The idea of a disappointing team is all relative. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State were disappointments last year, right? After all, they were supposed to be in the national title hunt and at least challenge for their respective conference titles, but they weren't even close to doing either one. Even so, going 9-4 was still tremendous, while USC's going 9-4 was world-is-coming-to-and-end time.
Keeping in mind there are different levels of expectations and disappointments, especially considering that only one team will be holding the crystal trophy on Jan. 10 in Glendale (before taking it over to a Wal-Mart), here are the teams that are most likely to fail to live up to their preseason hopes and dreams.
Really, this is going to be the year Miami becomes Miami again. No, really, it's going to happen. Really.
We've all heard it over and over before each season since Randy Shannon took over, and it's mostly been wishful thinking from fans hoping for Miami to recapture the brilliance of one of the greatest runs of excellence in college football history. But things have changed both in talent level and with the conference upgrade.
Shannon and his staff aren't getting the elite of the elite, cream of the crop talents the old Miami coaching staffs hauled in. Now, the idea is to bring in the players who fit the system and do the things Shannon wants to do, and though it might end up bringing some success, Florida is spending its time bringing in future NFL stars.
The rise of the Gators to another level and the emergence of South Florida, UCF and even FIU and Florida Atlantic, who grab a player or two here and there, not to mention the national siphoning of talent from the State of Miami (as former head coach Howard Schnellenberger famously termed the area) has hurt the 'Canes and the rebounding effort. Even so, there's still hope the corner is about to be turned at some point.
Miami's talent level might not be what it once was, but it's still very, very good. Shannon's classes have been solid, with the idea that things have been building to this year and beyond. A 9-4 season might be seen as a great stepping stone after a dominant win over eventual ACC champion Georgia Tech and victories over Oklahoma and Florida State, and now the expectations will be there to do more with a team loaded with veterans and led by a cagey veteran in QB Jacory Harris. However, the schedule might negate the upgrade in experience.
After getting a scrimmage against Florida A&M to start the season, the 'Canes go on the road to face Ohio State, Pitt and Clemson before dealing with Florida State. If that wasn't enough, there are still landmines against North Carolina, Georgia Tech on the road, Virginia Tech and South Florida to step over. A schedule like this means Miami might be good, really good, but the record isn't going to reflect it.
Big East: Pitt
How many years in a row has Pitt had the most talent in the Big East? Under coach Dave Wannstedt, the Panthers should've won at least two conference titles by now and been regulars in the BCS, but instead there's always some misfire, some gaffe along the way that screws things up.
This year, Pitt not only has to start out at Utah, which might be just a shade under the unbeaten level it was at two years ago, but it also has to deal with Miami, a trip to Notre Dame and post-October conference road games at Connecticut, South Florida and Cincinnati.
The team will be good enough to win most of those and should be talented enough to be favored against everyone except Utah (because it's a road game), Miami (because it's Miami), and West Virginia, but it always seems like there's a clunker just around the corner. Last year, it was a loss at N.C. State and a late collapse against Cincinnati. Two years ago, it was a loss to Bowling Green.
But even with some major holes to fill, there's undeniable talent across the board, led by RB Dion Lewis and DE Greg Romeus, and after coming within 11 points of being unbeaten (with the loss to the Wolfpack by seven, a loss to West Virginia by three and a loss to Cincinnati by one), Pitt should be just about everyone's preseason favorite to win the Big East title. The bar will be set high once again, with anything less than a Big East title at this point under Wannstedt being a mega-disappointment.
Big Ten: Wisconsin
Traditionally, Wisconsin almost never does well with high expectations. It doesn't need to be disrespected to do well, but more often than not, the successful seasons have been mirages with great records amassed against average to mediocre teams. Rarely have there been great wins over top squads, but last season's Champs Sports Bowl win over Miami appeared to have changed things a bit.
All of a sudden, the season with just four wins over bowl-bound heavyweights in Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Michigan State and Minnesota (who all lost their bowl games, by the way) became validated. With all the returning talent on both sides of the ball, the thought is this is the year the Badgers could get back to Pasadena.
The offense should be terrific as long as QB Scott Tolzien stays healthy (after great-looking backup Curt Phillips suffered a season-ending knee injury this spring), RB John Clay is John Clay behind a typical bruising Badgers O-line and the veteran receiving corps progresses, but the defense has to replace O'Brien Schofield and two other starters up front. The hopes will be sky high for a team with so much returning talent, but under coach Bret Bielema, the team has had a strange way of letting easy wins become nail-biters and soon it will prove costly.
The 2008 team gagged in losses to Michigan and Michigan State on the way to a 7-6 record, and the 2009 team did its best to give away wins. The 10-3 season would've been far different had the Badgers not held on against Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana and Miami, who all had the puck on their sticks late in games they were out of in the third quarter.
The easy schedule (with Ohio State coming to Camp Randall, no Penn State to face and the second-toughest road game, after the trip to Iowa, at Michigan State), means there won't be any excuses, however, the Badgers likely won't be able to hold on in close game after close game for a second year in a row.
Big 12: Oklahoma State
The 2009 season was supposed to be the big year when the program finally went nuclear, and while the 9-4 campaign was actually impressive considering all the drama and all the distractions, including the loss of star WR Dez Bryant, it wasn't what Cowboys fans were hoping for. Now, it's rebuilding time.
On the plus side, the pressure is off considering the major turnover in top-shelf talent (with the preseason South predictions likely to vary between a third-place finish and fifth), this is still going to be a team many will think can make some noise with Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma coming to Stillwater.
Even without Bryant, QB Zac Robinson, OT Russell Okung, and CB Perrish Cox, this is still a decent team with some great athletes, but four starters have to be replaced up front and nine starters are gone on defense, including the entire linebacking corps. Throw in the question marks at quarterback, with the hope that Brandon Weeden can get the job done, and at receiver, with the hope that Hubert Anyiam can go from good to great, and OSU could be in for a long year.
Granted, the expectations aren't going to be sky high compared with last year, but this is supposed to be a program with enough athletes and enough talent to be 8-4 with a good bowl bid every season. It'll take a few big upsets to get there.
Conference USA: East Carolina
This falls into the "It's All Relative" category. After two straight Conference USA titles, anything less than a third in a row will be a major disappointment.
The hope is that the train keeps on rolling with Ruffin McNeill a very, very good hire after Skip Holtz skipped out to South Florida, but there's one major problem: the schedule.
ECU will be better than almost everyone in Conference USA, and the one team that should be better, Houston, isn't on the slate. However, there's a nasty run of three road games in a row, facing Virginia Tech and North Carolina before having to play a solid Southern Miss team in a key conference battle. Hosting N.C. State isn't going to be a peach, and facing Navy in the middle of the conference season, and with only a few days to prepare, will be a nightmare. The run of three road games in four weeks late in the season isn't that big a deal considering they're against UCF, UAB and Rice, but the trips should still be taxing before finishing up with a resurgent SMU.
Both lines have rebuilding to do, QB Patrick Pinkney was a good veteran whose leadership will be missed, and the secondary that struggled so much last season loses heart-and-soul safety Van Eskridge. McNeill can coach and Holtz didn't leave the cupboard totally bare, but the ingredients to win another Conference USA title don't appear to be there.
Continue on to the other major conferences