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6 College Football Teams That Will Surprise You This Season

After a long summer of controversy, debates over NCAA governance, and conference realignment chaos, talking season is over. Media days have all wrapped up and, just like that, college football… is back. Almost. The actual season is still a few weeks away, but it’s close enough that we can finally talk about actual football again. A great example: those wizards in the desert have released their preseason win totals for 2022. Vegas is better at predicting these things than everyone, but they still aren’t perfect. Let’s start previewing the upcoming season by looking at some schools that will be better than you expect, and a few that will be worse.

Better Than You Think

Baylor- 7.5 Wins

This line feels insultingly low for a defending conference champion. A vast majority of the coaching staff is back, as are four starters on one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Quarterback Blake Shapen was awesome in his three games last season, which probably doesn’t even matter because offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has proven he’s a QB whisperer. The Big 12 should be better this year, but not by much. Certainly not enough to hand the Bears three extra losses.

Mississippi State- 6.5 Wins

Another team that Vegas thinks will be worse despite returning a ton of experience and keeping a comparable schedule, it’s hard to imagine that Mississippi State ends up worse this season. Will Rogers is an elite quarterback that will lead the league in passing yards. He’s the kind of guy that wins you a few games on his own. The schedule is also manageable by SEC West standards, certainly enough to win seven games again this year. Adding a game against Georgia is brutal, but they’ll also get the chance to avenge two losses in games that were genuinely stolen from them by the referees. Plus, this is the point in the Mike Leach Cycle© where teams start winning big. State still has a few years before he finds wherever they hid his phone and shares a Facebook post that ends up getting him fired.

Washington- 7.5 Wins

Unlike the first two teams on this list, Washington was really bad last year. Like, losing at home to the second best team from Montana bad. You never want to be the guy who follows the guy, and Jimmy Lake proved that by crashing and burning the program just three years after Chris Peterson took the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. It turns out that hitting a player, making the team a laughingstock in the media, and, most importantly, losing football games, is not a recipe for a successful coaching tenure. Thankfully Washington realized their mistake and replaced Lake with Kalen DeBoer, who fits this job like a glove.

Worse Than You Think

LSU- 7.5 Wins

Brian Kelly is a good football coach. That is the only reason I’m even a little worried about LSU winning more than seven games next season. The roster is not nearly as talented as you’d expect, especially after two of their best players from last season left for two of their biggest rivals. Quarterback is a major question mark, as Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels is mainly known for being consistently disappointing and apparently a toxic locker room presence. When things aren’t going well on the field, it’s imperative to keep everyone on the same page off it. Unfortunately, Brian Kelly is, to put it nicely, not great with people. From an awkward endorsement of capital punishment to insulting a recruit’s parents, Kelly has a long history of off-field drama. It’s all fine and dandy as long as you win games, but not if success doesn’t come quickly enough, especially for a guy who was clearly the school’s third choice at best, and whose knowledge of the south is apparently limited entirely to Forrest Gump.

Michigan- 9.5 Wins

This is easily the hottest take of the group, so let me explain. Michigan was a genuinely great team last year who fully deserved their spot in the playoffs. However, they lost a LOT. Their three best defenders, including Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson, are off to the NFL. So are starting running back Hassan Haskins and two starters from the nation’s best offensive line. Perhaps more importantly, Harbaugh also had to replace both coordinators. Mike Macdonald went back to the NFL, while Josh Gattis took his talents to South Beach after he allegedly was offended by how the school handled Harbaugh’s thirsting after the NFL this offseason. Replacing that much talent isn’t their only issue. Michigan has a guaranteed loss on their schedule. Yes, they beat Ohio State soundly last year to end the streak, but that’s in the past. This year is different for a few major reasons: A) Ohio State went out and hired arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football, B) The game is in Columbus, and C) Ohio State is piiiiiissed. After drawing Iowa and Nebraska (don’t laugh) from the West, I can’t imagine the Wolverines coming into the Horseshoe for their ritual sacrifice with only one loss. Sorry Wolverines, it was a good run.

Nevada- 5 Wins

I saved the real sicko stuff for the end. Nevada is a pretty well-regarded team that’s always at least pretty good. Never amazing, but always fun to watch. So a lot of people were confused when their head coach left this offseason to take over at Colorado State, a seemingly lateral move within the same conference. His departure let the nation in on their dirty little secret: Nevada is a terrible job. Norvell and legendary coach Chris Ault were so talented that they were able to paper over what is a fundamentally dysfunctional and self-sabotaging athletic department. Colorado State spent over twice as much money on football last season, and Norvell has instantly gone from being the lowest paid coach in the Mountain West to the highest. Nevada makes no effort to be good at college football. The odds that they hired a third amazing coach in their last four tries are incredibly low, so it’s safe to expect some regression. Here’s some more proof that the Wolfpack’s success was more about the coaching than the school: a whopping sixteen players transferred away from Nevada after Norvell announced he was leaving. Seven of them are following him directly to Colorado State. They’re in the middle of the pack in terms of talent without the schematic advantages of most of the teams below them. They lost everything that made them great. Do you really expect a team beginning a monumental rebuild to win five games against a very solid Mountain West schedule? Honestly, that seems almost too unfair to ask for.

(Photo courtesy of The Daily Leader)

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