Welcome to the first College Football Huddle Writer Roundtable. Every Friday, college football writers sound off on the topic of the week.
This week’s discussion: 2014-15 bowl outlooks for five teams that had their postseason bubbles burst in 2013. Is it buy or sell on bowl bids for the Tennessee Volunteers, West Virginia Mountaineers, Indiana Hoosiers, Utah Utes and Northwestern Wildcats?
RYAN WOODEN (@Ryan_Wooden)
I suppose I could put Tennessee first on my list to rip the proverbial Band-Aid off, but the reality is, whether you peel it back slowly or tear it off ferociously, that Band-Aid is taking the same amount of hair and you’re still dealing with a scab. For each of the last three seasons, I had Tennessee pegged to win six or seven games and they’ve turned in five in each affair.
This year, Vegas has them as the early underdog in eight of their 12 scheduled games and despite an influx of uber-talented freshman, they’re still not up to par with most of the rest of the SEC from a talent perspective. Call it reverse ju-ju, call it common sense, call it whatever you want, but I think Butch Jones has one more 5-7 season left in him before he ultimately turns it around in 2015.
Despite opening up with three home games to start the year, Northwestern’s schedule is a bit of a brute in 2014. Now, the Wildcats could very easily come out of that stretch 3-0, making bowl eligibility an attainable goal, but they scheduled very loseable games against Cal and NIU to start the year.
Then their other non-conference matchup pits them against Notre Dame on the road. That means they could have to go 5-3 in the league to get to six wins and that’s a tall order considering the two games they’re most likely to be favored in will be on the road against Purdue and Minnesota. That makes those first two games critical, and ultimately, I think they stumble in one or both of them, making bowl eligibility a longshot.
West Virginia (Sell)
I feel a bit curmudgeonly at this point, but when you figure WVU is likely to have half-a-hundred hung on them by Alabama in their home away from home (Atlanta) to start the year and then they’ve got a dangerous game against Towson at home before traveling to Maryland… and THEN you factor in a nine-game league slate in a shockingly deep Big 12, you can’t really expect Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers to win six games can you? Country roads are likely to take Dana home to the place that he belongs this winter: the coordinator’s box.
In 2006, I saw Indiana upset Iowa in Memorial Stadium and it was as jubilant as I’ve ever seen 40,000 people get after beating a mediocre football team. This year, I suspect Indiana could beat several mediocre football teams.
Typically, when you’re going line-by-line through a schedule and you can find three games that are locks, two or three more games where they’re likely favored and two or three more entirely winnable games, you’ve got a decent shot to make a bowl and I think Indiana gets over that hump in 2014.
They’ll have to beat up on the Big Ten’s newcomers (Maryland and Rutgers) and they may have to steal a game against a team like Penn State at home if they slip up somewhere, but Kevin Wilson has just enough offensive firepower to make that seem not-so-far fetched. That’s pretty impressive at Indiana.
Unlike Indiana, when you go line-by-line through Utah’s schedule, you’ll find two games they WILL win, a game they should win, five or six games they could win that they’ll likely be the underdog in, and three games they’ll be bludgeoned to death with national-championship caliber talent.
That’s not a particular great recipe for bowl eligibility, and for that reason, as impossible as it seems, I think we might have to entertain the “Kyle Whittingham hot seat” conversation at the end of this year.
KEVIN McGUIRE (@KevinOnCFB)
For the Utes to make a bowl game they will have to pick up some wins in a division I think will be pretty tough for them to do so. UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and USC are all going to be a challenge, and they may need to win two of those games.
I’m buying here but I do so with caution. I love the direction of the program and feel they can manager to get to six wins, but it’s going to be very tight in that SEC East.
West Virginia: BUY
Looking at the schedule I see five games West Virginia should probably win, and another one or two they should be capable of winning. They get in, barely.
Playing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State is a bad starting point, and road games at Bowling Green and Missouri are potential losses early on. Five wins, tops.
Close, but not quite there. I don’t love this Northwestern team and I think they lose two games at home to Wisconsin and Nebraska. That makes for an uphill battle.
ROBBY JACKSON (@RJacksonScout)
Utah: Sooner or later Utah will start a QB that will finish the season as the starting QB, though it hasn’t happened since Brian Johnson led the Utes to a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. As someone that follows the program closely, I hope that this storyline ends this year. For the Utes to get to 6 wins, they’ll have to win the games against teams that have similar talent, those games being against Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona and Colorado. If the Utes can win 3 of those games, they’ll go bowling. BOWL
Tennessee: Butch Jones through one year is starting to turn things around in Knoxville. With a consensus top-10 recruiting class coming in, the talent is improving. They have a very tough road schedule as they have to play at Oklahoma, at Georgia (in consecutive weeks) and at South Carolina. I like Butch Jones as a coach and think he’ll find a way to lead his team to 6 or 7 wins. BOWL
West Virginia: It seems like a forever ago that the Mountaineers were running circles around Clemson on their way to a 70-33 win in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Other than the first half of the 2013 season, life in the Big XII hasn’t been too kind to West Virginia. Looking at the 2014 schedule, I see 2 guaranteed wins and a tough, 6-game where they play @ Texas Tech, vs. Baylor, @ Oklahoma State, vs. TCU, @ Texas and vs. Kansas State.
Before that stretch, they need to stockpile wins, but it’s difficult to do that with Alabama and Oklahoma on the schedule and a Maryland team that beat up the Mountaineers 37-0 last season. The schedule looks a little too difficult for West Virginia. SELL
Indiana: In his Fourth year at Indiana, Kevin Wilson has led the Hoosiers to just a 10-26 record, so it’s difficult for me to see them winning 6 games this year alone.
There are 6 guaranteed losses in 2014 for Indiana with those being @ Missouri, @ Iowa, vs. Michigan State, @ Michigan, vs. Penn State and @ Ohio State. In order for Indiana to go bowling they’ll have to win all of their other games and find a way to steal one of these and I just don’t see it happening. SELL
Northwestern: The Wildcats lost 4 very winnable games last year. 2 of them were lost by field goals and the other 2 were lost in overtime. Northwestern had a good 2012 season, but took a step back last year. They’ll jump out of the gates at 3-0, but could potentially lose 8 of their next 9 games. The games that Northwestern has to have are @ Minnesota, @ Purdue and vs. Illinois. Win those and steal a game during the seasons and they’ll be bowling in Evanston. I think they’re going to do it. BOWL
ANDY COPPENS (@AndyOnCFB)
I so badly want to say bowl with this team, but it’s really hard to find a sixth win when you look at the Hoosiers schedule. It’s likely that they’ll need to win one of the two trips in the nonconference season (Bowling Green or Missouri) and that won’t be easy.
Add in conference road trips to Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State and you get the picture. This offense is capable of winning any game, and if the defense makes a good jump then Kevin Wilson keeps his job.
For whatever reason people seem to have written off the Wildcats, and I can’t figure it out for the life of me.
Outside of losing Kain Colter and a few defensive parts the vast majority of the team that everyone had in the Top 25 last offseason returns, and returns healthy. I have a feeling we’ll see more of what was expected from this team last year happen this year. Look for them to be a legitimate Big Ten West challenger and an eight-game winner.
The Vols have hit the recruiting trail hard and fast and it has paid immediate dividends for Butch Jones and Co. However, it didn’t translate in to a ton of wins in year one.
Expect the Vols to be even more competitive this season and as long as it doesn’t drop the opener against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State this team will just need to find a way to win one of its road games against Georgia or South Carolina to be bowl eligible based on what I see from the Vols schedule. I like the talent on this team, and all it takes is another situation like Georgia had last year to put this team in a bowl game in 2014.
While the Utes won’t play in-state rivals BYU or Utah State (a real shame for us neutrals out there), the season won’t get any easier. Any chance this team has to get to bowl eligibility hinges on winning against either Fresno State or Michigan in the nonconference season, plus finding a home win against a schedule that features USC, Oregon and Arizona in Pac-12 play.
The schedule is just brutal this season for the Utes, but the talent is there for them to get close or surprise me and become bowl eligible. I just can’t pull the trigger on this team as a bowl team before we see them take the field in 2014.
West Virginia: Bowl
The Big 12 has been topsy-turvy over the past few seasons and West Virginia has been near the top and at the bottom in its first two seasons in the conference. Clint Trickett was named the starter for the opener against Alabama, but he was shaky at best in his first season as a starter in Morgantown.
Call me crazy, but I expect him to settle down and be a half-way competent quarterback. Two games will tell the tale of bowl eligibility for the Mountaineers this season, road trips to Maryland of the Big Ten and Iowa State to end the season. It’s likely that WVU will need both games to be in the W column and both games are winnable. So, I say split the difference and find a surprising win in Big 12 play, because it’s the Big 12 and good luck predicting the middle of the conference every every year.