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Hot Reads: The Struggle Bus
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: The Struggle Bus

May 17, 2017

Arkansas, Florida, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M. If you had to pick one school from that group that will have the best 2017 season, which one are you picking?

I ask because all seven of those schools showed up on this list, from David Kenyon of Bleacher Report, of “storied programs that will struggle in 2017.” A lot of any such list depends upon your definitions of “storied” and “struggle.” The storied part is easy enough to ascertain. The list could only include teams than rank in the top 30 in all-time wins. (Aside: Not sure why you’d use wins over winning percentage. For example, Florida State, which started playing football in 1947, isn’t “storied” by those parameters but Miami (Ohio) is. Anyway.)

As for “struggle,” that seems a little more fluid. Each school on the list gets a breakdown of strengths, weaknesses and a final assessment. Here’s the summary on Nebraska:

The Huskers should start hot considering they have Arkansas State, Oregon, Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois on the docket in September. But the schedule doesn’t let up after Wisconsin and Ohio State. There are toss-up games with Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa, along with a journey to Penn State. Nebraska has nine-win potential but a worst-case scenario of six losses.

That seems fair enough. I’d probably cap Nebraska at nine wins, too. And six wins as the floor could be considered a little optimistic given some of the other projections out there, but I think it’s about right. So say Nebraska is 8-4 and not a division champion. Disappointment? Was the season a struggle?

Depends on your perspective. I get the sense most Nebraska fans would be OK with 8-4 depending upon all the contextual things (who you beat, how you lost, recruiting momentum or lack thereof) that always matter in discussions like this. Mike Riley’s approval rating is high. Husker fans know there’s a lot of transition — quarterback, defense — happening this year. They know this is really the beginning of seeing this staff’s recruits on the field en masse.

But if a team is 8-4 in a power conference, that also means it’s probably ranked somewhere between 15th and 30th. If you look at Nebraska as the third best program in the sport — again, that’s based on wins, not my criteria — and a program that won nine games a year ago, then maybe it is a slight “struggle.”

I don’t know which way Nebraska is headed in 2017. There is some decent evidence for the six or seven wins argument and there is some evidence, less tangible but not necessarily unrealistic, for nine or 10 wins. Given that wide range, assuming its accurate, I’m not sure anything, minus a four or five win season, will be viewed as a total disaster.

As for the question at the top, give me Arkansas. I don’t know what expectations are in Fayetteville heading into 2017 — ESPN’s FPI projects 6.1 wins — but the Razorbacks overachieved a bit to get to seven wins last year and this year’s schedule has some challenges. TCU, one of the most experienced teams in the Big 12, is on the slate. Texas A&M shows up in week four in what will be billed as something of a Hot Seat Bowl. Trips to South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU are all tough. Getting to just seven wins in 2017 means winning at least one of those games just listed.

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