The Florida Gulf Coast basketball team went from being a tiny school that nobody had ever heard of to the story of the NCAA Tournament. In just one season, the Eagles were able to put their school on the map and it has allowed for bigger and better things to take place. The players' faces are now known across the country, and the head coach is receiving a hard look from prestigious programs.
Which team has the best chance to become the Florida Gulf Coast of college football this season?
It is much harder to become an overnight success in college football than college basketball. There isn't a tournament in place that allows for the hot team to make a short run. This is a brutal 12-game stretch where usually the more talented team ends up winning. So, in this case, we are forced to go with teams that aren't even on your radar that could end up not only surpassing last year’s win total, but finish in the top 25 of the AP Poll.
Who knows, there may even be a potential BCS bowl in the future for one of these schools.
Here are the college football teams that could have everybody buzzing the same way Florida Gulf Coast did in college basketball.
Middle Tennessee will have a much more difficult schedule this season with the switch from the Sun Belt to C-USA. However, this is a team that returns 17 starters and the tougher schedule may actually play in the Blue Raiders favor this year.
They should be very little problems scoring the football with quarterback Logan Kilgore returning for his third full season as a starter. Finishing 77th in the country in scoring offense last year, those numbers should improve drastically with a loaded backfield led by Jeremiah Bryson, Reggie Whatley and LSU-transfer Drayton Calhoun.
Defense will be the concern with this football team, finishing ninth in the Sun Belt last season. But who are we kidding? Last year there were eight teams in C-USA that allowed more than 400 total yards on average. This is an offensive conference, and the Blue Raiders have more than enough firepower to keep up with anybody the schedule-makers want to throw at them.
This program surprised the college football world back in 2009 with 10 victories, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see another similar season this year.
You could make an argument that last season Utah State was the Florida Gulf Coast of college football. With 11 victories, including a bowl win, the Aggies were certainly riding high on their most successful season in program history.
But most were focused on either Notre Dame or Alabama to even notice. Seriously, did you know this team finished No. 16 in the AP Poll last season? Things were done so quietly, Utah State still has a few folks it can wake up.
There will be some major concerns with this squad heading into the new year. One has to do with the move from the WAC to the MWC, and the other is the fact Gary Anderson is no longer around as head coach. Still, 18 starters return, including a starting quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, as well as seven starters defensively that helped the Aggies finish first in total defense in the WAC a year ago.
New head coach Matt Wells is comfortable with the program and the transition should be a rather easy one.
Don't expect Utah State to fall off the map so quickly.
Bowling Green has not won a MAC title since the 1992 season, but that could change this year. With 19 returning starters, this is a roster that is flooded with seniors that are hungry to build on last year’s 8-5 finish.
The Falcons had the best defense in the MAC last season, and with nine starters on that side of the ball returning, don't expect much of a drop off. Finishing with 38 sacks and allowing less than 300 total yards, this is a unit that gets after it and will be expected to put up even better numbers with another year under its belt.
Much like Middle Tennessee, the offense is where the concerns come into play. Averaging 22.9 points per contest is simply not good enough to take that next step. With the future up in the air when it comes to leading rusher Anthon Samuel, an increase in offensive production is going to have to come from somewhere.
Even with the offensive struggles, Bowling Green is an experienced and feisty team on the defensive side of the ball. In a competitive MAC, it won't be easy, but there are enough pieces in place for the Falcons to win double-digit games for the first time since 2003.
UTSA didn't receive much attention as last year was the very first season as an FBS member.
How about an 8-4 season in the WAC?
It seems like everything is happening so fast for this program, as now the Roadrunners will be a member of C-USA this season.
The good news is there are 19 returning starters from last year’s squad. There is also an experienced head coach in Larry Coker, who has had major success as a football coach dating back to his days with the Miami Hurricanes.
This isn't a team that is going to blow the doors off of anybody, and there are sure to be plenty of close games. The depth isn't on the roster, the offensive line is a concern and there really aren't many playmakers on either side of the ball. Although you can't write this team off just like that, because there were eight victories last year and there is a favorable schedule in the first season in the new conference.
With an experienced head coach and a roster that is only missing three starters from a year ago, UTSA can continue to get off to an impressive start into the big-boy football league.
Miami is still considered by many to be a powerhouse football program, but wouldn't it be a surprise if the Hurricanes were to make a serious run at a BCS bowl?
Don't rule it out just yet.
While you are likely laughing at the Hurricanes struggles, this is a program that is actually making progress under head coach Al Golden. There were six victories in his first year and then, despite losing nearly his entire roster heading into 2012, Golden was able to string together seven victories, showing that sanctions can't slow him down.
Now when you throw in the fact there are 19 starters returning, including 10 from an offense that averaged 440 total yards, that explosiveness may finally be back in Miami. Of course, the defense was godawful a season ago, but with nine familiar faces back in the lineup, it can't be that bad again, right?
Quick question: How many teams in the ACC can you count as being a conference contender? You couldn't even fill up one hand. Why not throw the Hurricanes in the conversation as a potential sleeper?
Assuming everything gets settled with the NCAA and Miami is allowed to compete for a conference title and bowl game, this is a team that could jump back on the scene rather quickly.
You may call it a long shot, but just look at Florida Gulf Coast.