Championships are the ultimate goal, but struggling college football teams need to compete before they can contend.
You know, walk before you run.
And in 2018, dozens of programs fell awfully short of even competing. Looking ahead to 2019, a select group of them are best positioned to change that perception.
Now, we're all about potential here. This is not a guarantee of a resurgent year, but a combination of factors―returning production, schedule, external forces―suggest a big rebound is possible.
Teams considered for the list finished no better than .500 in their conference games last season. While no independent schools are highlighted, the same guideline applied to a team's overall record.
Texas State Bobcats
2018 Record: 3-9 (1-7 Sun Belt)
Last season, Texas State lumbered to 330.3 yards of offense per game. If you can't move the ball, you can't win.
The program hopes that weakness will turn to a strength following the arrival of head coach Jake Spavital, who most recently was West Virginia's offensive coordinator. In 2018, the Mountaineers ranked eighth in total offense and sixth in yards per snap.
Find a quarterback, and things can change quickly.
That's no small task, but Spavital has played an integral role in teaching NFL quarterbacks Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel, Davis Webb and Will Grier as college players. The Air Raid should be kind to Texas State, which returns a majority of its offense and lost very little defensively.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2018 Record: 2-9 (1-7 ACC)
It's hard to get worse, right?
Larry Fedora's final season included a dreadful defense. North Carolina ranked 93rd nationally in yards allowed per snap and 106th in points allowed per game.
But the Tar Heels also finished 1-6 in one-possession games. While sometimes a combination of poor coaching and bad luck, one-score margins can be statistical coin flips. In other words, it's fair to expect a turnaround in that department.
Flip a few of those results alone, and Mack Brown has an easy path to a perception of improvement. Given that UNC brings back a majority of its skill-position production on offense, bowl eligibility is a reasonable goal for the Heels next season.
2018 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Miami trudged to a seven-win campaign last year as Mark Richt's quarterback roulette cost the Hurricanes a chance to win a repugnant ACC Coastal Division. Those problems wasted a defense that ranked third nationally in yards allowed per play.
Five key contributors (namely Gerald Willis III and Jaguan Johnson) moved on from that defense, but the transfer portal has brought reinforcements to the unit. More importantly, though, the coaching carousel ended with new coach Manny Diaz bringing in Dan Enos from Alabama to coach QBs and run the offense.
The 'Canes desperately needed upgrades in both areas.
As long as one of quarterbacks N'Kosi Perry or Jarren Williams (assuming transfer Tate Martell isn't ruled eligible) are even average, Miami is the Coastal favorite.
The five-game stretch with Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Florida State will effectively determine if Diaz takes the 'Canes to Charlotte for the ACC title game in his debut season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
2018 Record: 7-6 (3-6 Big Ten)
Last year, Minnesota took full advantage of a weak nonconference slate but battled inconsistency in Big Ten play. The Gophers lost to Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois yet blasted Purdue and Wisconsin.
What do they have in store for 2019?
The optimist says Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan are both promising, so the quarterback competition has two good solutions. Minnesota only loses two starters on offense, while the defense has more to replace but has an experienced back seven.
And the schedule―oh, the schedule. The Gophers open with South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern, and they do not play Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State. Their opening Big Ten contests are Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland. Of those five, Minnesota is a better team than all except maybe Purdue.
November will determine if Minnesota is a contender, but P.J. Fleck's squad is poised for the essential leap to "competitive" in 2019.
TCU Horned Frogs
2018 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
Injuries obliterated TCU's hopes, dreams and roster in 2018.
After losing star defensive tackle Ross Blacklock before the season, the Horned Frogs maneuvered their way to bowl eligibility in unimpressive fashion. Prior to the Cheez-It Bowl, head coach Gary Patterson called the available personnel their "duct tape group," according to Dean Straka of the Dallas Morning News.
The offseason will provide a moment to recover and reset for a campaign full of opportunity―as long as TCU has a quarterback. Mike Collins showed promise, Justin Rogers was a top recruit (but needs to get healthy) and 4-star Max Duggan enrolled early.
Although the defense is replacing a bunch of key players, the program has fielded a top-three Big 12 unit in all seven seasons with the league. Blacklock's return only adds to the benefit of the doubt.
Figure out the QB, and TCU may enter bowl season eyeing a 10th win.
Florida State Seminoles
2018 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Willie Taggart's second year in Tallahassee will likely be promising or a complete disaster, with very little in between.
Florida State won't win the ACC; Clemson's hold on the Atlantic Division and league as a whole should continue. The Seminoles could at least give Dabo Swinney's club a fight in 2019, though.
That happening is dependent on FSU's new quarterback―likely James Blackman, barring a transfer in or out―and new coordinator Kendal Briles turning around the offense. Last season's unit sputtered to 21.9 points per game, a 37-year low at the program.
Blackman's experience could end up proving vital in a fresh offense, and youth won't be an excuse for the defense in 2019. Combine those with a favorable schedule and the 'Noles have nine-win upside.
But, as we recently explored, one unlucky injury could be a disaster for FSU because of a rough offseason.
2018 Record: 4-8
Scott Frost's impact as head coach is substantial. He identified the quarterback and installed a system to modernize Nebraska's offense.
But the team's potential rise is based on Adrian Martinez.
Nebraska limped to an 0-6 record in Frost's debut season while Martinez, a true freshman, transitioned to the college game and dealt with a leg injury. Once a bit more experienced and healthy, the Huskers took off. Martinez accounted for 16 touchdowns over the last six games, leading Nebraska to a 4-2 mark during that stretch.
Although the Huskers must replenish the defense, Martinez can atone for some of that impact against this schedule. Nebraska misses Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State in crossover play and hosts each of Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Tough games will always be on the Big Ten schedule; as far as favorable goes, it can hardly be better for Martinez and Co.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.