Friday Five: Ranking college football's top sleeping giants
Ranking five college football programs that have the capability of being much better than they are
Every Friday, the Friday Five will rank something in the world of college football -- anything and everything from the logical to the illogical. This week, we rank five programs we consider to be sleeping giants.
The term sleeping giant gets thrown around often in college football, particularly by fans who believe their team should be better than it is. You know, after a team fires its coach coming off his fourth straight four-win season, the fans convince themselves that the current coach considered The Next Big Thing will definitely be interested in their school, because they're a sleeping giant, and they're just a coach away from winning a string of national championships.
Well, that usually isn't the case. While a coach can certainly have a major impact on a program, most of the time a program is what a program is, but that doesn't mean there aren't true sleeping giants out there.
Now, when I think of sleeping giants, I think of teams that have a lot of potential to be great, including plenty of inherent advantages, but nobody has been able to tap into them. Also, it can't be a team that's actually won a national title in the last couple of decades, or played for one.
I'm only concerned about programs that can never seem to break that nine-win ceiling on a regular basis. Hell, some of them haven't even been able to climb that high.
So for this week's Friday Five, I'm going to rank the five programs I consider the most dangerous sleeping giants in college football. The programs that could become a Serious Problem should they ever awaken from their slumber.
North Carolina has begun to tap into its potential at times, but it has never been able to sustain it. Butch Davis was building the program up, but then the NCAA came sniffing around, and Butch was on the way out the door. After three seasons of being stuck in neutral under Larry Fedora, North Carolina broke through last season, finishing 11-3 and coming close to knocking off Clemson in the ACC title game and earning a College Football Playoff spot.
Can Fedora sustain it?
Along with playing in a talent-rich area of the country, North Carolina also has the benefit of playing in the ACC's Coastal Division. That's the place to be if you're in the ACC and you aren't Florida State or Clemson right now.
I can't put it higher than five, though, because I feel like the fact North Carolina is such a basketball school will always hold it back in football. Even if North Carolina's football program were to become a powerhouse, I don't think it would ever pass Tar Heel basketball in the hearts of North Carolina fans.
I think you can be good in both sports, but you can't be great in both.
The Cavaliers haven't had a whole lot of success on the football field. The program joined the ACC in 1954 and has managed to win only two ACC titles (1989 and 1995) since. George Welsh was the coach of those Cav teams, and he's come closer to awakening the giant that is Virginia than any other coach in the school's history.
What works in Virginia's favor now is that its home state is a fertile recruiting area with easy access to other strong recruiting areas. It's also in the ACC's Coastal Division, just like North Carolina, which works to its benefit as well.
Maryland is in a similar situation to Virginia, in that they haven't had a ton of football success, but they're located in a strong recruiting ground with access to other deep recruiting areas. What puts the Terps ahead of Virginia, in my mind anyway, is that the Terps are now in the Big Ten, and will have a lot more money coming in the future than current ACC schools can count on, even with the ACC Network on the way in 2019.
Now, one disadvantage Maryland faces is having to share a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. That will certainly make it a lot more difficult to climb up to the top of the mountain, but Maryland also has the full support of a company like Under Armour behind it, and we all saw what Nike was able to do for Oregon.
UCLA should just be better than it is. I mean, think about it. The school is located in the country's second-largest city -- and one that hadn't had an NFL team over the past two decades -- in one of the most talent-rich states in the country. It also plays in one of the most iconic college football stadiums to ever exist.
Yet, despite all of that, the Bruins have never really been able to build anything great. They won a national title in 1954, and have won the Pac-12 seven times (when it was the Pac-10), but none of those conference titles have come since 1998.
There's just no excuse for that in my mind. I can't help but believe this is a program capable of so much more.
And if you're wondering why I believe North Carolina being a basketball school holds it back, but not at UCLA, it's mostly because UCLA basketball hasn't quite been UCLA basketball as of late. It's been 21 years since they won a basketball title, and football should be able to step in and fill that void.
I'm sure a lot of Georgia fans, as well as some others, will take exception to Georgia being on this list. Georgia, after all, is a team that is annually finishing ranked in the top 25, it has won six SEC East titles and two SEC titles since 2001. That's more success than any of the other schools on this list have, but that doesn't mean it's as much success as Georgia should be having.
I don't think there's a program that more defines what a sleeping giant is than Georgia.
The Bulldogs have claimed two national titles in their history, and the last one came in 1980.
Yet, all this time Georgia has been the premiere program in a state that is crazy for college football, and is filled with elite high school talent. A lot of which has made its way to Athens. Georgia is also located in the SEC East, which was the best division in the SEC for a while. But for most of the 21st century, the East has been an "easier" path than the West.
Despite all of these advantages, Georgia hasn't been able to step up to the plate and become a true national title contender.
And it should be.
That's why I believe Georgia is the biggest sleeping giant of them all. Not just because it has the capability to win national titles, but because it really already should have.
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