Mountain West: Wyoming
Not too high on the Cowboys this year. The reason? Well, they were just a bad team last season, regardless of their New Mexico Bowl upset over Fresno State to cap off the year. This is a team that didn't have any good wins outside of that New Mexico Bowl, was shut out three times all year and was held to 10 points or fewer SIX times, and had a mediocre defense that ranked 81st in total D. Some people blamed the offensive ineptitude on the youth and while that's a fair place to put the blame, I doubt this will become the offense that Dave Christensen saw at Missouri after one year. Having Austyn Carta-Samuels at QB and Alvester Alexander at RB are bonuses as they were each freshman in 09, but let's not get carried away! This offense was atrocious last season. It'll be at least another year before this spread attack takes off. The defense doesn't have a whole lot of rebuilding to do, but again, this team on paper did not come off as one that should have won 6 regular season games. I think they'll compete for a bowl game considering how poor the bottom of the MWC looks like it'll be in 2010, but I think they may come up short.
Well, things couldn't be more disappointing than they were in 09, could they? Remember though, this is only relative to expectations. While Lane Kiffin has his numerous detractors (me), USC obviously has designs on a national title even with the tough schedule. Is it possible? I don't think it's that farfetched and even though Kiffin will eventually cause the relative decline of the USC football program, this year it won't be the case. However, if we've learned our lesson in recent seasons, the Pac-10 is deep. And it's not in a way where you just stop and pause at how good the teams are necessarily, it has more to do with the fact that these teams are ultra-familiar with each other. Let's not forget, it's been four seasons since USC went undefeated and in each of those, they lost a crucial road game that caused them to stumble along the way. This year, those road teams are Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA. I don't think the non-conference opponents (Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota) will pose any threats but Notre Dame, while planning on being pretty good next season, have to come to L.A. I think USC could still win a Pac-10 tiebreaker, but if fans are expecting more than a 10-2 season, I think they may come away disappointed.
SEC: Ole Miss
If any year was going to put the Rebels into the BCS, it was 2009. They had momentum, they had a fresh attitude, and they certainly had the pieces. Now gone will be Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Marcus Tillman, and the core of their secondary defense. Besides that, this is a team that underachieved in 2009 and managed to drop four tough games. Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State knocked them out. If Snead did give his team more a passing boost than he did last season, Ole Miss may have been able to challenge Alabama, but it just wasn't meant to be the case. In steps (more than likely) Nathan Stanley who has some hype but has never been put under this type of situation. Ole Miss was probably a better team than they let on last season and some pieces are still in place to compete, but the schedule isn't really conducive to a great year, at least in SEC play. The first five games should be easy enough, but Kentucky and Vanderbilt don't figure to be pushovers. The road games this season are going to be painful against Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Tennessee. A bowl game should definitely be in sight for the Rebels, but I wouldn't expect a .500 or better record in SEC play.
Sun Belt: North Texas
Perhaps no conference has quite as much parity as the Sun Belt, so it's hard to pick a team to fail to meet expectations. That might be North Texas. Yes, I realize North Texas has been bad and isn't coming into the year with a lot of hype as being a sleeper, but most expect some noticeable improvement compared to Dodge's first three seasons. With the hype of the new stadium about to open in 2011, recruiting may see a temporary uptick, but the question for head coach Todd Dodge is will he be around to see it? I have to admit that after Dodge's first year, I automatically assumed that this offense would take off and leave them with one of the better units in the non-BCS ranks. As it turns out, the offensive production could not have been flakier over the last two seasons. The Mean Green also have not fixed their turnover situation ranking 117th. With a two-win season in 2009, Dodge needs, at the least, a 5-7 mark to hang on for dear life. While another infusion of JUCO guys may make some pundits give North Texas the nod as being a Sun Belt sleeper, I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat of last year. One interesting wild card though is the hiring of Mike Canales from USF to be offensive coordinator. Will Dodge relinquish his offensive system a little bit and give the reigns to Canales? I guess that's the question around Denton. Since nobody in the Sun Belt has shoot-for-the-moon expectations nationally, I think I'll go with North Texas to disappoint and have another very bad season and probably a new head coach for 2011.
Am I really going to go against that pistol rushing attack? No. But after last year's egg that the Wolf Pack laid in the Hawaii Bowl, I wouldn't be surprised to see almost a duplicate year in which they lose most of the important non-conference games, give Boise a push, and then get spanked in the bowl game. There has always seemed to be something missing with this team as far as mental toughness is concerned. And while they were shorthanded against SMU last December, that doesn't excuse losing 45-3 with the still-dangerous Mike Ball in the backfield. All that will be missing from this group that churned out three 1,000 yard rushers will be Luke Lippincott who seems to have finally run out of eligibility. There will still be Kaepernick running the pistol, Taua gashing WAC defenses, and Ball as a good fill-in. However, the defense will remain awful and that will ultimately do them in. The non-conference schedule has BYU and Cal which should be losses, but the WAC schedule sets up perfectly. It won't matter because Nevada will rip to shreds the meat of the WAC schedule and drop a game to Boise State. So Nevada will ultimately have a good year, but they will not realistically challenge for the WAC championship.
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Mountain West: Wyoming