College Football Teams with Something to Prove

by Jim Feist

Frustration and failure can prove excellent motivating factors in sports. We see quality teams get beaten badly all the time, then bounce back the next game with a terrific performance with an easy win. This can also take place with teams that are off disappointing seasons. Clemson didn’t have a disappointing season two years ago, but did lose the national title game. That had to be on the minds of the Clemson players last season as they got back to the title game, this time topping Alabama in a thriller on the final play.
Ohio State had a pair of thumping losses at the end of the 2013 season, to Michigan State (34-24) and Clemson (40-35). The Buckeyes certainly looked like a team playing with a chip on its shoulder the next year while winning the national title. Other times bad seasons can be a motivating factor, such as TCU going 4-8 SU/ATS 2013, followed by a 12-1 SU, 11-2 ATS campaign.
Four years ago Auburn marched all the way to the title game following a dismal 3-9 2012 campaign. Six years ago Notre Dame had close losses to Michigan, South Florida, Stanford and Florida State. The loss to the Seminoles was the hardest to swallow, an 18-14 bowl game defeat getting outscored 15-0 in the fourth.  After the loss Coach Brian Kelly said, “The players that are going to be back for the 2012 football season will be committed to stepping up.” Indeed they did, going 12-0 that season and making it to the national title game. When channeled properly, frustration can be focused into positive energy. Here are some college football teams that may have something to prove in 2017. 

Iowa:  The Hawkeyes went 12-2 two years ago with a powerhouse defense and returned a stellar group last season. However, they went just 8-5, losing to Northwestern (38-31) as 11-point chalk, 41-14 to Penn State and a stunner at home to North Dakota State (23-21) a 2 TD favorite.
The offense stumbled in 2016 so they have a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz, the former O-line coach.  They should have excellent balance with four offensive linemen back and star senior Tailback Akrum Wadley (1,081 yards,  6.4 ypc, 10 TDs).  However, there are new receivers, a young QB and a lot of new faces on defense. At least they get the revenge game against Penn State at home.

Texas:  After a 5-7 campaign the Longhorns have changed directions bringing in hot coaching commodity Tom Herman. Sophomore QB Shane Buechele is back and Herman has developed dynamic ground attacks at Houston. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando preaches a hard-hitting unit that is designed to cause chaos and turnovers. Look for Texas to blitz a lot shake up Big 12 QBs.  They lost five games by seven points or fewer, so Texas wasn’t that far from a winning season last fall.

Arizona: The Wildcats are off a dismal 2-9 season under Rich Rodriguez, plagued by injuries. There is hope for quick improvement with the return of  dual-threat QB Brandon Dawkins and a pair of talented RBs in Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor. The defense was adjusting to new DC Marcel Yates last year and struggled, but they should be better in Year 2. Arizona has better personnel in 2017 suited for the blitz-heavy 3-4 scheme.

Northwestern: Hard to believe this team went 7-6 with excellent production from QB Clayton Thorson (22 TDs, 9 INTs, 3,182 yards),  RB Justin Jackson (1,524 yds, 5.1 ypc) and a defense that was #23 in the nation in points allowed. They lost to Ohio State 24-20 as a +26 dog.   But the Wildcats are primed for a strong campaign with their best players back. The secondary will be a strength (16 picks in 2016) led by junior corner Montre Hartage and  junior safety Jared McGee.  Note that Northwestern is on a 32-14-1 run under the total with that defense.

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