Who will make college football’s complicated system of polls more eyebrow-raising? Who will make pundits look ill-informed, cause unsuspecting fans to morph into surrender-cobras and create pandemonium on beautiful, fall Saturdays?
Ahh, the Cinderellas, aka Cindys, of college football. They can trip up a team or rip it to shreds when the final tick of the clock, well… tocks.
Is it possible to predict which teams are the Cindys this year? Sure, anyone can predict, of course, but accuracy still counts.
There are at least six teams that are trending up and should outperform their (expected) preseason projections. Depending on how they finish, I am either spot on in my analysis or have enacted the Kiss of Death.
Let the glass slipper quest begin.
Yep, they’re baaaaack. Could USC go all the way? Maybe, if the defense makes drastic improvements in all facets of defending an end zone. The fact that USC is even in the Cindy conversation is a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the legendary football program. But hope springs eternal.
Clay Helton (46-24, 2-3 in bowls) is out. Lincoln Riley (55-10, 3 CFB berths) is in. Quarterback Caleb Williams is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and his tosses to receiver Jordan Addison may look like giant beach balls. The defense has been porous and it still may be a year away from its former nasty self. But if SC can throw up 50+ points per game, the defense can camouflage its warts with a bend-don’t-break style and no one will care.
The USC Trojans are expected to rise up after the coaching change and there should be enough angst in the locker room to make up for the last 10 years. Big Ten bound, Arrogant Nation is back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
OK, I know, but hear me out here. The Demon Deacons went 11-3 last year. They have one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country in Sam Hartman. They also have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC, according to Phil Steele.
The scheduling Gods were kind to Wake Forest. They play a non-conference game at Vanderbilt and get Virginia Military Institute and Liberty at home before hosting Clemson on September 24.
They avoid Miami and Pitt—if the Demon Deacons can split the Ws against Clemson and NC State, they’ve got a great shot at returning for a conference championship berth.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
The ACC Atlantic has three or four heavyweights contending for the division title. Beside Wake Forest, NC State is another up-and-comer. The Wolfpack have been sniffing at Clemson’s dominance for awhile but this may be the year they get to be top dog.
NC State has 17 returning starters—including all but one on defense— and that bodes well for a team that went 9-3 last season. Their schedule has a few speedbumps. Playing Texas Tech in week three is a tough out. A date at Clemson after hosting UConn is a potential let down. NC State ends its season with two road trips to Louisville and North Carolina.
It’s a championship schedule… if they want it to be.
A lot of folks are talking about Utah—and rightly so—but not so fast, my friend. U.C.L.A. has slowly improved to the point where every team on its schedule should take the Bruins more seriously.
Last year, quarterback Damian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) led the Bruins on some exceptional offensive drives. He minimized mental mistakes and took on more of a leadership role. DTR had a 62.2 completion percentage, threw for more than 2,400 yards and had a 21-6 TD-INT ratio. The Bruins’ defense will have to pick up the slack, though, if they want to be called elite.
Last year the Bruins were nationally ranked No. 70 in total defense, albeit they had a Top 25 rush defense. This year the Bruins face a pressing problem with their back seven. They lost their top backers and only return one starter in the secondary. Still, with the fresh air of Big Ten money under their paws, I think this is the year U.C.L.A. finally gets respect from the pollsters.
I have been a closet Hurricane fan forever. So yeah, my expectations have lowered a little—OK, a lot—over the past decade. That changed when Oregon Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal fled the cozy, green confines of Eugene and headed back to the expansive, pastel tropics of Miami. Cristobal’s staff is noteworthy and the recruiting has been pedal-to-the-medal. The ‘Canes currently have a Top 15 recruiting class.
One of Miami’s biggest reasons for mediocre football (beside coaching hires) has been quarterback play. Tyler Van Dyke will make fans forget about the last decade. He is the first Miami quarterback since Bernie Kosar to have three 325-plus passing yard games, according to Phil Steele.
Miami’s defense has always been a strength and this year’s defense will be experienced and nasty. Cristobal has banned the Turnover Chain, much to my dismay, but I still expect some sort of innovative reward for some excellent playmaking. Maybe an Orange Bowl berth?
South Carolina Gamecocks
While everyone fusses over the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs, South Carolina may derail Georgia’s “Repeat” in week three. Remember, Georgia opens the season in Atlanta against the Oregon Ducks. The Bulldogs travel to South Carolina two weeks later. Am I calling for an upset?
Yes, yes I am.
Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler will be under center. Solid and consistent quarterback play has been a missing piece of the Gamecocks’ offense since 2013 (Connor Shaw). Head coach Shane Beamer is an up-and-coming genius who has the defense and special teams humming—the offense is all that needs to be tweaked.
Everything is looking like the perfect (sand) storm.
Tennessee (because, Tennessee… am I right Vol fans?)
Texas (the Longhorns will be listed here until they are officially “back”)
Baylor (I voted them No. 1 on my preseason Big XII poll as did the majority of Big XII media members so they aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year)
Kansas State (RB Deuce Vaughn is my dark horse Heisman contender but the Wildcats need more than a locomotive to get through that dark tunnel. The road schedule is: at OU, at ISU, at TCU, at Baylor and at WVU)