Last Year’s Top 5 Went from 27-35 in ‘16 to 48-20 in ‘17.
1. Florida (4-7 SU/2-7-2 ATS in 2017)
Returning Starters: 19 (8 offense, 9 defense)
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #14
Florida won the SEC East in both 2015 and 2016 but last year slumped to just 4-7. This year the Gators made a terrific hire in bringing in former O.C. Dan Mullen and he inherits an experienced team with 19 returning starters. Florida could be favored in at least 8 games this year meaning they could double their win total from a season ago and possibly be a dark horse in the SEC.
2. Baylor (1-11 SU/5-7 ATS in 2017)
Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #30
After seven straight winning seasons including four years where they won 10 games or more, the Bears really bottomed out in the first year under head coach Matt Rhule at 1-11. However, Baylor’s record could have been better as they lost 3 games by a TD or less and showed very well in games vs Oklahoma and West Virginia. This year the Bears return 17 starters, signed a solid recruiting class and the schedule is favorable and they could start the season 4-0. Going from one win to flirting with bowl eligibility certainly qualifies you for most improved.
3. North Carolina (3-9 SU/5-7 ATS in 2017)
Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #23
North Carolina was very young last year and possibly no team dealt with more injuries than the Tar Heels. After bottoming out in a 59-7 loss to Virginia Tech that put them at 1-7 SU/ATS, the Tar Heels started to show improvement at the end of last season with four straight covers to close the season and a couple of wins. This year the Heels are more experienced and healthier. Excluding a road trip to Miami, we don’t have North Carolina listed at more than a TD underdog in any game meaning the Tar Heels could easily double their win total this year.
4. Georgia Southern (2-10 SU/4-7-1 ATS in 2017)
Returning Starters: 18 (9 offense, 9 defense)
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #88
Last year Georgia Southern had arguably their worst season in school history losing 10 games, however they were much better in the second half of the season (2-4 SU/3-2-1 ATS) than the first half (0-6 SU/1-5 ATS). That coincided when now head coach Chad Lunsford took over as interim. This year Georgia Southern is one of the most experienced teams in the country with 18 returning starters and Lunsford also signed the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern should easily double their win total this year and could flirt with bowl eligibility.
5. Nebraska (4-8 SU/4-8 ATS in 2017)
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)
2017 Recruiting Class Rank: #22
Last year the Cornhuskers bottomed out at 4-8 SU/ATS, their worst season in more than 50 years. However, things are looking up this season and it started with the hiring of former Nebraska QB Scott Frost who inherited an 0-12 UCF team and won six games his first season. Frost has an experienced team to work with (15 returning starters) and brings in a solid recruiting class (No. 22). The Huskers would have been higher on this list if not for a tough schedule that sees the Huskers pull Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State from the Big Ten East. Still, I expect Nebraska to get to bowl eligibility this year.
Honorable Mention (Last year’s HM Teams went from 14-23 SU to 29-23 SU):
Michigan (8-5 SU/5-7-1 ATS in 2017)-Last year the Wolverines were one of the least experienced teams in the country but this year Michigan is one of the most experienced teams with 18 returning starters and are probably a TD better than last year’s team. The reason Michigan didn’t make my Top 5 most improved is a daunting schedule that sees them travel to Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.
West Virginia (7-6 SU/5-7-1 ATS in 2017)-The Mountaineers stumbled down the stretch last year as they lost QB Will Grier to injury and proceeded to lose their last three games. This year they return 14 starters including Grier and WR David Sills and they could challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 Title.
Tulsa (2-10 SU/5-7 ATS in 2017)-After a 10-win season in 2016, the Golden Hurricane took several steps back a year ago dropping to just 2-10. However, their record could have been much better as Tulsa was 0-5 in games decided by a TD or less. This year’s squad brings back 15 starters and Tulsa should double their win total.
BYU (4-9 SU/4-9 ATS in 2017)-BYU started last season a miserable 1-7 SU/0-8 ATS but finished the season 3-2 SU/4-1 ATS in their last 5 games. This year’s team welcomes back 15 starters and could flirt with bowl eligibility.
Ball State (2-10 SU/3-8-1 ATS in 2017)-The Cardinals were decimated by injuries last year and would lose their final 8 games by an average of 36.5 ppg. This year’s team welcomes back 19 starters and could double their win total.