NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2013: Modestly-Ranked Teams That Will Surprise

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2013

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 03: Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers throws a third quarter pass while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium Stadium on November 3, 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. Nebraska won the game 28-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While things seem to change quickly once college football season begins, every fan loves to pick apart the preseason rankings. They ultimately don't mean a ton, since the highly ranked teams need to win in order to keep their spots, but the rankings do provide an interesting look at how certain teams are expected to perform.

Not surprisingly, the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide are expected to reach that level again, while Ohio State is considered a title contender as well after an undefeated 2012 campaign. Add in perennial contenders like Oregon and Stanford as well, and there aren't a lot of controversial rankings thus far.

With that said, there are bound to be some teams that emerge from relative obscurity to contend for BCS bowl berths. Here are three teams in particular that were ranked modestly by USA Today but will prove by the end of the season that they were slighted.


USA Today Preseason Rankings



With each passing season, it seems as though the Nebraska Cornhuskers are always in the mix for a spot in a BCS bowl. That hasn't changed since they made the jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten a couple seasons ago, either. The Huskers qualified for the Big Ten Championship Game last season, and although they fell short of their ultimate goal, Nebraska did take on Georgia in a high-profile Capital One Bowl encounter. The Huskers finished the year 10-4, and they have something to build upon this season.

Nebraska's strength in recent years has been its defense, as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh helped make the Huskers a defensive power several years back, but that aspect of their game was terribly inconsistent last season.

While Nebraska's defense may be an iffy proposition at times in 2013, the Huskers should have no issue scoring points. Nebraska was an explosive offensive team last season, and it returns most of its top contributors this year.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez has been much maligned during his tenure in Lincoln, but 2013 is his senior year, and he now has a ton of experience under his belt. Martinez is one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, which is something that was on display last year as he racked up nearly 4,000 total yards and 33 touchdowns.

Leading rusher Ameer Abdullah is also back in the fold, as is leading receiver Kenny Bell. Assuming the Huskers can remain healthy on offense, they stand a great chance to win the Legends Division and return to the Big Ten Championship Game.



Another unheralded team that deserves more hype this season is UCLA. The Bruins are constantly overshadowed by USC, Stanford and Oregon in the Pac 12, but perhaps that shouldn't be the case. Out of all those teams, UCLA is the only one who made the Pac 12 Championship Game in 2011 and 2012.

Although the Bruins lost both of those contests, they gave Oregon a tough game two years ago, and very nearly knocked off Stanford the next year. The Bruins are only ranked No. 21 heading into the season, but they are favored to represent the South Division in the title game yet again.

Like Nebraska, UCLA gave up way too many points at times, but it was often able to make up for it through great offensive production. That had much to do with quarterback Brett Hundley, who was spectacular as a redshirt freshman. Hundley played like a veteran quarterback as he racked up more than 4,000 total yards and an impressive 38 total touchdowns. Hundley's accuracy was arguably his best trait, as he completed two-thirds of his passes and constantly kept the Bruins in games.

With that said, UCLA is dealing with a big loss on offense, as running back Johnathan Franklin is now with the Green Bay Packers of the NFL. Franklin rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, so the Bruins have a big hole to fill. Hundley figures to carry even more of the load as a sophomore, though, and since UCLA plays in a decidedly weak division with USC as the only true threat, it should be in line for another strong season.

Coincidentally, the Huskers and Bruins meet on Sept. 14, so the winner of that game may very well be the surprise team of the year. Even the loser stands a good chance of turning some heads, however, thanks to favorable situations.


Boise State

The Boise State Broncos were expected to have a difficult transition into life without Kellen Moore, but the perennial BCS crashers very nearly made a BCS bid yet again last season.

The Broncos were Mountain West champions by virtue of an 11-2 record that saw them lose two games by a combined six points. Had the Broncos found a way to steal those two games, they would have been in familiar territory. Even so, they went on to beat Washington in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas and ended the season ranked No. 18 in the nation.

Boise State opens this season ranked No. 19 in USA Today's poll, and while that seems fairly accurate now, it could change in a hurry. The Broncos went through such a big transition last season that it's amazing they had as good of a year as they did. In addition to losing Moore, who is the all-time leader in wins for a quarterback at the FBS level, Boise State lost running back Doug Martin, who had a monster rookie year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that saw him earn a Pro Bowl berth.

As has long been the case at Boise State, though, other players stepped up and continued the momentum. Much of that came on the defensive side of the ball, but there should be even more progression offensively this season.

Quarterback Joe Southwick is entering his senior year, and he should be comfortable in his second year as a starter. Southwick wasn't leaned on too heavily last season, but improving upon his 2,700-yard, 19-touchdown campaign won't be an issue. Also, running back Jay Ajayi averaged nearly seven yards per carry as a backup last season. The explosive back will finally get an opportunity to start, and he could potentially contend for conference player of the year honors. Aside from a season-opening game against Washington, there aren't many difficult opponents on Boise State's schedule this season. That alone makes the Broncos a BCS threat.


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