2016: Willie's Bullies

USA Today Thinks USF Will Crack the Top 25

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USA Today Thinks USF Will Crack the Top 25 SoFloBulls.com (1066x568)
Photo Credit: USF Athletics

The preseason Amway Coaches Poll features a who’s-who of college football’s upper crust, from defending national champion Alabama, which occupies the top spot, through fellow reigning College Football Playoff participants Clemson (No. 2), Oklahoma (No. 3) and Michigan State (No. 11).

It’s a good starting point for the 2016 season, which kicks off Aug. 26, though not a great barometer of how the Coaches Poll might look come December. The only certainty is change: Alabama, Clemson and others might be locks for the top 25, but be prepared for weekly adjustments as ranked teams lose and unranked teams rise.

Which teams currently outside the top 25 have a great chance of moving into a national ranking during the upcoming season? Here are five to watch:

1. San Diego State

Preseason status: No. 12 among other vote-getters (18).

It’s almost laughable to see the Aztecs not just outside the top 25 but far down the list of teams receiving votes. SDSU, which owns the nation’s second-longest active winning streak, is behind nine Power Five teams also receiving votes, including one, Texas, which comes off a losing season.

SDSU is nearly a lock for a national ranking at some point during the regular season. Barring injury, the Aztecs have the talent, depth, experience and schedule to potentially match last year’s 11-win finish, if not challenge for an undefeated regular season. If they get past California and Northern Illinois in nonconference play, the Aztecs may be inside the top 25 for good by October.

2. Miami (Fla.)

Preseason status: No. 1 among other vote-getters (120).

The Hurricanes have seemingly hit the ground running under new coach Mark Richt, which when combined with the program’s inherent talent level bodes well for a strong start to the season: Miami opens with Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State and Georgia Tech, so a 4-0 mark leading into a matchup with Florida State on Oct. 1 isn’t out of the question.

And even if Miami does lose to FSU — and here’s betting it does — this team nonetheless seems poised for up to nine wins during the regular season. When it comes to the overall win total, much depends on a three-game stretch against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame to end October. Better times are ahead for this program, but don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes bounce in and out of the top 25 for much of Richt’s debut.

3. Nebraska

Preseason status: Tied for No. 13 among other vote-getters (17).

It’s easy to discount Nebraska based on Mike Riley’s first season, which was mired in a series of disappointing losses before a feel-good bowl victory against UCLA sent the Cornhuskers into the offseason on a high note. One year later, a team more familiar with Riley’s system — and more prepared to embrace his approach — has the wherewithal to take home the Big Ten Conference West Division and find a permanent home in the top 25.

The team’s national reputation likely hinges on how the Cornhuskers fare in matchups against Oregon and Ohio State, with the first a nonconference tone-setter in September and the second a potential preview of the Big Ten title game. But after last season, it’s almost more important that Nebraska take care of business against the number of beatable teams on its schedule — including Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and the like.

4. South Florida

Preseason status: Tied for No. 20 among other vote-getters (2).

Houston is undoubtedly the clubhouse leader in the American Athletic Conference. Yet after storming to eight wins with a strong close to last season, the Bulls are an intriguing team to consider in the East Division. It stands to reason that the second-place in the American — such as Temple last fall — is in line for the top 25. But can USF manage a difficult schedule to improve upon last year’s win total?

There are a number of reasons for optimism, with none more impressive than the way this team turned a corner after a disappointing start to last season. The resulting confidence should come in handy for USF, which takes on Northern Illinois, Syracuse and Florida State in September before taking on a league schedule that includes road dates against Temple and Memphis.

5. Arizona and Auburn

Preseason status: Arizona — tied for No. 20 among other vote-getters (2); Auburn — tied for No. 13 among other vote-getters (17).

Let’s end with two Power Five wildcards coming off disappointing seasons: Arizona and Auburn began 2015 with high hopes but finished with matching 7-6 records, falling from preseason contenders in their respective divisions to middling bowl participants.

One year later, neither the Wildcats nor the Tigers are viewed among the elite in the Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference, respectively. That might be for the best. Two years ago, Arizona stormed from afterthought status to a second-place finish in the Pac-12 and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

It’s been three years since Auburn played for the national championship — admittedly, it does feel like much longer — but the Tigers have enough talent to compete in the rugged SEC West Division. Will that translate into a top-25 finish? Maybe, but only if Gus Malzahn can coax out of his gifted yet unproven stable of quarterbacks. Continue Reading by Clicking Here

by Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports

SoFloBulls Blog by Matthew Manuri

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