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Bill Connelly | August 27, 2013

The 2013 College Football Index

The 2013 College
Football Index

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American

Tier 1

Cincinnati

Cincinnati has been a top-30 team for six of the last seven years and gets Louisville at home to finish the season. Can the Bearcats kill the Cardinals' BCS dreams? And is Louisville even going to be the 11-0 team heading into that game?

Louisville

Louisville has improved dramatically in three years under Charlie Strong and should improve again in 2013. But let's tap the brakes a bit on the hype.

Tier 2

Rutgers

Rutgers takes the field in 2013 with quite a few former star recruits and perhaps more pure talent than it has had in recent history. But most of the star recruits are freshmen or sophomores, and most of the players you remember from last year are gone. What can we make of the most volatile, high-variance team in the AAC?

USF

Following his version of the Harbaugh Way, Willie Taggart created something out of nothing at Western Kentucky. Now he inherits a USF squad with potentially outstanding lines and serious question marks in the backfields. With competence at QB, the Bulls could win quite a few games this year.

Tier 3

UCF

No, UCF is not taking on a massive upgrade in its new conference. Still, it's a sign of accomplishment that the Knights are already one of the more stable programs in the American. The question for 2013 is whether they can avoid a bit of a defensive step backwards after the loss of some key pieces.

Houston

Fortunes aren't supposed to change rapidly (and change again and again) for most schools, but most schools aren't Houston. What can second-year head coach Tony Levine make of a team of a team so young a year ago that is still pretty young? Can the Cougars take advantage of a schedule built for wins?

Tier 4

UConn

With a hopeless offense and a fierce defensive front seven, UConn was basically a poor man's Rutgers last season. But like Rutgers, the Huskies have to hope the offense improves enough to offset some defensive regression coming down the pike.

SMU

This feels like a transition year for SMU, with major turnover on the offensive line and defensive front seven and a quarterback who still doesn't quite seem to match the scheme. For now just let's just enjoy the June Jones-Hal Mumme partnership and look for fireworks in 2014.

Memphis

In Justin Fuente's first year as Memphis head coach, the defense came around in October, the offense came around in November, and the Tigers finished the year playing legitimately solid ball after a few years in the wilderness. The goal for 2013: solidify those gains. And hope the injury bug stays away from the defense.

Temple

The seductive Steve Addazio was the head coach for what may have been Temple's best team ever in 2011, then oversaw a pretty significant decline in 2012, then left for Boston College. Can former Temple assistant Matt Rhule steer the Owls through a navigable slate and get them back to a bowl in 2013?

ACC

Tier 1

Florida State

Florida State has improved in all three years under Jimbo Fisher. Though turnover, both on the roster and coaching staff, could prevent the 'Noles from pulling it off for a fourth straight year, let's not pretend they're going to fall very far.

Clemson

Yes, Clemson has disappointed in the past. Yes, thanks to a pretty aggressive (and almost unfair) preseason ranking, the odds are decent that the Tigers will disappoint again. But Dabo Swinney is building elite depth to go alongside his stars, and the schedule certainly smiles on Death Valley this year.

Tier 2

Miami

With a young squad, Miami looked pretty damn good last November. If the Hurricanes can escape a further postseason ban when (or if) the NCAA finally announces its sanctions for the Nevin Shapiro scandal, they could certainly continue that momentum and find themselves in the ACC title game this December.

Virginia Tech

Frank Beamer knows bounce-backs. He's pulled off quite a few of them at Virginia Tech, and he could engineer another one, but it probably won't be until 2014. A mostly light schedule should easily keep a two-decade bowl streak alive, but the Hokies will be building more for the future than for the present.

North Carolina

UNC has weathered an NCAA storm and won 39 games in the last five years. Life is better than it was when Butch Davis took over, but can Larry Fedora and his second-year Heels kick things up a notch or two?

Tier 3

Georgia Tech

After showing extra promise in his first two seasons, Paul Johnson has basically settled into a Chan Gailey groove, averaging right around seven wins per season. Can a new defensive coordinator improve a unit that held back another fun, successful Flexbone offense?

Pitt

Pitt has mastered the art of overachieving in unimpressive fashion, but has weathered a series of awkward coaching changes. Can that continue after quite a bit of turnover and roster issues?

NC State

Tom O'Brien's legacy at NC State: he built a perfectly average program. Fast-riser Dave Doeren will now see if you can do something more in Raleigh. He's passed the tests he's been given thus far, but don't expect much in 2013.

Tier 4

Syracuse

Doug Marrone sold while his stock was high, but he left the Syracuse program in infinitely better shape than it was when he arrived. Can Scott Shafer raise the Orange's recruiting and avoid a temporary dropoff? And doesn't it feel right that Syracuse finishes the season with Pitt and Boston College?

Wake Forest

Injuries, youth, and a small margin for error conspired against Wake Forest in 2012. Can offensive tweaks and defensive health lead to another bounce-back for Jim Grobe and his Demon Deacons?

Maryland

No team should have to go through what Maryland went through last year from an injuries standpoint. But through the travails, a ridiculously young Terrapins squad gave reason for hope. Can the 2013 team break through, or are Randy Edsall's Terps still a year away?

Boston College

Boston College will have a few more weapons than you realize in Steve Addazio's first season at the helm. But the Eagles will have to seal the deal in every winnable game to reach the postseason for the first time in three years.

Virginia

Virginia probably wasn't as good as its record in 2011 or as bad as its record in 2012. But head coach Mike London is certainly feeling some pressure heading into his fourth season in Charlottesville. Can some big staff changes and another nice recruiting class help to turn things back around for the Hoos?

Duke

The recipe Duke followed for making a bowl game last year could certainly be replicable again for David Cutcliffe and his Blue Devils at some point. But it still requires some breaks.

BIG 12

Tier 1

Texas

Mack Brown's reputation is still taking hits because of Texas' 2010 collapse. And perhaps that's justifiable. But the Longhorns have slowly rebuilt themselves in the past two seasons, and with a ridiculously experienced two-deep and reasonably good health, they could play at an elite level in 2013.

TCU

Injuries and arrests forced TCU to field a ridiculously inexperienced squad in its first year in the Big 12. Head coach Gary Patterson and his Horned Frogs survived, however, and now it's time to make a run at a conference title.

Oklahoma State

What Mike Gundy lacks in tact, he makes up for with coaching prowess, and for the fourth straight year he will likely be at the reins of a top-15 team in Stillwater, at least as long as his staff changes are as successful as the last ones.

Oklahoma

In terms of advanced stats, Oklahoma has ranked in the top 10 for six consecutive seasons. So why is Bob Stoops so feisty this offseason? And what the hell happened to the Sooners' defensive line?

Baylor

Baylor is winning recruiting battles versus Texas, building a ridiculous new stadium, and becoming the hippest, trendiest football program in the country. Baylor! But are the Bears ready for a run at a conference title?

Tier 2

Kansas State

Go ahead. Bet against Kansas State. Bill Snyder dares you.

Texas Tech

New Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has probably already been embraced by a larger portion of the fan base than Tommy Tuberville ever was. Now we have to find out if he can coach. Fun comes back to Lubbock in 2013; will wins follow in a brutally deep Big 12?

Tier 3

West Virginia

Dana Holgorsen always fields a strong offense, and West Virginia always goes bowling ... right? In 2013, Holgorsen faces the biggest challenge of his career, replacing some superior offensive talent and attempting to patch holes in a defense that might not have been as awful as you think, but still wasn't good enough.

Iowa State

Iowa State has improved in three of Paul Rhoads' four seasons in Ames. The Cyclones have claimed some scalps along the way, too. Can they continue the growth in 2013 with a thinned out defensive front seven and a perpetually iffy passing game?

Tier 4

Kansas

Kansas has beaten four FBS teams in three years and beat exactly zero of them in Charlie Weis' first season. Can you blame Weis, then, for loading up on transfers and hoping for the best?

BIG TEN

Tier 1

Ohio State

Is Ohio State truly one of the two or three best teams in the country right now? Probably not. But with that schedule, the Buckeyes won't need many breaks to contend for the national title regardless.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin is experiencing a football golden age because of two great coaching hires. Did they make a third in Gary Andersen? And can Andersen make the most of quite a few interesting weapons this fall?

Michigan

Brady Hoke's team has been a rousing success and a slight disappointment in his first two years. With an identity change on offense and a still-shaky pass defense, can the Wolverines take full advantage of a schedule that might allow for a top-15 team to go undefeated?

Michigan State

With what should be one of the two or three best defenses in the country and a mostly easy home slate, Michigan State should easily place in the top 20 and win eight to nine games. The numbers suggest the ceiling could be much, much higher, but the eyeballs saw a little too much of last year's offense to buy it.

Nebraska

Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has established itself as a consistent top-25 team capable of winning nine to 10 games a year. With a wonderful backfield and disturbingly easy schedule, the Huskers could top that total this fall. But a sketchy defense could lead to an unhappy ending, just like it did last year.

Northwestern

We don't yet know whether 2012 was a breakthrough, a peak, or neither for Northwestern. We also don't know what the ceiling is for a team with stronger strengths and, potentially, weaker weaknesses that last year's squad. But we do know that the Wildcats were fun to watch and should be again in 2013.

Penn State

Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien pulled off one of the greatest coaching jobs you'll ever see in 2012, not only preventing collapse after a turbulent (to say the least) few months, but actually engineering some improvement. And now his job gets harder.

Tier 2

Indiana

Indiana pulled off a rare feat in 2012: a semi-satisfying, encouraging four-win season. Can third-year coach Kevin Wilson patch the holes in the defense enough to ride an absurdly easy home slate to six wins and Indiana's second bowl bid in 20 years?

Iowa

Kirk Ferentz has as much job security as a guy could ask for after three straight years of significantly diminishing returns. Will the faith in Ferentz pay off? The outlook is not particularly rosy.

Purdue

Purdue's hire of new head coach Darrell Hazell was safe and sensible. But with a flawed roster at his disposal and a brutal schedule on tap, we probably won't begin to learn if he was the right hire until at least 2014.

Minnesota

The Year 3 Turn was very good to Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill at previous stops. But with a Gopher squad built to tread water and lacking in star power, Kill has his work cut out for him in 2013.

Illinois

Tim Beckman didn't really do anything right in his first year as Illinois head coach, but it's hard to say that anybody would have been able to make much of the roster he inherited. Does the two-deep look any more promising this time around? Not really.

Conference USA

Tier 1

Tulsa

With Southern Miss' 2012 collapse, Tulsa is undoubtedly the class the new Conference USA. But Bill Blankenship's third Golden Hurricane squad must replace some serious play-making ability from an underrated, explosive defense. In its final year in C-USA, can Tulsa claim one more conference crown?

East Carolina

Head coach Ruffin McNeill comes across as one of the nicest coaches in college football, but a pretty mean, experienced ECU team could be the favorite to win the C-USA East in 2013. At least if that bendy defense stiffens a bit.

Rice

On October 6, 2012, Rice lost to Memphis to fall to 1-6 and put head coach David Bailiff near the top of any coaches-on-the-hot-seat list. Six months later, the Owls are riding a five-game winning streak, returning almost literally everybody, and talking about a conference title.

Marshall

Doc Holliday has done a rather stunning job of amassing star recruits in three years at Marshall, but he only has 20 wins to show for it. If a breakthrough is going to come, it should come pretty quickly; and if it does, the Thundering Herd could become the preeminent power in the Future C-USA. Peace, love, and pannkaka blockeras.

Tier 2

Middle Tennessee

A new offensive coordinator made a world of difference for Rick Stockstill and Middle Tennessee in 2012. The Blue Raiders bounced back after a 2011 collapse, and with a load of returning experience, could make a pretty smooth transition to Conference USA ball this fall.

Southern Miss

Southern Miss made a confusing hire in replacing Larry Fedora with Ellis Johnson in 2012. The result was not only an end to the Golden Eagles' 18-year streak of winning seasons, but a complete and utter collapse to 0-12. After just one year, Johnson was replaced with Todd Monken, who perhaps should have been the choice all along. Monken inherits a team rich with experience and poor with confidence. Time to pretend last fall didn't actually happen.

UTEP

The UTEP job is a difficult one, but UTEP alum and respected offensive line coach Sean Kugler succeeds Mike Price and attempts to make something out of a Texas A&M transfer quarterback, some weapons, and a green defense.

Louisiana Tech

When you knowingly change course away from an approach that is working, it is either brave and filled with foresight, or it is pretty stupid and likely to backfire miserably.

UAB

UAB threatened Ohio State well into the fourth quarter in Columbus and got destroyed by Memphis at home. Garrick McGee's first season in charge was full of upside, youth, and serious head-scratchers.

Tulane

Tulane improved a little bit in Curtis Johnson's first year as head coach. The Green Wave should improve a little bit more in 2013. The goals are modest, but the schedule is pretty easy. Can Tulane top four wins for the first time in eight years?

FIU

FIU earned quite a bit of bad press for firing Mario Cristobal after a single bad season, then taking a swing at Butch Davis and missing. New coach Ron Turner, however, inherits a squad that is interesting and athletic and has spent much of the last two years underachieving. Good luck figuring out what this team might do in 2013.

UTSA

UTSA has played 22 games in its existence, and it has already climbed a couple of rungs in the realignment ladder. Larry Coker's Roadrunners begin life in Conference USA with an interesting, experienced offense and a defense that needed a lot of help from JUCO recruiting.

North Texas

Year 2 for Dan McCarney looked quite a bit like Year 1. But entering his third year in Denton, he has what is pretty clearly his deepest team. Will that matter now that the Mean Green are in a deeper conference? And ... is Conference USA actually deeper than the Sun Belt?

Tier 3

FAU

FAU's late promotion to Conference USA was based mostly off of potential instead of recent production. But while the offense will probably hold the Owls back, a late-2012 surge (and an outright stud at receiver) makes them worth watching, just in case.

2013 College
Football Index

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Independents

Army

Two years ago, it looked like Army had turned a corner in its long battle to catch back up with Navy and simply provide sustained competence on the football field. Now, not so much.

BYU

BYU couldn't keep a quarterback healthy in 2012, and its offensive issues (and some turnovers luck) wasted the efforts of what was perhaps the most fun defense in the country to watch. The defense is thinner, but the offense could be healthy enough to meet the challenge of what is one hell of a 2013 schedule.

Idaho

Paul Petrino seems to play the underdog well. At least, he better, because there might not be a bigger underdog in FBS this fall than his first squad at Idaho.

Navy

Navy regressed considerably in 2012, but some close-game bounces and a freshman quarterback helped the Midshipmen reach a bowl for the ninth time in 10 seasons. Will winning beget more winning in 2013, or will regression toward the mean (and an awful defense) catch up to them?

New Mexico State

New Mexico State spent most of 2012 wondering if it had a future at the FBS level (and playing like it didn't). But the Aggies now have a new coach, a new future conference, and a new lease on life. There's nowhere to go but up for the NMSU program, and it should go up at least a little bit in 2013.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame was a top-15 team on paper in 2011, then played like it in 2012. Can the Irish manage a fourth straight year of steady improvement under Brian Kelly? And can they get enough breaks to reach the national title game again?

MAC

Tier 1

Northern Illinois

Toledo, Ohio, and Bowling Green could all make a run at the MAC championship this year. But until Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois give us reason to think otherwise, we should probably consider the Huskies the favorite for one more year.

Toledo

Toledo's got depth, athleticism, coaching, and 26 wins in three years. It's time for the Rockets to turn that into a conference title.

Ohio

Ohio battled through a ton of injuries in 2012 and still managed to eke out a 9-4 record. With experience and better health, another happy win total seems likely. Beware the Bobcats, Louisville.

Bowling Green

Bowling Green's defense dominated for most of the final two thirds of 2012 and returns almost every major contributor. Can the Falcons' offense, inefficient but loaded with potential last fall, take a step forward to match the D?

Tier 2

Ball State

Ball State's Pete Lembo might be one of the more underrated coaches in the country. He has churned out 11 winning seasons in 12 years at three different schools. He will probably make it 12 in 13 this fall.

Kent State

Kent State returns star power in Dri Archer, Trayion Durham, and Roosevelt Nix. But turnover in both the coaching staff and on the field should ensure a slow start for the Golden Flashes in 2013.

Buffalo

Buffalo heads into 2013 loaded with experience and a play-making defense. If the Bulls are to return to bowl eligibility, now's the time.

Western Michigan

Western Michigan took a chance by hiring 32-year-old former MAC star P.J. Fleck as its head coach. Can he and his new staff make something of spread personnel on offense and iffy personnel on defense?

Central Michigan

CMU was one of the worst bowl teams in recent memory last year, but if raw experience can cure an awful defense, the Chippewas could play a power role in this year's MAC.

Tier 3

Miami

For the first time in three years, Miami's record and quality of play actually matched up in 2012. In a bad way.

Eastern Michigan

EMU football has yet to amount to much. Can the 2013 Eagles build momentum for 2014?

Tier 4

Akron

Terry Bowden still has a really, really long way to go at Akron. Turnarounds can happen pretty quickly in the MAC, and while 2013 probably won't be amazing for Akron, it certainly bears mentioning that the Zips might not have to wait too much longer to make waves.

UMASS

Can the Minutemen improve on just about the worst debut possible?

Mountain West

Tier 1

Boise State

Boise State lost almost all of its starters and fell apart in 2012 ... all the way to 10 wins and a top-25 ranking. Unacceptable. Can these ridiculously disappointing Broncos bounce back toward respectability in 2013? (Spoiler: Yes.)

San Diego State

Geography alone suggests that SDSU should always have at least a competitive football program. But until recently that wasn't the case. Commitment and a couple of strong hires have brought the Aztecs to a sustained level of success that they hadn't seen in almost 40 years.

Fresno State

Fresno State surged in Tim DeRuyter's first season as head coach. With some fun play-makers and an absurdly easy schedule, the Bulldogs should be able to either maintain or improve upon last year's win total in 2013.

Tier 2

San Jose State

In just two years at San Jose State, Mike MacIntyre moved a hyphen. The Spartans went 1-12 in 2010 and 11-2 in 2012. MacIntyre has moved on to Colorado, however, leaving behind a team laden with stars but little depth. Can Ron Caragher take the reins and bring another winning season to Spartan Stadium?

Utah State

Utah State was fantastic in 2012, but the Aggies are now tasked with starting over after the loss of both their head coach and defensive coordinator to Wisconsin. Can Matt Wells and a couple of new coordinators keep the momentum going for a team that still has quite a few stars?

Nevada

The last time head coach Chris Ault retired, the Nevada football program quickly fell into disrepair. Ault returned to fix the program (and invent the pistol offense in the process), but upon his latest retirement, are the Wolf Pack more well-prepared for his absence this time around?

Tier 3

Colorado State

Jim McElwain's first season as Colorado State's head coach could have gone a lot worse. The Rams actually played relatively well down the stretch, and after battling injury and turnover, the roster is quite a bit more experienced and healthy in 2013. Can CSU actually build and maintain momentum for the first time in quite a while?

New Mexico

New Mexico completely fell off the radar screen under Mike Locksley, and while the Lobos still weren't very good in Bob Davie's first season in command, they had an identity and stayed mostly competitive. That's a start.

Wyoming

Wyoming's win total changes drastically each year, even though its overall quality barely changes at all. Entering his fifth year in Laramie, head coach Dave Christensen wields a strong passing game and almost no other proven quantities. After a forgettable four-win season that included an unforgettable post-game rant, does he need to get back to a bowl to save his job?

Air Force

That Air Force regressed and barely made a bowl in 2012 was predictable: the Falcons had to replace 16 of 22 starters from 2011. That they have regressed for three straight years now, however, is a concern. Can another batch of new starters stem the negative tide for head coach Troy Calhoun? An easy schedule cannot hurt.

UNLV

The last UNLV coach fought through three two-win seasons, then won five in his fourth. Bobby Hauck has the "two-win seasons" part covered, but can an experienced, deeper Rebel squad actually break through in the win column this time around?

Tier 3

Hawaii

Norm Chow spent decades crafting a reputation for offensive genius, but it's been almost a decade since he was associated with a good college offense. Hawaii had the worst offense in the country last year, in fact, but can a new coordinator and a new blue-chip quarterback begin to turn things around for the Warriors? It can't get much worse after last year.

Pac-12

Tier 1

Stanford

Best defense in the West? Check. Stability in the backfield? Check. Major-league continuity for a team that has won 35 games in three years? Check. Cooperative (but still pretty challenging) schedule? Check. This might be Stanford's best chance to make a serious run at the national title.

Oregon

All the pieces are in place. Can Oregon make a run at the national title with a new coach in charge? That's almost the only 2013 question for which the Ducks don't have an obvious, impressive answer. (Okay, we have some questions about their linebackers, too.)

Tier 2

USC

Because USC peaked in 2011 and not 2012, Lane Kiffin finds himself on a bit of a hot seat in 2013. With Marqise Lee and a sparkly, aggressive new 3-4 defense, his Trojans should be really fun to watch. But will they be good enough to avoid a winter coaching search?

Arizona State

Todd Graham has earned his reputation for his off-the-field dalliances with other schools. But on the field, Graham inherited a roster in 2012 almost perfectly suited for his style of play. This year, he has experience in his corner as well. Now ... about that schedule ...

Washington

Washington surged defensively, slumped offensively, and finished 7-6 for the third straight year. The Huskies were so young last year that they are still young, but can this exciting squad break through their self-imposed glass ceiling?

UCLA

Jim Mora engineered a hell of a turnaround in Year 1 at Westwood, and he's laying a potentially tremendous long-term foundation. But can his Bruins overcome a rough road schedule and a sketchy secondary to make their third straight Pac-12 title game?

Oregon State

After a rather sudden collapse in 2011, Oregon State bounced back in a major way last fall. Now Mike Riley's Beavers have to prove that 2011 was the oddity.

Arizona

Arizona made the transition to Rich Rodriguez's offense and Jeff Casteel's defense better than expected in 2012; after a shaky offseason, can the Wildcats navigate a pretty easy schedule and sustain last year's improvement in the win column?

Tier 3

California

Sonny Dykes inherits a football program with a high ceiling, thanks in part to Jeff Tedford's 11 years in charge. How much noise can his Golden Bears make in his first year in charge?

Utah

After a season marred by injury and inconsistency, Kyle Whittingham's Utes head into 2013 with drastically lower expectations than they had a year ago. Can a pair of identity changes -- Dennis Erickson joining the offensive staff, speed becoming a larger defensive focus -- change course for a suddenly reeling program?

Washington State

It's safe to say that Washington State games will probably be more fun in 2013 than they were last year. But will they be more successful for the Cougars? We might have to wait one more year on that one.

Tier 4

Colorado

In Mike MacIntyre, Colorado brought in a head coach who did at San Jose State exactly what he will be asked to do in Boulder: salvage a broken program. MacIntyre's track record is fantastic, but even if he succeeds at CU, it's going to take some time.

SEC

Tier 1

Alabama

It takes luck to win a national title. And lord knows it takes quite a bit of luck to win three in four years. But in terms of recruiting, development, and strategy, Nick Saban and Alabama are playing a different game than everybody else in college football. With just a little bit more luck, the Tide might accomplish what has never been done before.

Tier 2

LSU

For just the second time in the Les Miles era, LSU is looking at a preseason ranking worse than 11th. It'll still be ranked, but elite play is not expected of the Tigers this time around. But with a strong-as-ever running game, a strangely underrated secondary, and a good-as-always special teams unit, Miles' Bayou Bengals might make us feel pretty silly for doubting them.

Texas A&M

How do you beat your best season in decades, especially now that your new conference is gunning for you? An all-world quarterback, a navigable schedule, and a rush of new talent sounds like a good start.

Georgia

The timing was almost perfect for Georgia in 2012. Can the Dawgs and their amazing offense overcome a green defense and a brutal early schedule to put themselves in position for another national title run?

South Carolina

A thin South Carolina defense was thinned out even more by graduation, the offense will be relying pretty heavily on an untested sophomore running back, and special teams could be a liability without the star punt returner? Yes, but ... Jadeveon Clowney!

Florida

After a two-year absence, Florida returned to the land of college football's elite in 2012. It did so with what was possibly the least aesthetically pleasing style of play in the country. Can the Gators pull off this no-margin-for-error act again with a less experienced defense?

Tier 3

Ole Miss

It is rare for a team to considerably improve or regress in one year. Well, it's rare for teams not named Ole Miss. The Rebels do it every damn year. Don't pretend like you know what might happen in Hugh Freeze's second year, following huge improvement and a stunning recruiting class in Year 1.

Vanderbilt

The last time Vanderbilt went to back-to-back bowls before last season? Never. The last time the Commodores finished with back-to-back winning seasons? 1974-75. Before that? 1958-59. Vandy isn't supposed to win or attract four-star recruits, but nobody told James Franklin.

Missouri

Missouri headed into 2012 with momentum and optimism. Seven losses and countless injuries later, the Tigers were forced to lick their wounds and hope that their second impression in the SEC goes a lot better than the first. Will it?

Mississippi State

Dan Mullen has taken Mississippi State to three straight bowls, something that hadn't happened since the 1990s (and, before that, hadn't happened at all). But his team has regressed for two straight years; can a seasoned squad begin to turn things back around against a schedule that isn't quite as back-loaded?

Arkansas

Arkansas made a hell of a statement by stealing annual Rose Bowl coach Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin and the Big Ten. But Bielema inherits a relatively thin roster, and it might take him a little while to navigate through the zero-sum SEC West.

Tennessee

New Tennessee head coach Butch Jones inherits a team that will be strong in the trenches and who-the-hell-knows just about everywhere else. Former coach Derek Dooley left him a cupboard that was far from bare, but will Jones be able to engineer enough of a turnaround to get the Vols to their first bowl in three seasons?

Auburn

Auburn's hire of Gus Malzahn made as much sense as any hire this past offseason. Now how quickly can he re-establish the bona fides of a program that has recruited well but, barring one spectacular outlier, has trended downward for most of the last seven years?

Tier 4

Kentucky

New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has passed his early tests with flying colors, recruiting well and drawing 50,000 to the spring game. But the real tests begin in the fall, and the Wildcats likely have a few more to fail before they can become viable on the field.

Sun Belt

Tier 1

Louisiana-Lafayette

In two years, the Cajuns have won 18 games. Mark Hudspeth's teams have been exciting, athletic, fiery, and exceedingly competent, making you wonder how this wasn't a nine-wins-a-year program all along. This coming fall could be even more memorable than the last two were.

ULM

In Todd Berry's third year in charge, ULM leaped to eight wins, an upset of Arkansas, and its first-ever bowl appearance. With an experienced squad returning, what might the Warhawks have for an encore?

Tier 2

Arkansas State

Arkansas State has modeled itself the Boise State of the South. If they could stop losing head coaches at some point, they might just get there. The size of their potential drop-off in 2013 will tell us a lot.

Western Kentucky

When you hire Bobby Petrino, you better have a backup plan in place (and WKU has at least 10 months to figure that one out), but he can still be a tremendous success in the short-term.

Tier 3

Troy

In 2013, a relatively young Troy squad will have to figure out how to both tread water in terms of production and close games better if the Trojans are to avoid a three-year no-bowl streak. A diluted Sun Belt could help, but Troy still has a lot of questions to answer.

Texas State

Texas State's first year at the FBS level went about as well as could have been reasonably expected; the Bobcats have some questions to answer in Year 2, but the ceiling is reasonably high.

Tier 4

South Alabama

If you can find disruptive front-seven talent and craft an offense that is at least semi-efficient and competent, the Joey Jones "Alabama Lite" approach to winning in Mobile could work out pretty well.

Georgia State

Georgia State is going to be absolutely awful in 2013. Terrible. But the Panthers' decision to move to the FBS ranks after just three years in existence was not about the current product. It was about what the product might become.

    About the Author

    Bill-sbn

    Bill Connelly grew up a fan of the Miami Dolphins (post-1970s glory), Pittsburgh Pirates (ditto), Portland Trailblazers (ditto again) and Missouri Tigers. That he still enjoys sports at all shows both severe loyalty and a potential personality disorder. He spends his evening playing with excel sheets and watching DVR'd football games from ESPN Classic. See more of his work at Rock M Nation, Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.

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