The Overachievers and Underachievers of the 2012 College Football Season

Danny Flynn@FlynnceptionSenior Analyst IJanuary 14, 2013

The Overachievers and Underachievers of the 2012 College Football Season

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    There were plenty of college football teams that exceeded preseason expectations in 2012. But there were also plenty of teams that failed to live up to their initial hype. 

    If you want evidence of that, just go back and compare the preseason polls to the final Top 25 rankings, and you'll see a drastic difference. 

    Here's a look at the biggest overachievers and underachievers from this past season. 

Overachiever: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    In recent years, Notre Dame has usually been overrated in the preseason polls. But going into the 2012 season, following back-to-back mediocre eight-win campaigns, the Irish weren't even ranked in the AP Poll and were ranked just 24th in the Coaches' Poll. 

    Brian Kelly's squad shocked everyone, though, as the Irish stormed through their schedule to finish the regular season 12-0. 

    Admittedly, Notre Dame's weak performance in a blowout 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game was a huge disappointment. But the fact that the team even ended up in the title game is such an impressive feat in itself. 

    Kelly has managed to turn the Irish back into a team that's nationally relevant again. The 2012 campaign is certainly something the team can build on for the future. 

Underachiever: USC Trojans

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    When Matt Barkley announced that he would be returning to USC for his senior year, he and the Trojans instantly became the media darlings of college football. 

    Barkley received plenty of praise and publicity over the offseason. Many built him up to be the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

    Unfortunately, neither Barkley nor his team came close to living up to the hype in 2012. 

    USC may have started off the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and No. 3 in the Coaches' Poll. However, the Trojans finished the year unranked after winning just seven games and closed out the season with an embarrassing performance in the Sun Bowl. 

    Considering how much attention the team received leading up to the season, USC has to be considered the most disappointing team of 2012. 

Overachiever: Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M had long been viewed as the little brother to its rival, the University of Texas, which was a more prominent and more successful program.

    That in-state inferiority complex likely played a major role in the school's decision to leave the Big 12 in order to join college football's most powerful conference, the SEC.

    Expectations certainly weren't high for the team in its first season in the league. A&M started off the year unranked and had the undesirable combination of a new head coach and a new starting quarterback. 

    Fortunately, that new head coach, Kevin Sumlin, and that new quarterback, Johnny Manziel, proved to be a perfect match for one another. 

    Sumlin helped turn Manziel into the biggest breakout star of the season. The explosive dual-threat quarterback totaled over 5,100 yards of offense, and he led the Aggies to a surprising 11-2 record and became the first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. 

    Following such an impressive statement season in its first year in the SEC, Texas A&M certainly doesn't have to worry about being overshadowed by the Longhorns anymore.

Underachiever: LSU Tigers

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    LSU lost plenty of star power from its outstanding 2011 squad, which went 13-1, won an SEC championship and made it to the BCS championship game. A host of starters needed to be replaced, including standouts such as WR Rueben Randle, cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu, safety Brandon Taylor, DT Michael Brockers and OG Will Blackwell.

    Still, the Tigers went into the season ranked No. 1 in the Coaches' Poll and No. 3 in the AP Poll, and they were expected to be one of the main contenders for the national championship once again. 

    The team certainly had the talent to compete for a national title, especially on defense with playmakers like defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. However, this LSU team seemed to lack the same type of hunger and swagger that we saw from the Tigers in 2011. 

    Ultimately, they ended up finishing 10-3 and ranked outside of the postseason Top 10, following a tough last-second loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. 

Overachiever: Penn State Nittany Lions

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    This was setting up to be a very strange season for the Penn State football team. The Nittany Lions were coming off a tumultuous offseason to say the least.

    Legendary coach Joe Paterno had died, and his legacy had been tarnished. 

    The horrifying Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal ended up being one of the most talked-about stories of the summer.

    Plus, the NCAA enforced crippling sanctions for the program, which resulted in some of the team's key players, including its best overall player, RB Silas Redd, transferring to other schools. 

    Clearly, the team had plenty of off-the-field distractions to deal with, which was evident in the first few weeks, as Penn State lost its first two games to Ohio and Virginia. 

    First-year head coach Bill O'Brien did one of the best coaching jobs in the country, though, as he led the Nittany Lions to eight wins in their final 10 games. 

    O'Brien and his players deserve plenty of credit for what they were able to accomplish under such trying circumstances. 

Underachiever: Auburn Tigers

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    Two years ago, Auburn went 14-0 and won a national title. However, the 2012 team didn't come anywhere close to resembling that championship squad. The Tigers went just 3-9 and finished winless against SEC opponents. 

    Auburn started the season ranked 25th in the Coaches' Poll. But it quickly became apparent that the team was not even close to being worthy of a ranking. 

    After a 1-7 start, whispers started circulating about coach Gene Chizik's job security, and ultimately, it did prove to be Chizik's final hurrah at the school. 

    Highly inconsistent quarterback play, a lack of experience at key positions and a lackluster defensive effort were the main reasons the Tigers were so awful in 2012. 

Overachiever: UCLA Bruins

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    Most UCLA fans weren't exactly jubilant about the hiring of Jim Mora to be the new head coach of the Bruins football team. That's because Mora had been out of coaching for two years after being fired following a 5-11 season with the Seahawks in 2009. 

    Mora certainly wasn't the most popular choice to be the new man in charge. However, he certainly shut up all of his critics and doubters. He led the team to a nine-win season, a Pac-12 South division title and a win over hated rival USC in his first season on the job. 

    The best decision that Mora made all year was naming unproven redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to be his starting quarterback. Hundley turned out to be one of the conference's biggest breakout stars. He combined forces with RB Johnathan Franklin to lead the team to its best season since 2005. 

Underachiever: West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Following West Virginia's eye-opening 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl to finish the 2011 season, the Mountaineers became one of the hottest teams of the offseason. 

    QB Geno Smith and his deadly wide receiver duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey looked as good advertised and were basically unstoppable in the first month of 2012, as they helped guide the team to a 5-0 record and a Top Five national ranking. However, the Mountaineers came crashing back down to earth in a hurry once the schedule got tougher and they started facing quality Big 12 opponents. 

    Ultimately, West Virginia's terrible defensive performance ended up costing the team some key games down the stretch.

    Dana Holgorsen's squad finished just 7-6, which is a far cry from what many were expecting after that dominant performance in the Orange Bowl just a year ago. 

Overachiever: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State suffered through one of its worst seasons in decades in 2011, winning just six games in the first year after the scandal that cost once highly respected head coach Jim Tressel his job.

    The arrival of Urban Meyer seemed to add some much-needed excitement and energy back into the program, as the Buckeyes came out and looked like a completely different team in 2012.

    After starting the year ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll, Ohio State quickly flew up the polls. Meyer's team piled up win after win behind the play of breakout star quarterback Braxton Miller, eventually ending up as the only undefeated team in the nation with a 12-0 record. 

    It's a shame that we didn't get the chance to see the Buckeyes in the postseason. But we'll certainly be hearing plenty about their championship chances this offseason. Ohio State will likely start off the 2013 season ranked No. 2 in the nation in the polls behind defending champion Alabama. 

Underachiever: Michigan Wolverines

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    Ohio State's hated rival, Michigan, actually went into the 2012 season as the higher ranked team.

    Many believed that the Wolverines were the best team in the Big Ten, and many were talking about QB Denard Robinson as one of the top Heisman contenders in the country. 

    It didn't take long for Robinson and Michigan to get exposed, though. 

    In the first game of the season, the Wolverines were destroyed by defending champion Alabama, getting beat 41-14 in Cowboys Stadium in front of a national primetime audience. 

    The team never seemed to be able to recover from such an embarrassing defeat. Michigan ended up finishing just 8-5 overall, although it did have a respectable 6-2 record against Big Ten competition. 

Overachiever: Kansas State Wildcats

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    QB Collin Klein became a breakout star when he led Kansas State to a surprising 10-win season in 2011. But that performance didn't earn the trust of many poll voters.

    The Wildcats started off the 2012 season ranked outside of the top 20 in both major polls. However, it didn't take long for Klein and his team to make their doubters look foolish. 

    Kansas State surged up the rankings throughout the first few months of the season, eventually ending up as the No. 1-ranked team in the BCS standings by Week 12. 

    A loss to Baylor may have cost the team a shot at playing in the BCS championship game. Nevertheless, the Wildcats still deserve plenty of recognition for winning 11 games and a Big 12 championship in 2012. 

Underachiever: Texas Longhorns

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    Texas certainly had enough talent to compete for a Big 12 title in 2012.

    The bottom line is that the Longhorns simply weren't able to get the job done when it counted the most. 

    Mack Brown's team got blown out by the two best teams in the conference, Kansas State and Oklahoma, and it also lost to West Virginia and TCU at home to finish just 5-4 in conference play. 

    For most teams, a nine-win season would be considered a success, but for Texas, 2012 was a season that left many Longhorns fans wondering what could have been. 

Overachiever: Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern went into the 2012 season with one main goal to reach—the Wildcats wanted to end their 63-year streak of not having a bowl win. 

    Not only did they manage to accomplish that feat with a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, they also finished with a double-digit win total for the first time since 1995. 

    Pat Fitzgerald deserves plenty of accolades for what he's been able to do at his alma mater since taking over back in 2006 after the tragic death of his mentor Randy Walker. 

    Fitzgerald clearly has the program on the rise, and Northwestern will definitely be a team to watch out for in 2013. 

Underachiever: Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Before the season started, many analysts believed that Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas would be Matt Barkley's main challenger for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. 

    Unfortunately, much like Barkley, Thomas didn't come close to living up to expectations in 2012. 

    The athletic, yet erratic junior signal-caller was one of the most disappointing players in the country. Thomas completed just 51 percent of his passes and he ranked second in the nation with 16 interceptions. 

    The quarterback's struggles were a main reason why the Hokies went from the preseason favorites to repeat as ACC Coastal division winners to just a 7-6 also-ran. 

    Virginia Tech is a team that obviously didn't deserve its preseason top-20 national ranking. 

Overachiever: Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State finished the 2011 season with just a 3-9 record, which was the most losses by a Beavers team during the Mike Riley era. 

    Understandably, the mood was a bit dreary in Corvallis during the offseason, and expectations certainly weren't high going into the 2012 season. 

    Riley managed to pull off a masterful coaching job, however, as he led Oregon State to a 9-4 record, which included five wins over teams that played in bowl games. 

    The Beavers managed to put together the bounce-back campaign they so desperately needed. Now they'll go into the 2013 season with plenty of momentum. 

Underachiever: Florida State Seminoles

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    Before the 2012 season, Florida State was one of the trendy picks to win the BCS championship, since the Seminoles were clearly loaded with plenty of elite playmakers on both sides of the ball. 

    The boys from Tallahassee started off the year ranked seventh in both polls, and they quickly moved up into the Top Five after a 5-0 start. However, then came the disastrous upset loss at NC State on Oct. 6, which exposed the team as just a pretender. 

    Although the Seminoles went on to win 12 games, an ACC championship and the Orange Bowl, they finished the season with just two wins over ranked teams. It's still tough to tell just how good Florida State really was in 2012, considering how weak the team's level of competition was. 

Overachiever: Florida Gators

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    The first year of the Will Muschamp era at Florida certainly wasn't the most thrilling season that Gator fans have ever seen. Muschamp's squad finished the 2011 season with just a 7-6 overall record and just a 3-5 record in SEC play. 

    The team had a new starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel, a new starting running back, Mike Gillislee, as well as a new offensive coordinator, Brent Pease, for the 2012 season. However, there was still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Gators' chances, especially since the defense featured so many key standouts such as Sharrif Floyd, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Dominique Easley and Matt Elam. 

    Florida managed to ride its dominant defense, which finished the season ranked in the top five nationally in both scoring defense and total defense, to an 11-2 record in 2012. 

    Although the season ended with a very disappointing upset defeat at the hands of Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp's second year on the job still has to be deemed a big success. 

Underachiever: Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma may not have started the 2012 season as the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country like it did back in 2011. However, the Sooners still had high expectations to live up to, as they started the year ranked No. 4 in both major polls. 

    Once again, however, Bob Stoops' squad was out of the national championship race before the calendar even said November, following two losses at home to Notre Dame and Kansas State. 

    The Sooners may have finished with their sixth double-digit win season in the last seven years. But it's a team that failed to step up when it really counted on the big stage against tough teams like Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. 

    Once again, Oklahoma was not the true championship contender that it was built up to be during the offseason. 

Overachiever: Ole Miss Rebels

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    Before the season started, Ole Miss was viewed by many as the weakest team in the SEC. The Rebels were picked by most publications to finish in the conference's cellar once again in 2012. However, instead they turned out to be one of the biggest surprise success stories of the year. 

    New head coach Hugh Freeze and new starting quarterback Bo Wallace added some much-needed life to the offense, and they helped lead Ole Miss to a 7-6 record and a bowl victory. 

    The Rebels have plenty of intriguing up-and-coming talent to work with, and they'll definitely be a team to watch out for in the SEC over the next few years. 

Underachiever: Virginia Cavaliers

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    Mike London managed to double Virginia's win total from four wins to eight wins from his first season to his second season at the school. 

    Following the successful campaign in 2011, it looked like the Cavaliers could potentially be in the mix to win the ACC Coastal division title in 2012.

    Things just never seemed to go right for London's squad this season, though. 

    After a 2-0 start, Virginia fell apart, losing eight of its last 10 games to finish just 4-8. 

    The fact that the Cavaliers ranked 95th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging just 22 points per game, was a major factor in the team's downward spiral. 

Overachiever: Utah State Aggies

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    Utah State had the most successful season in school history in 2012. 

    Led by QB Chuckie Keeton, RB Kerwynn Williams and a stout defense, the Aggies won 11 games, took home a WAC championship, won their first bowl game since 1993 and finished ranked in the top 20 in both major polls. 

    You have to give coach Gary Andersen, who left after the season to take the head-coaching job at Wisconsin, plenty of respect for the job he was able to do in Logan. In the four years prior to his arrival, Utah State had won just nine games combined. Four years later, in his final season, the Aggies were one of the most successful teams in college football. 

Underachiever: Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan may have been the trendy pick to win the Big Ten before the season started. But the Wolverines' in-state rival, Michigan State, also received plenty of preseason love as well. 

    The Spartans started the season ranked No. 13 in both major polls. However, it didn't take long for them to completely fall out of the top 25. 

    Although Michigan State had one of the strongest defenses in the country, the lack of a potent passing game ultimately hindered the Spartans. They finished with just a 7-6 record and a 3-5 record in Big Ten play. 

    Considering that five of the team's six losses came by just four points or less, you can at least make the argument that the Spartans' season wasn't actually as big of a failure as their record would seem to indicate. 

Overachiever: Louisville Cardinals

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    Louisville may have been considered the favorite to win the Big East championship before the season started. But it didn't seem like poll voters had much trust in the Cardinals.

    They started off the season ranked just 25th in the AP Poll and unranked in the Coaches' Poll. 

    QB Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of the team proved that they belonged higher in the polls than that, though. 

    Bridgewater led the Cardinals to an 11-win season, a Big East championship and a surprising upset win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. 

    You can now bet that Louisville will start off the 2013 season ranked in the top 20 in both major preseason polls. 

Underachiever: South Florida Bulls

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    South Florida was expected to be one of the teams that challenged Louisville for a Big East title in 2012. However, the Bulls instead turned out to be one of the most disappointing teams of the season. 

    After a 2-0 start, the season started to go downhill in a hurry. Ultimately, the Bulls lost nine of their last 10 games to finish just 3-9 and just 1-6 in Big East play. 

    The team's performance ended up costing head coach Skip Holtz his job. 

Overachiever: Stanford Cardinal

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    It's rare that a team can lose a once-in-a-generation type of star quarterback like Andrew Luck, and then win a conference championship the following season. But that's just what Stanford managed to do in 2012. 

    The Cardinal regrouped and adapted to life without Luck. They stormed through the Pac-12, beating the likes of Oregon, USC, UCLA (twice) and Oregon State to win a conference championship.

    David Shaw cemented his status as one of the premier head coaches in the country after guiding his team to a 12-2 record, a league title, a Rose Bowl victory and a Top-10 national ranking in 2012. 

Underachiever: Wisconsin Badgers

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    Wisconsin may have won its third straight Big Ten championship and made its third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. But in reality, the Badgers didn't even belong in either the conference championship game or Pasadena based on the way they played in 2012. 

    Luckily for them, the two teams that finished ahead of them in the Leaders division, Ohio State and Penn State, were both ineligible for postseason play. 

    If it weren't for that fortunate turn of events, Wisconsin would have just been another average six-loss team.

Overachiever: Fresno State Bulldogs

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    Fresno State's 2012 season may have ended on a sour note, as the Bulldogs turned in a no-show performance against SMU in a 43-10 loss in the Hawaii Bowl. But the season as a whole was actually a huge success. 

    First-year head coach Tim DeRuyter took over a team that went just 4-9 in 2011, and he helped turn Fresno State back into a conference contender. He transformed the Bulldogs from a nine-loss team to a nine-win team, and he turned the team's offense into one of the most efficient attacks in the country. 

    With the highly productive passing duo of QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams returning, Fresno State will definitely be a dangerous team to watch out for in 2013. 

Underachiever: Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas started off the 2012 season ranked No. 10 in both major polls. But it quickly became apparent that the Razorbacks just didn't possesses the type of determination to overcome the adversity of losing head coach Bobby Petrino. 

    After a less-than-impressive performance against Jacksonville State in the season-opener, Arkansas got shocked by Louisiana-Monroe 34-31 and then got blasted by Alabama 52-0 at home. 

    Ultimately, the team finished with just a 4-8 overall record and just a 2-6 record against SEC opponents. 

    It's obvious that Petrino's successor, John L. Smith, was not the right man to lead the team, and it didn't take long for the school to part ways with him following the season. 

Overachiever: Baylor Bears

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    Baylor had to replace its two best offensive players from 2011, Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and WR Kendall Wright, who were both first-round picks in the 2012 NFL draft. 

    Still, the Bears somehow managed to have one of the most lethal passing attacks in the country once again, even without Griffin and Wright in the lineup. 

    QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams both stepped up in a big way, as they helped the Baylor offense average 340 yards through the air per game, which ranked fourth in the country. 

    The Bears were able to ride that powerful passing attack to a surprising 8-5 record, and they managed to do much better than many thought they would without RGIII and Wright. 

Underachiever: Washington Huskies

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    Following a brilliant performance in the Alamo Bowl, in which he totaled 477 yards of offense and accounted for seven of his team's eight touchdowns, many were expecting a huge season from Washington QB Keith Price in 2012. 

    Unfortunately, Price and the Huskies simply weren't able to put it all together this season. 

    After a 3-1 start, which included a big upset win over Stanford, Washington went 4-5 the rest of the way, losing to archrival Washington State in the regular-season finale. 

    Neither Price nor the Huskies turned out to be as good as advertised. Following the team's mediocre performance in 2012, it's likely that coach Steve Sarkisian will be faced with a make-or-break season in 2013. 

Overachiever: Kent State Golden Flashes

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    Kent State isn't exactly a program that has a rich history of success. Going into the 2012 season, the Golden Flashes had endured a bowl drought that dated all the way back to their last postseason appearance, the 1972 Tangerine Bowl. They also hadn't had a winning season since the turn of the millennium. 

    That all changed in 2012, however, as coach Darrell Hazell guided the team to a surprising 11-win season and a MAC East division title. 

    RB Dri Archer was the team's key player. Archer finished the season ranked seventh in the nation with 1,990 total yards of offense, and he also accounted for 24 total touchdowns. 

    Although the Golden Flashes may have come up short of winning a MAC championship and earning a BCS bowl bid, Kent State still put together one of the greatest seasons in school history. 

Underachiever: Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Before this season, Iowa hadn't had a losing season under coach Kirk Ferentz since 2000. However, that streak was snapped in 2012, when the Hawkeyes finished with just a 4-8 record. 

    Iowa's offense, mainly the inconsistent play of QB James Vandenberg, was the main reason the team struggled so much. 

    The Hawkeyes ranked second to last in the Big Ten in both scoring offense and total offense, averaging just 19 points and 310 yards per game. 

    Ferentz is going to have to figure out a way for his offense to create more explosive plays in 2013, or else his team will likely suffer a similar fate next season. 

Overachiever: Vanderbilt Commodores

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    2012 may have only been James Franklin's second year as head coach at Vanderbilt. But that didn't stop him from leading the Commodores to one of the most successful seasons in school history. 

    Franklin guided the team to its first nine-win season since 1915. He capped it off with a big postseason victory over NC State in the Music City Bowl, which was just the school's second bowl win since 1982. 

    Vanderbilt is definitely playing with a new level of confidence and a new attitude now that Franklin's running the show. 

Underachiever: Houston Cougars

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    Remember when Houston went 13-1 and almost broke its way into a BCS bowl game in 2011?

    Well, if you watched the Cougars play this season, 2011 probably seems like a distant memory. 

    That's because the team looked completely different after losing head coach Kevin Sumlin and record-breaking QB Case Keenum. 

    Houston managed to win just five games in 2012. 

    Keenum's replacement, David Piland, looked nothing like his predecessor, as he completed just 57 percent of his passes and threw just 16 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. 

Overachiever: Arizona Wildcats

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    Rich Rodriguez was once considered one of the top head coaches in college football after turning West Virginia into a nationally relevant program. But his terrible three-year tenure at Michigan, in which he went just 15-22, clearly hurt his reputation. 

    Rodriguez took over at Arizona this past offseason, hoping to rebuild his legacy. It didn't take long for him to prove why he's considered to be one of the most intelligent offensive minds in the game. 

    The Wildcats won eight games in 2012. The team's offense finished the season ranked second in the Pac-12 in total offense and third in scoring offense after averaging 38 points and 526 yards per game. 

Underachiever: Tennessee Vols

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    There was a point early in the 2012 season when Tennessee was 2-0 heading into a big SEC East showdown with rival Florida in front of a national prime time audience. 

    That game seemed like it had the chance to be a turning point for coach Derek Dooley and his program. But alas, the Volunteers didn't rise to the occasion, and they lost to the Gators 37-20 in front of a disappointed home crowd. 

    Dooley's team just never seemed to recover from that major letdown performance. 

    Tennessee went on to lose six of its last eight games, and it only managed to win one game over a conference opponent, a 37-17 victory over a two-win Kentucky team. 

    The team's 5-7 record ended up costing Dooley his job after just three years in Knoxville. 

Overachiever: San Jose State Spartans

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    Before the 2012 season started, QB David Fales was just a little-known JUCO transfer, who had never started a major college football game before. It didn't take long, however, for Fales to prove that he was one of college football's most talented quarterbacks. 

    The strong-armed and accurate junior signal-caller was one of the most productive passers in the country, leading the nation with a 72 percent completion percentage and throwing for over 4,100 yards and 33 touchdowns. 

    Fales led the Spartans to a surprising 11-2 record, which was capped off by a big win in the Military BowlIt was the first double-digit win season that the program has experienced since moving up to the FBS level in 1996. 

Underachiever: California Golden Bears

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    Jeff Tedford went into 2012, knowing full well that he was sitting on one of the hottest seats in the country.

    Unfortunately for the coach, he wasn't able to cool it down, as the Golden Bears went just 3-9, which ended up costing Tedford his job after 11 seasons in Berkeley. 

    Cal's offense just couldn't seem to find a true identity in 2012. The unit averaged just 23 points per game, and it lacked explosiveness, finishing the season with just 164 plays of 10 yards or more. (The conference leader Arizona had 257 plays of 10 yards or more). 

Overachiever: North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Butch Davis knew how to bring top-tier talent to North Carolina. The problem was, Davis simply could never get the most out of all those blue-chip recruits. Plus, he couldn't run a clean program. 

    We'll have to wait and see if the Tar Heels' current coach Larry Fedora can reel in the same caliber of recruits that Davis did. But one thing's for sure, Fedora can certainly get the most out of his players. 

    He proved that during his first year in Chapel Hill, when he guided North Carolina to an 8-4 record and a first-place finish in the ACC Coastal division. 

Underachiever: NC State Wolfpack

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    Going into the 2012 season, NC State had one of the most highly rated senior quarterback prospects in the country, Mike Glennon, to lead its offense, and the most highly touted cornerback in the country, David Amerson, to lead its defense. 

    Unfortunately, neither Glennon nor Amerson played at the level that they were expected to.

    As it turned out, there just weren't enough other impact players on the Wolfpack to overcome the struggles of their two big names. 

    The team's disappointing 7-5 regular season record ended up costing coach Tom O'Brien his job. 

    NC State's upset win over No. 3-ranked Florida State at home in early October was really the team's only true highlight of the 2012 season. 

Overachiever: San Diego State Aztecs

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    This offseason, San Diego State had to replace its two key offensive leaders, QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman. However, their departures didn't prevent the Aztecs from putting together a highly successful season in 2012. 

    The team got tremendous performances from key impact players such as RB Adam Muema, TE Gavin Escobar, LB Jake Fely and CB Leon McFadden, who helped lead San Diego State to a 9-4 record. 

    The Aztecs' biggest win of the season was an upset victory over Boise State on the blue turf back on Nov. 3. It was just the second time the Broncos have lost at home during the Chris Petersen era. 

Underachiever: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    In 2012, Southern Miss became the first ever team to go from being a 12-win team to a 12-loss team the following year.

    This season, the Golden Eagles looked nothing like the team that stormed through Conference USA and won a league title in 2011. 

    The team lost all 12 of its games, finishing as the only winless team in the country. It lost by an average score of 37-19. 

    Ellis Johnson's first year at Southern Miss turned out to be his last, as he was promptly fired at the end of the season due to his team's embarrassing showing.

Overachiever: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    A lot of Rutgers fans didn't quite know what to expect from first-year head coach Kyle Flood, who took over for Greg Schiano, following Schiano's departure for the NFL. 

    Those fans ended up getting a pleasant surprise, though.

    Flood led the Scarlet Knights to nine wins and very nearly led them to a Big East championship and the school's first ever BCS bowl berth. 

    The season ended in disappointing fashion with back-to-back losses to Louisville and then to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. However, overall, Flood's first season in charge turned out to be a very impressive campaign. 

Underachiever: Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Tim Beckman's offense at Illinois in 2012 looked nothing like the high-powered attack that he was in charge of at Toledo back in 2011. 

    In fact, the Illini offense was an utter disaster, ranking 122nd in the nation in both total offense and scoring offense, averaging just 16 points and 296 yards per game. 

    The defense, which had plenty of talent including future NFL draft picks such as DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence and CB Terry Hawthorne, was also a major disappointment. 

    Obviously, the 2-10 campaign is one that Beckman, his players and Illinois fans would love to quickly forget about. 

Overachiever: Ball State Cardinals

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    Going into the 2012 season, Ball State only had two winning seasons in the prior 10 years. But the Cardinals certainly didn't seem to lack confidence. Led by the fantastic play of RB Jahwan Edwards, who ran for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, Ball State reeled off nine wins and made it to just its sixth bowl game ever. 

    The Cardinals may have been overshadowed by other more prominent MAC teams such as Northern Illinois and Kent State. However, they were still one of the league's most successful teams in 2012. 

Underachiever: BYU Cougars

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    In its first season as an independent in 2011, BYU compiled an impressive 10-3 record. However, the Cougars took a step back in their second season of independence. 

    Although the team got plenty of terrific individual performances from the likes of WR Cody Hoffman, DE Ezekiel Ansah and LB Kyle Van Noy, it didn't result in a ton of wins. BYU finished the regular season with just a 7-5 record before beating San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl

    Although 2012 wasn't as successful of a year as fans wanted to see, there are still a lot of reasons to be optimistic about next season. Both Hoffman and Van Noy have passed up the chance to be high NFL draft picks in order to come back to Provo for their senior years.

Overachiever: Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Todd Graham's first season at Arizona State went a lot smoother than his first and only season at Pitt did in 2011. After leaving the Panthers high and dry following a 6-6 season, Graham came out to Tempe, hoping to establish himself as one of the top coaches in the Pac-12. 

    Following an 8-5 season in his first year, it looks like he's well on his way to doing just that. 

    The Sun Devils played with a different type of confidence and attitude under Graham than they did under former head coach Dennis Erickson. 

    With plenty of key impact players such as DT Will Sutton, QB Taylor Kelly and RB Marion Grice returning, Graham's squad has a chance to be even better in 2013. 

Underachiever: Missouri Tigers

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    Missouri's first season in the SEC wasn't anywhere near as successful as fellow conference newcomer Texas A&M's was. 

    The Tigers often looked overwhelmed by the level of competition that they faced in their new league in 2012. They finished the season just 5-7 overall and just 2-6 against league opponents. 

    They're clearly going to have a lot of work to do this offseason if they want to compete with the likes of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC East in 2013. 

Overachiever: East Carolina Pirates

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    A year after going just 4-4 against Conference USA teams, and finishing just 5-7 overall, East Carolina looked like a much better team in 2012. 

    The Pirates finished the season with a 7-1 record against league opponents, and they had their first winning season of the Ruffin McNeill era. 

    Following the team's impressive 2012 campaign, East Carolina will go into the 2013 season as one of the favorites to win the Conference USA championship. 

Underachiever: Washington State Cougars

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    When it was announced that Mike Leach would return to the sideline and become the head coach of Washington State, many Cougars fans were expecting him to give a big boost to the team's unproductive offense. 

    As it turned out, however, Leach's first season was much more of a struggle than a success. 

    Washington State finished just 3-9 and just 1-8 against Pac-12 competition. The team's offense showed little signs of improvement, as the Cougars ranked 108th in the nation in scoring, averaging just 18 points per game. 

    It's hard to judge Leach after just one year, especially since the team he inherited had fallen so far under previous coach Paul Wulff. However, fans would have at least liked to see more points and more production from the offense in 2012.