21. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Wow, the Big Ten is bad. I’ll be honest: Nebraska really hasn’t brought to the Big Ten what many thought they would bring to the Big Ten: Specifically, another power program. Instead, the Huskers find themselves implanted firmly in that Big Ten second tier, down with the Wisconsins and Northwesterns and Penn States of the world, rather than up with the cool kids, Ohio State and Michigan. And by the way, at what point can we expect Nebraska to start playing defense again? Wasn’t that their thing for a good long while?
22. USC Trojans
After what can only be described as a disastrous season in 2012, the pressure is officially on for Lane Kiffin on 2013. His Trojans woefully underachieved last season, and though it can probably fairly be said that expectations for USC were way too high in 2012, given the lingering scholarship reductions, that team simply had to do better than 7-5. If Kiffin doesn’t win at least nine games next year—and that will be no small feat, given the massive question mark at quarterback—then he may well find himself out of a job.
23. Northwestern Wildcats
There might be not be a better coach in the nation than Pat Fitzgerald. I don’t know if Fitz intends to spend the rest of his career at his alma mater, and I don’t know if he’ll eventually be lured away by the prospect of winning Bigger And Better Things elsewhere, but I do know that he’s built a solid, consistent, winning program in Evanston—and that’s no small feat. Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern has been a tough out for everyone they play, every single week, and that will be the case again in 2013, as quarterback Kain Colter returns to run an offense that will inevitably drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy.
24. TCU Horned Frogs
Talented but troubled quarterback Casey Pachall has returned to the fold in Fort Worth, and with almost everyone back from last year’s defense, there’s good reason to believe that the Frogs can put a rather miserable 2012 season behind them. It’s been a stormy few months off the field for this program; it will be interesting to see if coach Gary Patterson can right the ship and get the Frogs back up into the Top 15 again.
25. Ole Miss Rebels
Coach Hugh Freeze’s stunning success on the recruiting trail has raised some eyebrows, and in a sense, yeah, that’s to be expected. But all snickering and questions aside, let’s go ahead and admit that Freeze seems to be building something of note in Oxford. Ole Miss already boasts the best gameday atmosphere in all of American sports. Now just imagine if they could consistently field a winning team, too.