USC among most underrated teams
It’s August, which means that it’s preseason poll time in college football. The USA Today Amway Coaches Poll was the first, and as always there is plenty of reason for debate.
Here are for teams that we think are underrated entering the season:
USC Trojans (ranked 10th)
USC has the potential to make the playoff, but with a roster light on experience in key areas it will need some breaks to go its way. Quarterback Cody Kessler had the highest passing grade (99.1) in the nation last year and returns with a strong supporting cast, including two-way star Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith, the heir apparent to Nelson Agholor at wide receiver. The Trojans also return their entire offensive line. On defense the secondary looks strong, and the linebacker group is young but talented, led by the superb Su’a Cravens. They’ll need to stay healthy, and overcome the loss of Leonard Williams, but they have standouts at key positions.
Oklahoma Sooners (ranked 19th)
OU is ranked well below conference rivals Baylor and TCU, but the Sooners have the talent to play with both. Explosive pass-rusher Eric Striker ranked second among 3-4 outside linebackers with a 15.9 pass-rushing productivity against Power 5 opponents in 2014. He leads what should once again be a strong defensive unit. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard’s 3.94 yards per route run against Power 5 schools is the second-best mark among returning wideouts. Shepard should thrive with the switch to an air-raid offense, while Samaje Perine remains a force on the ground. If the Sooners can get better play from the quarterback position in 2015, they have the talent to compete with the best teams in the Big 12.
Arizona Wildcats (ranked 22nd)
The defending Pac-12 South champions, Arizona has been a program on the rise since the arrival of Rich Rodriguez in 2012. In Scooby Wright III they have one of the best defensive players in the country — he graded positively in every aspect of play and had more defensive stops than any other returning player. Sophomore Anu Solomon will be the first starting quarterback to return for Rich Rodriguez in Tucson, and the majority of his offensive weapons return as well. The Wildcats have surprised more established teams every year under Rodriguez, and they look more capable than ever of repeating that in 2015.
Pittsburgh Panthers (unranked)
Pitt has two of the most talented offensive players in the nation in running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. A bruising back, Conner forced 88 missed tackles on runs in 2014, more than any other player. Meanwhile, Boyd’s 4.42 yards per route run against Power 5 schools was the best mark among wideouts. If new coach Pat Narduzzi can toughen up the defense (his speciality), there is little reason to think that Pitt can’t win the ACC Coastal en route to making the ACC title game.