When projecting how teams will perform for the upcoming season, there are many factors to consider. I actually have nine different sets of power ratings that evaluate teams based on their returning talent, experience and overall production. I then plug these power ratings into complex formulas and play out their season nine different ways.
Many times there are teams that rank in the top 25 of my power poll (pure talent ratings), but actually are projected to have four or five losses and maybe even more. On the opposite side, teams that barely make my top 50 in talent ratings are sometimes projected to have only one or two losses.
The reason for these disparities comes down to one factor: a team's schedule. The strength of schedule, or lack thereof, could be the most important factor when projecting how a team will perform.
Let's take a look first at three teams that don't have elite talent but could still be in store for big seasons because of their easy paths, then look at three good teams that could stumble to mediocre records because of tough competition.
The Cardinals enter 2013 fresh off their Sugar Bowl upset of Florida that vaulted them to No. 13 in the final polls. This year they return 16 starters, including 10 on defense, and are led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. There is no doubting that Bridgewater is a top talent, but the rest of the team is not quite at that level. In fact, I rank the Cardinals just No. 19 in my power poll, which accounts for talent only.
The reason the Cardinals are No. 7 in my preseason top 40 is that they play my 98th-ranked schedule and will be favored in all 12 of their games this year. Their nonconference schedule features just one BCS team in Kentucky, which the Cardinals have dispatched in back-to-back years. The AAC is even more watered down this year with the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh and the additions of four former C-USA teams. If they can avoid an upset, the Cardinals have a great shot of going unbeaten, and five of my nine sets of power ratings actually call for it.