2013's most overrated and underrated college football teams, by conference
The ACC, by Steven Muma
Most overrated: Clemson (No. 8 in AP and Coaches) will be very good, but I'm not sure if this is a top-10 team. I'm not even sure that the Tigers are better than Florida State, despite all of the starters the Seminoles lost after last season.
The Tigers lost plenty of key pieces of their own, including their top two tacklers, three of their top four receivers and their leading rusher. They have major concerns at tight end, where graduation and injuries have left them perilously thin. There also is reason for worry in the secondary, which also happened to be a problem area in 2012.
Tajh Boyd is capable of carrying this team a long way, and Sammy Watkins is still around to make big plays. But I wouldn't be surprised if, when all is said and done, Clemson's season looks a bit disappointing when compared to the team's preseason expectations.
Most underrated: The ACC media is on board with the Hurricanes (unranked in AP and Coaches) -- they were picked to win the Coastal Division -- but the national media hasn't come around just yet, by the looks of the polls. Maybe there's an extra bit of caution at work because of how bad Miami was on the defensive side last season.
Considering just how many starters Miami is returning on both sides of the ball, including those two, it's hard to imagine that this won't end up being one of the country's top 25 teams. The big question is how much the returning defensive experience improves that unit. With a solid step forward here, the Hurricanes can go from division contender to legitimate conference title contender.
The American and company, by Jason Kirk
Most overrated: Esteemed colleague Bill Connelly has talked all summer long about how Louisville's (No. 9 in AP and Coaches) getting a 2012 West Virginia bump. You know, the confidence excess that comes with surprise-dominating a BCS bowl.
Cardinals fans justifiably point out that if we're going to discount the Sugar Bowl win over Florida, we should also discount unimpressive games against UConn, FIU, Southern Miss, and Syracuse. And we should remember that Teddy Bridgewater was injured for two of those. And Hattiesburg was monsoony.
The Bridgewater offense will overwhelm, an iffy defense with scads of returning starters will improve, and last year's wretched special teams will be fortified by improved recruiting. But though the talk of the offseason has been how weak Louisville's schedule is, it won't be a worry in December. There's no sign this is the year Louisville makes its leap from good to Boise State-esque, in terms of dependably flattening mid-majors.
Most underrated: I acknowledge BYU (No. 44 in AP, No. 36 in Coaches) could lose five games. The Cougars play Texas and Boise State at home and visit Wisconsin and Notre Dame, with their weakest opponent, MTSU, having just gone 8-4 and beaten Georgia Tech.
Still, assuming offensive coordinator Robert Anae can right BYU's offense (the Cougars ranked No. 29 in scoring across his 2005-2010 stint, slipping to No. 65 last year), quarterback Taysom Hill can stay healthy, and a rebuilt defensive line keeps linebacker Kyle Van Noy free to feast -- or if two of those three things happen -- BYU is going to once again be one of the country's most obnoxious opponents.
The Big 12, by Patrick Vint
Most overrated: Oklahoma (No. 16 in AP and Coaches) is starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback. That would generally be enough in the defense-optional Big 12, but the Sooners also lose 36 percent of last season's receiving production with the departure of Justin Brown and Kenny Stills. Nearly half of the Sooners' pass attempts in 2012 were aimed at Brown and Stills, and the chances of Jaz Reynolds and Jalen Saunders making up for that production are small.
Throw in that Oklahoma lost five of its top six contributors on the defensive line and three starters in the secondary (including safety Tony Jefferson, who had 30 more tackles last year than any of his teammates), and it smells an awful lot like the first rebuild in Norman in quite some time.
Most underrated: Bill Snyder's genius lies in his ability to identify what Kansas State's (unranked in AP and Coaches) opponent wants to do and, rather than simply take it away, use it to his advantage.
It's why Snyder spent most of last season letting opponents throw the ball short early, opting to force them into long drives. It's why he used Collin Klein like a battering ram to bleed clock and make his opponents even more anxious to air it out. And it's why Kansas State's starting secondary came away from the season with 18 interceptions that his boa constrictor of an offense turned into crippling scores.
Snyder has to replace Klein and an entire defense for 2013, but it's nothing the JUCO transfer master hasn't done every two years before. And K-State's front-loaded Big 12 schedule gives Snyder the element of surprise in October and November.
This probably isn't a repeat conference champion, not with Texas and Oklahoma State in ascendance and TCU almost whole again, but it's a potential contender in the final weeks. Just the way Bill Snyder likes it.
The Big Ten, by Rodger Sherman
Most overrated: Michigan State finds itself just out the top 25 and the championship conversation. And there's no taking away from that defense: it's not just one of the best in the B1G, it's one of the best in college football.
But they legitimately can't score. Last year their offense consisted of giving the ball to Le'Veon Bell over and over and over again. That's 414 touches in 13 games, and he did phenomenally to get 4.7 yards per carry. Yet they were still 110th in the nation in scoring.
Now Bell is gone, and the same inaccurate QBs are under center. How are they gonna score, and if they can't score, they'll need to be hyper-elite defensively to approach relevance.
Most underrated: The Badgers (No. 23 in AP and Coaches) won't win the Big Ten this year. They're in the same division as Ohio State, and we don't need to debate who the better squad is there. But for a team that's won three straight titles, there's next to no talk about these dudes.
Bret Bielema is gone, but he didn't take his massive offensive line with him, and Gary Andersen is a damn fine coach. Montee Ball is gone, but James White and Melvin Gordon put up gaudy efficiency yards behind him. And Chris Borland is among the best defenders in the conference, the rock of a strong defensive unit.
This might be the second best team in the league, but we don't talk about them because they're in Ohio State's shadow. Come on, have some respect for a squad that's gone back-to-back-to-back! (Even if they went 0-for on Rose Bowl wins.)
The Pac-12, by Peter Berkes
Most overrated: I went back and forth about USC (No. 24 in AP and Coaches) a number of times, because I think there are legitimate arguments as to whether this team is underrated or overrated entering the season. The roster is still loaded with talent, but as we saw last year, talent alone won't win much of anything.
The Trojans haven't been tipped to win the conference by anyone that I've seen, but I still think this is a team that doesn't deserve to be ranked to begin the season. Lane Kiffin's team is transitioning from Matt Barkley to either Max Wittek or Cody Kessler at quarterback and installing a new defensive system, to boot. A new system was necessary after Monte Kiffin's failed to get results, but changing defensive schemes isn't a simple plug-and-play process.
USC probably gets more flack than it deserves just by virtue of being USC, but after seeing this team dog it like it did last year, I don't think it deserves the benefit of the doubt until it starts playing closer to its potential.
Most underrated: It's easy to overlook Oregon State (No. 25 in AP and Coaches), with both Oregon and Stanford getting most of the attention in the Pac-12 North, but it could cause real trouble for the rest of the conference. The Beavers bounced back for a strong 2012 season after a lackluster 2011, and they bring back 15 starters from the team that finished 18th in Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings.
Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz are competing for the quarterback job for what seems like the fifth straight year, and while no one will confuse either of them for superstars, they both have experience and know how to run the offense. The Beavers lose a pair of stars in wide receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Jordan Poyer, but there are players ready to replace their production. Brandin Cooks, in particular, could be a game-changer in the passing and return games.
Oregon State gets Stanford in Corvallis -- where odd things are known to happen to highly ranked teams -- on Oct. 26, but has to travel to Autzen for the Civil War. Don't be shocked if the winner of that game takes the Pac-12 North title as well.
The SEC, by Chris Fuhrmeister
Most overrated: Georgia (No. 5 in AP and Coaches) could prove me wrong, and that offense will be fantastic in 2013, but the defense is a huge question mark. The Bulldogs will be missing out on eight NFL Draft picks from last season and some preseason suspensions -- surprise! -- and injuries.
The Dawgs allowed 182.1 yards per game on the ground last year, ranking 12th in the 14-team SEC. They ranked second in the conference in passing yards allowed (175.6 per game), but that's largely because they faced the fewest attempts.
Georgia should have a good season, but with the defensive deficiencies and games on the schedule against Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, and Florida, Mark Richt's team probably won't live up to its preseason No. 5 ranking.
Most underrated: The Rebels enter the season unranked, and while almost everyone thinks they'll be better than last year's team, the schedule is causing many to temper their expectations.
Yes, Ole Miss plays in the SEC West and has a non-conference game against Texas, but this team has what it takes to surprise some opponents. With nine starters returning on offense, 10 on defense and a few incoming recruits who should contribute -- ahem, Robert Nkemdiche -- the Rebs have a good combination of talent and experience.
Ole Miss turned the ball over 29 times in 2012, second-worst in the SEC, and if it moves away from that extreme (which tends to happen), don't be surprised if Hugh Freeze and co. reach nine or 10 wins with a bowl game.
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