As you would expect there were a lot of college football teams that didn’t look particularly impressive in their season debuts. The public will take note of those performances, and could start to form a negative opinion of the team in general. Once an opinion is formed early it it can be very slow to change – especially if the team stays under the radar the rest of the way through the season. Here’s a look at six teams that started the season weakly, but which should be poised to be better as the season progresses. I’m not suggesting by any means that these teams are going to go on to win their conferences and shock the world. They are just teams that stand a good chance of performing better than the public perception of them as the season progresses and they settle into their games. As you know, if public perception doesn’t match up to actual performance then there is probably value to be had.
Kansas – The first game in the Turner Gill era was absolutely brutal. Just awful. They lost 6-3 to North Dakota State – a FBS (formerly Division I-A) team. As ugly as it was, though, there are more than a couple of reasons to expect that things will get better. First, North Dakota State is a reasonably decent team, so there is no shame in losing to them. They have several guys who are good enough to be playing in a major conference, and they have beaten four Division I teams in the last five years. Second, the Jayhawks only allowed six points. The defense was a positive, and should continue to be – at least to some extent. Finally, the offense can only get better. Gill is making a lot of changes, and he is forced to work with a freshman QB who isn’t quite ready for prime time. As the team gets more comfortable with what Gill wants and the quarterbacking improves this team will improve as well. I still don’t think they will win a lot of games, but I expect them to look a lot better all-round then they did in this opener.
Cincinnati – Cincinnati opened the season by traveling to Fresno State and losing by two touchdowns. That wasn’t ideal by any means, but you have to consider what this team has gone through. Brian Kelly left before the bowl game last year, and they got crushed. They lost their QB and some more strong talent. Butch Jones isn’t dissimilar to Kelly in a lot of ways, but he’s still a new coach who will change some things, and there will be an adjustment period. It wasn’t a good weekend for the Big East in general, but Cincinnati has the pieces – starting with a very good QB – and the coaching to get significantly better as the season goes along.
Marshall – Marshall got crushed by Ohio State. There is no way to sugarcoat that one. They will probably get crushed by West Virginia next week as well. Once a team has two lopsided losses it’s very common for the public to just write them off. There are good reasons to like this team, though. Doc Holliday finally got the chance to run a team, and he is going to be very hungry to prove that that opportunity was past due. He has assembled a good coaching staff, and added a very strong recruiting class for a school like Marshall to an already solid team. Starting off playing two good teams guaranteed a rough start, but it also will teach this team a whole lot. They can’t help but be better for it, and I look for this team to grow into themselves and cover some college football spreads as the season progresses.
Hawaii – Hawaii has had a rough time since June Jones left for SMU. They should be proud of their effort in the opener against USC, though. The defense was brutal, and it allowed Matt Barkley to have a very good day. That defense isn’t likely to be dramatically better along the way. What stands out, though, is how improved the offense is. They have struggled to score the last couple of years, but they piled up a lot of points against a USC defense with some issues, but which has a ridiculous amount of athleticism. Hawaii goes on the road for two tough games now, and they could easily lose both. As the season progresses, this team could start to be a pleasant surprise if the offense keeps firing and the defense at least stands their ground. On the bright side, one of their two toughest games of the year is in the books already.
Purdue – I’ve heard a lot of pessimism about the Boilermakers since they lost at Notre Dame to open their season. I hope people keep being pessimistic, because this team is only going to get better as the season progresses. New QB Robert Marve didn’t have much of a day. What did people expect, though? He didn’t play last year, he played spottily the year before, and he was playing against an athletic defense in a very tough stadium. He wasn’t set up to succeed. The more he plays the more the rust will disappear, and the more he will be able to utilize the playmakers he has around him. This team is definitely a bottom-half Big Ten team, but they are better than college football handicappers think they are, and they will improve.
Ole Miss – Losing to Jacksonville State is awful – especially in the way they did it. You have to be willing to give this team a total mulligan, though. Thanks to the stupidity of the NCAA their QB situation became total chaos this week, and that obviously impacted the preparation for the game. Neither QB looked as comfortable as he would have ideally been. That will only get better as the team now knows what it has to work with. The only way to deal with this team going forward is to pretend that that first game never happened. The public isn’t going to do that, though – not after the controversy and a loss like that. If you were optimistic about this team before the season then you should be even more so now.