Our college football writer picks teams with losing records in 2018 ready to win this season:
Some were hoping Khalil Tate would follow his old coach Rod Smith to Illinois. But Tate stayed put in Tucson, which gives the Wildcats, who went 5-7 last season, a chance to rebound from a disappointing first season with Kevin Sumlin in charge. The offense welcomes back seven other starters and figures to be the team’s strength.
Even after a 4-8 record last season, many are picking the Cornhuskers to win the Big Ten West in Scott Frost’s second year. That might be a bit ambitious, but the team should return to the postseason. Adrian Martinez is a perfect cornerstone for the rebuild.
3. Kansas State
Bill Snyder is finally done as coach, though his name remains on the stadium. Chris Klieman, who had an unreal run at North Dakota State, takes over in Manhattan. Wildcats fans continue to pack the place and expect the team to win soon. Having 15 starters back from last year’s 5-7 outfit should help.
4. Southern Cal
What happened to the Trojans? You used to be able to count on them contending for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the Rose Bowl. Now, Clay Helton is clinging to his job after going 5-7 in 2018. He will have to navigate an early schedule that includes games against Stanford and Utah and trips to Washington and Notre Dame.
It’s not right to call the Boilermakers losers. But that had to be the feeling after the last game, a 63-14 meltdown against Auburn in the Music City Bowl that lowered their record to 6-7. Jeff Brohm will turn it around thanks in part to a friendly schedule that doesn’t include Michigan, Ohio State or Michigan State. And thanks to Rondale Moore.
The stadium is huge and the boats are pretty, but something is seriously wrong at Peyton Manning’s alma mater. Second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has oodles of experience back on both sides of the ball and a soft nonconference schedule that includes games against Georgia State, Chattanooga, UAB and BYU. Good chance the Vols better their 5-7 record from a season ago.
7. Texas Tech
Fired coach Kliff Kingsbury — who went 5-7 in his final year in Lubbock — was so bad he was immediately hired to run the Arizona Cardinals. New boss Matt Wells worked wonders at Utah State, but might find the competition more difficult in the Big 12.
Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley joins the most challenging division of the Big Ten, with annual games against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. But he avoids Northwestern and Wisconsin in the West and meets Howard and Temple in the nonconference slate.
9. Air Force
Don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel better when the service academies are humming. Troy Calhoun has 14 starters back against a schedule built for success. Only Army and Boise State will be sure favorites against the Falcons.
Edging Illinois, Indiana and SMU for the final spot, Chip Kelly now realizes Westwood is not Eugene after last season’s 3-9 flop. The key is surviving the early schedule that includes Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Washington State and Arizona before the end of September.