It's early April, and spring practice is going on across the country. Many schoolsthis weekend. All of which means that fan bases around the country are a little too optimistic about their team's chances in 2018.
It's a natural phenomenon. You haven't had football to watch in a few months, so your serotonin levels spike just from the thought of pads popping. Mix in the weather warming up a little (emphasis on little this year), and the fact you still need to occupy your time for another four months before the season's here, and suddenly you're talking yourself into your team being a real sleeper this season.
With all that in mind, for this week's Friday Five I'm taking a deeper look into some teams chances in 2018. I want to figure out which fan bases have good reason to expect improvement this year, so I'm ranking the teams most likely to win at least two more games in 2018 than they did in 2017.
Now, obviously, this is easier for some teams to accomplish than others. Alabama went 13-1 en route to a national title last season. Sure, with the College Football Playoff format it's possible Alabama could go 15-0 in 2018, but that's a lot harder to accomplish than improving from 4-8 to 6-6 is. So this list is skewed toward teams with disappointing results last year.
To be clear, this is not a prediction. Just because I have a team on this list doesn't mean I'm saying it's going to happen, I just think that given what we know right now, these are the places we're most likely to see improvement.
We'll start in Tallahassee.
5. Florida State: There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles right now. The team had an awful 2017 season -- by Florida State standards -- finishing 7-6 and then seeing Jimbo Fisher leave for Texas A&M. Willie Taggart has taken over, and while there's bound to be an adjustment period, this is still one of the most talented teams in the country. This is not an instance where the head coach leaves the cupboards bare.
Taggart's moving into a house that's ready to be lived in, and you have to think that the Noles could get nine wins based on their talent alone. Having said that, I can't justify putting Florida State higher than fifth on this list due to a couple of reasons. First of all, nine wins leaves less room for error. Secondly, the schedule isn't exactly easy. FSU's 2018 non-con features a gimme against Samford, and what should be an easy Orange Bowl rematch against Northern Illinois. The problem is it also includes a road trip to Notre Dame as well as the regular season finale against Florida. Plus, while Clemson heads to Tallahassee, the Noles will hit the road for Louisville, Miami, and NC State as well. Getting to nine wins is within play, but it won't be easy.
4. BYU: The Cougars went 4-9 last year so the question we're asking ourselves is whether or not they can reach bowl eligibility in 2018. Well, I have them on the list, so I suppose that's your answer.
As awful as 2017 was for BYU, the fact the Cougars won three of their final five games after starting 1-7 bodes well for this season. Particularly when you factor in that the Cougars will return a lot of experience and production from last year's team. Sure, having most of a 4-9 team return could be a way to ensure going 4-9 again, but it's also natural to see improvement as rosters get older in college football.
Plus, the schedule isn't daunting. OK, maybe the September schedule is. BYU opens with Arizona, Cal, Wisconsin, McNeese State and Washington in the first five weeks. Only Cal and McNeese are coming to Provo, so realistically we're looking at 1-4 start, or 2-3 at best. After that things get significantly easier, though games against Northern Illinois, Boise State and Utah await.
3. Nebraska: Scott Frost took over a 0-12 UCF team following the 2015 season and immediately went 6-7 with the Knights in his first year. The team he's inheriting at Nebraska is a lot better off, though it faces stiffer competition than UCF had in the AAC. What's concerning is that Nebraska will have to make yet another transition.
Mike Riley replaced Bo Pelini, and Nebraska went from a spread offense to more of a pro-style. Now it must go from pro-style to a spread again.
The good news is the non-conference schedule isn't a bear. All three games against Akron, Colorado, and Troy are in Lincoln, and all are certainly winnable. Big Ten play provides a swift kick to the teeth, however.
Nebraska will play Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa on the road this year. It's not crazy to think the Huskers could go winless outside of Lincoln with that schedule, which means winning at home will be key.
2. Baylor: Having Baylor this high on the list isn't as much a show of confidence as it's just a result of having a low bar to clear. Baylor went 1-11 last season. It would only need three wins this year to make me look smart.
I do like its odds.
With a non-con of Abilene Christian, UTSA and Duke, a 2-1 start is realistic, if not expected. That means Baylor would only need one win in the Big 12 to reach three on the season, and last I checked Kansas is still in the Big 12. Oh, and it's coming to Waco in late September. So Baylor might have three wins before October.
Another reason I think improvement is on the horizon for Baylor is that this was a very young team last season. A young team playing under a new coaching staff trying to not only change the culture of the program but the scheme as well. While Matt Rhule and company have a long way to go, I don't think three or four wins in 2018 is an unrealistic goal.
1. Florida: This one was easy. Florida went 4-7 last year, and Florida should never be 4-7. Hell, it should never miss a bowl game, and bowl eligibility would mean at least two more wins in 2018, and I have a hard time seeing Florida not achieve it.
The talent level has dropped off a touch in Gainesville as the program changed hands from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp and then Jim McElwain. Dan Mullen's in charge now, however, giving the Gators their best coach since Meyer.
The Gators also have a rather comfortable home slate in 2018. Georgia and LSU aren't pushovers, but you have to believe the Gators will be favored against Charleston Southern, Kentucky, Colorado State, Missouri, South Carolina and Idaho. That could be six wins right there.
The road schedule isn't daunting either, as the Gators will take on Tennessee and Mississippi State (both of which have new coaching staffs of their own) as well as Vanderbilt and the season finale against Florida State. I'd expect Florida to go 3-1 on the road, with 4-0 being in play as well.
Florida's going to win at least six games in 2018, and probably a couple more.