On Friday, USA TODAY ushered in a new season of college football by producing the preseason coaches poll. Not only does this offer insight into how the coaches view the upcoming college football season, but it offers us an opportunity to study which teams are flying under the radar.
The question is, which teams will outplay their preseason ranking?
Certain squads have lost significant pieces, thus leading to their inevitable drop down the rankings. Fortunately, they return enough quality personnel to overcome the absence of graduated leaders and NFL draftees.
Others are coming off of underwhelming seasons, thus leading to the rational belief that they'll struggle to win in 2013. Even as they performed strong by the average standard, they failed to perform at the level of a contender.
Here are the teams that will defy the odds and prove to be better than their preseason rankings.
No. 19 Boise State Broncos
The Boise State Broncos enter this season with just 12 starters returning from the year prior. With that being said, Boise State doesn't have a single ranked opponent on its schedule and, assuming the Broncos get past Keith Price and the Washington Huskies on Aug. 31, will be in familiar territory.
Boise State will be in contention to finish the regular season undefeated.
There's no question that one slip-up would force the Broncos far down the rankings, but their "tough opponents" are Mountain West squads that failed to put 10 wins on the board last season. This is not to sell their efforts short but to acknowledge the facts: Boise State is favored in every game.
And rightfully so.
Quarterback Joe Southwick returns after throwing for 2,730 yards and 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions last season. Keep in mind, this is the same quarterback who completed 66.8 percent of his passes in his first year as a starter.
Both Matt Miller and Kirby Moore, his top two receivers, are in the mix with tight end Holden Huff, who caught four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.
The loss of running back D.J. Harper hurts, but Jay Ajayi displayed promise after picking up 548 yards and four touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman. As long as the defense can come together, and we trust Chris Petersen to make that happen, Boise State will be in undefeated territory.
Closing out is another story, but there's every reason to believe the Broncos will finish better than No. 19 in the final standings.
No. 18 Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Nebraska Cornhuskers enter this season with a trio of offensive stars with big-play ability. Those players, of course, are running back Ameer Abdullah, wide receiver Kenny Bell and dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez.
If they were ever going to come together and compete for a title, why not now?
Losing Rex Burkhead hurts, but they were forced to play six games without him in 2012. In that time, Abdullah emerged as a star, running for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns, despite picking up 10 carries or less in five separate games.
Martinez, meanwhile, posted career-best marks in completions, yards, completion percentage, passing touchdowns and rushing yards.
Losing players such as defensive end Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith hurts, as Nebraska's front seven has become a major question mark. That puts a mountain of pressure on defensive tackle Thaddeus Randle and defensive end Jason Ankrah, who offer experience for the Huskers on defense.
How well the front seven performs will dictate how far the team will go, but with an offense this powerful, Nebraska is bound to crack the top 15.
No. 21 UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins made tremendous improvements during their first season under Jim L. Mora, reaching the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game. In 2013, the Bruins will be expected to build upon that success.
Don't be shocked to see them do so.
Losing running back Johnathan Franklin is a devastating blow, as he accounted for 15 touchdowns in 2012. With that being said, Brett Hundley is a hybrid quarterback on the brink of superstardom.
First-year numbers of 29 passing touchdowns and nine rushing scores provide evidence to that.
Behind Hundley's heroics, the Bruins should be the front-runner in the Pac-12 South. With leading receiver Shaq Evans and versatile running backs Jordon James and Damien Thigpen, the flow of the offense should be among the best in the nation.
The only question is whether or not their defense can shoulder the load.
Anthony Barr is one of the best pass-rushers in the nation, picking up 13.5 sacks in 2012 to finish second to Jarvis Jones. The losses of Andrew Abbott and Sheldon Price could hurt his effectiveness, but the Bruins have a star quarterback.
Finishing at No. 21 or lower with Hundley under center simply seems too unlikely to transpire.
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