Storied College Football Programs That Will Struggle in 2017 – Bleacher Report


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    College football teams strive to build a national brand, but sustained success results in high annual expectations. It’s not easy to match that potential every season.

    Looking ahead to the 2017 campaign, seven well-known programs appear likely to endure disappointing seasons relative to their goals.

    What exactly is a storied program? There’s no absolute definition, but a good starting point is a school that’s expected to compete for conference championships on a yearly basis. We also focused on programs listed in the top 30 of all-time victories.

    A struggle is classified as finishing the regular season in a lower-tier bowl game and/or unranked.

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    Biggest issues

    The schedule does Arkansas zero favors in 2017. In addition to the typical brutal slate in the SEC West, the Razorbacks host TCU, have the earliest bye week in the conference and travel to Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. While they’ll lean on the running game, two key departures at wide receiver (Drew Morgan and Keon Hatcher) might hurt the offense’s balance.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    Austin Allen was prone to interceptions last season, but there’s no questioning his toughness. Perhaps the offensive line will better protect the senior since six of the top seven players up front return, and Frank Ragnow is probably the best center in the country. Rawleigh Williams III’s medical-related retirement stings, but Devwah Whaley seems ready to handle a heavy workload.

       

    2017 prediction

    Although bowl eligibility seems like the floor for Arkansas, the ceiling isn’t much higher. The Razorbacks will likely fall to at least three of TCU, Alabama, Auburn and LSU, and they usually can’t avoid that one bad loss (like 2015 Toledo or 2016 Missouri). Arkansas won’t break the Top 25 after October.

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    Biggest issues

    Similar to Arkansas, Florida has a formidable roster but a tough schedule. Jim McElwain’s club begins the season against Michigan and also takes on each of LSU, Georgia and Florida State. Although the Gators should rightfully be excited about Feleipe Franks, a potentially mediocre offensive line may hinder the freshman quarterback.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    As long as the Gators field another strong defense, they’ll be a pesky opponent. And unlike the Razorbacks, Florida’s toughest games are at home or a neutral site. If the Franks-led offense atones for the anticipated small regression by a defense that had seven NFL draft picks, the two-time defending SEC East champions will make a run at No. 3.

       

    2017 prediction

    Franks has a bright future, but immediate success on a national level is unlikely. Granted, the Gators could outperform these expectations because November offers a potential three-game winning streak with Missouri, South Carolina and UAB. However, an imperfect conference path coupled with an unforgiving opener and finale will leave the Gators way back in the polls.

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    Biggest issues

    Michigan State’s defensive line struggled last season, and the unit lost a talented centerpiece in Malik McDowell. The Spartans will be young in the trenches this year, which is promising for the future but could bring a frustrating 2017. Although Brian Lewerke was the best option at quarterback before a season-ending injury, he’s only attempted 57 passes.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    Lewerke’s performance in limited action is encouraging for an offense that should have decent blocking in front of LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London. The rushing attack could ease the pressure on Lewerke in his first year as the full-time starter. Additionally, MSU has a sturdy linebacking corps with Chris Frey and Andrew Dowell.

       

    2017 prediction

    The good news is the Spartans don’t have a glaring weakness. But other than running back and linebacker—which are complementary positions anywaythere’s no overwhelming strength. Michigan State should improve after a 3-9 campaign, though simple bowl eligibility seems like the prize.

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    Biggest issues

    It’s a year of transition for Nebraska, which must replace a three-year starter at quarterback plus the team’s leading rusher, best receiver, top three tacklers and leading sack producer. Yeah, that’s all. Throw in road trips to Oregon and Penn State as well as consecutive home dates with Wisconsin and Ohio State, and the Cornhuskers have a dicey outlook in 2017.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    The Big Ten is an increase in competition compared to Tulane and the AAC, but Tanner Lee attempted 612 passes with the Green Wave before transferring and winning the job this spring. Though he must adjust, Lee likely won’t be fazed by the situation. And even with the many questions Nebraska needs to answer this year, can you really trust a Big Ten West program not named Wisconsin?

       

    2017 prediction

    The Huskers should start hot considering they have Arkansas State, Oregon, Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois on the docket in September. But the schedule doesn’t let up after Wisconsin and Ohio State. There are toss-up games with Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa, along with a journey to Penn State. Nebraska has nine-win potential but a worst-case scenario of six losses.

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    Biggest issues

    After muddling through a season to forget, Notre Dame needs to break in a new quarterback. Brandon Wimbush arrived in South Bend as a heralded recruit, but it’s hard to excel as a first-year starter. Games in the latter half of the season against USC, NC State, Miami and Stanford will put Wimbush and the Irish through the gauntlet.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson are an excellent tackle-guard combination on the left side, and they’re blocking for a potential three-headed rushing monster. While the secondary was no better than average in efficiency last year, two potential starters will return from an injury that cost them 2016. Pure talent isn’t a question for Notre Dame.

       

    2017 prediction

    It won’t be 4-8 bad, but the Irish likely will finish the regular season outside the Top 25 unless the defense makes an enormous leap under new coordinator Mike Elko. Georgia, USC and Stanford should be favored, and Notre Dame won’t survive Michigan State, NC State and Miami unblemished.

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Biggest issues

    Tennessee couldn’t win the division with Josh Dobbs, who held an injury-riddled roster together in 2016. Now he’s gone. The replacement, likely Quinten Dormady, must navigate a ruthless schedule. The Vols will play Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama before October ends. Add a mid-November date with LSU, and there is trouble brewing on Rocky Top.

       

    Reasons for optimism

    Maybe this is the year Butch Jones and Co. develop all that highly touted recruiting talent. Though the offensive line was below average last year, the unit is full of experience. If Tennessee can survive a challenging start, November brings three games—Southern Miss, Missouri and Vanderbiltwhere the program might be favored.

       

    2017 prediction

    It’s unlikely Tennessee will record fewer than four losses. Even with a 3-2 mark against the pre-November teams listed, the Vols have yet to avoid an upset in any season of Jones’ tenure. Dormady (or Jarrett Guarantano) would need to match Dobbs’ 2016 performance for that to happen, and expecting that consistently is unwise.

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Biggest issues

    Losses for Texas A&M include Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor from a disappointing offensive line, most of the receiving corps sans Christian Kirk, and Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall, Shaan Washington and Justin Evans on defense. Kevin Sumlin has recruited well, but relying on true freshmen to fill out a depth chart isn’t a great sign. And who’s the quarterback?

       

    Reasons for optimism

    The Aggies are no stranger to fast starts; they’ve opened the season at least 5-0 for three straight years. As those teams have proved, that doesn’t guarantee anything down the stretch, but Captain Obvious says it’s better to be 5-0 than 3-2. Being optimistic about a seven-game span that includes Alabama, at Florida, Auburn, at Ole Miss and at LSU is the challenge.

       

    2017 prediction

    Thanks to nonconference tilts with Nicholls State, Lafayette and New Mexico, Texas A&M should extend its postseason streak to nine years. But the bad news for the Aggies is they might need all three of those wins to reach six on the season. Losses to UCLA, Alabama, Florida, Auburn and LSU might bring the Sumlin era to an end.

       

    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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