Doug: Never underestimate the power of a team that plays for a coach that they love, admire and respect. Kliff Kingsbury fits that bill for the 2014 Red Raiders. These guys also just seem to have a lot of fun attacking the daily grind of college football and make everything fun.
After winning their first seven in a row in year one under Kingsbury, the Red Raiders struggled in losing their final five games of the regular season before beating Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. I expect this team to be much more polished and mature in year two under Kliff and his staff.
The schedule is back loaded with tough games again this season with games but a key late season stretch against the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, and Baylor all take place at home. In fact, most of their key tests will be at home, including Arkansas and West Virginia while road trips to Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State are far from the scariest home field advantages the Big 12 has to offer.
Their offensive and defensive lines aren’t necessarily going to scare anyone this season, but scheme wise they’re going to be among the best in the league, and they’ve got a young, proven quarterback that can sling it to some dudes that can flat out make plays. Plus, it’s clear that everyone involved in the Tech program is having a blast, and that’s going to be key as the season goes on.
I haven’t studied all of the rosters, depth charts and season preview articles, but I have studied and spoken with the coaches and looked at the schedules. Last week I made it very clear that I believe Texas Tech is a no brainer for Top 25 at the end of the season, so I’m with Doug on that – but let’s look further down the list for a few gems…
Penn State received only 5 total votes in the poll, equating to a preseason ranking of No. 45. I don’t see it that way. James Franklin and his staff have brought a renewed confidence to a roster that was already working it’s way back. They aren’t fully stocked, but when I look at the schedule I see a team that should win a lot of games. UCF in Ireland should be a doozy – who knows with a game in Ireland? – but after that one could see Penn State getting on a roll. If they get hot and build confidence, this team could significantly impact the final ratings. I’m pretty sure that neither Urban or Mark Dantonio are looking forward to visiting Happy Valley later in the season.
For fun, I took a look at the teams who received zero votes in the preseason poll – somebody explain to me why Arizona didn’t get a single vote? Yes, I recognize the quarterback position isn’t settled, but word out of Tucson is that it will come together and I fully expect Rich Rod and staff to get enough out of that position to challenge some better teams. If they get consistent play from the quarterback position, then look out. Rich Rod’s in his third season and he’s a winner; 8-5 each of the past two seasons. I see 9 (or 10) wins from Arizona this year. People who have studied this stuff don’t see it this way; but have a look at the schedule. It’s never easy, but Arizona could open up with four wins – they then need to find a win or two in the middle (at Oregon, vs USC, at Washington State and at UCLA) – and then they could close with 4 wins. Again, it wouldn’t be easy but if you’re looking for a dark, dark horse (I’m talking black stallion dark), watch Arizona this season. There will be points on points on points.
Normally when a team goes 23-3 over a period of two seasons, including wins over a No. 3 ranked team in a BCS game and a shellacking of a second-place team for a separate Power Five conference in consecutive bowl games, that’s enough to warrant an automatic exemption into the next season’s preseason top 25. Not at Louisville, apparently. Sure, the Cardinals lost their previous head coach, but in doing has actually upgraded in Xs and Os acumen. Bobby Petrino may not be the character-driven man of his word that Charlie Strong is, but no one denies that the man can coach him some offense. Which is important because the offense may have to carry Louisville at times as the defense transitions to a new 3-4 scheme and away from a until that employed two first-rounders last season. I think Teddy Bridgewater’s replacement, Will Gardner, will throw in the area of 30 touchdowns and 3,000 yards, and that Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford left enough talent on the roster for Todd Grantham to work the kinks out.
And yes, Louisville has jumped conferences from the American to the ACC Atlantic. But have you seen that schedule? There’s the Labor Day opener against Miami – I’ll take the Cards in that one – and then not much of anything until mid-October. Murray State, Virginia, Florida International, Wake Forest and Syracuse. Win, win win, win, and win. Things then get much more difficult in a hurry with Clemson and Florida State in two of the final three games of October, but Louisville closes with Boston College, a who-the-heck-knows Notre Dame team, and a home finale versus Kentucky.
A 23-3 two-year mark in the American may not be enough for Louisville to start the 2014 season in the top 25, but a 9-3 regular season in the ACC will be more than enough for the Cardinals to end the season inside of it.