If 2013 Was an Aberration, What Would We Expect?
Phil Steele has put the finishing touches on his college football preview magazine which gives him time to play around with some other quasi-predictors of what the college football season will bring. One thing Steele does is to compare last season to the two that just preceded it. The idea is that if a team had a very different kind of record in the most recent year, we might see the team bounce to back to something more in line with the two seasons prior. That means little for Nebraska who has won exactly 9 or 10 games each year for each of the last six seasons. But a number of NU's opponents and fellow conference schools can't say the same.
Purdue the Sleeping Giant?
The Boilermakers won just one game a year ago after winning seven games in 2011 and six in 2012. Phil Steele's math says Purdue should be a good bet to improve on its one win season. All Purdue would have to do is win home games against Western Michigan (also coming off of a one-win campaign) and Southern Illinois (a winning lower subdivision program) to rise to the two-win plateau. Springing an upset at Illinois or Indiana might also do the trick as might winning a home game against a Central Michigan team that went .500 last season.
The Wildcats won just five games last season after ten wins the year prior and six wins in 2011. Every game over that span with Nebraska has been close, so you could give them a chance of turning the tables there. But Northwestern might be lucky to win more than two nonconference games (Cal and Western Illinois look like wins, Notre Dame a loss, and Northern Illinois a toss-up). You can pencil in losses at Penn State, at Iowa, and hosting Michigan and Wisconsin. They probably chalk up wins versus Purdue and Illinois. That makes the game at Minnesota and hosting Nebraska the swing games. Anywhere from four wins to seven seems possible.
The Scarlet Knights won nine games in 2011 and 2012 before winning just six last year. Rutgers might conceivably win every nonconference game if they can win at Navy and at Washington State. Only the Indiana and Maryland games appear winnable in conference though. It's hard to bank on improvement from a team that just joined a much tougher league.
Michigan Mighty Again?
The Wolverines won seven games last year after an 8-win season in 2012 and an 11-win campaign in 2011. The schedule makes 9 wins seem possible. Michigan has tough road trips to Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The toughest game after that is Penn State at home, who needed overtime in State College a year ago.
Penn State Progresses?
The Nittany Lions won seven games last year after 8 the year prior and 9 in a year they'd love to forget. It's not hard to count wins with Akron, UMass, Maryland, Indiana, Temple, and Illinois on the schedule. Add in wins at Rutgers and hosting Northwestern and Penn State takes a step forward in 2014.
Fresno State Fizzles?
The Bulldogs 11 wins last year came on the heels of a nine win season that was a huge leap from just 4 victories in 2011. Travellling to USC and hosting Nebraska look like losses and they face a stretch of games hosting San Diego State, at UNLV and at Boise State that could trip them up as well. Taking the under on an 11-win season seems like a no-brainer.
Florida Atlantic Folds?
The Owls have been trending upward but could be due for a correction. They won six games last year after a pair of losing seasons. They'll be 0-2 out of the gate after travelling to Lincoln and to face Alabama. UTSA, Western Kentucky, Marshall, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion might be a tough enough group to leave Florida Atlantic with a losing record.
There's probably no such thing as a sure win where Maryland football is concerned so getting to seven wins again in a tougher conference seems too tall a task. After hosting FCS school James Madison, every game appears loseable. This is one place where fewer than seven wins feels like a lock.
Michigan State Muted?
The Spartans appeared to be getting by with tricks and mirrors at times a year ago. Sure their defense was terrific and the running game sound, but their passing game was far from fearsome. Last season's 13-wins stands out greatly from seven and eleven in the two years prior. Oregon and Ohio State seem more than capable of handing a pair of losses to Michigan State. Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State should also have a fighting chance to take down Sparty.
Eight wins in 2013 is just one fewer than the two-year total for the Golden Gophers in 2011 and 2012. Realignment was not kind to Minnesota as both Michigan and Ohio State appear on the schedule, along with Wisconsin, Iowa, and revenge-minded Nebraska. The soft nonconference slate will probably prevent a total catastrophe, but 8 wins is hardly a given.
Ohio State Outplayed?
The Buckeyes have won 12 games in each of the past two seasons after just six wins in 2011. Steele's math would suggest that might cost them a game or two this year. The only games you might imagine them losing is hosting Virginia Tech, at Penn State, at Michigan State, or hosting Michigan. Just one loss would leave them with 11 wins, provided they didn't win in the postseason. Still, it's not hard to imagine the Buckeyes bucking Steele's trend and winning 12 anyway.
Iowa In Reverse?
After an 8-win season that not many expected, the math implies that the Hawkeyes might revert to something closer to the 4-win or 7-win seasons of 2012 and 2011. The nonconference schedule is kind, but you might not be stunned to see Ball State or Pitt beat Iowa, or perhaps both. Nebraska and Wisconsin present the toughest challenge in the conference. Despite Steele's numbers, you could easily see six conference wins for the Hawkeyes with Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Illinois all on the slate which makes 8 total wins still seem pretty likely.