Sure, the 2013-2014 college football season is only a few weeks old, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start analyzing which programs look poised to stay in the national title hunt for the long haul - and which don't. As is the case every year, there are some teams that exceed our expectations - right now, Clemson, Arizona State and Texas Tech come to mind. But there are also some squads that look like they're in trouble. Here are the five we're keeping an eye on:
5. Notre Dame (2-1)
If it wasn't for a huge fourth quarter rally this past Saturday at Purdue, the Irish would probably top our list. Notre Dame defeated Temple convincingly to open its season, but has looked like a shell of itself since. The Irish had trouble tackling in a tough loss to Michigan and barely eked out a win over Purdue this past week - they needed 21 fourth quarter points to hang on. And yeah, they're 2-1, but when you're coming off of a 12-0 season in 2012, losing one of your first few games doesn't cut it in South Bend.
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees has played well enough, throwing for seven touchdowns and two interceptions so far this season. But those two picks came in key moments against Michigan, predictably bringing back all of his doubters. Can the Irish right the ship and win out? Maybe, but their defense isn't as good as it was last year, so they're going to have to win with a different style.
4. USC (2-1)
If you follow college football in any capacity, you probably know that USC fans are calling for coach Lane Kiffin's head. Why? Well, his Trojans, who entered the 2012 season as the No. 1 team in the country according to the AP, finished 7-6 last year in one of the most disappointing campaigns in school history. Kiffin was expected to turn things around this year, but an abysmal performance in the team's second game of the year, a 10-7 loss to Washington State, got in the way. Yep - the same Washington State squad that went 1-8 last year in the Pac-12. The Trojans only gained 193 yards of offense in the entire game.
They've looked fine in the team's other two games - wins over Hawaii and Boston College - but those are games they're supposed to win. Unless Kiffin can get these guys on a roll - and definitively pick a quarterback - it could a long season in LA.
3. Florida (1-1)
Perhaps Gators fans saw this coming after the ugly loss to Louisville in last year's Sugar Bowl. But the rest of us, many of whom thought Florida was one of the top five teams in the country a year ago, expected more. Florida outgained Miami almost 2:1 in it's loss to the Hurricanes, but five turnovers proved to be too many to overcome. Losing to Miami is huge for recruiting in the state - losing to Florida State later on this season would make it even worse.
Florida fans may not know how good the Gators are for a few weeks here - they play Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in their next three games. They go on the road to LSU on October 12th - that'll be the big test. Florida's defense is always solid, but if they want to compete with the big boys in the SEC, the offense needs to limit its mistakes.
2. TCU (1-2)
Before the season, many tabbed TCU as the favorite in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs still have an opportunity to win the league, but it's not going to be easy.
TCU's loss to LSU was expected - and the Horned Frogs hung tough with the Tigers for four quarters. But falling to Texas Tech wasn't exactly on the agenda. Yes, they were without quarterback Casey Pachall (and will be, moving forward) and yes, the Red Raiders were gifted a few calls down the stretch of the contest, but the reality is that TCU looked like a mediocre football team in Lubbock. And if they can't start to figure out how to score points with Trevone Boykin running the show, the high-powered offenses of the Big 12 are going to eat them alive.
1. Texas (1-2)
Rest easy, TCU fans - your squad isn't the only one in trouble in the Lonestar State. It was just a month ago that UT coach Mack Brown was seen on video telling the school's marching band that he was excited about how good the team could be this year. Now, he's fighting for his job.
Texas put on a clinic against New Mexico State in its first game, tallying 715 total yards of offense. Since, it's lost to BYU and Ole Miss, giving up over 40 points in each contest. UT fans get upset when the Longhorns lose two games in one season, much less three weeks.
If Brown wants to stay employed, he'll need to turn things around sooner rather than later in Austin. He'd be wise to start with his rush defense.