Friday Five: College football teams that will receive plenty of hype this offseason
The Hype Trains are leaving the station already for a few of these programs
It's not even February yet, as the college football season ended just a few weeks ago. There is a long time between now and when the new season begins, and if we can rely on offseasons for anything, it's for producing hype trains.
Hype trains start with a boost, as teams coming off bowl wins are often said to have "momentum" heading into the next season. The train typically starts to slow down shortly afterward, but once the offseason becomes real, and there isn't much going on, it picks up speed again because we need something to talk about. So we start looking for that team that's going to make some noise next year as everyone is in a race to prove they're smarter than the next person, and they knew it was coming before you did.
And that's why I'm ranking five teams that you'll be hearing a lot about this offseason. Teams that are going to receive plenty of attention. Most will get far more than they end up deserving, but it's the offseason, and nobody will remember by this time next year anyway.
Now, to be clear, I'm not including teams like Clemson, Alabama, and all your usual title contenders. I'm limiting my options to teams that have room to grow or take that "next step" during the 2019 season. So, without further ado, let's start hyping some teams.
Florida finished the season ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll after dismantling Michigan 41-15 in the Peach Bowl. That gave them a 10-3 record in Dan Mullen's first season, which was quite the jump from the 4-7 team Mullen inherited. Of course, Florida was always better than that record suggested, and the coaching change showed it. Heading into Year Two under Mullen will be different.
There's a part of me that wonders if Mullen won too quickly in Gainesville, as fans likely would have been happy with an 8-4 regular season and a good bowl game. When you win 10 games, it tends to raise expectations, and that may not be a good thing for a team that will lose a few key players to the NFL. Initially, I thought the 2019 season would be the one where we talked about Florida as a team with a chance to get to a New Year's Six bowl and maybe a chance at winning the SEC East ahead of Georgia. Instead, we're likely to see some people picking the Gators to dethrone the Dawgs.
There's a perfect storm brewing in Lincoln this offseason. If you judge Nebraska simply by its record, there was no improvement to speak of in 2018. The Huskers went 4-8 in Mike Riley's final season, and 4-8 in Scott Frost's first. That doesn't tell the entire story, however. Nebraska started the season 0-6 before winning four of its last six games, and its two losses were a five-point loss on the road against Ohio State and a three-point loss on the road to Iowa. It was a much more competitive team over the second half of the season.
Part of that is documented in the team's improvement in point differential. Nebraska went 4-8 in 2017 while being outscored by 128 points. In 2018, they were 4-8 while being outscored by only 15 points. That's a 113-point improvement, and as, that was the third-best improvement in the Big Ten this season. Nebraska is also in the Big Ten West, which always provides room for improvement and was won by a Northwestern team losing a lot of critical parts. Plenty of people will expect a bump in Frost's second year, and the Cornhuskers will appear in a lot of sentences with the words "dark" and "horse" between now and next season.
In the interest of full disclosure, I expect Oregon to receive plenty of hype this offseason, but I'm not entirely on board this hype train. I'm mostly monitoring it from a control room of some sort. Still, there will be a hype train, and I understand the reasons behind it, even if I'm not buying a ticket yet. The Ducks finished 2018 at 9-4, winning their last three games, including one of the uglier rock fights you'll ever see against Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl. While that's all very good, the biggest reason the Ducks will receive a lot of hype this offseason is because of a player they didn't lose.
Justin Herbert could have left for the NFL, and he would have had a good shot at being the first quarterback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead, he's returning for another season, and that could give Oregon a leg up in the Pac-12 North. Mario Cristobal has also done a fantastic job of infusing talent into the program as Oregon's 2019 recruiting class currently ranks as the best in the Pac-12 and No. 8 nationally. While we can't be sure how much of an impact that class will have on 2019 -- I expect Kayvon Thibodeaux to make his presence known, but I'm not sure who else will -- those kind of rankings don't slow down offseason hype trains.
It wouldn't be an offseason if Texas wasn't receiving plenty of hype, would it? Of course not. Unlike a lot of previous offseasons, though, the Longhorns might deserve it this year. Whether or not they'll live up to it is a tale for another time, but it's hard to deny the reasons for optimism about this program heading into next season. The Longhorns just finished a 10-4 season that saw them finish at No. 9 in the AP Top 25 poll. It's the first time they finished in the top 10 since the 2009 season when they lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship. They followed that season with a 5-7 dud in 2010 and will be looking to avoid that same fate in 2019.
And they should. Texas beat Oklahoma during the regular season, which helped it get to the Big 12 Championship Game, where it lost the rematch to Oklahoma but sent it to the Sugar Bowl, where it beat Georgia 28-21. That alone will get people fired up over Texas heading into next season, where plenty will expect it to once again be at the top of the conference with Oklahoma and competing for a Big 12 title. I will offer a bit of warning, however. I expect the Big 12 to be better in 2019 as teams like Baylor and Iowa State continue to improve, and others like TCU and Oklahoma State should bounce back from down seasons. Plus, as talented as Texas is, it does lose quite a few key parts to graduation and the NFL. It'll also face a bear of a schedule that sees it playing LSU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma all before mid-October.
1. Texas A&M
Yessir, the Aggies are going to receive plenty of hype. They caught quite a bit last offseason as well when they hired Jimbo Fisher, but most of it was excitement and interest in the coaching change. Not many people thought Jimbo would show up in College Station and mold Texas A&M into an SEC West contender from the jump. Year Two will see higher expectations, though. The Aggies finished the season on a four-game win streak, routing NC State 52-13 in the Gator Bowl after finishing the regular season with a thrilling 74-72 win over LSU in seven (seven!) overtimes. While some big names like Trayveon Williams and Jace Sternberger leave the offense, the Aggies will have Kellen Mond back for his second year of tutelage under Fisher, and count me as one of many who was surprised by Mond's performance in 2018.
The Aggies also have a top-three recruiting class at the moment and will finish in the top five at worst. Also, while the schedule isn't easy by any stretch, the Aggies will only leave College Station once before Oct. 19. Of course, they'll be leaving to play the defending national champions at Clemson, but Auburn and Alabama are two of the teams that will be making the trip to Kyle Field.
Also, while it's not definitive, and doesn't play a role in the hype machine, there was one trend I couldn't help but notice about Fisher's first season at A&M. I mentioned improvements in point differential while discussing Nebraska earlier. In Fisher's first season with the Aggies,over the 2017 season with two more wins. Compare that to Florida State, which saw its point differential plummet 201 points while winning two fewer games. Hard to imagine those two things aren't related, isn't it?
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