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#pounditMonday, September 26, 2022

10 college football teams in need of a big turnaround

Dan Mullen

Some of college football’s traditional powers have really fallen by the wayside. Sometimes they fall victim to unrealistic expectations, and other times they simply don’t recruit or play well enough to match the talent on display. One season of poor play isn’t the end of the world, but if struggles continue, it can be very bad news for a program.

Here are ten programs that underwhelmed last year and could really use a quick turnaround.

1) Florida

A tumultuous season that began with off-field disciplinary issues ultimately led to the firing of coach Jim McElwain. The tumult meant the Gators fell from two consecutive SEC title game appearances to a 4-7 record. Bringing in new coach Dan Mullen should help, and the Gators have turned things around quickly before, but this was not a year to remember for them, nor is it a year the fanbase will tolerate much more of.

2) Tennessee

Butch Jones wasn’t exactly beloved in Knoxville even after back-to-back nine win seasons, so a four-win 2017 was the end of him. It’s been over a decade — 2007, to be exact — since the Vols finished atop their SEC division (they won a head-to-head tie with Georgia). That’s too long for this fanbase. Jeremy Pruitt is the new coach after a rather embarrassing search, which cost the former athletic director his job. Pruitt’s first job will be to get fan support behind them and have the Vols bowl-eligible again. Then they can go from there.

3) Arkansas

Chad Morris is the new coach at Arkansas, who parted ways with Bret Bielema after five underwhelming seasons. The Razorbacks haven’t won double-digit games since 2011, back when Bobby Petrino was still in charge. This is another SEC fanbase that will not accept the mediocrity they’ve been fed over the last several years. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks have a long way to go and a big transition to make from Bielema’s philosophy to Morris’. Progress must be made in 2018.

4) Illinois

The arrival of Lovie Smith was supposed to breathe new life into Illinois football, but the Fighting Illini have gone just 5-19 in his two seasons at the helm. They haven’t posted a winning record in the Big Ten since Ron Zook was in charge in 2007. That’s not about to happen this year, in all likelihood, but Smith actually has a good recruiting class coming in for 2019. Maybe they’re trending in the right direction, but the results on the field must change, and their new uniforms haven’t exactly drawn them positive attention.

5) Baylor

Baylor is still crippled by the sexual assault scandals that hit under former coach Art Briles, and Matt Rhule is now picking up the pieces. The Bears crashed to 1-11 last season after seven years of sustained success. They have a lot of work to do — both in overcoming the culture and infusing more talent into the program — to get back to anything close to that, and they certainly don’t have much public sympathy on their side. They should be better in 2018, and they certainly need to be.

6) Nebraska

Expectations are high in Lincoln after the arrival of former quarterback Scott Frost, who’s coming off an unbeaten season at UCF. The fact that the Huskers bringing in a solid recruiting class is only going to further heighten expectations. The Huskers are coming off a 4-8 season. Prior to the poor 2017, it had been nearly 60 years since the program’s last year of five-or-fewer wins. The pressure will be on Frost to turn things around quickly. Between his status as a native son and his success at UCF, he’ll have a lot to live up to.

7) North Carolina

After consecutive winning seasons, Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels plummeted to 3-9 in 2017. That could turn around quickly given a solid recruiting class and talent on the roster, but North Carolina can scarcely afford further struggles. This was a football program that was moribund during the 2000s, and on the heels of a very successful decade, stopping the bleeding is imperative. They were ravaged by injuries last season, so if their health is better, they should be in for an improvement. Something close to .500 would count as progress.

8) Florida State

Relative to expectation, Florida State’s 2017 was an unqualified failure. Expected to be a top-ten team, they lost quarterback Deondre Francois in their opener and were reduced to defending their bowl eligibility after a 6-6 regular season. They promptly brought in Willie Taggart to replace Jimbo Fisher, who bolted for Texas A&M, and are more or less starting over. They recruited well and, after five consecutive ten-win seasons, will be looking to get back to that.

9) UCLA

UCLA badly needed a turnaround after a disappointing 4-8 2016 season, and that really didn’t happen in 2017. They went 6-7 despite having Josh Rosen, a potential No. 1 overall pick, at quarterback. The inability to put it together cost Jim Mora his job. UCLA is very well-positioned for rapid improvement, if only because of the hiring of Chip Kelly and his proven record of collegiate success, which had led to some good talent following him in. With Rosen gone, the quarterback spot is wide open and leaves a big question.

10) Oregon

We go from Kelly’s new team to his old one. Oregon has never entirely recovered from Kelly’s departure for the NFL. Things took a turn for the worst halfway through Mark Helfrich’s tenure. Just as it looked like things were turning under Willie Taggart, he left for Florida State after one year. Mario Cristobal will need to deliver much-needed stability to the program — but also continued improvement to get back to national relevance. If quarterback Justin Herbert can stay healthy — they were 6-2 in games he played last year — they should be in good shape.

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