As the college bowl season starts winding down, fans all start wondering about their team's future and what the 2012 season may present. Just last year, very few thought that Cam Newton was going to carry Auburn to national title while this season others though LSU would slip up somewhere along their schedule.
But the exciting part about college football is finding the next big program on the rise. Big 12 fans knew Oklahoma State was going to be good and that Baylor was improving, but a BCS bowl win and Heisman for their respective schools shocked a lot of people.
Everyone had Houston and Boise State as BCS Busters, but who thought that Southern Miss would bust Houston's BCS bowl bid and finish in the top 25?
While it is still 2011, here is a quick look towards four teams that could make some serious noise in 2012 and be next season's surprises, even with less than perfect performances in their bowl games.
It seems like every year Notre Dame is on this list and the Irish fail to meet expectations. However, this next season is guaranteed to be different.
Brain Kelly's numerous gaffes have left several wondering if Notre Dame made the right choice and their recent choke in the Champs Sports bowl does not keep his seat any cooler.
With the quarterback battle between Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix dominating the headlines, Kelly's team continued to struggle along the offensive line and make far too many mental errors in games against Florida State, USF, and Michigan.
Yet somehow, the Irish almost knocked off USC this season, showing they are close to turning the corner and returning to BCS glory.
For the Irish, the 21st best recruiting class is a junior class that should help them fill holes that open up this offseason while the 9th best class of sophomores can add depth and explosiveness. The Irish also have the 13th best class so far in 2012, showing they can continually replace their departing talent.
Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees will continue to fight for the starting role, and my money is on Hendrix winning it next season and playing like he did in the finale against Stanford. While a losing effort, Hendrix showed heart and toughness Rees seems to lack.
If the Irish can become mentally tougher and decide on a quarterback, this is a ten win team in waiting.
If Virginia's Orange uniforms did not catch your attention, then the early 14-0 lead on the defending champion Auburn Tigers surely must have had you wondering when this "academic" school got so good at football.
This is a school with great NFL pedigree, graduating current NFL starters and first rounders such as Rob Long and Heath Miller in recent memory.
The Cavaliers may not have as strong of a recruiting base as some of their ACC counterparts, but coach Mike London won the ACC coach of year for a reason. Wins over Georgia Tech and Florida State continued to validate the Cavaliers second place finish in the Coastal division.
Virginia went back to a bowl for the first time since 2007 and continues to surprise with their ability to play on both sides of the ball. If current sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco can improve on his turnover numbers for next season, the Cavaliers could shock many and make it to the ACC Championship game.
With the way that the Big East has been in recent years, it is no surprise that no team made it through the conference undefeated. That being said, even though West Virginia may be the clear favorite this season and next, watch for Louisville to shock everyone.
Last season, Louisville had the 21st best recruiting class in the country after coach Charlie Strong raided Miami for recruits. Already, Teddy Bridgewater has emerged as the quarterback of the future as he won Big East Newcomer of the Year this season.
Although the Cardinals lost their bowl game to North Carolina State, Strong, who coached under Urban Meyer at Florida, knows what a winning team should be like and is bringing that attitude to Louisville.
The Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the country this past season and held opponents to just 20 points a game.
If Eli Rodgers can emerge as a legitimate target for Bridgewater while Gerod Holliman and Andrew Johnson sure up their secondary, the Cardinals could steal the Big East BCS show.
The Huskies got involved in an old fashioned Texas shootout with Baylor's Robert Griffen III in the Alamo Bowl and almost walked out a winner. Scoring 56 points anywhere is a major achievement, let alone in a bowl game where the only other team to do so on Baylor was Oklahoma State when they beat the Bears with a 59 point effort.
Growth under Steve Sarkisian has not been as great as expected so far especially with such talented athletes such as Jake Locker. However, with the recent addition of new defensive minded coaches, Sarkisian is showing he is not content with mediocrity.
With one of the best offenses in the nation, the Huskies are often overlooked due to Oregon and Stanford both playing in their division. While the game against the Cardinal was a massacre in all ways imaginable, Washington kept it relatively close against Oregon.
Sophomore Keith Price showed that he can be a true dual threat, throwing for 33 touchdowns during the season and showing off his legs in the Alamo Bowl. For the past two seasons, Washington has had a top 25 recruiting class and that means next season talent will be coming into the lineup in juniors and sophomores.
While the Huskies may have difficult climb to the top of Pac-12, the loss of Andrew Luck should result in a drop for Stanford, opening the door for a Huskie revival.