College football features some of the most rabid fan bases in all of sports, professional and amateur. But with all that passion and pride, delusion sometimes rears it's ugly head.
There are plenty of college football programs that have delusional fan bases. Some dwell on their team's past glory; others overestimate their future potential. Still others refuse to admit their program's ineptitude.
Almost all fan bases suffer from some form of delusion. We're here to take a look at the most delusional fans in college football, so without further ado, let's get started with....
This is the year the Trojans take the return leap to prominence. No, really. This is it. It seems like we've been hearing about the USC renaissance for a few seasons now, and it has yet to come to fruition. Now, Steve Sarkisian took the Men of Troy to a 9-4 record and a Holiday Bowl win in 2014, and there's enough returning talent to justify USC's lofty pre-season expectations. But the program hasn't reached a major bowl game in seven years and has a loaded schedule which includes trips to Oregon and Notre Dame and the annual match-up with cross-town rival UCLA, who looks formidable.
Also, did we mention that Sarkisian has never reached double-digit victories in his six seasons as a college head coach? Yes, he was at Washington--not exactly a yearly power--for much of that time, but it makes one wonder how he will handle a team expected to contend for a College Football Playoff berth. It wouldn't shock us to see the Trojans in the CFP, but we also wouldn't be surprised if they dropped at least two regular season contests. Their fans may be hearkening back to the glory days of earlier this century, but their visions don't match the results on the field (yet), which is why they find themselves on this list.
Make no mistake about it, the Tigers are a quality program, year-in and year-out. They've won 10 or more games in four straight seasons, and have won bowl games each of the last three. But for all of Clemson's success, and the bravado of it's purple-and-orange clad supporters, there's something missing. Whether it was an inability to beat rival South Carolina (from 2009-13) or fellow ACC Atlantic Division power Florida State (the past three years), Dabo Swinney's crew has been unable to take the proverbial "next step."
Look, the Tigers have tradition, and recent bona fides, on their resume. They are usually blessed with startling talent at the skill positions, and this season should be no different (Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams, anyone?). But until they can conquer their Seminole demons, win a division title and make a run at the CFP, their fans may just have to accept their spot on this list.
Georgia has some things in common with the team that preceded it on our countdown. Like Clemson, the Bulldogs always have talent and almost always have high hopes entering a season, but they can't quite get over the hump. Five times in Mark Richt's 14 years as head coach, the team has been in the AP Pre-Season Top 10; six times, it has finished the season there. Not too shabby at all. But Georgia fans are haunted by the near-misses of 2002, 2007 and 2012, all times when a BCS berth seemed to be in reach but ultimately couldn't be secured.
Even with all of that being said, the major reason the Bulldogs find themselves at No. 8 is the cries from within the fan ranks to dismiss Richt. Sure, he seems to have been the bridesmaid many times while never actually getting to be the bride, but he's a fine recruiter and has turned Georgia into a perennial contender. That's more than we can say for his predecessors Jim Donnan and Ray Goff. If Richt does get bounced, the Georgia opening would be an extremely attractive one, but Bulldog fans should be careful what they wish for, as there's no guarantees Richt's replacement would be the one to take the program higher than it's been.
7. Florida State
The Seminoleshave regained elite status in the college football world over the past three seasons. They won the last BCS National Title and reached the inaugural College Football Playoff. They had a record number of players chosen in the 2015 NFL Draft. Their 2015 recruiting class merited a consensus top-five ranking. There's a lot for Florida State's boisterous fans to be proud of, and they're not shy in telling everyone just how happy they are with their team.
But that leads us to why the 'Noles supporters check in at No. 7 on our list. There is still reason for optimism in Tallahassee, but plenty of FSU fans seem to think the show will just keep rolling along in 2015, and there's no guarantee it will. Talent isn't an issue, but the most important position on the team is. The 'Noles are counting on Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson to fill Jameis Winston's shoes, and while Golston has ability and experience, he's also erratic with the ball and prone to making poor decisions. If Golson isn't the answer, Winston's back-up, Sean Maguire ,will get a chance, but he's unproven. Add in the fact that the Seminoles have gotten plenty of breaks and won every single close game the last two seasons, and there's bound to be some regression. We think head coach Jimbo Fisher's troops will be very good again in 2015, but might not be as good as their fans think they will be.
Arkansas fell off tremendously following Bobby Petrino's unceremonious dismissal in the spring of 2012, going 7-17 over the next two seasons. Bret Bielema seems to have the Razorbacks on the right track though, thanks to a 7-6 campaign in 2014, which included a convincing bowl win over Texas in the Texas Bowl.
Expect Arkansas to take a step forward this fall. The Razorbacks boast what might be the best running back tandem in the country in 1,000-yard rushers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The defense, under the tutelage of coordinator Robb Smith, should once again be stout. This is a team no SEC opponent should want to line up against.
But, we caution you, Hogs fans. Eight wins and a bowl berth seem to be in the cards for 2015, but temper your unbridled optimism just a bit. After all, you're still in the SEC West, and have in-conference road trips to Tuscaloosa, Oxford, Death Valley and Knoxville. Your team is trending in the right direction, but any thoughts of reaching the conference's upper echelon have to be put on hold for now.
5. Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has proven to be a very strong head coach. After one 10-2 season at Arkansas State, the Oxford native took over his hometown Ole Miss Rebels, and the team's record has improved every season. While we don't expect the Rebs to fall off the table this season, Ole Miss fans who are expecting the team to take home the SEC West title may want to slow down a bit.
The offense returns pretty much everyone, except for Bo Wallace at quarterback. While "Dr. Bo" was very inconsistent throughout his Ole Miss career, replacing a long-time starting QB is never easy. The success of whichever player steps in, whether it is Ryan Buchanan, former Clemson Tiger Chad Kelly, or DeVante Kincade, will dictate how good the Rebels offense will be in 2015.
Of course, Ole Miss has been all about the defense for the last few seasons, and for good reason. The Rebels' "Landshark" defense led the entire country, allowing just 16 points per game. While many of the principles of that unit return, including the uber-talented Nkemdiche brothers, Ole Miss loses cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt, two of the best defensive backs in the country last year.
We expect Ole Miss to be a solid team next year, as they have been throughout Freeze's tenure so far. If linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell return to form from season ending 2014 injuries, they have a chance to be very good. We just don't think any College Football Playoff aspirations are legitimate quite yet, at least until we see someone really take hold of that quarterback job.