10 college football teams on the rise entering the 2018 season
College football’s landscape changes virtually every offseason between recruiting and the coaching carousel, and this one was no different. As such, there are a number of programs who haven’t been as successful as they’d have liked who are on the way up now.
Some of these squads put the building blocks in place last season and are looking to take another step forward in 2018. Others have made major coaching changes, and the new hires should propel them forward. Whatever the case, here’s a look at 10 college football teams who will begin the 2018 on the rise.
10) Florida Atlantic
The Owls began their rapid rise in 2017 when they brought Lane Kiffin in as their head coach. He promptly went 11-3 with a bowl win, setting Florida Atlantic up for another potential step forward in 2018. They have a legitimate star in running back Devin Singletary and an early test against Oklahoma. The Owls have real ambitions to at minimum challenge for the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six team.
The Cougars boast a legitimate NFL prospect in defensive lineman Ed Oliver, a luxury that no other Group of 5 team has. New offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will be expected to give the offense a big boost, and if those two things come together, an AAC title is well within Houston’s grasp. They, too, will have New Year’s Six ambitions. With Oliver likely going pro after the season, it’s now-or-never.
It’s hard to argue that Kevin Sumlin didn’t deserve to be fired at Texas A&M, but that doesn’t make him a bad coach. He was actually a very nice hire for an Arizona team that has enough talent to make some noise. The star of the team will be dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate, who has dynamic potential and could win games on his own if he matures quickly. This is a young team, but they have the potential to grow quickly into a Pac-12 South contender.
7) Iowa State
The Cyclones already took a big step forward in 2017 thanks to a very good defense and a sudden ability to beat quality teams. They knocked off both Oklahoma and TCU and came within a touchdown of doing the same to Oklahoma State. The offense has question marks and the loss of Allen Lazard to the NFL will hurt them, but there’s talent there, and the defense was very good. They have a talented front seven that could progress this season. Whatever the case, the future is bright for Matt Campbell’s program, and last year looks to be just the beginning.
6) South Carolina
Will Muschamp has the Gamecocks headed in the right direction, as last year’s Outback Bowl win over Michigan demonstrates. The offense needs to improve, but that starts with quarterback Jake Bentley, who needs to cut down on his 12 interceptions and add to his 18 touchdowns of last season. If the offense takes that step forward, it’s not silly to think that South Carolina could win 10 games next season, even in a loaded SEC.
At the very least, the hype is back around the Nebraska program. All they needed to do was bring Scott Frost home as the head coach after his incredible season with UCF. It won’t matter without talent, though, and Frost inherits a pretty solid base of players and can recruit, too. The defense is the big area that must improve, but Nebraska returns the majority of its players on that side. This team won’t go 4-8 again. Frost should have them moving forward from day one.
The Chip Kelly hire immediately gave UCLA credibility that they didn’t have before, and the results should come quickly. 2018 may be too soon for contention at the top level, especially since the team is going to have to settle on a new quarterback to succeed Josh Rosen, but there is some talent returning on both sides of the ball. There will be an adaptation process as Kelly’s players come to grips with his demands, but there’s no question that the Bruins are headed in the right direction with the former Ducks coach leading the way.
3) Florida State
It’s not as if the Seminoles fell far, but a 7-6 season for a team that thought they had the pieces to compete for a championship is enough to really throw off a program’s trajectory. Jimbo Fisher’s decision to bolt has allowed Florida State to hit the reset button and bring in former Oregon coach Willie Taggart to take over a roster that still has a lot of talent and, vitally, two quarterbacks who are experienced and ready to win now. A national championship might be too much to ask, but it’s hard to see them losing that many games again.
The Hurricanes looked like they might just make the College Football Playoff for a time last year, but they ended up falling short. That is far from the end for this ascendant program, which finally looks set to enter a long period of relevance again under Mark Richt. They bring back much of their talent from last season, particularly on offense, and Shaquille Quarterman is a name to watch on defense. The big question Richt will have to sort out is who starts at quarterback between Malik Rosier, who had a rough end to the season, or highly-touted freshman N’Kosi Perry.
1) Texas A&M
A&M paid a lot of money for Jimbo Fisher, one of the country’s most accomplished coaches, and will be expecting results quickly. The good news is they’re poised to get them. Trayveon Williams is a good running back and there’s plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. The defense struggled last year, but could improve with the experience they gained. Fisher will have to settle the quarterback situation. It may take a year before the Aggies start showing their full potential, but there’s no reason to think they won’t win a lot in the years to come.