidate and several offensive play makers return to the squad. The Cardinals have the opportunity to put their stamp on the college football world alongside their counterparts on the hardwood.
UCLA – Despite losing the final three games of the 2012 season, UCLA was able to re-emerge as a top-25 caliber team a season ago, finishing with a 9-5 record and making an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Bruins have had their issues on the gridiron, managing just two winning seasons in the past five years. If star quarterback Brett Hundley can replicate his performance from a season ago, UCLA has a legitimate chance to win its first conference championship since 1998.
Clemson – Head coach Dabo Swinney has already said this could be a great season for Clemson football. Though those words set even higher standards than are already expected by Tiger football fans, Clemson has an opportunity to become the most beloved college football team in the nation if it can conquer just one small task: win a national championship and end the BCS dominance of the SEC. With a relatively favorable schedule, an entire defensive line returning and All-American Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Clemson has a real opportunity to bring an end the SEC’s string of seven straight national title runs.
Teams with the most to lose:
TCU – After dominating the Mountain West with 10-plus win seasons in six of the past seven seasons, the Horned Frogs struggled to a 7-6 mark in their first season in the Big 12 Conference. TCU has to establish itself as a prominent member of the Big 12 if it wants to entice recruits and become a competitor for conference championships and BCS bowl bids. If TCU can’t notch at least nine wins this season, top recruits may start losing interest.
Notre Dame – The Irish were able to bring a winning tradition back to South Bend last season, finishing the regular season unbeaten and appearing in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. Because the Irish were able to restore their prominence on the national stage, the question becomes, can they handle the spotlight? With Manti Te’o gone and quarterback Everett Golson suspended for the 2013 season, will the Golden Domers prove they belong in the upper-echelon of college football? Or will they slip back down to mediocrity and only be relevant once every four years?
Ohio State – Urban Meyer was able to pull off a pretty impressive stunt in his first season at the helm of the Buckeyes, leading the squad to an undefeated regular season. Even though Ohio State was ineligible for any postseason play in 2012 due to NCAA sanctions, the accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished. Now, with the no NCAA issues holding it back, big things are expected from Ohio State this season. With Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller leading the offense, a plethora of returning defensive play-makers returning and Meyer on the sideline for his second season, anything short of a conference championship and BCS bowl berth would be a huge disappointment for Buckeye fans.
Texas A&M – The Aggies were the only team to defeat eventual National Champion Alabama last season. Johnny Manziel also became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. All that came in Texas A&M’s first season in the SEC. With a dynamic quarterback in Manziel, second leading rusher (next to Manziel) Ben Malena and top receiver Mike Evans all returning to A&M’s high-powered offense, expectations are high in College Station. If the Aggies stub their toe this season and Manziel isn’t able to perform at the level he did a season ago, it could mean trouble in college football’s toughest conference.