The college football season can be quite unpredictable, as proven by last year’s results.Ohio State, who entered the season as the first-ever unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll, finished on the outside looking in on the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, two teams outside the preseason top 10 managed to work their way up the rankings and take two of those desired spots.
Whether it was due to injuries or plain underperformance, many teams failed to live up to expectations last season. Here’s a look at seven players, coaches and programs that look to bounce back in 2016:
1. AuburnIt’s hard to remember that Auburn was the sixth-ranked team and considered a playoff contender heading into last year.
Thought to compete with in-state rival Alabama for the SEC West crown, the Tigers stumbled hard in conference play (2-6) and finished at the bottom of the standings.
Auburn’s struggles began in a week three 45-21 blowout loss to LSU where Leonard Fournette passed the 200-yard mark on 19 carries and the Tigers continued to spiral downward in a string of close defeats.
Their toughest loss came against Arkansas where the Tigers made a late fourth quarter comeback only to lose 54-46 in five overtimes.
Quarterback play will be key in Auburn’s hopes of returning to prominence in the SEC. Jeremy Johnson, who started nine games last year and struggled with 11 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions, headlines a three-man battle that has yet to be sorted out.
2. Nick Chubb (Georgia running back)
Through the first six games of Georgia’s 2015 season, Nick Chubb was spectacular and positioning himself right next to Fournette as the best running back in the nation.
Then bad luck struck when the sophomore’s season was abruptly ended by a gruesome knee injury sustained on the first offensive play of the Bulldogs’ matchup with Tennessee.
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Chubb raced to 747 yards and seven touchdowns before being shut down. Georgia is optimistic about his continued recovery and Chubb enters his junior season as one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy.
3. Miami (Fla.)Chubb’s former head coach at Georgia Mark Richt has moved on and has taken the reigns at Miami (Fla.) after spending 14 years in Athens.
For Richt, it is an opportunity to right the ship of one of 2015’s most inconsistent programs.
The Hurricanes finished 8-5 last season and concluded with a 20-14 loss to Washington State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
But with Richt’s arrival, there is renewed optimism in Coral Gables. Miami ranks just out of the USA Today preseason coaches poll with 120 votes.
With expected defensive improvements, a new incoming quarterback and Richt’s past success to look on, the Hurricanes have a shot at achieving their first double-digit win season in more than a decade.
4. Seth Russell (Baylor quarterback)Injuries also struck and hampered Baylor – ranked No. 4 in last season’s AP preseason poll.
Both of the Bears’ top two quarterbacks missed extended time with injuries, including incumbent starter and rising senior Seth Russell.
Russell started and won the first seven games for Baylor before missing the remaining six games of 2015. The Bears went on to finish 10-3 and beat North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
In his first season starting, Russell racked up 2,104 yards and threw 29 touchdowns en route to leading Baylor to the No. 2 spot in the poll before being forced to sit on the sidelines.
This season, he will return under center for a new coach in Jim Grobe and a No. 21 ranked Baylor team in the USA Today poll.
5. Will Muschamp (South Carolina head coach)Will Muschamp’s stock has fallen some since he was a defensive coordinator at Texas from 2008-10.
His first go-around as head coach of Florida didn’t go so smoothly and last season’s return to Auburn as its defensive coordinator didn’t show too many positive results either – the Tigers finished 71st in total defense.
Therefore, 2016 is a big year for Muschamp as he aims to prove he can be a top-end head coach in the SEC.
South Carolina isn’t expected to go too far this upcoming season, coming off a 3-9 record, but the Gamecocks did show some flashes in close losses to Tennessee on the road and national championship runner-up Clemson. But then there were losses to the likes of Kentucky and The Citadel.
Muschamp has a tall task ahead of him, at least for this upcoming season.
6. OregonIt’s a stretch to say that a 9-4 season is a letdown, but for a Ducks team coming off a national championship loss the prior year and with the skill players available to return there, it was quite a dropoff.
Oregon hoped bringing in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams could fill the massive hole at quarterback left by the departure of Marcus Mariota. Adams was impressive in his first and only season in the FBS, but there were more glaring holes on defense.
The Ducks allowed an average of 33 points per game last season, which makes winning games difficult for any offense – even the high-powered Oregon unit.
Oregon comes in at No. 22 to start this year and has a lot of Pac-12 competition for the conference title. Scoring is never an issue for the Ducks, but whether or not they can keep their opponents off the scoreboard will determine how high they can rise this season.
7. Trevor Knight (Texas A&M quarterback)Trevor Knight was the toast of Norman, Oklahoma three seasons ago when he led the Sooners to a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama as a freshman.
Then he had a not-so-good 2014 (14 touchdowns, 12 touchdowns) and a worse start to 2015 that ended with Baker Mayfield supplanting him as starting quarterback midseason to lead Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff.
With Mayfield entrenched as the Sooners’ No. 1 option and vying for a Heisman campaign, Knight now has a fresh start after transferring to Texas A&M where he will be the starter once again.
The Aggies have gone through a quarterback carousel the past few years and will look for Knight to regain the form he showed as a freshman to provide some stability this season.