Lindy’s 2017 Top 25: Teams 20-25 Staff

June 23, 2017 at 8:30 pm.

Dec 30, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Maurice Smith (2) pressures TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hill (7) during the first half  at Liberty Bowl. Photo Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Maurice Smith (2) pressures TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hill (7) during the first half at Liberty Bowl. Photo Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
  1. 20. TCU

Like a rubber ball

After the combined 23-3 success of 2014 and ‘15, things went wrong in ways big and small for the Horned Frogs last year. The main culprit was a subpar Big 12 offense, though it alone doesn’t account for why Gary Patterson’s team finished below .500 in league play and lost five of its last seven games to finish 6-7.

THE GOOD NEWS: The defense is bigger and should be potent, with quality depth throughout the first two levels. There are six returning defensive backs (remember, the alignment here is a 4-2-5) who have a combined 88 career starts. QB Kenny Hill and RB Kyle Hicks are back to try to get it right on the other side of the ball.

THE BAD NEWS: We mentioned Hill, and he plainly wasn’t good enough in his first season after transferring from Texas A&M. Dropped passes can’t continue to be a theme, nor can losing the turnover battle against quality opponents. Also: Is there a kicker in the building?

OUR CALL: Overall improvement seems like a given, and this Top 25-caliber program will bounce back with vigor. The Frogs had better be road warriors, though. They play at Arkansas and Oklahoma State and visit Oklahoma down the line.


Good on paper, and on the schedule

When last season began with home defeats against Western Michigan and Illinois State, the wheels could have flown off. But disaster was averted. The Wildcats won at Iowa and Michigan State and nearly pulled off a shocker at Ohio State. Then their upset of Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl was impressive. The table is set for a run at the Big Ten West title.

THE GOOD NEWS: Any time you look up at the cross-divisional schedule and see that Ohio State and Michigan aren’t on it, you do a little dance. And the Wildcats are good, period, with Clayton Thorson entering his third season as starting quarterback, bell-cow running back Justin Jackson still in the fold, and gobs of other returning starters on both sides of the ball.

THE BAD NEWS: Speaking relatively — this is Northwestern — nothing jumps out. Speed might be an issue on defense, and the loss of wide receiver Austin Carr, maybe the best the Wildcats have ever had, will be felt. Thorson’s big right arm still isn’t a sure thing.

OUR CALL: On paper, this might actually be the best team coach Pat Fitzgerald has had. And he surprised a lot of people with 10 victories in 2012 and ‘15.


Amassing frequent flyer miles doesn’t help

It’s a bit hard to believe Dana Holgorsen already is in Year 7 in Morgantown, isn’t it? The last one was his finest: a 10-win breakthrough that saw his squad ranked in the Top 10 midway into November. There are those who believe 2017 will be even better for the Mountaineers. This is Holgorsen’s chance to drive winning roots deep under the sod.

THE GOOD NEWS: QB Will Grier looks like the real deal, which could dial up a great season offensively for West Virginia. Grier — coming off a year’s suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs during his time at Florida — had an outstanding spring.

THE BAD NEWS: Every schedule presents multiple serious challenges, but this one does more than most. The home opener against Virginia Tech could start things off on the wrong foot. But the league roadies — at TCU, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma — look more than a little daunting.

OUR CALL: No, the Mountaineers don’t have to win the Big 12 to have the right kind of outcome. They do need to win the games they should, and maybe one they shouldn’t. They’ve got it in them.


Rebuilding isn’t required; winning is

Last season started with a thrilling double overtime victory over Notre Dame that got everyone talking. It ended with three straight defeats, one of them — oh, the ignominy — at Kansas, ending the suspense about coach Charlie Strong. There have been three straight losing seasons at Texas — unthinkable, unconscionable, unforgivable — so enter hot-shot young coach Tom Herman.

THE GOOD NEWS: Strong would say this season could’ve been really good with him still at the helm. That’s because the Longhorns have a lot of the signs of a team that’s ready to move forward. The offense, even without tremendous RB D’Onta Foreman, is still stacked. The defense looks ready, too.

THE BAD NEWS: This still isn’t quite a Texas-sized roster. Culturally, Herman will have to raise internal — note: not external — expectations. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has a lot on his plate, though he’s a good one. At USC in September? Tough measuring stick.

OUR CALL: Herman punched his ticket and now has himself on full display. Right guy, right time? Seems like it. There’s some good stuff going on in Austin. The Longhorns will someday soon be back to winning big. For this season, how about kinda big?


Ready to let ‘er Ryp

Are we supposed to believe it’s as simple as plug-and-play at Boise? Goodness, it isn’t. Coach Bryan Harsin has done outstanding work, going 31-9 thus far, including 10-3 last season. But Broncos fans — yeah, they’re spoiled — want to see if he can take the next step and make screaming-loud Group of Five noise. The schedule has enough meat to draw attention, especially if you realize how competitive it is in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West.

THE GOOD NEWS: Brett Rypien — Mark’s nephew, if you’re wondering — has everything locked down at quarterback. This is an excellent player, a two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection, and he has a 1,000yard target in senior WR Cedrick Wilson.

THE BAD NEWS: Defensively, this Broncos team has to get feistier; it didn’t make enough big plays to be considered the big-league stuff the program needs. The Week Two game at Washington State will be illuminating. Other non-cons are Virginia on the blue turf, and at BYU.

OUR CALL: We’re not saying the Broncos are what they were in the best of the Chris Petersen years. But we fundamentally believe the projected Mountain West champion should be ranked.

25. UTAH

Banging on the South ceiling

Five different teams have filled their trophy cases with Pac-12 South trophies in the past five seasons, but all Utah has to show for that time is a ribbon for “Most Consistent Program.” Settling in nicely now to their Pac-12 digs — not a surprise with a coach like Kyle Whittingham — the Utes have 16 conference victories in the past three seasons and three consecutive finishes in the AP Top 25. Expect more of the same in 2017.

THE GOOD NEWS: Utah hired OC Troy Taylor from Eastern Washington, signaling that the Utes will get more serious about a no-huddle passing game behind senior QB Troy Williams or maybe Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman. DT Lowell Lotulelei came back to lead a stout line that includes DE Kylie Fitts.

THE BAD NEWS: A revamped offensive line could undermine the changes on offense, and ball-hawking S Marcus Williams isn’t around anymore to erase mistakes in the secondary. Utes play at USC and Washington.

OUR CALL: Utah’s ceiling? Well, it is the roof. The Utes won’t go zooming to the sky this season, but we like their chances to repeat a 9-4 season.

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