For some of the nation’s premier programs, this college football season brings a chance to bounce back from the disappointment they experienced in 2017.
Teams like Florida State, UCLA, West Virginia, Oregon and Texas A&M all endured sub-par campaigns but still managed to earn bowl berths in 2017. Other prominent programs weren’t as fortunate, in same cases sinking to lows not seen in a long time.
But 2018 brings hope, and all those who struggled a season ago are poised to bounce back. Here’s a look at those teams in need of a major bounce back in ’18.
Bret Bielema opened his Arkansas tenure with a 3-9 campaign in 2013 and closed it with a 4-8 mark last year. In between, were three straight bowl appearances but no more than eight wins in any of those years.
Enter ex-SMU coach Chad Morris, who brings an up-tempo offense that relies on big plays to Fayetteville, but still isn’t sure which quarterback will be running it. The thing is, Arkansas didn’t really have too much trouble scoring points last season (28.8 per game). It just couldn’t keep opponents from doing the same.
The Razorbacks ranked 115th in scoring defense last season, yielding 36.2 points per contest. That number obviously needs to be lowered and the overall culture of the defense must change if they are to bounce back. Now based with a 4-3 scheme, Arkansas will also try to do better than the 17 turnovers it forced last season.
The Cougars will try to bounce back from their dismal 4-9 season and first losing campaign in 13 years. That troublesome season also snapped a run of 12 consecutive bowl appearances for BYU. All this came in Kalani Sitake’s second season in Provo – after going 9-4 in his debut.
BYU averaged an uncharacteristic 17.1 points per game (124th in the nation), so out went former Cougars Heisman winner Ty Detmer as offensive coordinator. Back comes Jeff Grimes, a former offensive assistant at LSU who spent time as BYU’s offensive line coach last decade.
Tight end Matt Bushman led the team with 49 receptions and could thrive even more in Grimes’ system that tends to play to a team’s talent. Tanner Mangum likely will start at quarterback, but BYU must do something about the 27 turnovers it committed in 2017.
Dan Mullen’s arrival in Gainesville at least gave the Gators some instant credibility, but getting the program to bounce back from last season’s 4-7 mark – second losing season in the last five – will be a chore. Florida’s poor play was coupled by the off-field distractions surrounding then-coach Jim McElwain. At least the Gators won’t have to deal with that kind of issue this year, though their off-field problems have already sprung up.
On the field, Mullen must find a quarterback. While an assistant at Florida from 2005-’08, he helped develop Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, but redshirt sophomores Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, plus freshman Emory Jones, don’t seem to be anywhere near the caliber of those two. Franks threw for 1,438 yards with nine touchdowns in 11 games last season, but was picked off eight times. Yet, he appears to be the frontrunner.
In 2017, Florida’s defense allowed at least 38 points three times in the final five games. Under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Gators are switching to a 3-4 system with hopes of utilizing more of their individual talent within that framework.
Just how excited are Cornhuskers fans for the 2018 season? Look back to the spring game – which sold out. The return of golden boy Scott Frost to Lincoln as Nebraska’s new coach has the entire state buzzing.
The program, and of course its rabid fans, are ready to put behind last year’s dismal 4-8 showing that produced its first season without a bowl appearance in the last 10. While the offense underachieved with Tanner Lee at the helm, the defense was simply atrocious.
Nebraska returns its front seven on defense, that unit must be better after giving up 36.4 points per game in 2017 and yielding more than 50 in each of the final three contests. Frost might be one of the Cornhuskers’ favorite sons, but the new coach has his work cut out for him.
Injuries forced Larry Fedora into a youth movement last season. That resulted in a 3-9 record after posting 19 victories the previous two. However, it might end up paving the way for what could be a bright future in Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels were held to fewer than 20 points each during a six-game losing streak last season, but the backfield of junior Jordon Brown and sophomore Michael Carter returns after combining for 1,172 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017. Sophomore Chazz Surratt likely will start ahead of Nathan Elliott under center, and more cohesion up front is a must since no offensive lineman started every game in ’17.
Defensively, North Carolina simply needs to stay healthy after being ravaged by injury on that side of the ball last year. Defensive end Malik Carney can cause havoc after recording 5 1/2 sacks last season, but he will need a fit supporting cast.