2012 Final Standings: 11-2 (def. Florida in Allstate Sugar Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 8-0 in AAC (1st), 12-0 overall, BCS bowl game win… perhaps a championship?
Pivotal Games: Ohio 9/1, @Cincinnati 12/5
Let us not mince words, Bangers: this is Louisville’s division. Junior QB Teddy Bridgewater may well have earned the Most Improved Player award last year, if such a thing existed. Not that 2011 was a bad year for him, but going from 2129 yds. over 296 attempts (7.19 YPA) to 3718 yds. over 419 attempts (8.87 YPA) is remarkable. More remarkable is a TD/INT of 14/12 improving to 27/8. That’s almost DOUBLING the scoring output, while cutting picks by 33%. Less sacks too (33 vs. 28). As for the rest of the team: they’re bringing back 13 kids besides Bridgewater. An undefeated season is not out of the question. With that kind of QB leading your squad – and, y’know, being in the AAC for God’s sake – you’re a lock to mollywhop (mollywop?) the rest of the AAC. But what about the other squads?
2012 Final Standings: 10-3 (def. Duke in Belk Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 7-1 in AAC (2nd), 10-2 overall, bowl game loss
Pivotal Games: @Illinois 9/7, Louisville 12/5
I say “10-3″ very lightly, because this is a team that could fall very far on either side of the spectrum. 11-1? 3-9? Both possible under new head coach Tommy Tuberville. (He was apparently in The Blind Side. Learn a lot doing these previews, I suppose.) Tuberville has a dual-threat at the helm, with seniors Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux at his disposal. Ralph Abernathy looks to assume feature back duties with George Winn graduating after the end of last season. If anyone has a chance to spoil Louisville’s national title hopes, it’s the Bearcats.
2012 Final Standings: 10-4 (def. Ball St. in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg)
2013 Predictions: 6-2 in AAC (T-3rd), 8-4 overall, bowl game win
Pivotal Games: @Penn St. 9/14, South Carolina 9/28
What a different OT makes. If not for losing the Conference USA championship game to Tulsa last year, UCF would have been the ones to go and drub Iowa State in the Autozone Liberty Bowl, and everyone would be looking at them as a legit squad. (SPOILER: they still are.) The Knights return the very efficient Junior QB Blake Bortles (3059 yds. 25 TDs, only 7 INTs last season). Bortles got it done with a very balanced passing attack; 6 players had over 25 receptions last season, and the top-4 in receiving yards are all returning (Junior WR Rannell Hall, Junior WR J.J. Worton, Senior WR Jeff Godfrey and Sophomore WR Breshad Perriman). Look for Bortles to be closer to 4000 yds. this season, all things considered.
Southern Methodist Mustangs
2012 Final Standings: 7-6 (def. Fresno St. in Sheraton Hawaii Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 6-2 in AAC (T-3rd), 7-5 overall, bowl game win
Pivotal Games: @Texas Tech 8/30, @TCU 9/28
What a non-conference schedule – to start the season, no less! Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU within the first four weeks of the season. The run game is great – Zach Line has rushed for at least 1200 yds. and 10 TDs. in each of the past 3 seasons – and if Garrett Gilbert could have one season in which he throws more TDs than picks, we could have a great squad. How well they do down the stretch will depend on the first four games of the season. Going 2-2 to start the year would be a huge morale boost for a team that could always use one.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2012 Final Standings: 9-4 (lost to Virginia Tech in Russell Athletic Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 5-3 in AAC (T-5th), 7-5 overall, bowl game loss
Pivotal Games: Arkansas 9/21, Temple 11/2
The Scarlet Knights showed what seemed like flashes of brilliance last year – but peeling back the layers tells a different story. For instance, Junior RB Savon Huggins played what might look like the breakout game of his career against Cincinnati, netting 179 yds.; which is awesome, until you realize that he needed 41 (41!!) carries to get there, and he didn’t even score a TD. Senior WR Brandon Coleman netted 10 TDs, good for top-25 last year throughout all WRs; but that accompanies a much-less-impressive 718 yds., which doesn’t even crack the top-100. Junior QB Gary Nova only threw more than 2 INTs in a game once all season; unfortunately for him, that one game amounted for 40% of his regular season picks (6 vs. Kent State, 9 total in the remaining games). They’ll be fourth in the AAC because, y’know, AAC, but they’re far from a great team.
2012 Final Standings: 5-7 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 5-3 in AAC (T-5th), 8-4 overall, bowl game loss
Pivotal Games: @Rutgers 10/26, SMU 11/29
I know, I know. Case Keenum was the best blah to ever blah blah. I get it. I just don’t care. Don’t be surprised to see David Piland turn it around this season – his biggest issue is consistency. He followed a 580 yds., 4 TD/0 INT effort with 249 yds. 0 TD/5 INT the very next week, and similar swings were the norm throughout 2012. But as we all know, Houston’s Achilles heel will always be its defense. Hourton didn’t win a lot of those shootouts last season, but they’re on-track to have a decent winning season and a probable bowl berth with their schedule as weak as it is.
2012 Final Standings: 5-7 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 3-5 in AAC (7th), 5-7 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Michigan 9/21, @UCF 10/26
Not a lot changing here from last year, folks. UConn is a fair-to-middling team at best. THe good news, if you can call it that, is Junior QB Chandler Whitmer will bring his 9 TD/16 INT line back with him. And getting sacked nearly 3 times a game to boot. They do have a bright spot on defense, as they were in the top-20 in points against last year (only 19.8 PPG scored on them). I anticipate a better number than that this year, due to AAC and everything, but Michigan could skew it a bit.
2012 Final Standings: 4-7 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 2-6 in AAC (T-8th), 3-9 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: @Notre Dame 8/31, Army 10/19
The rock for this team – albeit for only 1 season – was undoubtedly Montel Harris, a 5th-year Senior transfer from Boston College for his last season at Temple. A great stat line, never going under 900 yds. and 5 TDs in his four full seasons. Alas, the Owls will have to look elsewhere to match their 200+ rushing YPG average from last year. Senior RB Chris Coyer looks primed to anchor the offense, but the anchor won’t need to be that heavy, if you catch my drift. (Nautical puns are the best!) If not for out-of-conference cakes like Army, Fordham and Idaho, Temple may well go 2-10.
South Florida Bulls
2012 Final Standings: 3-9 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 2-6 in AAC (T-8th), 4-8 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: @Michigan St. 9/7, Miami (FL) 9/28
You gotta hand it to USF’s scheduling: it will get them at least a slot on ESPN2 for the Michigan State game, and probably a similar slot for the Miami game. There’s really no chance of victory, but at least they get the exposure… that’s valuable, right? Look for new Sophomore starting QB Matt Floyd to hook up early and often with stud Junior WR Andre Davis. If they can string together a few breakout games like Davis had with last year’s 5th-year Senior QB B.J. Daniels, then this team could do better than expected. The running game and the defense will continue to be a sore spot for new coach Willie Taggart, but I feel that within a few years he can truly [puts on sunglasses] drive this team to greatness. [takes off sunglasses] [eats Pop-Tart in shame]
2012 Final Standings: 4-8 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 1-7 in AAC (10th), 3-9 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: @Middle Tennessee St. 9/14, Temple 11/30
Wait, wait, wait, you say: why the hell is MTSU a “Pivotal Game”? I know Memphis is terrible, but why is a garbage-ass ex-Sun Belt team even being mentioned in this write-up? Since 2007, Memphis is 1-4 against MTSU. That alone should tell you the special kind of suck that we’re dealing with here. A QB (Senior Jacob Karam) with only one 300-yd. game; a RB committee (Seniors Brandon Hayes and Jai Steib) that could only muster two 100-yd. games between them; even the kickers (Paulo Henriques and Tyler Spurlock) combined to go a measly 7-13 from three. Should be an easy win for most squads.