Who is the most underrated team in college football heading into the year - our staff debates
We are now a grand total of just two - count 'em - two Saturday's away from the start of college football season.
On the hand, the summer has gone by soooo fast. On the other, it feels like forever ago since Georgia beat Alabama for that first title in a generation.
And because of it, over the next few weeks, we're going to celebrate by hitting some of the most pressing questions in college football heading into the season.
On Tuesday, our group of college football writers answered the question: Who is the most overrated team in college football?
Today, we flip the question and ask: Who's the most underrated? Aaron Torres, and Torres Media college football writers Garrett Carr and Jake Faigus discuss.
Jake Faigus - Arkansas Razorbacks
The Arkansas Razorbacks made a lot of noise last year in head coach Sam Pittman’s second year by winning nine games. They have a lot of potential to be even better this year too and build off that success.
The offense is going to be the strength of the team. They've got six starters returning, highlighted by KJ Jefferson coming back at quarterback and Raheim Sanders at running back. The offensive line has four starters coming back too, highlighted by Ricky Stromberg at left guard, which sets up well for the running game with both Jefferson and Sanders. This might be the best one-two punch in the SEC and one of the best in the country. Jefferson also has a few new and intriguing targets to throw to. Wide receiver Jadon Haselwood is the best of that bunch and comes in from an electric offense at Oklahoma. He is a former five-star recruit. The offense should be explosive, and I honestly think that KJ Jefferson will position himself as a Heisman frontrunner after having a breakout year this past year. The offensive line is a big key too because that is Pittman’s specialty.
The defense is a bit more of a question mark but has a lot to like in the secondary. They return four starters in the secondary which gives that unit the most depth. The linebackers are very solid and will be led by Bumper Pool and Drew Sanders, who will be vying for the title of best defender along with Jalen Catalon in the secondary. The question mark is the defensive line, but the other talent could mask any deficiencies there. The biggest thing to think about with the defense is that Barry Odom is very good defensive coordinator, so I trust him to figure things out on the defensive line.
The Razorbacks have a few land mines on their schedule but overall, it sets up well with almost every notable game being at home aside from maybe BYU or Mississippi State. With so many notable games at home, they are primed to make some noise and could sneak up to second in the SEC West behind Alabama if a few things fall into place. Last year, was a breakout year, but this year I expect the Hogs to cement themselves as a contender and for KJ Jefferson to get some Heisman buzz too. Sam Pittman should also be in the running for Coach of the Year.
Garrett Carr - USC Trojans
On Tuesday I named Oklahoma my most overrated team in the AP Top 25. It’s now come full circle. I believe USC, home of Oklahoma’s old coach and quarterback, plus more transfers from Oklahoma and other schools, is the most underrated team in the country.
It starts with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams. Don’t let bitter Oklahoma fans fool you, Riley can flat-out coach. Oklahoma was slowly fading away from national relevance before Bob Stoops brought in Lincoln Riley. Since Riley came aboard as offensive coordinator and later on, head coach, the worst season in Norman was 9-2 in the pandemic-shortened year. The year before he got there, they were 8-5. He’s going into a USC program that was tenth in team talent last year according to 247 Sports, and got a lot more talented over the offseason with impact transfers on both sides of the ball.
The biggest of those is Williams. Williams was the consensus top quarterback in the class of 2021, and relieved Spencer Rattler of his duties in October last year. Williams threw 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and he knows the offense. The weapons around him are good, too, as Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison transferred in from Pitt and jitterbug Mario Williams transfers with Williams from OU, and USC will have the Pac 12’s best offense.
The defense was no good last year, giving up 32 points a game, But, transfers like former Arizona State Sun Devil Eric Gentry and former Sooner Latrell McCutchin plus Alabama transfer Shane Lee make this defense much more talented. Couple that with incoming defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who is as good as any defensive mind in college football, and they could be a top-25 unit, which will be plenty good enough for this offense.
The biggest thing in the Trojans’ favor is their schedule. I have USC as double-digit favorites in ten of their twelve games, with pick-em games on the road at Utah and home against Notre Dame. It’s very reasonable this team goes 11-1 or 12-1 and plays in the Rose Bowl. It’s more possible than most people think that they will make the playoff this year, something Riley did in his first season as both offensive coordinator and head coach at OU.
I would bet a lot of money USC finishes higher than their No. 14 preseason ranking.
Aaron Torres - Oklahoma Sooners
First off, it's funny that Jake mentioned KJ Jefferson as a potential Heisman candidate - as I mentioned Jefferson as a dark horse on my college football betting pod this morning. Which you can download here, by the way.
Shameless plugs aside, Garrett's write-up also allows me to win back all the Sooner fans that were ready to burn things down here at Aaron Torres Online - because while everyone is boarding the Lincoln Riley hype train in Los Angeles, I actually think the opposite is true.
I think Lincoln Riley's former team in Norman is due for a bigger season than many realize.
First off, part of that is due to Riley himself. Look, for whatever anyone wants to say about Riley on the way out, one thing he did do was leave the cupboard completely full for Brent Venables. While Riley did have a few players transfer his way from Norman (as Garrett mentioned, Caleb Williams, Mario Williams, Latrell McCutchen) and a few more decided to look at other options (Jadon Haselwood, particularly, as Jake said), here is the bottom line: Riley signed Top 10 classes in 2019 and 2021, and Venables closed a Top 10 class in 2022.
So before anything else, just know that the Sooners probably have one of the 5-10 most talented rosters in college football. And more talent and depth than anyone on their regular season schedule this year.
Beyond that, I think it's fair to say that under Venables watch, the defense will probably make a leap from where it was a year ago, and I also don't think the offense will fall nearly as far without Riley as people expect.
Yes, things will look a little bit different, but Dillon Gabriel is a damn good college quarterback. In his final season playing for Josh Heupel at Central Florida, he threw for 32 touchdowns and 350 yards in just 10 games because of Covid. I'm not great at math, but I'd say an average of three touchdowns and 350 yards per game is pretty good.
Well, now he'll be playing in the same system under new Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and have more talent around him than ever before. Again, say what you want about Riley, but he left the cupboard stocked with plenty of talent.
Add that in with a favorable schedule that sees both Baylor and Oklahoma State come to Norman this year, and unless Venables is a complete flop as a head coach (always possible, but I'm guessing not likely) the Sooners should finish atop the Big 12 standings again.
To be blunt, I really haven't quite understood why so many are so down on the Sooners, but I'm not one of those people.
Not to spoil anything for next week, but I could easily see Oklahoma making (yet another) College Football Playoff run.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter - @Aaron_Torres