Texas: I know. Hear me out. Texas is not as far away as you think – they finished Top 20 in SRS the past two seasons – and the defense cannot be that bad again. The Longhorns return 19 starters. The Big 12 looks set for a down year. Only three starting quarterbacks return. Five of the ten teams are losing at least half their starters, including Kansas State and Oklahoma. A moderate improvement by Texas could lead to major rewards.
Michigan State: The Spartans lost five conference games, by a combined 10 points in regulation. Had their passing offense (with a new quarterback and no experienced receivers) not been terrible, the season could have been different. Michigan State’s offense should be better. Their defense should remain strong. They dump both Ohio State and Wisconsin from their Big Ten schedule. Harsh things should happen if this team does not bounce back into the 9-10 win range.
Miami: There has been a break in the NCAA storm clouds. It is hard to see the program itself facing much further punishment. Miami has 19 starters coming back, including 10 from a Top 20 yards per play offense. If the defense, which has talent, can improve from last year’s dismal performance, Miami should compete for an ACC Title and potentially be eligible to win it.
Michigan: Michigan will be starting a number of young players, but also a number of talented young players. Al Borges will get a year to groom Devin Gardner, a quarterback more capable of his preferred offense. The real reason to expect Michigan to bounce back is the 2013 schedule is much easier. They don’t play Alabama. They get Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State in Ann Arbor, where Brady Hoke is 14-0.
Washington: Washington is a team that beat Stanford and Oregon State. It’s also a team that blew an 18-point lead in the 4th quarter against Washington State. This is the fifth-year under Sarkisian. It’s the second year under both coordinators. They bring back 17 starters, including senior quarterback Keith Price. All four classes of players will have been ranked in the Top 30. If Washington is going to get over the seven-win plateau under Sark, this has to be the year.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]