My College Football Spotlight teams are squads that will improve by at least 3 games from the previous year. This often results in a lot of upset wins (covers). I would expect more of the same this coming season. Take a long look when any of the following teams are installed as underdogs this season.
Jeff's Top 3 College Football Spotlight Teams in 2017-18
1) Texas Longhorns (2016 SU record: 5-7)
The Longhorns have six 4-star recruits and a very favorable schedule, which includes Maryland and San Jose State in back-to-back opening home games. I believe HC Tom Herman is a perfect fit, and this team should be energized with the new regime. Tom went 22-4 at Houston U and inherits a plethora of talent that Charlie Strong left behind. Toneil Carter Jr. is a stud in backfield with that unique combination of size, strength, and speed. He had offers from all of the top programs (Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, ETC) but chose Texas. Shane Buechele took all the reps in Spring practice and his pinpoint accuracy should produce wins in what looks to be a high-powered offense. Gary Johnson will be a difference maker at inside linebacker. He will playing in the NFL for sure when his collegiate career is finished. A whopping 24 schools were begging for Johnson's services and after watching him on tape I can see why. He's going to be a special player for Texas! Herman takes over a roster returning 37 of the 44 in the two-deep from last season, stocked with back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes. I project the Longhorns with 10 wins in 2017-18, returning to a BOWL game.
2) Michigan State Spartans (2016 SU record: 3-9)
The Spartans started 2-0 last year and than managed to drop nine of their remaining 10 games. Ouch! That's a big teaching lesson and this team should learn from it. This will really depend on if redshirt freshman Messiah de Weaver is the real deal at the QB position. He ran a pro style offense in high school and has all the skills to be a successful College Football quarterback. I think Weaver wins the job sooner rather than later. Last season, MSU had a net yardage differential of plus +30.2 and lost some close games while making silly mistakes. The schedule is favorable for a bounce back season. They open the year with four straight home games (BG, WM, ND, Iowa) sandwiched between a BYE week. The Spartans play @ Michigan on October 7th. That's a tough one to win even with the Spartans adding four of Scouts Top 300 recruits. They will also host Indiana and Maryland later in the season which seems like winnable games. LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes are a great 1-2 punch in the backfield. The defense should be even better just for the simple fact of an easier schedule. I have Michigan State projected for 7 wins and returning to a BOWL game in what should be a happier time at Spartan Stadium.
3) Miami Hurricanes (2016 SU record: (9-4)
Miami ended last season winning five straight games including an upset victory against West Virginia (31-14) in the Russell Athletic Bowl. In 2001, Mark Richt went 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference. The very next year Georgia went 13-1 overall, 7-1 in the conference, and a Sugar Bowl victory. The former Bulldog knows how to coach and this team should benefit from another year in the system. Now, I realize that the Hurricanes must replace QB Brad Kaaya and his 3,532 passing yards with 27 touchdowns. Not to mention his 150.3 QB rating. Miami boasts one of the ACC's top running backs in Mark Walton and a stop unit slated to rank among the best in the conference. The Hurricanes have a favorable schedule and most of the ACC Coastal is rebuilding. N'Kosi Perry is a four-star recruit with elite quarterback talent. I think he takes the job from redshirt junior Malik Rosier. Perry is extremely talented, but also very raw. He has loads of upside not just as a dual-threat QB, but also as a passer that can beat you from the pocket. The coaching staff is very high one him and has been compared to Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. If Perry flops, the defense, coaching, and schedule will propel Miami U to at least 8 or 9 wins. If Perry flourishes and I think he will, look for the Hurricanes to reach 12 victories. A post New Year's eve BOWL game seems likely if everything falls into place.
Good Luck, Jeff Hochman of JH-Sportsline
Follow me on Twitter @ JHSPORTSLINE