Five teams that start the season overrated in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll
The start of any college football season brings optimism for every team. Each are hopeful of exceeding expectations and those ranked in the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll can dream of making it to the College Football Playoff.
However, someone has to be the wet blanket that dampens all this optimism because every team in the rankings at the start won't be there at the end. So here's the harsh reality. Whether teams outside the top five in this first poll will be there in the last one is pretty much a coin flip. Twelve from last year missed out and double figures has been the norm for the previous three seasons.
So with that history in mind, it's time to predict the five teams that have been overrated by the voting coaches. They might still enjoy good seasons, but their starting points are clearly too high.
No. 7 Texas A&M
Every time Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, there is always the glimmer of hope that one day he will kick the ball. Such is the case with predictions for the Aggies. This is still a program – despite all its fanfare - that has only twice finished with fewer than four losses this century and has only been ranked at the end of six seasons during the same span. Optimism that “this” is the year A&M breaks through and contends for the SEC title is built on some fantastic recruiting classes that Jimbo Fisher put together. However, it’s play on the field that matters and until expectations meet reality there are going to be doubters. The biggest question mark is at quarterback where only LSU transfer Max Johnson has significant experience. There’s talent on the line of scrimmage, but it is young and how the grind of the SEC impacts those groups is unknown. The Aggies will be good. But being top-10 good seems a stretch given their difficult schedule and still green group of talented underclassmen.
No. 15 Southern California
The arrival of Lincoln Riley surely will improve things at USC. How much worse can the Trojans get after a 4-8 campaign that was the worst record for the program since 1991? That said, the idea that one offseason is going to change the Trojans into Pac-12 contenders and potential College Football Playoff participants is overly optimistic. Yes, Caleb Williams brings excitement at quarterback after following his former coach at Oklahoma. Just don’t overlook how much he struggled against Baylor and Oklahoma State last year. There’s talent at the receiver position. Points will be scored. That alone doesn’t win games. The offensive line has to get better, and the defense has holes throughout. A host of transfers were brought in to address these concerns. Molding the pieces together won’t be easy for Riley, who is starting from scratch – unlike his situation with the Sooners. It’s going to take time to be title contenders and it won’t happen this year.
No. 16 Pittsburgh
The belief that the Panthers are poised to possiblly repeat their ACC title seems to rest on the expectation that Southern California transfer Kedon Slovis will seamlessly transition in as the starting quarterback after Kenny Pickett's departure. Slovis had an outstanding freshman season in 2019, but two disappointing campaigns with the Trojans should temper optimism. The unexpected departure of wide receiver Jordan Addison (1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns) after winning the Biletnikoff Award could be equally damaging to an offense that changes offensive coordinators. Up front, the defense looks solid, but how the back seven comes together will decide how well the group performs. Playing the weaker Coastal Division and avoiding Clemson and North Carolina State helps the overall outlook for Pitt but another top 15 finish seems to be a reach unless everything comes together like last year.
No. 18 Texas
The Steve Sarkisian era started with a motto of "All Gas No Breaks." The results were, unfortunately, similar to a car crash with a 5-7 record that included a loss at home to Kansas. The Longhorns have retooled with some key transfers, including heralded QB Quinn Ewers from Ohio State and WR Isaiah Naylor from Wyoming. Ewers, a five-star prospect who reclassified last year and saw no meaningful time with the Buckeyes, is expected to eventually win the starting job despite competition from last year's backup, Hudson Card. Asking him to be the savior this season - even with RB Bijon Robinson and WR Xavier Worthy being two elite skill guys - is a tall order. His arrival also doesn't fix concerns about an offensive line that struggled last year and a defense that lacked toughness up front. Texas seems far off the front three of the Big 12 and also faces Alabama. Just making the final rankings would be a major sign of improvement.
No. 22 Cincinnati
The sustainability of the Bearcats will be tested after several of their key performers departed after reaching the playoff last year. The biggest loss is quarterback Desmond Ridder, who was most of the offense for the past four years. Also gone are the team's top rusher (Jerome Ford) and top receiver (Alec Pierce). There’s going to be an unavoidable dropoff whether holdover Evan Prater or Eastern Michigan transfer Ben Bryant win the competition to replace Ridder. The hits were more extensive on defense with Ahmad Gardner among six NFL draft picks from that side of the ball. It should still be a good unit but it will be more giving than last year's elite group. With Houston and possibly Central Florida as threats in the American Athletic plus a non-conference game against Arkansas opening the season, it's more likely Cincinnati is fighting to stay in the rankings than returning to the playoff.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith