Which college football teams will rebound from disappointing seasons?


This will probably come as a shock to many of you, but there are some institutions of higher learning in this country where football is very important. Furthermore – and this might be even more shocking – not all such institutions compete in the Southeastern Conference, a certain obnoxious slogan notwithstanding.

All of which is to say that while no college football program’s supporters want to watch their team finish with a losing record, there are schools where such a season is more galling to fans than others.

A number of power conference programs unaccustomed to losing finished below the .500 mark in 2021. History tells us that several – but possibly not all – will rebound in the upcoming season.

With spring practice wrapping up on campuses across the country, here’s a ranking of prominent programs most likely to bounce back in the fall and record more wins than losses. Even the ones at the head of the list might not be in position to compete for conference championships right away but should avoid another sub-.500 finish. Yes, there are indeed some SEC members – current and future – on the list, but all Power Five leagues are represented.

Texas (2021 record: 5-7, 3-6 Big 12)

What went wrong: Despite an early setback against resurgent Arkansas, things were looking reasonably good for the Longhorns at 4-1 heading into the Red River showdown with Oklahoma. But a second-half collapse against the Sooners snowballed into a six-game losing streak, including an embarrassing loss to perennial Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas, that spoiled coach Steve Sarkisian’s first season in Austin.

Cause for optimism: Turning just a couple of those bad ‘L’s in conference play into ‘W’s will get the Longhorns back in the bowl lineup. The arrival of former five-star recruit and Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers has created considerable buzz around the program. He has not been anointed the opening-day starter at QB, but some nice-looking deep balls he delivered in the spring game would indicate that is just a matter of time.

Cause for skepticism: There’s the small matter of a Week Two date with Alabama on the slate. If the ‘Horns are at least competitive that will be a good sign, but a Crimson Tide blowout could create an early crisis of confidence.

LSU (6-7, 3-5 SEC)

Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Treylon Burks (16) runs the ball against LSU Tigers linebacker Mike Jones Jr. (19) in the second half at Tiger Stadium.

What went wrong: Less than two years removed from a historic run to a national championship, LSU found itself in the market for a new coach. After a 5-5 letdown in 2020, the struggles continued with a Week 1 loss at UCLA in 2021, and the grumbles became too loud to ignore even with a victory against Florida. A season-ending upset of Texas A&M got the Tigers a spot in the postseason lineup, but with the team in transition a skeleton crew of Tigers was overwhelmed by Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.

Cause for optimism: Given Brian Kelly’s track record of success at all of his coaching stops, his arrival should be worth another win or two by the reckoning of many Bayou Bengals followers. He must come to a few decisions first, of course, like whether Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels or veteran incumbent Myles Brennan – or possibly someone else – will run the offense.

Cause for skepticism: The Tigers would be advised to stockpile wins early. That must include a strong start against Florida State in New Orleans in Week 1. Things could get dicey in November, which begins with a home date with Alabama and also features trips to Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Southern California (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12)

What went wrong: It had become clear to Trojans faithful and outside observers alike that Clay Helton was in over his head at USC. The timing of his dismissal a month into the season, however, was less than ideal, and the Trojans limped to the finish on a four-game skid.

Cause for optimism: The arrival of Lincoln Riley and the transfers he brought with him from Oklahoma, most notably QB Caleb Williams, have undoubtedly reinvigorated the Trojans’ fan base. The proof will be in the proverbial pudding, of course, but if USC can get through September unscathed, a winning record should be quite attainable. But that first month includes trips to Stanford and Oregon State as well as an early home test against Fresno State that won’t be a layup.

Cause for skepticism: While offense is fun, the major issue for USC last year was a defense that yielded 407.1 yards and 31.8 points a game. That side of the ball showed some improvement for Riley’s OU teams when he brought in coordinator Alex Grinch, who also followed Riley to LA, and that trend will have to continue.

Florida (6-7, 2-6 SEC)

What went wrong: Things were definitely not looking bleak when Florida came within two points of Alabama in its SEC opener. But the Gators were thoroughly outclassed in their annual clash with archrival Georgia a few weeks later, and that was followed by a stunning blowout loss to South Carolina. By the time they were subdued by a motivated Central Florida squad in the Gasparilla Bowl that sealed their losing record, the team had essentially checked out and coach Dan Mullen had already been shown the door.

Cause for optimism: After numerous winning seasons at UL-Lafayette waiting for the right opportunity, Billy Napier finally rode the coaching carousel to Gainesville. He takes the reins of a Gators program with the infrastructure in place to succeed as well as some pieces that fit his system. QB Anthony Richardson is a talented dual threat who will have a solid rotation of backfield mates to take handoffs. The defense, especially the front line, also showed improvement in spring drills.

Cause for skepticism: The perceived lack of emphasis on recruiting that got the previous regime in hot water figures to be addressed in time by Napier’s staff, but in the meantime the overall team speed and depth might still be behind the SEC’s top programs. The season doesn’t exactly get off to a soft launch; the home opener against defending Pac-12 champion Utah is followed immediately by the start of conference play against Kentucky, with a trip to Tennessee looming just a couple of weeks after that.

Florida State (5-7, 4-4 ACC)

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell will be under pressure to turn things around in Tallahassee.

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell will be under pressure to turn things around in Tallahassee.

What went wrong: Considering the Seminoles are less than a decade removed from a national championship, the program’s recent decline has been especially irksome for its supporters. Last year’s squad never recovered from an 0-3 start that included a shocking upset at the hands of FCS team Jacksonville State, and the ‘Noles were home for the holidays for a second consecutive season.

Cause for optimism: The two most positive developments of FSU’s spring game appeared to be the performance of the defense and the number of quality running backs that stepped up with Jashaun Corbin off to the NFL. Last year’s early debacle notwithstanding, the 2022 Week 0 opener against Duquesne should allow the regulars to get in a good tune-up before the date with LSU kicks off the season in earnest.

Cause for skepticism: Pass protection, and by extension the passing game as a whole, has been a major problem during the program’s recent downturn. If those struggles continue early against the Tigers and in the ‘Noles’ league opener at Louisville, the team might again find itself in crisis mode. Getting to at least 3-1 will be vital heading into a make-or-break October stretch against ACC Atlantic contenders Wake Forest, NC State and Clemson.

Auburn (6-7, 3-5 SEC)

What went wrong: Bryan Harsin’s first taste of life in the SEC was a rollercoaster. In the end, the campaign ended on a five-game losing streak, culminating in a devastating four-OT heartbreaker to archnemesis Alabama and a setback against Houston in the Birmingham Bowl.

Cause for optimism: The best news of the spring may have been the return of standout running back Tank Bigsby after a brief flirtation with the transfer portal, and he will by all indications be a big part of the Tigers’ offensive plan. Harsin is also still around after a tumultuous offseason, though whether that development belongs in the optimism or skepticism category might be up for debate among fans. The early schedule doesn’t appear too daunting with the possible of a home date with Penn State, but again, fans have seen promising starts before.

Cause for skepticism: For better or worse, QB Bo Nix has moved on, leaving TJ Finley as the most experienced signal caller in camp. There will also be a lot of new faces in the linebacker room. And oh yeah, the Tigers still play in the SEC West where there are no weeks off, and their annual crossover game against Georgia is on the road.

Nebraska (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten)

What went wrong: Nebraska’s glory years in the mid-1990s seems like ancient history, and the move to the Big Ten hasn’t exactly been beneficial. But the Cornhuskers were a lot closer to being competitive than their final 2021 record indicated. They had no losses by double-digit margins, giving old Big Eight rival Oklahoma a battle early and coming within a field goal of eventual Big Ten champ Michigan. There was nevertheless plenty of discussion among fans over whether Scott Frost would or should be retained. He was, but the results almost certainly need to come this year.

Cause for optimism: The league schedule works more in the Cornhuskers’ favor this season. There’s still a crossover game with Michigan but no Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan State from the East on the slate. If things go well for Nebraska, the Oct. 29 home date with Illinois could be the key to bowl eligibility. As far as personnel matters are concerned, Texas transfer Casey Thompson appears ready to step in at QB, and RB Anthony Grant showed plenty of flash in the spring.

Cause for skepticism: Being close is one thing, but obviously the Cornhuskers need to get over the hump in those one-score contests. Eliminating turnovers would help in that regard; Nebraska was only minus-5 overall in turnover margin last season but the miscues always seemed to occur at the most inopportune times.

Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football: Why these seven teams could bounce back this season





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