One of the most boring clichés in history is, “You don’t start here, you end there.” Rarely is that true in college football, where teams at the top of the poll usually remain in the rankings, with a few upsets and the inevitable disappointments usually means their coach is in danger of losing his job.
While USA TODAY Sports’ AFCA preseason Coach Poll isn’t some sort of Miss Cleo prediction, the five teams on this nudge list can take comfort in knowing they’re starting the season just like other teams in the bowl subdivision: with a record of 0-0 with championship ambitions, no matter how realistic or absurd those dreams may be.
Here are the biggest snubs in the preseason poll that should have been included but were left out.
It seems every few years Iowa surprises people, and they used a suspicious 2021 schedule to get all the way to the Big Ten championship, where they were exposed and humiliated by Michigan. Despite the talents of all-world center Tyler Linderbaum, the Hawkeyes were second-bottom in the conference on offense overall, rarely startled defenses with their passing attacks, and averaged just over three yards per rush.
The combination of Spencer Petras, or whoever will be QB1, and tight end Sam LaPorta is key, and Iowa needs to find another game that’s wideout to keep the defense honest.
Iowa ranks in the top 10 for revenue margin while leading the nation in interceptions and must maintain that productivity and rely on its excellent linebacking corps to compete with Wisconsin along with Ohio State and Michigan who are in this Season to be included in the schedule.
FLOOD:Alabama leads pre-season coaching poll ahead of Ohio State
OUTLOOK:A closer look at each team in college football’s preseason poll
OVERRATED:Five teams in the preseason poll that were overpicked
One thing is for sure. The lead down in the bayou won’t pay Brian Kelly $95 million for a 6-7 like the Tigers did in 2021. Kelly has big shoes to fill as the last three LSU head coaches have won national championships. Whatever the length of the contract (10 years in this case), Kelly, 60, knows the leash is short and anything but holding a trophy in mid-January is simply unacceptable.
It’s not like LSU is talentless. They generally recruit well, but they’re not far from becoming a respectable unit again. If the defense can stop the run again, they’ll be fine. But the key is to shore up a leaky scrimmage and figure out quarterback position, including Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels. Whenever you’re dealing with the gauntlet called SEC West, which has fired more coaches than anyone else in the last 15 years, nothing is certain.
The Tar Heels were last season’s preseason darlings, starting in the top 10 armed with a potential Heisman nominee (QB Sam Howell) and a Hall of Fame coach. They immediately lost their first game and then watched their defense give up six yards a game while also losing to Georgia Tech and Florida State.
UNC has an absolute stallion in wide receiver Josh Downs and the inevitable questions at quarterback and offensive line will remain without improvement. Despite one offense in the top 10, Howell mostly ran for his life and went under nearly 50 times in 2021. It seems the entire Coastal Division has gotten better, and now Carolina is looking to Miami, which brings in coach Mario Cristobal and the often-forgotten Pittsburgh, who just so happens to be the defending conference champion. So flying under the radar can be a good thing, as manipulated expectations could lead to some surprises.
It seems year after year the Nittany Lions have the talent to contend for Big Ten and national championships, but somehow always come close. Last year, Penn State started 5-0 before going downhill, leading to a three-game losing streak. They lost their seven games averaging 5.8 points and had ample chances of winning each one.
Quarterback Sean Clifford is back for a sixth year, and coach James Franklin pledged to the Happy Valley fan base that any issues that have plagued his team for the past two years will be resolved. Here’s an alarming thing to start with: No running back gained 100 yards in any game in 2021. As with all teams on this snub list, replacing the abandoned production in 2022 will mean success. In this case, it’s Jahan Dotson’s 91 catches, now in the NFL. Ex-Miami head coach Manny Diaz controls the defense, which has been strong at times, bringing ball hawk Ji’Ayir Brown and other capable young playmakers back to the front seven.
Josh Heupel’s sophomore success will likely begin and end with quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw for 2,945 yards in 2021 with 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Hooker and his top target, Cedric Tillman (64 catches, 12 TDs), will give opponents their all this season.
While the offense has the ability to score with anyone in the nation, stopping anyone has been a problem as their defense has been on the field more games than any other team in the SEC, giving up nearly 30 points per game.
When the defense didn’t consistently get to the quarterback, it meant there were problems giving up an absurd 97 plays that went for 20 yards or more. The first six weeks are crucial as they play in Pittsburgh and have Florida, LSU and Alabama before mid-October. A quick start is key, and if they don’t, the usual pessimistic rumble of Tennessee faithful could lead to another disappointing season.