<
>
Insider

Teams likely to bounce back from Week 1

9/5/2012

Take a breath. Week 1 is complete. Some teams, and not just Alabama, got off to great starts. Others would probably like a mulligan. A handful of visible programs either struggled to a victory, were defeated by better teams, or were stunned at home.

What's next for the teams that didn't exactly set the trail ablaze in their openers? Are their seasons in danger, or could they soon turn things around? We took a look at the teams with the best chances of bouncing back, and the ones whose rocky starts look more like a sign of bad things to come.

Bounce-back candidates

South Carolina Gamecocks

Result: 17-13 victory at Vanderbilt

Reason for optimism: As I noted Sunday, the Gamecocks have rarely played well under Steve Spurrier (A) in openers and (B) against Vanderbilt. Anyone anticipating a rout hasn't seen the track record for those parameters. Connor Shaw's shoulder bruise is a worry, but the Gamecocks have East Carolina and UAB the next couple of weeks, so he should be able to catch a break and be ready for the Sept. 22 conference opener against Missouri. Plus, as we also mentioned Sunday, the Gamecocks' coaches weren't too concerned about the team's performance in the close win.

Reason for concern: The Gamecocks' offensive line, a weakness during Spurrier's entire stay, still isn't quite there. They'll need more from the likes of Brandon Shell, whose (lack of) fitness didn't allow for him to continue playing, and T.J. Johnson, if they're to win the SEC East.

Boise State Broncos

Result: 17-13 loss at Michigan State

Reason for optimism: The Broncos have Southern Miss and BYU on the schedule, but they will not see anything as stout as William Gholston and the Spartans' front. Boise State should be favored in each of its remaining games, and while new starting QB Joe Southwick was shaky at times in his debut, he improved over the course of the night.

Reason for concern: D.J. Harper, the replacement for current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Doug Martin, ran 15 times for 8 yards against Sparty. Harper should bounce back, but there's no reliable second rushing option behind him right now.

Houston Cougars

Result: 30-13 loss to Texas State

Reason for optimism: Whatever the reported strife between new coach Tony Levine and coordinator Mike Nesbitt was, it is now over -- because Levine forced Nesbitt to quit Monday. The issues centered on the usage (or misusage) of Charles Sims, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Sims, one of the team's only proven skill players, ran 13 times (three in the second half). "He has to touch the football more than he did," Levine told the newspaper. "He's one of the most dynamic players in the country."

And now he will. Perhaps that will help. There's a positive feeling about new coordinator Travis Bush, I've been told -- and maybe a sense that Nesbitt should have moved on before the start of the season.

Reason for concern: If the Cougars struggled this badly against Texas State (playing its first FBS game), what will happen now that they're playing Louisiana Tech and at UCLA in consecutive weeks? No offense to Levine, whom everyone in the business seems to like, but the holes left by Kevin Sumlin and forever-as-starting-QB Case Keenum now feel cavernous.

Michigan Wolverines

Result: 41-14 loss to Alabama

Reason for optimism: The Wolverines do not have to play Alabama again. The gap between the top four and the better teams in the Big Ten might be just that wide. Oregon was outclassed by LSU a year ago in Dallas -- and the Ducks were still a Rose Bowl winner.

Michigan might have overachieved a bit in 2011, but the team returns virtually intact. If it can withstand the public berating it's taking after the Alabama loss, it could easily rebound to again become a conference contender.

Reason for concern: The Wolverines' offensive dependence on Denard Robinson is no secret, and you don't have to have the horses like Alabama's defense to expose that. On top of the insult comes the season-ending injury to Blake Countess, Michigan's top cover corner.

Oklahoma Sooners

Result: 24-7 victory at UTEP

Reason for optimism: It was a weird game, on the road and a bit of a late start. The Sooners added a handful of junior college transfers expected to make contributions, and the two fourth-quarter scores were tight end Brannon Green's reception and running back Damien Williams' long run.

Passing defense was a primary concern from 2011, and Oklahoma didn't allow an offensive touchdown to UTEP. So there's at least that. It won't get a test from Florida A&M this week, but Kansas State in two weeks could be interesting.

Reason for concern: As KC Joyner detailed on Monday, Jones simply has not been the same since Ryan Broyles' career ended in November 2011 with a knee injury. And at the very least, you'd have presumed the Sooners would have a disparate physical advantage against a middle-of-the-road Conference USA team, but that wasn't the case most of Saturday night.


Teams that should be worried

Auburn Tigers

Result: 26-19 loss to Clemson

Reason for concern: Brian VanGorder was supposed to bring a new defensive toughness, but Clemson -- with a mostly new offensive line and no Sammy Watkins -- still went for 528 yards. Auburn was at least supposed to be dominant up front defensively, but that didn't really happen -- not consistently, anyway. Andre Ellington ran for 231 yards, improbably vaulting him into the very-early Heisman discussion.

What happens when Auburn runs into more physically imposing teams? This week's opponent, Mississippi State, could fit that description, and LSU (Sept. 22) certainly does.

The Tigers are young and figure to get better -- but they're in the wrong division to be learning on the fly and middling in the meantime. This team will have to work to reach a bowl game.

Reason for optimism: Kiehl Frazier was making his first start and is sure to improve some of his spotty decision-making. And as poorly as Auburn played at times, it still wasn't out of the game until the final play.

California Golden Bears

Result: 31-24 loss to Nevada

Reason for concern: This is far from Chris Ault's best Nevada team in recent years, and it went on the road and soured the opening of renovated Memorial Stadium. Ouch.

Could there be chemistry issues? After the game, all-conference receiver Keenan Allen voiced displeasure about the first-quarter suspension of quarterback Zach Maynard. Allen reasoned that coach Jeff Tedford -- who is now squarely on the hot seat -- should have let the team know sooner than just before the game. Maynard's backup, Allan Bridgford, went 1-for-8 in the quarter, and Cal trailed 14-0 by the time Maynard entered the game.

After a likely bounce-back game against Southern Utah this week, back-to-back road games against Ohio State and USC (who decided that was a good idea?) await in Weeks 3 and 4.

Reason for optimism: There's some talent. This is a 2011 bowl team with a lot of returning pieces, including Allen, who ran for a 39-yard score against Nevada. As we noted last week, this is still an opponent that will catch Oregon's attention (the Ducks have lost in Berkeley in three of their last four meetings there). Even if Cal is a so-so team, that's a spot where it can make a statement.

Maryland Terrapins

Result: 7-6 victory versus William & Mary

Reason for concern: This felt like a loss -- what would have been Randy Edsall's 11th in 13 outings -- and it very nearly was. C.J. Brown's injury left a true freshman at quarterback, and it showed. Perry Hills completed 67 percent of his passes, but three throws went to the other team. A running game would help Hills acclimate, but the team averaged 2.8 yards a carry. Maryland ended up with 236 yards and 13 first downs against an FCS program (albeit a pretty good one).

The Terps do get middle-to-lower Big East opponents the next two weeks -- but Temple and Connecticut are still upgrades from the Tribe.

Reason for optimism: Umm ...

Pittsburgh Panthers

Result: 31-17 loss to Youngstown State

Reason for concern: Of the teams you might not know a great deal about, this is one that should be on full alert. Those who saw camp said new coach Paul Chryst pushed players really hard, trying to chase away some bad seeds from the previous regimes (both Todd Graham's and Dave Wannstedt's).

Pitt's September schedule gets increasingly difficult, with Thursday's game at Cincinnati and then Virginia Tech in Week 3.

Reason for optimism: Chryst is well respected, so this project might have more hope than, say, Edsall's at Maryland. The Panthers are doing fairly well on the recruiting trail, with 16 commitments. But how many will hang around if things go south? Top pledge Corey Clement, a running back from New Jersey, has said he'll consider other schools. Chryst better have another sales pitch ready.

Washington State Cougars

Result: 30-6 loss at BYU

Reason for concern: Even if Wazzu isn't a Rose Bowl team in Mike Leach's first year, weren't the Cougars at least supposed to be entertaining? In Week 1, they didn't even make it into the end zone.

Marquess Wilson caught four passes for 61 yards, far from All-America impact. Jeff Tuel will hang onto the starting job for now, but he was far less efficient than expected. The senior completed 67 percent of his throws (30-for-45), but had no touchdowns and two interceptions. If he doesn't pick it up, Connor Halliday will soon get a look.

Reason for optimism: Leach is not downtrodden about the team's play as much as its attitude. (He told reporters after the game that his players often looked like "basset hounds" after mistakes.) And he's so honest that you'd think he would let the world know if he didn't care for his team. The next three weeks feature winnable games for WSU -- Eastern Washington, at UNLV, Colorado.