2018 CFB KILLER BEES
(10) 2018 CFB Teams Who Will Bounce Back Big
By Joe Gavazzi Winning Sports Advice
In past seasons when I have written about Football’s KILLER BEEs, I have been referring to the NFL triumvirate of the Pittsburgh Steelers namely Ben (Roethlisberger), RB Bell and WR Brown. To say the least, they are a lethal trio who will again lead the explosive Steeler’s offense. In CFB, today’s article is also about KILLER BEES. It features the (10) teams who will BOUNCE BACK BIG this fall from their underachieving 2017. In our constant quest for value, there are numerous ways to isolate teams who will be on more of a mission than most to reverse their fortunes of last season. The parameters I have listed below make the most sense to me in not only providing motivation but value as well. Following these parameters and the chart below, I will include a brief thumbnail sketch for each team.
Parameters for 2018 CFB KILLER BEES
- 15+ wins the previous 2 years
- Played in Bowl Games each of the previous two seasons
- < or = to 6 or less wins last year with no Bowl appearance
- < .500 ATS last season
- 5+ offense and 5+ defense returning starters
|TEAM||COACH||# YRS||2015||2016||2015 + 2016||2017||RS||RS||RS||RS||RS|
|Air Force||Troy Calhoun||11||8-6||10-3||18-9||5-7 / 4-7||5||Y||1||6||2|
|Baylor||Matt Rhule||1||10-3||7-6||17-9||1-11 / 5-6||9||Y||2||9||3|
|BYU||Kalani Sitake||2||9-4||9-4||18-8||4-9 / 4-8||7||Y||1||7||3|
|Coast Carolina||Joe Moglia||6||9-3||10-2||19-5||3-9 / 5-6||8||N||5||5||2|
|Florida||Dan Mullen||0||10-4||9-4||19-8||4-7 / 3-8||10||Y||5||9||3|
|Minnesota||PJ Fleck||1||6-7||9-4||15-11||5-7 / 4-7||7||N||3||7||2|
|Nebraska||Scott Frost||0||6-7||9-4||15-11||4-8 / 4-8||6||N||4||8||3|
|NC||Larry Fedora||6||11-3||8-5||19-8||3-9 / 4-7||5||Y||1||8||3|
|Tennessee||Jeremy Pruitt||0||9-4||9-4||18-8||4-8 / 2-9||6||Y||2||7||3|
|W. Michigan||Tim Lester||1||8-5||13-1||21-6||6-6 / 5-6||8||Y||4||5||3|
I will save you the time and trouble of doing the math by providing you with 3 sets of numbers which tell you all you need to know about why these teams are ready to BOUNCE BACK BIG in 2018. In the previous 2 years, 2015 and 2016, these teams had combined records of 179-81 SU with a pair of Bowl appearances. In 2017, whether the issues may have been lack of experience, coaching turnover or multiple injuries, these 10 programs went a combined 39-81 SU, 40-72 ATS. If those 3 sets of numbers do not beg for a reversal of form I cannot find a better example. Now let’s take a look, more specifically, at each of these programs.
The Fly Boys were grounded (did not make a Bowl) for just the 2nd time in HC Calhoun’s 11 year tenure. Look no further than losses to both military foes Navy and Army. That alone should have Air Force ready to take off in 2017. With a pair of quality signal callers, so necessary to running the complex Fly Boy Flexbone, and 6 returning starters on defense, compared to 1 last year, is there any doubt the Falcons will be ready to rumble. After a 3 year low in rushing yardage and a 5 year high in scoring defense, look for Air Force to return to the ranks of Bowlers this season. Pay special attention to their dates with Navy and Army, but also note their history of letdowns following games against their military opponents. Final reminder; the last time Air Force was sub .500 (2013), they bounced back to go 10-3 SU the following season.
With the fallout from the sexual scandal in Waco, and the attendant loss of talent, not to mention that of HC Briles, the Bears hit a speed bump in 2016 under interim Head Coach Jim Grobe. As expected, the nadir of their discontent came in 2017 under new HC Rhule who had worked his magic in previous campaigns at Temple. Now in his 2nd season after opening 1-11 SU, it is time for his own recruits to begin to produce. With 18 returning starters, over 93% of their offense, and 16 of their top 20 tacklers returning, look for immediate improvement in a Baylor team who dipped to being outscored 36-24 on average just 3 years following an average margin of victory of 48-25. Following an ABC scrimmage, is there little question that the Bears will be primed for UTSA revenge on September 8th.
Maybe the Cougars overachieved in the 9-4 SU, 9-3 ATS 2016 season, the 1st under HC Sataki following a decade of excellence under former HC Mendenhall. Few, however, expected a drop to 4-9 SU, 4-8 ATS. But a combination of youth, lack of experience and a rugged September schedule which included consecutive games against LSU, Utah and Wisconsin, led to an 0-7 SU, ATS start against lined teams. It was the Cougs 1st losing season since 2004. This year, 14 RS are fortified by many players forced to step up due to multiple injuries last year. With senior QB Magnum returning (Achilles), I expect the Cougars to have a lot more bite in 2018.
A trio of reasons was responsible for the Chants dip from the Pre-Sun Belt glory years when they were 51-15 in 5 seasons under HC Joe Moglia (the CEO of Ameritrade turned Football coach in his 60’s). A severe allergic reaction forced Moglia to miss CCU’s transition year to the Belt. Along with the step up in competition, a total of only 9 returning starters, the Chants dropped to 3-9 SU. Against more rigorous competition, it won’t be easy to bounce considering they are once again one of the least experienced teams on the CFB landscape. It would be unwise, however, to count out the Chants who enter on a 2-0 SU, ATS momentum building run from last season, have an outstanding coaching staff, and have upgraded their recruiting.
One of the more obvious bounce back stories of this season is that of the Florida Gators who were hit hard by injuries to major skill position players and the preseason suspension of others. The loss of 28 scholarship players resulted in a rare losing season and the firing of HC McElwain. Enter Dan Mullen (Miss. State) who steps into a situation in which he is blessed with an amazing 19 returning starters. First goal for the comeback season will be entrusting his offensive coach Brian Johnson with resurrecting a Gators offense that has averaged only 23/338 the previous 3 years combined. After finishing the year on a 1-6 SU, ATS slide (beat only UAB), unless the linemaker turns handicapper, there should be plenty of value with the Gators this season.
A bit more was expected from PJ Fleck when he took over the Minnesota program in 2017. After all, he had just led Western Michigan to a 13-1 record the previous season with the only loss a closely fought 24-16 Bowl defeat at the hands of powerful Wisconsin. Though the Gophers are still not expected to crawl into the upper echelon of the Big 10, I expect notable improvement specifically on the offensive side of the ball. After averaging just 22/308 on offense last year, the ship was about to sink. Fleck, however, is one of the most energetic young coaches in the game with his mantra of “row the boat” providing infectious enthusiasm to his college teams. It certainly will not hurt his offensive fortunes that Fleck has dialed up JUCO QB Viramontes to operate behind a veteran OL. Look for immediate improvement before the slate toughens in October.
Did anyone really think that the 3 year experience with former Nebraska HC Riley, who preferred a pro style set, was going to bring the same rewards to the Husker faithful who have been born and raised on a power running game. Enter 1st year HC Scott Frost, a former Nebraska signal caller, who won a pair of Big 10 titles. The final straw signaling his arrival was the Huskers 4-8 SU record of 2017 when the defense allowed an uncharacteristic 36/436. Losing their final 4 games of the season means Frost has only one way to go. That apparently is just the way he likes it. In 2016, Frost took over a UCF program that was 0-12 the previous season. In just 2 short years, he lifted a program that was outscored 38-14 on average to last year’s Golden Knight’s team that was 13-0 SU, 9-3 ATS with an average scoring margin of 48-25. It culminated with a 34-27 victory over Auburn in their Bowl game. The results may not be instantaneous on the scoreboard but look for them to show up in the ATS column this season.
This may be the toughest sell on the list of KILLER BEES. Last year’s North Carolina team was one that lacked experience, was cursed with injuries and had 3 of their 9 losses by 6 or less points. When the dust settled, the chart above tells you they went from 19-8 SU the previous 2 seasons to 3-9 SU in 2017. Both the offense and defense went through meaningful declines. The positives for this season are that the Tarheels never quit, finishing the year 2-1 SU, 4-0 ATS providing positive momentum for a team with 13 returning starters. With veteran leadership at the QB spot, though needing to revamp the OL, it will be up to 8 returning starters on the defensive side of the ball to improve a rush defense that, in the last 4 years, has allowed an average of 230 RYPG on 4.9 YPR. Those could well be the numbers to key on when backing the North Carolina bounceback.
Multiple injuries during the season along with a decimated OL and 3rd string QB were just a couple of the reasons why interim HC Brady Hoke , in place of the relinquished Butch Jones, failed to guide a Tennessee team whose 18 victories the previous 2 seasons dissolved into a 4-8 SU 2017 campaign. That included a 1-7 SU finish with their lone victory vs. S. Miss. In the face of deficiencies at the signal caller spot and OL, the Vols offense declined from 36/444 to 20/291. Enter Jeremy Pruitt, former DC at respected football factories Alabama, Georgia and Florida State. An experienced DL is a perfect fit for Pruitt’s experience. With a definitive change to a positive attitude, there is little question in the mind of this bureau that the Vols will be a vastly improved team this football season.
Was there any other way to go? Under the leadership of former enthusiastic HC Fleck, the Broncos road their 2016 boat to a 13-1 SU season with their only loss to Wisconsin in their Bowl game. The crash came with only 5 returning starters to the offensive side of the ball, a new coach in Tim Lester (former WMU QB), and a slew of injuries. The debacle ended with consecutive season ending victories at NIU and Toledo precluding them from a continuation of winning seasons. The offense declined from 42/481 to 34/390 and the defense from 20/354 to 29/378. Obvious area of improvement will be with an offensive head coach who returns 8 offensive starters including 4/5 on the OL. The top of the MAC-West is always tough. At the least, however, the Broncos improvement on their 5-6 ATS season should be imminent. Watch the scoreboard light up in their first game of the season against Syracuse.