2012 Record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East; won Belk Bowl
Projected 2013 Record: 9-3, 5-3 American
Most Important Game: vs. Louisville, Dec. 5
Potential To Be Upset: at USF, Oct. 5
Forecast: Few programs have enjoyed the kind of consistency that Cincinnati has achieved in the last half-decade, and that success has translated across coaching regimes. Brian Kelly and Butch Jones each won at least a share of two conference championships for four total since 2008. That’s more than Alabama, Oregon or Oklahoma, and as many as Boise State.
Can that same level of success crossover to a third regime?
Tommy Tuberville certainly hopes so, and he has the personnel to win a fifth league championship this year. The Bearcat defense is outstanding. The offense has questions — namely, who will play quarterback and who is going to replace George Winn? But an excellent line should help provide answers. This is a team that could very well be in contention for its first BCS bowl since the 2009 season when it hosts rival Louisville in the season finale.
2012 Record: 5-7, 2-5 Big East
Projected 2013 Record: 6-6, 4-4 American
Most Important Game: vs. USF, Oct. 12
Potential For An Upset: vs. Louisville, vs. Nov. 8
Forecast: Connecticut athletic brass afforded Paul Pasqualoni another season. He must make good on the opportunity with a bowl appearance, something that has alluded the Huskies each of his two seasons at the helm, after Randy Edsall took the program to four straight. Connecticut’s last postseason date was the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.
The benchmark he set as head coach is not the only way in which Edsall will linger over the program this season. His return to the Nutmeg State in Week 3 will set a tone for the Huskies’ season, one way or the other.
Though Don Brown is gone, the defense will be its typically stingy self. The progress of Chandler Whitmer this off-season is going to dictate Connecticut’s bowl aspirations.
2012 Record: 5-7, 4-4 Conference USA
Projected 2013 Record: 5-7, 3-5 American
Most Important Game: vs. SMU, Nov. 29
Potential For An Upset: vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 23
Forecast: UH was on the cusp of becoming the first Conference USA member to break into the BCS, but Kevin Sumlin’s team met a buzzsaw in Larry Fedora’s Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Tony Levine took the reins from Sumlin and struggled mightily initially. A three-game losing streak to open the season, then another just before the year’s end doomed the Cougars to a sub-.500 finish.
Houston still has glaring flaws that plagued it in 2012 carrying over into 2013. The defense surrendered 40-plus five times, including a staggering 72 to SMU. Gone from that group is its leader, Phillip Steward. The offense is loaded at wide receiver, Houston’s bread-and-butter, but replacing Charles Sims’ dynamic play-making will prove difficulty. A bowl game is achievable, but the Cougars need to hold steady against comparable competition.
2012 Record: 11-2, 5-2 Big East; won Sugar Bowl
Projected 2013 Record: 11-1, 7-1 American
Most Important Game: at Cincinnati, Dec. 5
Potential To Be Upset: at Connecticut, Nov. 8
Forecast: The high of beating Cincinnati in a rain-soaked, late October showdown came crashing down when a pair of conference losses in November derailed the Cardinals’ perfect season. However, a road win over Rutgers to sew up the program’s first BCS bowl since the 2006 season and then the biggest upset in Sugar Bowl history.
The momentum carried Louisville into an off-season full of expectations. The Cardinals are generating legitimate BCS championship chatter, the first time a Big East/American team has done so since the 2007 West Virginia Mountaineers. However, UL has to accomplish that most improbable of feats and go undefeated.
Last year proved that isn’t such a simple task. UL must travel to Connecticut in November. The Huskies beat the Cardinals last year. Louisville also walked a tight rope through its successful 2012, winning six games by single digits. One can only walk the razor’s edge for so long before tripping up, which is precisely what happened to UL twice down the stretch.
The good news is those stumbles could prove to be the growing pains Teddy Bridgewater needed to face in order to mature into the championship caliber quarterback he must be for Louisville to reach Pasadena. The Heisman contender leads a veteran squad that will be one to keep tabs on throughout 2013.
2012 Record: 4-8, 4-4 Conference USA
Projected 2013 Record: 4-8, 2-6 American
Most Important Game: vs. SMU, Oct. 19
Potential For An Upset: vs. UCF, Oct. 5
Forecast: The win streak that capped Justin Fuente’s first season at the helm in Memphis is the first real positive that the program has had since it last went bowling in 2008.
With most of the offense’s key contributors returning, including quarterback Jacob Karam, and some talent on the defensive side, Memphis has room to grow even more in Fuente’s second campaign. Of course, much of that growth is contingent on the Tigers’ schedule.
The American is an altogether more competitive league than C-USA, thus matching last season’s four-win benchmark in conference will prove challenging. The Tigers must steal a home win from either UCF or Cincinnati. Memphis also plays a tough non-conference schedule, opening with 2012 bowl teams Duke and Arkansas State, and a Middle Tennessee team that should have gone bowling.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2012 Record: 9-4, 5-2 Big East; lost Russell Athletic Bowl
Projected 2013 Record: 9-3, 6-2 American
Most Important Game: at Louisville, Oct. 10
Potential To Be Upset: at Connecticut, Nov. 30
Forecast: Greg Schiano was far-and-away the Big East’s most tenured coach within one particular program when he left for the NFL. He built a perennial cellar dweller into a regular bowl participant. The Scarlet Knights have made the postseason every year since 2005, save 2010. Schiano’s legacy is an invitation to join the Big Ten in 2014.
Successor Kyle Flood built on Schiano’s foundation, winning a share of a conference championship. Rutgers came oh-so-close to reaching its first BCS bowl. It will get one more opportunity before the system restructures and RU changes conferences.
Rutgers will contend for the American crown with a tenacious defense. If Gary Nova’s experience as starter translates into improved accuracy, and Savon Huggins finally breaks out, Rutgers will have the necessary offensive complement to help that defense into a BCS bowl.
2012 Record: 7-6, 5-3 Conference USA; won Hawaii Bowl
Projected 2013 Record: 5-7, 4-4 American
Most Important Game: at Houston, Nov. 29
Potential For An Upset: vs. Rutgers, Oct. 5
Forecast: June Jones is a master rebuilder. When he came to Hawaii, the program was dying. He left after reaching a Sugar Bowl and coaching a Heisman Trophy finalist. He moved onto SMU, a program that resided in the basement of college football for two decades.
By his second year, he had a bowl-bound team with a winning record. Every SMU team since 2009 has gone to the postseason and notched a winning record, though last year nearly saw that streak end. The Mustangs needed a final week upset of C-USA champion Tulsa to reach bowl eligibility. Wins over the Golden Hurricane and Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl salvaged a somewhat disappointing campaign, but may have simply delayed the inevitable.
SMU is going to face a difficult road to bowl eligibility in its first American season — largely because of what it is doing outside of the conference. The Mustangs play TCU, Texas Tech and Texas A&M in the non-conference. Talk about a murderer’s row. That leaves a very thin margin for error in a league slate the welcomes potential front runners Rutgers and UCF to Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
2012 Record: 4-7, 2-5 Big East
Projected 2013 Record: 4-8, 1-7 American
Most Important Game: vs. Houston, Sept. 7
Potential For An Upset: vs. UCF, Nov. 16
Forecast: Matt Rhule is Temple’s third coach in four seasons. He fills in for Boston College Eagles coach Steve Addazio, who took over for Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden. While such regular transition at the top would typically cause turbulence in a program, Rhule has the unique perspective of working of each of his predecessors. How his familiarity with the players currently in the program translates on the field will go a long way in determining the Owls’ season.
How far may be limited, though. Temple has significant questions with Montel Harris and Matt Brown gone from the offense, and the Owls severely lacking definitive play makers on defense.
2012 Record: 10-4, 6-2 Conference USA; won Beef-O-Brady’s Bowl
Projected 2013 Record: 8-4, 6-2 American
Most Important Game: at Louisville, Oct. 18
Potential To Be Upset: at Temple, Nov. 16
Forecast: George O’Leary built UCF into one of the more consistent programs beyond the BCS sphere of influence. Last year marked the third time since 2007 that the Knights won at least 10 games. One of the prominent outsiders in the latter half of the BCS era gets a crack at the big show.
And UCF should be in the mix.
The Knight offense is going to be very good, thanks to a big, physical line and outstanding play maker Blake Bortles. Despite turnover on the defense, it too should be up to the lofty standard recent Knight teams have set. The non-conference slate is challenging, with a trip to Penn State and South Carolina visiting Orlando. Still, another double-digit-win season is in play. An upset of Louisville midway through the campaign would set the table for a run to the American championship.
2012 Record: 3-9, 1-6 Big East
Projected 2013 Record: 6-6, 4-4 American
Most Important Game: at UCF, Nov. 29
Potential For An Upset: vs. Cincinnati, Oct. 5
Forecast: First-year head coach Willie Taggart brings much needed energy and enthusiasm to a program that is truly a sleeping giant. The Bulls were on the verge of realizing their potential under Jim Leavitt, but was dismissed for abusing players. Skip Holtz was a bad fit, and USF ultimately regressed.
Taggart’s impact may not be measurable for a few seasons and after a couple recruiting classes, but his first Bull team should be a vast improvement over 2012. He has an outstanding defensive line around which to build on that side of the ball. The offense faces more uncertainty. The quarterback situation is going to be integral to determining the Bulls’ postseason prospects.