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Bold Predictions: Media darlings that won’t meet expectations

Sorry, but not every team can be successful in this sport.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about making predictions that may or may not be reasonable, in fact, some might say they are bold. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Bold Predictions” articles here.

Fall camp is approaching across the country, and that means fans of all teams are about to get overly ambitious about their chances of success. With all the hype trains getting rolling, there needs to be some warning signs on the track for some of the more zealous fan bases.

There is nothing wrong with a person getting excited about their team’s upcoming season, but there is also nothing wrong with other people having more reasonable expectations. Not every team in the country can win a national championship, and to me, there are five at most who could potentially hoist the trophy. As a person who writes about one of those five, there is no shame in not being on that list.

Most teams will not reach that level, and that is why there is value in meeting other expectations — like winning a certain amount of games.

Sports books are not the be-all-end-all from a prediction standpoint for college football programs winning games, but their win totals do set a marker for teams to meet. To me, there are teams who will absolutely not meet those numbers, but the fan bases – or media — think differently. Using win totals from DraftKings, I will boldly proclaim which college football teams will be bad by not living up to the hype.

(All lines/odds are from DraftKings Sports Book unless noted otherwise.)

Clemson (O/U 10 wins)

Over the past few seasons, Clemson has benefitted from a weaker ACC, and still, this year could be much of the same. Florida State is looking to improve under Mike Norvell, North Carolina has the 1B NFL quarterback prospect, and they have to go to South Carolina to try to win back the bragging rights in that series.

For the Tigers, they are looking for a reset on offense after hiring Garrett Riley, and are still finding their footing defensively after losing Brent Venables to Oklahoma. All eyes will be on quarterback Cade Klubnik, but my question here is who is going to help him? For those who might have seen his excellent performance against North Carolina, there was an equally as bad performance against Tennessee where Clemson only mustered 14 points against a “vaunted” Volunteer defense.

Riley will be tasked with fixing the offense, but they will still be young at receiver with Antonio Williams leading the room as a sophomore. A dire need for run game improvement is exactly what you’ll get from an air raid coach, and to me, that doesn’t bold well for Will Shipley reaching his potential. The defense underperformed last year as well though, and there really wasn’t much done to address that.

We’re taking the under on this one, as the streak of double-digit wins ends at 12 seasons for Clemson.

Tennesse (O/U 9.5 wins)

On the other side of last year’s Orange Bowl was the Tennessee Volunteers in their first 11-win season since 2001. In some ways, Josh Heupel caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt to go with the already well-established Cedric Tillman. With the wide-open passing game, the Volunteers wowed the college football world and even beat Alabama in 2022.

Now it is up to Joe Milton to maintain the new standard that the Vols faithful expects. He will have Bru McCoy stepping into the No. 1 receiver spot and a guy who goes by Squirrel operating out of the slot – but don’t underestimate Squirrel White. This isn’t to say these players have not proven to be solid college football players, but what it does say is Tennessee is replacing multiple record-setters at the positions that define Heupel’s scheme. They are also replacing an offensive coordinator, which hurts less given the simplicity of the scheme, but will provide a challenge nonetheless.

Defensively they return 69 percent of their production, but that group produced a defense that ranked 127th in passing yards allowed and ranked 92nd in total defense. Is that bad? It’s definitely not good, and this is where the game gets scary for them. They gave up 49 to Alabama at home, were down 24-6 to Georgia in the first half before a torrential downpour, and 63 to South Carolina to end their playoff hopes.

With all the replacements on offense, the defense will need to be better against the top teams on their schedule. If not, the pressure can crush the offense.

It’s going to come down to the bowl game, but I don’t think the Vols are winning back-to-back bowls. UNDER 9.5 wins.

South Carolina (Win Total O/U 6.5)

Shane Beamer has become a media darling, and I bought in as well. When is enough, enough though? This guy beat a bad Clemson team (by their standards), beat up on a Tennessee squad over its skis who lost its starting quarterback in the fourth quarter, and then ended the year on a disappointing note in their bowl game.

Beamer has done a commendable job in getting South Carolina back to a respectable program, but they are still a tier below where most people have them. There are two facts that remain certain about this South Carolina program: they still have Spencer Rattler playing quarterback, and they still lost to Tyler Buchner in the Gator Bowl. I bring this up because South Carolina opens up the season with games at home against UNC, on the road at Georgia, in Knoxville to take on Tennessee, and then they get their rival Florida after the bye week. That could be the end of the season right there.

They lost more than half their production on both sides of the ball. Clayton White, the defensive coordinator, has improved the defense every year he’s been in the role, but they still ranked 39th out of 69 Power Five teams plus Notre Dame, who they lost to. This team has a fun culture, but at the end of the day, they have a long way to go.

6.5 wins is not a high number, but this is not going to be a good football team.

(Editor’s Note: We’ve updated a few teeny, tiny, not-important-to-the-crux-of-the-argument details that the author did not provide enough context for. The point still remains though, South Carolina’s probably not going to be very good this year.)

Notre Dame (Win Total O/U 9)

If you have followed my work, this is the least surprising school on the list. To start the coach doesn’t even have the confidence to stand by his words. He may not have wanted to make the same mistake twice, but having to play Ohio State twice in consecutive years is going to plague him at least twice.

The Fighting Irish are going to be relying on Sam Hartmann, the transfer from Wake Forest to get them to that next level under Freeman. There is still a lot that needs to be proven at the receiver position with it being one of the least explosive groups in the country last year. In the run game, Audric Estime established himself as one of the best backs in the country but lacks the ability to change a game in one play.

This is where this takes a turn that you might not be expecting. With the returnees on defense, this Notre Dame team has a chance to be solid this year. They get both their toughest games against Ohio State and USC at home, and their toughest remaining game is Clemson on the road. That’s a really great opportunity for this program to get to 10 wins and anything else as an abject failure.

If they don’t get to 10 wins they are a bad team, if they do get to 10 wins they still probably lost their most important games.

Wisconsin (Win Total O/U 8.5)

Oh Luke Fickell, you finally took a job outside the comfort of the state of Ohio. There is no longer sneaking around in the shadow of the flagship program in the state, and with that comes the spotlight in Madison. Wisconsin underperformed last year, and outside the heroics of Braelon Allen, they often failed to create any offense.

Fickell brought with him to Madison three transfer quarterbacks, four transfer receivers and Phil Longo to call the offense. Wisconsin’s offense was directionless at the end of the Paul Chryst era, and for the Badgers Longo at least brings some sense of identity to that side of the ball immediately. The turnover is a major question. Looking at fellow Big Ten conference member Michigan State, there have been back-to-back years with varying results.

This is the new way to kick start a program, but there is no guarantee these players come in flipping the switch immediately. Losing an elite player in Nick Herbig and a reliable player in John Torchio leaves a major void that needs to be filled defensively. They have to play Washington State on the road, Ohio State, and a Big Ten West schedule with many other coaches looking to prove themselves as well.

If they do not get off to a fast start, this season can go off the rails entirely in year one for Fickell.

Wisconsin could be 8-4 or 4-8. Either way, they don’t win more than 8.5 games.

Honorable Mentions

Colorado: Primetime is what this will be either direction in Deion Sanders’ first year as the coach of the Buffaloes. Shadeur Sanders and Travis Hunter are jumping levels. There are also more transfers in the program than any other in the country. Good luck against that schedule as well, not like there isn’t a huge target here now.

Ohio State: This is here as a bias check. Ohio State has a lot to replace on the offensive line, they still need to decide on a quarterback, they’ve had injury issues in three consecutive seasons, and the defense fell apart at the end of last year. I don’t believe that these will be issues, but if they don’t get figured out, the Buckeyes could suck.

Alabama: Tyler Buchner or Jalen Milroe with Tommy Rees calling the plays is a water gun in a college football world full of bazookas for offenses. This is the worst roster outlook Saban has had entering a season in some time, but odds are this will be his best team in recent years because of it.

Oregon: Bo Nix going back-to-back years of awesome — I’ll believe it when I see it. The Ducks lost Wunderkind coach Kenny Dillingham to Arizona State, so the pressure is on for that offense to show it was not one man’s creation. Troy Franklin is awesome and the defense should be good, but they are likely playing for fourth this year.

College football is fun when teams overperform and fun when they underperform, but when it is your own team it is truly hard to watch when expectations aren’t met. Once-storied football programs pray for bowl eligibility or 10-win seasons. That is the reality of this world when a few bad hires, a golden generation of players, or other variables bring the downfall of a football team that once showed promise.

I don’t think these teams are actually bad, but I do think they have an incredibly wide margin in how their seasons go with lower peaks than their fan bases. Nobody in the list above the Honorable Mentions section has any business thinking about the college football playoff this year.

Seeing a team like South Carolina finish the year strongly or a Tennessee fanbase that is bullish about there only being one direction to go is what makes college football exciting. Just because the media has nothing to talk about does not mean that every team can be great. That is why these bold predictions are personal to me — a challenge that only one side is looking at.

I know Clemson’s football program won’t read this, but when they don’t meet expectations again like I boldly proclaimed here, that victory will provide much personal satisfaction. Not every team in college football can be great, especially the first four I listed. The media can fawn over the moves all they want, I am not buying in.