9 College Football Teams to Look Out For in 2010

For such a tumultuous off-season in college football, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. Realignment was supposed to decimate the Big 12 and concentrate the power even more. That didn’t happen. Rockstar quarterbacks from Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida all went pro, but they still all sit pretty in the preseason polls. USC is playing for fun this year, so they slipped a bit but still reside at #14.

Are we going to see many surprises in what is shaping up to be a routine season dominated by Ohio State, some SEC teams, Texas, and two wild cards that are now starting to get the benefit of the doubt (Boise St. and TCU)? Who knows? But if we do, you can bet the shake ups will be sparked by one of the following nine teams. Some are ranked high, some aren’t, but all have the ability to shake up what would otherwise be a painfully surprise-free season.

1. TCU
tcu_frogs_smallIt’s fairly redundant to say that a team ranked in the Top 5 is “one to look out for”, but TCU has a luxury in this starting spot that many teams ranked similarly don’t have. With a weak schedule (only ranked opponent is #24 Oregon State), they have the ability to simply lie low for most of the season and hope that the powerhouses eat each other over the course of the season.

One of the biggest flaws of the BCS is that it tends to value an undefeated weak schedule over a tough-as-nails SEC schedule where teams might have a loss or two. The fact that TCU is starting off so high means that if they keep a low profile, they can rise to the top pretty quickly, which is probably their best chance at a championship, as these guys are still not capable of taking on the Floridas and Alabamas of the world just yet.

While they aren’t going to upset anyone on the field, the Horned Frogs could raise hell in the rankings later on in the season, creating a win-or-go-home scenario for teams with much harder schedules.

2. SMU
logo_smu-1In June Jones’ second season he was able to take a team that was the unequivocal laughing stock of Division I football for the past twenty years and turn them into a bowl team. That took two years.What’s in store for year three?

Well, someone had enough faith in the Mustangs to “donate” a top-25 vote to them in the polls. While that might be a bit overzealous, it’s a strong indication that Jones’ 4 or 5-year plan to turn the team around is moving ahead of schedule. They are returning 18(!) of 22 starters from an 8-5 team. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but SMU is quickly jumping from the laughing stock of college football to a serious contender. Last year they turned a corner, this is the first year they get to prove they deserve to reclaim their throne in college football pantheon.

3. Washington Huskies
washington_huskiesWhen the sportswriters are already saying that pro football teams will be tossing in the towel late in the season for the “Jake Locker Sweepstakes,” you can bet that his impact on the Huskies (and the rest of the Pac-10) this year will be profound. After dashing USC’s hopes in last year’s mid-season upset, it’s clear that Locker possesses the whole package. Couple that with the return of All-American receiver Jermaine Kearse, and the concerns about their spotty defense are mitigated. With a Pac-10 Rose Bowl birth up in the air due to USC’s timeout in the corner, expect these guys to make a serious run for the conference title.

Their offensive leadership and big game experience means that this team, hich went winless two years ago, could spell disaster for its myriad ranked opponents, including #14 USC, #8 Nebraska, #24 Oregon State, and #11 Oregon. With that strength of schedule, even a mediocre record achieved by the Huskies could cause fits for its competition in the Pac-10.

4. USC
usc_block_smallCalling their end to the 2009 season a “whimper” is far too generous. The 2009 Trojans fell over hard. Their coach is gone, the program has lost scholarships and recruits, and their new coach seems to have all the integrity of a used-car salesman. Needless to say, 2010 expectations for this former(?) dynasty have been lowered. But have they been lowered too far?

Last years tug-of-war at quarterback between Matt Barkley and Aaron Corps is settled, with Corps packing his bags and going to Richmond. While Barkley didn’t have a banner year last year, he showed the poise and talent one would hope for in a freshman starter. He knows his team, and much of USC’s perennially star-studded recruiting class is left in place.

And the pressure is off. Which might be the biggest factor in USC’s success this season. They have nowhere to go this season. A bowl ban means that these guys exist solely to spoil it for the rest of the teams they play. A strangely enviable position, some might say. Toss in a weaker-than-usual schedule for the Trojans, and this team is in a very unique position to prove how dominant they still are, sanctions be damned. Though they will never get to contend with the best in January, they can still make some noise and let the college football world know that just because they aren’t bowl-eligible, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

5. Florida State
th_floridastateWhile FSU is clearly in rebuilding mode after a lackluster season last year and the departure of Seminole fixture and head coach Bobby Bowden, they have the capacity to do some real damage just based on their strength of schedule alone. They’ve got four powerful teams on the docket with UNC, Oklahoma, Florida, and Miami.

Their performance against these teams can obviously upset the natural order of the rankings, but beyond that, it will demonstrate exactly how this regime change will deal with the constant murderer’s row of opponents that the team seems to schedule year after year.

Ok, that’s the schedule aspect. Beyond that, the team is pimping out QB Christian Ponder for the Heisman and all five O-lineman are returning for the third straight year. New head coach Jimbo Fisher has overhauled the Seminole’s strength and conditioning program, radically improving both the physiques and performances garnered from returning letterman and new recruits. Following a mediocre season and the biggest coaching change of the off season, this team can’t afford to do anything but look ahead and make the most of what they have before it goes away.

6. Houston
houston.cougarsSeemingly every year, we see a team that has no business doing so putting up downright gaudy passing numbers and beating the hell out of their weak schedule. A while back, it was Fresno St. and Utah, more recently, Hawaii and Texas Tech have been the troublemakers. All signs point to Houston being the heir to that title this season.

Case Keenum resuscitates the position of QB at U of H (they had back-to-back Heisman’s with David Klingler and Andre Ware in the early 90’s) by making a run at a half-dozen major college football passing records. They have no ranked opponents, but could still grab a decent spot in the rankings by essentially playing backyard football with the team they do have.

7. Arkansas
arkansas_smoke_smallTenth in the NCAA in passing yards. Eighth in points scored. In the SEC. It’s little wonder that, with 6’ 7” QB Ryan Mallett and a crew of four receivers that all average over 16 yards per catch, these guys are being bandied about as the most formidable offense in the nation.

Coming into the season at #17, Arkansas will be forced by its SEC opponents to prove that its defense will be able to do justice to its offense. Nobody knows that better than first-year D-coordinator Todd Granthem, who has worked on developing both depth and a seamless rotation that allows the front three (Arkansas switched to a 3-4 this year) to keep their stamina late in the game against the gauntlet of SEC opponents.

If the plan comes together, look for Arkansas to make a showing on both sides of the ball that has them settling out a lot higher than #17 come December.

8. Auburn
small_auburn-blueWith so many questions about Alabama’s defense and the hype around Ryan Mallett at Arkansas, Auburn has been flying under the radar in the SEC West. Which is probably a mistake.

Auburn landed a Top-5 national recruiting class this year and holds perhaps one of the biggest wild cards in the nation in QB Cam Newton. Newton was backup to Tim Tebow at Florida before getting kicked off the team for stealing laptops. After his penance at junior college, he’s back and is the crown jewel of Auburn’s offense. He’s been compared to JaMarcus Russell (don’t laugh, he used to be good at LSU) but with more speed and a better head for the game.

If this guy pans out to be as athletic and reformed as Auburn makes him out to be, both Arkansas and Alabama will be sweating as this #22 team rises up the charts.

9. Navy
nike_navy_midshipmen_12_navy_blue_globe__anchor_replica_football_jerseyIn the weeks leading up to the season opener, college football analysts have been abuzz with praise for Ricky Dobbs, the Midshipmen’s Senior option quarterback who apparently has been blessed with the work ethic and character of a young Tim Tebow.

While the Navy and Air Force hang on to the option offense like grim death (Is it an armed forces thing?), even the skeptics think that Dobbs can make a splash in the much-maligned construct of an option offense.

While these guys don’t have the schedule to make much of an impact on the standings, last year’s nailbiter against Notre Dame is just a preview of the kind of drama and excitement that Navy is capable of with both their unconventional offense and their unconventional program. Teams like this are a testament to why the diversity of styles in college football can captivate in a manner that the homogeneity of the NFL can’t.

Tags: Arkansas, auburn, Florida Gators, Florida State, Houston, navy, Ohio State, Oklahoma Sooners, smu, Texas, usc, Washington Huskies,