College Football: Power Five Breakout Teams (Part One)

Last week I wrote about breakout teams for the group of five in two parts: part one and part two.

This week I will tackle the Power Five.

ACC:. To paraphrase Steve Spurrier a Power Five team can do what everyone else is doing and do it better (Nick Saban at Alabama) or do something different (David Shaw at Stanford). Nearly everyone in the ACC either runs the spread (Clemson, Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke) or Pro-Style offense (Florida State, Lousiville, Miami, Pittsburg, Wake Forest) the only outliers are Georgia Tech who you could argue that the flexbone came from the spread and Syracuse who runs the Air Raid. I excluded Boston College in the list due to the lack of offense. Not only does Syracuse run an offense different than the rest of the conference, Head Coach Dino Babers has a history of improving a program in his second year. At Eastern Illinois Babers improved his win total from seven to twelve reaching the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. After taking over at Bowling Green Babers improved from eight to ten including a Mid-American Conference title. Syracuse should improve and be a breakout team in the ACC next season.

The Big 12 is the most difficult conference to predict in the Power Five. Most of the teams within the conference have long tenured head coaches. Bill Snyder has been with Kansas State for a combined twenty-five years Bob Stoops has been at Oklahoma for eighteen years; Gary Patterson has been with TCU for eighteen years. Mike Gundy has been with Oklahoma State for twelve. Dana Holgerson has been with West Virginia for six. Texas is difficult to put into breakout territory due to the tradition, TV deals and financial resources. That leaves only four schools: Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. Baylor has a new head coach in Matt Rhule, Klifff Klingsburry has been with Texas Tech for four years and has yet to build a defense that will compete in the Big 12. Kansas is Kansas (really bad), so the Big 12 breakout team (almost by default) is Iowa State. Hiring Matt Cambell last season was a solid hire for the Cyclones; Cambell won back to back MAC championships his final two years at Toledo. While at Toledo Campbell never had a losing record compiling a record of 35-15 during his five-year tenure. His first year at Iowa State he finished 3-9 but lost four games last season by one score. Iowa State may be a year or two away from officially breaking out but the Cyclones are the Big 12’s best bet for a breakout team.

Last season the Big Ten had one of the most improved teams in the country in Penn State. James Franklin and the Nittany Lions came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten last season. What’s more impressive is that Penn State came from the East division of the Big Ten which includes Ohio State, and Michigan. Even the bottom half of the division with Indiana and Maryland were only one game below .500.  Michigan State has an off year finishing with a uncharismatic 3-9 season; after winning the Big Ten Championship last season. The Spartans should be much better in 2017. The West included a strong Wisconsin team that finished 11-3 including a Cotton Bowl win over Western Michigan. After Wisconsin, it was a logjam of teams winning seven, eight and nine games. Illinois and Purdue rounded out the bottom of the division going 3-9. I am tempted to place Illinois in the breakout category for next season as Head Coach Lovie Smith improves teams everywhere he goes (I am still scratching my head as to why the Bears and the Buccaneers both let him go). Having a successful NFL coach is always a plus in recruiting. Even though the Eastern division is really tough my pick for the next breakout team in the Big Ten is the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland is only three years into their Big 10 program and already on their third head coach in as many years. The current head coach DJ Durkin has a winner’s pedigree; he was Urban Meyer’s linebacker coach and defensive coordinator then was the defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. SB Nation.com posted a study of the last five years of recruiting and which states produce the most four and five-star players. Florida, Texas, and California paced every state by producing nearly 40% of all blue chippers. After the big three Maryland is near four of the states in the top ten (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania). Maryland may not challenge Michigan and Ohio State in the East, but expect Maryland to have their best season since joining the Big Ten.

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Tom Hardy

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