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Who to Cheer for When You’re Not Watching Clemson in 2018

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The 2018 football season is slowly inching closer. Hurry up!

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout July, we’ve been breaking down the best players at each position in the ACC. You can see some of those here:

We also did a Q&A with a Clemson alumnus who is now coaching in DIII. I highly encourage you to check that out. It’s very informative and interesting.

Now, we’ve finally made our way to the preseason projections portion of the offseason. We’ve collected your divisional standings picks and compared them against our staff picks and media picks. Soon we’ll share those as part of our conference previews. Before we start dropping the conference preview articles, we tease them a bit here by looking at a couple of teams across the nation I’ll be rooting for when Clemson isn’t on the field.

Some of these teams are here because I’ve picked them to finish higher than where others have them pegged and I want to be correct. For some though, it’s just because they’re a nice story or a likable team. We start with my dark horse candidate.

Arizona: After going 11-2 (6-2) in year one at Texas A&M, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies failed to do any better than .500 in SEC play over his next five seasons. Now coming over to the Pac-12 to replace Rich Rodriguez, he’ll have a chance to find year one success like he did at Texas A&M. He takes over a team with 17 returning starters including the best QB in the conference, plays in the weaker of the two divisions, and avoids Washington and Stanford from the North.

Wouldn’t it be sweet to see Sumlin’s new team win a division and his successor at Texas A&M - longtime Clemson foe Jimbo Fisher - struggle?

TCU: Gary Patterson enters his 19th season at TCU. He’s led them to 11+ win seasons in the Conference USA, Mountain West, and Big 12. A private school with about 10,000 students, the Horned Frogs have quite a few obstacles to compete against the bigger public schools in their conference like Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas Tech (all >30,000 students). Nevertheless, over the last four seasons only Oklahoma has more wins (just two more) among Big 12 schools.

TCU is the most defense-oriented team in the Big 12 and now that they don’t have to face Mayfield or Rudolph, those numbers should improve. They’ve brought in some more highly rated offensive recruits so if their O-line can gel in time, they can compete for the Big 12 title.

Lastly, they play at SMU on a in Week 2. For the hardcore fan making the trip to the Clemson at Texas A&M game, a double-dip is in play. Do it!

Wisconsin: The Badgers went 12-0 last season, but were not taken seriously by many because they had such a weak schedule. They avoided their two toughest opponents, Iowa and Michigan, until November and didn’t play Ohio State or Michigan State in the regular season. This year they go to Iowa early, make a trip to the Big House in the middle of the year, and go to Happy Valley in November. They will be tested with a legit P5 schedule, but are good enough to still go 10-2 or 11-1.

Michigan State: Sparty brings back most of their production from a season ago. They seem to be the overlooked team of the five top tier teams in the Big 10 and I want to pick them to win the East, but I’m not sure I have the guts.

Kentucky: Folks are high on South Carolina this year, but you can’t project the Gamecocks too high when you have to assume losses to Kentucky and Clemson. The Cocks travel to Lexington and Clemson this season. Those losing streaks are each at four games. Can you imagine five straight losses to UK in football? I like to imagine it.

Boston College: The Eagles are in a weird spot. They got a little media hype early in the offseason, but they’re not being projected to finish highly in the standings because they play Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson. Casual fans are overlooking them because they haven’t been all that good for the past few years and aren’t projected to very highly. Their schedule is backloaded though so maybe folks will take notice if they crack the top 25 prior to their brutal stretch to close the year.