Damien Bowman: Five Teams with the Most to Prove in 2015

Seth picked this topic, and it’s a good one. There are so many teams that have so much work to do based on how good or bad they were in 2014 that picking five is the toughest part. I’m actually doing this one on time, and I can’t cheat, so I’ll go off the path a bit.

Choose one team from each of the Power 5 conferences that you think has the most to prove in the 2015 CFB season.

ACC: The easiest target is Virginia Tech – not Florida State, they’ll be fine – but because I don’t think the Hokies make any significant improvement until Frank Beamer is gone, I’ll use these limited keystrokes on another team: Clemson. I would never call their schedule ‘easy,’ but I will say in 2015 the expectations for success of Swinney and company should be much higher than they’ve been in the past. The Tigers are known to do well early in the season, only to commit what I call ‘Pac-12 Suicide.’ Basically losing to a team they have no business losing to in an otherwise normal playing situation. College football is about as unpredictable as it gets, but assuming they survive Louisville and Notre Dame then their next big challenge is Florida State at home on November 7 and the season finale at South Carolina on November 28.

Clemson has depth issues at linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, and cornerback. So, basically everywhere on the defensive side of the ball, but on the positive side the offensive line looks as solid as it can be after losing so much in the draft. Tigers look good at wide receiver and might have help coming from the receivers. Make no mistake, Dabo Swinney’s entire 2015 campaign will be based solely on the defensive side of the ball though.

Big 12: Texas. Are there other teams in the Big 12? I mean there are, but Texas is the big dog…that went 6-7 last year under first year coach Charlie Strong. Strong has a lot to prove this year and given their schedule, their record after this season may resemble the 2014 campaign. Texas’ non-conference opponents are Notre Dame, Rice and Cal. Four years ago, I probably would have bet two months’ pay the Longhorns would win all three, now I’d guess they’ll beat Rice and maybe split Notre Dame and Cal. Honestly it depends on which Longhorns team shows up.

And wasn’t that the biggest problem for the 2014? We never knew which team was going to show up? Losses to Baylor and TCU cannot happen in 2015. Texas is supposed to be the biggest and best team in its state and many can argue if they repeat last year, they might be the third or fourth behind Baylor, Houston, TCU and Texas A&M.

Alright, Houston and Texas a&M might be a bit of stretch, but the point is the same. The schedule makers were not kind to Texas forcing them to play Notre Dame, TCU, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor on the road. Somehow Charlie Strong must find a way to work through the adversity and compete for the conference championship.

Big Ten: There are actually too many choices in this conference. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but that’s where we are. I believe though Minnesota has the most to prove. It’s time to find out if Jerry Kill’s success over the past few seasons can be maintained or the Golden Gophers have just been average in a bad division. Not forgetting how good the team was in 2013, we have to remember the team fell back to Earth in 2014. Now is the time we find out how good of a recruiter Jerry Kill and staff are, and find out how those kids stack up against the rest of the Top 25 with home games versus TCU and Michigan and what’s hopefully a night game at Ohio State on November 14.

What helps the Gophers to most is that the rest of the Big Ten West is mostly in shambles. Wisconsin hired Paul Chryst to replace Gary Andersen who left for Oregon State, but there’s no way to know how good or bad the Badgers will be. Nebraska hired Oregon State’s Mike Riley to replace Bo Pelini. This cycle is vicious. If there were a chance for Minnesota to win the division, 2015 would be it. Jerry Kill and company must seize this opportunity to show how far the program has come along.
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Pac-12: Southern Cal? Probably. This year they’re finally off Reggie Bush (I hear Pete Carroll was there too) sanctions and will return this season with their full allotment of scholarships. USC has had many coaches since Pete Carroll left, but many believe based on the 2014 campaign (9-4) they should be right in the mix to compete for the Pac-12 South. In case you forgot who else was in the South: Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State who all had 10 wins and all also finished inside the Top 25 in 2014.

What sets USC apart from the other three? At this point nothing does. It’s all on them to go out and earn back the respect they lost over the past four seasons. Steve Sarkisian has to find a way to put the drama of USC in the rearview mirror and face the tough challenge that is the Pac-12 South. As respected as Pat Haden is, there cannot be a repeat of him coming down from the press box to talk officials during the game. There also cannot be a repeat of student-athletes like Josh Shaw lying about injuries. Those incidents are the types that can destroy seasons for young teams like Southern Cal.
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SEC: Ole Miss. Easy. The men in Oxford have to prove that last season wasn’t an aberration. They also need to remind everyone which program is still the biggest and best in the state of Mississippi. Dan Mullins has done a hell of a job recruiting at Mississippi State, but really Hugh Freeze has all the resources in the world. All the marketing. All the swagger. Sure the Rebels stumbled at the end of the season, but being at or near the top is tough. Now is when we’ll find out if any of the three potential Rebel quarterbacks (Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan or Davante Kincade) are worthy of the starting job to replace Bo Wallace.

Ole Miss is “lucky” enough to get Alabama in Week 3 (September 19) and doesn’t face Auburn until November 7. Even though Ole Miss opens with two cupcakes, we’ll know by halftime of the Alabama game if this team has anything in its gas tank for 2015.

There you have it, five teams from five power conferences that have the most to prove? Which five teams do you think have the most to prove in 2015? Mitch, Warren, and Ryan give you five teams they think have the most to improve in 2015. Check them out.

Leave a comment below or e-mail Damien at [email protected].