Predicting the 25 College Football Teams Most Likely to Regress in 2014
Parity still hasn't come to college football as much as in other sports, where the winners keep on winning and the losers continue what they're best at. A few exceptions occur each year, up or down, but, for the most part, things stay pretty consistent from year to year.
Which means that, for many of the teams that were on the upswing in 2013, there's a pretty good chance that 2014 will trend downward.
Whether it be because of a coaching change, a mass exodus of talent or a switch in conferences, there are many FBS programs that are almost assured of some sort of a backslide from the level they reached last season.
Here's our list of the 25 programs that are most likely to experience progress slippage in 2014.
Regression reason: Huge offensive holes to fill
Arizona logged its second straight 8-win season under Rich Rodriguez, but two of the main principles of those teams have been Ka'Deem Carey and an effective, mobile quarterback. The Wildcats enter spring practice with neither, at least as far as ones with college experience.
With Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker gone from the backfield, Arizona will be breaking in a new tandem of weapons to go with a stellar receiving corps, but it will likely take some time and might lead to a 6-6 year based on the schedule and all of the uncertainty.
One thing's for certain, though: RichRod plans to go fast, no matter what proposed rules come about.
Ball State Cardinals
Regression reason: Bye-bye big arm, best receiver
Ball State won 10 games in 2013 thanks mostly to the 1-2 pass-catching combination of quarterback Keith Wenning (4,148 yards, 35 touchdowns) and receiver Willie Snead (1,516 yards, 15 TDs). Both were at the NFL combine last month.
And while the Cardinals still have a good one in running back Jahwan Edwards, most Mid-American teams not led by Jordan Lynch need more than one standout offensive player to be able to stay at the same level of performance from year to year. Ball State should drop off a bit, but that won't keep it from contending for a division title.
Boston College Eagles
Regression reason: Cupboard is empty
Boston College had a Senior Day during the regular season in 2013, but its real sendoff for a senior-heavy roster came in the Eagles' bowl game loss to Arizona. It was during that game that BC fans got a real idea of how much they were losing in quarterback Chase Rettig, 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams and top receiver Alex Amidon.
Steve Addazio will need to work hard this spring to develop whoever is taking over each of those spots, but even with a five-game September homestand (which includes visits from Colorado State, Pittsburgh and USC, teams that could all be favored) the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match last year's results.
Regression reason: Mack ain't back
Each year it seems some stud defensive player comes out of the lower levels of the FBS, and this year that was Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. The attention he got was deserving, but it also pointed out how his departure was going to leave a gaping hole in the Bulls' defense in 2014.
And Buffalo gets to face Baylor again this fall, albeit at home. Good luck dealing with that kind of attack without Mack.
Central Florida Knights
Regression reason: The Bortles blowback
Nobody really knew anything about Central Florida before 2013, other than maybe those who happened to follow what happened to George O'Leary after his short-lived Notre Dame tenure. But after Blake Bortles and the Knights stormed the BCS' final grouping and won the Fiesta Bowl, UCF is one of those trendy teams from outside the traditional powers.
Yet UCF will very likely suffer a serious backslide, what with the school losing not only Bortles to the NFL but also leading rusher Storm Johnson, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Fleming. And because it's how things go in modern sports, the Knights will probably be on TV a lot—the schedule includes a meeting with Penn State in Ireland, as well as matchups with Missouri and BYU—and have to go through this transition year under much scrutiny.
Regression reason: Boyd and his big-time receivers are gone
Clemson's offense won't look very different in 2014 in terms of scheme and approach, but the players will be in new uniform numbers with the loss of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
The Tigers have a hellacious schedule to open, starting at Georgia before hosting and then visiting Florida State three weeks later. They could match their 2013 loss total before September is complete.
Duke Blue Devils
Regression reason: Lightning doesn't strike twice
More than any other team, Duke was far and away the winner of the "who saw that coming?" award in 2013, going from one of seemingly dozens of middle-of-the-road teams to an ACC division winner. The Blue Devils did it with just enough offense and just enough defense, but also took advantage of being on the weaker side of its league and avoiding Clemson and Florida State in crossover games.
And most of that team is back, but the key change in 2014 will be the lack of getting to sneak up on anybody. Offensive coordinator Ted Roof is gone, too, which will have an effect on the Devils' gameplan. Though Duke should still go bowling, winning the Coastal Division again isn't likely.
Florida State Seminoles
Regression reason: Law of averages
Regress is a very broad term, and for the sake of this piece it simply means drop off from current levels of performance. For defending national champion Florida State, all that really means is that the Seminoles are apt to lose a game this season.
While FSU does have uber-star Jameis Winston back, most of the other mercurial members of the title team are preparing for NFL careers. And while the backups are solid, and the incoming recruits are among the best in the nation, there's also history working against the 'Noles. Miami (Fla.) was the last team to go unbeaten as defending champs, and that was more than a decade ago.
Whether it be the opener against Oklahoma State on the Dallas Cowboys' home field, the visit from Notre Dame (and its national media flock) or a late-season trip to Louisville or Miami, FSU's 2014 schedule includes plenty of potential hiccup spots. All it takes is one.
Fresno State Bulldogs
Regression reason: Rough travel without Carr
It took until the last game of the 2013 regular season for Fresno State to suffer its first loss, but this season the Bulldogs could start 0-3 with games at USC and Utah and then a visit from Nebraska in the first three weeks.
Considering Fresno got crushed by USC in the Las Vegas Bowl three months ago, and won't have record-breaking quarterback Derek Carr and prolific receiver Davante Adams for the rematch, dropping that opener is almost a sure thing. The Bulldogs will need time to develop their offense, which will force a porous defense to take on far too much responsibility for it to handle.
Regression reason: Petrino transition patience
Charlie Strong turned Louisville into a defensive juggernaut, but also had the good fortune of one of the nation's best quarterbacks running his offense. Bobby Petrino will have neither of those at his disposal.
Pieces of the 2013 Cardinals defense remain, but Petrino is an offense-first coach, and he'll need to focus on building around receiver DeVante Parker, and that's going to take some time. Enough tinkering might be able to get done to beat Miami (Fla.) in the ACC opener on Labor Day, but later in the season there seems to be test after test with visits to Clemson and Notre Dame as well as hosting Florida State.
Petrino should win again at Louisville, but he's not going to go 12-1 in 2014.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Regression reason: Patchwork offense won't hold up
Looking back on the 2013 season, Minnesota used a pretty good defense and basically some smoke and mirrors on offense to win eight games, but the Golden Gophers got to that win total after 10 games and were still there after 13 as they stopped moving the ball consistently.
Minnesota used a wholly ineffective two-quarterback system, but Patrick Nelson transferred out so the reins have been handed over to Mitch Leidner. He and tailback David Cobb are capable of production, but with a back-loaded schedule that makes last year's finish seem like nothing, Minnesota will be hard-pressed to reach 2013 levels of success.
Regression reason: Defensive do-over
Missouri's front line included two of the nation's best pure pass rushers in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, and the pressure they put on opposing offenses set the tone for the Tigers' breakout season. They also helped ease the midseason loss of James Franklin at quarterback.
But in 2014, it's going to have to be about the offense for Missouri, with Maty Mauk stepping in to heaping expectations. He'll have Dorial Green-Beckham as a reliable weapon, but after a year where almost everything went Mizzou's way, some things are bound to turn the other direction.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Regression reason: The Jordan Lynch hangover
No single player meant more to his team in 2013 (as well as 2012) than Jordan Lynch, the do-everything quarterback who threw, ran and occasionally even caught touchdowns and provided nearly all of the Huskies' offense. On the odd chance he got stuffed, Northern Illinois struggled mightily.
So it stands to reason that, with Lynch no longer running the show, NIU is going to take a big step back. But the Huskies were solid before Lynch, and should still contend for a Mid-American title. They just won't be busting any new playoff systems or anything.
North Texas Mean Green
Regression reason: Mid-major blues
It's probably a good thing North Texas coach Dan McCarney has reportedly earned a five-year contract extension, because the Mean Green are probably going to fall back to Earth this year after a breakout 2013.
UNT went 9-4 and won a New Year's Day bowl game, but it did so with a very senior-laden team. That means new faces all over the field, which will inevitably lead to some growing pains. Conference USA actually got weaker in the Mean Green's second season as a member, but not enough to keep UNT at the same level as last year.
Old Dominion Monarchs
Regression reason: Full-fledged competition
Old Dominion went an impressive 8-4 as a first-year FBS team last season, but that record deserves an asterisk. The Monarchs only played five teams from the upper division, going 1-4, while they went 7-0 against FCS opponents.
This time around it will be 11 FBS foes, including a full Conference USA schedule and trips to North Carolina State and Vanderbilt. Old Dominion has a solid senior quarterback in Taylor Heinicke, but he won't be enough to knock off a majority of the opponents.
Oregon State Beavers
Regression reason: Consistent inconsistency
Oregon State shook off an embarrassing home loss to an FCS team to win six straight. Then the Beavers lost five in a row, but backed into a bowl game and won it.
And that was with the nation's best receiver, Brandin Cooks, out there catching passes each and every game. How crazy will the 2014 season be for OSU without Sean Mannion able to look to such a reliable weapon? He had 15 interceptions last year and 46 for his career, so craziness is very possible.
Regression reason: The road to mediocrity
No other returning conference champion plays as few home games as Rice in 2014, as the Owls will play just five games at Rice Stadium. Not the kind of way to ease in a team that is replacing its quarterback, running back and several other starters.
Then there's that road schedule, which starts with trips to Notre Dame and Texas A&M and ends with visits to Marshall and an improved Louisiana Tech squad. Rice might still vie for a Conference USA division title, but it won't be as easy as last season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Regression reason: Realignment rough seas
Rutgers struggled mightily to hold its own with the better teams in the mid-tier American Athletic Conference last season, and now the Scarlet Knights are headed to the far superior Big Ten. That's a recipe for disaster, especially after how bad Rutgers played down the stretch in 2013.
The upcoming trips to Columbus, East Lansing and Lincoln will make those past visits to Cincinnati and Tampa feel like vacations.
Texas A&M Aggies
Regression reason: Here's (not) Johnny
While NFL teams are trying to decide which one of them wants to take a risk on Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M is in the process of figuring out a way to replace the player to put it back on the national map.
And by the time Manziel is wrapping up his first pro preseason, whoever succeeds him will be getting a trial-by-fire in a visit to South Carolina to christen the new SEC Network. That one game won't make or break the Aggies' season, but it will set the tone for 2014.
A&M has far too many losable games—how about visiting both Alabama and Auburn in a 21-day span—to not expect some backslide.
Regression reason: So many stats to replace
Quarterback Corey Robinson threw for more than 13,000 yards in four seasons at Troy, topping 3,000 yards every season. That's a lot to lose, and the Trojans are going to feel that loss early against the likes of Duke and Georgia.
Once the Sun Belt schedule comes around, though, Troy has a chance to compete for the top spot, but will need to get its offense situated before then. That's asking a lot, and it says here that won't happen.
Tulane Green Wave
Regression reason: League upgrade, performance downgrade
Tulane made its first bowl game since 2002, but there was still a lot of room for improvement, particularly on offense. That improvement will need to come against an enhanced schedule, though, as the Green Wave go from finishing fourth in its division in Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
That means instead of playing Florida International or UTEP it will be games against Cincinnati and other teams that bolted C-USA this offseason (East Carolina) or in the past (Houston).
UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Regression reason: Snake eyes
UNLV went all-in last season, riding a senior-heavy team to its first bowl appearance since 2000, and Bobby Hauck earned a contract extension for collecting more wins (seven) than in his first three years as coach.
Now it might be time for the house to collect on the Runnin' Rebels, who lost quarterback Caleb Herring and running back Tim Cornett and now face a 2014 campaign that includes trips to Arizona, BYU, San Diego State and Utah State. The odds aren't good for UNLV to get back to seven wins.
Regression reason: Starting over
The accomplishments achieved under James Franklin were among the best in school history at Vanderbilt, but Franklin's departure to Penn State also signals a sea of change at the SEC's lone private school. And while Derek Mason was a good hire, he's got an uphill battle at the start.
The schedule isn't particularly daunting, aside from a stretch in the middle where the Commodores visit Georgia and Missouri in a 21-day span, but some graduated talent and a so-so recruiting class don't make for the greatest transitions from one regime to the next.
Regression reason: This ain't Boise anymore
The switch from Steve Sarkisian to Chris Petersen at Washington looks like a good trade off for the program, which only in its last season under the former exceeded seven wins. But while Petersen was wildly successful at Boise, getting the Broncos into the BCS multiple times, overall his road to greatness wasn't as difficult going through the Mountain West.
The Pac-12 is among the deeper leagues in the nation, with very few off weeks, as Petersen and his young offense will discover through a schedule that features Oregon and Arizona state back-to-back, and the same later with UCLA and Arizona.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Regression reason: Conference upgrade, new coach
Jeff Brohm is a first-time head coach, and while he has familiarity with Western Kentucky as the team's offensive coordinator last season, he was doing so with Bobby Petrino calling the plays. Now he's running the show, but it will be a tougher road with the move to Conference USA.
While C-USA isn't much better than the Sun Belt, the schedule won't include a bunch of recent-to-FBS teams that serve as easier opponents. The Hilltoppers have a better chance to get to a bowl game now, but reaching eight wins again might be difficult.