25 Surprises That Could Shake Up College Football in 2013
Winning in college football often comes down to a matter of inches and execution.
Boise State knocked off Oklahoma in 2007 in one of the most shocking upsets in history by virtue of excellent execution on the old "statue of liberty" play.
Georgia lost to Alabama in the 2012 SEC title game when the Bulldogs couldn't successfully gain the last few yards needed for a touchdown.
Little actions, performed by incredible athletes at high rates of speed, can mean the difference between a national title and relative obscurity.
The 25 players, coaches and teams listed here have the greatest chance at surprising this season and leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of college football.
25. Washington Huskies
Oregon and Stanford are the presumed favorites to win the Pac-12 North.
Whichever one wins the Nov. 7 showdown at Stanford should be one of the favorites to reach the BCS title game.
Unless Washington throws a kink in the works.
Quarterback Keith Price regressed a bit last season, throwing 13 interceptions and only 19 touchdowns. But in 2011, Price was one of the hottest commodities around.
He threw for 3,063 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, and he led the Washington offense to nearly 410 yards per game.
With another season to grasp the system, a deep offensive line and an underrated running back in Bishop Sankey, the Huskies will have enough offensive firepower to beat anyone on their schedule.
If they upset Oregon, Stanford or both, chaos would reign.
24. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
BYU has had quarterback issues the past few seasons. Injuries and controversy have been the order of the day, resulting in inconsistent play at the position.
Taysom Hill will be the answer for Bronco Mendenhall's squad.
The young quarterback has the arm, speed and smarts to make an impact as the Cougars' starting quarterback.
He went down with an injury early last season, but if he can stay healthy for the entire year, he will help contribute to some big wins for BYU.
23. Gary Andersen, HC, Wisconsin
Bret Bielema is gone from Wisconsin, taking his blowhard ways to Arkansas with him.
In spite of Bielema's foibles, the man was successful as the head coach at Wisconsin. Three consecutive conference titles say so.
But he could not get Wisconsin over the hump. The team has lost three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, two of them with Bielema at the helm.
Utah State has long been a bastion of mediocrity, but Andersen changed that. The Aggies finished the last two seasons 7-6 and 11-2, and Utah State has enough talent to compete for a BCS berth in 2013.
He took a terrible program and turned it around, and now he inherits a very successful program loaded with talent.
Ohio State is the favorite to win the conference and go undefeated again in 2013.
Andersen and the Badgers have a shot at upsetting the Buckeyes on Sept. 28 in Columbus. That would change the landscape of the 2013 season.
22. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has the opportunity to make a huge splash in 2013.
The young quarterback struggled at times last season, tying for the nation's lead in interceptions.
But if he can cut back on that number, the Rebels will have a great chance to pull off some major upsets this season.
Should they beat Texas A&M or (gasp) Alabama, the entire landscape of college football might shift on its axis.
The ability of Wallace to shake off those interceptions and "feed Moncrief" will determine whether this team can be a difference-maker in the SEC.
21. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Ra'Shede Hageman, the converted tight end who's primed to do big things for Minnesota on defense, is a freak.
He's going to be anchoring a defense that needs a lift along the front seven, and with his tremendous physical tools, Hageman can be a huge contributor.
He had a solid offseason, has huge expectations on his shoulders and plays for a team that has the chance to play spoiler in the Big Ten.
Watch out for this guy when the Gophers play teams such as Wisconsin and Ohio State.
20. Bernardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
As a freshman in 2012, Mississippi State linebacker Bernardrick McKinney posted 102 tackles.
He's going to have more in 2013.
He came to the Bulldogs as a former quarterback, and he's now one of the more imposing linebackers in the SEC.
Against teams with a strong running game, McKinney will be key to slowing the attack.
This team is going to surprise a few folks along the way in 2013, led by the play of quarterback Tyler Russell.
However, the play of McKinney and others on his side of the ball will determine just how big the year is for the Bulldogs.
19.Lane Kiffin, HC, USC
Lane Kiffin and his Trojans fell woefully short of their intended goal last season, falling from preseason No. 1 to postseason afterthought over the course of the 2012 campaign.
Entering 2013, expectations are not that high for the Trojans, especially given the emergence of UCLA and Arizona State, and the continued dominance of Oregon and Stanford.
This is madness.
Kiffin may not seem to know his head from a hole in the ground at times, but if he can figure out his quarterback situation, this team is going to be extremely dangerous.
Morgan Breslin is one of the top defensive linemen in the nation, while Marqise Lee will be seeking recognition as the best wide receiver in college football. Running back Silas Redd is back, and though recovering from an injury, he is expected to take the field early in the year.
This team has talent all over the field, so it should not surprise anyone when Kiffin leads it to a much better record than anticipated.
After all, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.
18. Nebraska Cornhuskers
There are plenty of folks that have picked the Huskers to find their way to the Big Ten title game for consecutive seasons.
But this team is capable of so much more than that.
Without having to meet Wisconsin or Ohio State this season, Nebraska avoids two of its toughest conference competitors. The team gets to host Michigan State and Northwestern, leaving a trip to Michigan as the most challenging game on the schedule.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is the key.
After struggling with turnovers for the first three years of his career, he has a chance to change others' perceptions of him and leave a mark on the national landscape in 2013.
A few big wins for Martinez and head coach Bo Pelini, and instead of Big Ten also-rans, these Huskers could land a national title berth.
But it would be a surprise.
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
At the risk of sounding a little like Lou Holtz, the Irish are included here.
The loss of quarterback Everett Golson to eligibility issues and Manti Te'o to the NFL does not in any way leave this team bereft of talent.
Prince Shembo, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are all monsters on the defensive side of the ball, while running back George Atkinson is a stud, and quarterback Tommy Rees is no stranger to starting football games.
So, rather than the headlong tailspin into a flaming crash that many are expecting, this Notre Dame team will find a way to finish with no more than two losses on its resume this season.
That would leave it in good position to play in another BCS game.
16. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Kevin Wilson is doing big things at Indiana, and eventually he is going to pull off an upset of epic proportions.
The Hoosiers have been one of the worst football teams in all of the BCS conferences for quite some time now, but little by little, Wilson is changing that perception.
He has a trio of quarterbacks, including dual threat Tre Roberson, who can put up points in a hurry, and a high-tempo offensive philosophy that is on par with Chip Kelly and Gus Malzahn's.
Indiana, while not a conference title contender, will knock off at least one team who is in 2013.
15. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Montee Ball, the NCAA record holder in career touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, is gone, and Wisconsin must replace his production.
Not that this has been a problem in the past, as death, taxes and good running backs at Wisconsin are all sure things.
James White is at the top of the depth chart currently, but Melvin Gordon is the guy that should have opponents nervous.
The Badgers offense will need to have a strong showing from the rushing game this season, as Curt Phillips and Joel Stave are not exactly Joe Montana.
Gordon is a monster who averaged 10 yards per carry last season on 62 carries. That's a first down every rushing attempt as the third-string running back in 2012.
Given more opportunities, it is almost certain that his average will drop, but Gordon is clearly a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
His talent could be the difference against Arizona State and Ohio State.
14. Missouri Tigers
Remember when we all thought Missouri might be able to compete in the SEC and Texas A&M would struggle.
Maybe it was just me, but that seemed to be a common feeling among prognosticators heading into the 2012 season.
That did not end well.
Missouri is heading into a big year, though, as Dorial Green-Beckham begins to mature at wide receiver and quarterback James Franklin looks to earn back some of his mojo.
If head coach Gary Pinkel can keep himself out of trouble, he has the talent on the field to make Missouri a player in the race to the SEC title game.
The Tigers won't be there, but they could knock off a Florida or South Carolina team that is overlooking them.
13. Mack Brown, HC, Texas
Prior to the last three seasons, it would have been tough to argue against Mack Brown as one of the top three coaches in the college football universe.
Now, it is tough to argue that he should keep his job.
Everything is lining up for Brown and the Longhorns in 2013, from a weaker Big 12 to a plethora of returning starters, and there is plenty of potential here.
With the right breaks, Brown could lead his team to a BCS title game appearance for the first time since the 2009 edition.
12. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
Georgia has a problem, or so it would appear on paper.
Jarvis Jones was the unquestioned leader of this defense last year. He was arguably the best defensive player in the country.
He's gone, and you don't just replace 24.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and four passes defended.
Jordan Jenkins is the man tasked with filling the gaping hole left by Jones.
He's talented and quick from sideline to sideline, and he posted eight tackles for loss last season.
He has big shoes to fill but doesn't have to fill them completely. The Dawgs have gotten very good at reloading on defense, and while Jenkins needs to pick up his game, there is plenty of talent surrounding him that will help pick up the slack.
Don't be surprised to see Jenkins' play help solidify a defense that has some questions as of now.
11. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Two of the last four national champions have won the title with a quarterback who hadn't started prior to that season.
Two of the last four Heisman winners have been mobile quarterbacks that took over a solid program and turned it into an offensive juggernaut.
So why not Florida State and Jameis Winston?
The Seminoles lost plenty of talent but still return some depth, and Winston appears capable of putting up huge numbers for Jumbo Fisher's team.
Keep an eye on this team, and particularly Winston, throughout the course of the next season, as his level of play will determine where FSU ends up in the postseason.
10. Bill Snyder, HC, Kansas State
At this point, it should come as no surprise when Bill Snyder manages to surprise us.
Who saw him cobbling together a BCS bowl-caliber team from what he has had to work with in Manhattan in recent seasons.
Collin Klein had the throwing acumen of Tim Tebow on a bad day, while the defense that was one of the best in the Big 12 was littered with JUCO transfers and everyday players who elevated under the tutelage of Snyder and his staff.
So this is pretty much a safe bet.
Bill Snyder, in spite of attrition and a tough schedule, is going to have this Kansas State team in contention for the conference title at season's end.
And all of us will act surprised.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
Yes, Northwestern is ranked heading into the season.
However, nobody is predicting it to win the Big Ten.
The Wildcats would have to get through Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, but there is no reason to believe they can't beat out Michigan and Nebraska for the Big Ten Leaders division if the chips fall right for them.
Pat Fitzgerald is a coach on the rise, and with plenty of talent returning, this edition of the Wildcats has an excellent chance to pull off some big upsets and find its way into the Big Ten title game.
8. Miami Hurricanes
Al Golden has his Miami Hurricanes right where they ought to be.
The team is returning 19 starters, including five on the offensive line, quarterback Stephen Morris and extremely talented running back Duke Johnson, who can be compared to a rocket with legs.
The 'Canes not only have the potential to change the ACC race in a drastic manner, but they also are talented enough to make some noise on a national level.
Miami's game against Florida in Week 2 is going to be the perfect opportunity for the team to make a statement.
If the Hurricanes can beat out North Carolina in the race to the ACC title game, Clemson (my projected ACC Atlantic Division winner) will have its hands full.
It has been far too long since Miami was considered elite.
This team has a chance to take the program back to that status.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Yes, the Sun Devils are the trendy pick to win the Pac-12 South in 2013.
But why stop there?
The offensive is loaded with talent, including returning quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Folks like to tout South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney as the best defensive lineman in the nation, but Will Sutton has a different opinion.
The defensive tackle posted the same number of tackles for loss as Clowney last season, 23.5, and did it as an interior lineman, a much more difficult accomplishment.
Besides Sutton's return, the Sun Devils also field linebacker Carl Bradford.
All Bradford did last season was post 21.5 tackles for loss of his own.
That's 45 tackles for loss between them.
Todd Graham has a wealth of talent, especially on defense, and could very easily find a way to come out of the Pac-12 as the conference champion.
This would definitely shake things up for those predicting Stanford or Oregon to make the national title game.
6. Gary Patterson, HC, TCU
Gary Patterson and his TCU Horned Frogs transitioned into the Big 12 last season and found the going a little tough. The team finished well out of the conference title race.
That will all change in 2013.
Patterson's defense will be solid, as it always is, while the return of Casey Pachall to lead the offense will help the unit compete with other high-scoring Big 12 teams.
While a national title is too much to hope for this season from the Horned Frogs, the Big 12 is up for grabs, and Patterson and his team could certainly deliver an upset or two that could change the face of the postseason.
5. BYU Cougars
BYU's schedule is ridiculous this season.
Texas, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia, Boise State and Wisconsin are all on the docket for 2013.
While it is difficult to see the Cougars finishing the season in a way that sees them qualify for a BCS game, they could have a major impact on the postseason, nonetheless.
Texas has as good a shot at finishing undefeated at anyone in the Big 12, but a loss to BYU would all but ensure that the team would not make the BCS title game.
Notre Dame is a similar situation. BYU has the defense to slow the Irish, and a loss by Notre Dame to the Cougars would be a devastating blow to its BCS hopes.
The same for Boise State. A team that needs to finish undefeated would see its title hopes slip away with a loss to BYU in its meeting.
So while the Cougars have a slim shot at a BCS game, it is almost certain that this team will have an impact on the season in a big way.
4. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina open the season with legitimate national title aspirations.
A loss to North Carolina in the season opener would pretty much derail those chances.
For that to happen, Bryn Renner will have to demonstrate why he is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football.
He threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season.
And yet, he seems to be routinely overlooked during "best quarterbacks in 2013" conversations.
A win over South Carolina due to a big game from Renner would not only shock the Gamecocks, it would help cement Renner as a legit NFL prospect heading into 2013.
3. Fresno State Bulldogs
There have been several "BCS busters" in the history of the system.
2013 offers up its own variety of potential non-BCS teams who have the talent and schedule to finish near the top of the BCS rankings and find a way into a BCS bowl.
Fresno State would be a surprise, for sure.
Under former head coach Pat Hill, Fresno State earned a reputation for being willing to take on any opponent, anytime, anywhere.
In spite of some really good wins and decent seasons, the Bulldogs were never able to make it into the BCS.
That could change in 2013.
Quarterback Derek Carr is extremely talented, and he gets his two leading receivers back.
The Bulldogs have one of the first games of the season on Thursday, August 29, against Rutgers.
That game provides an opportunity for Carr and the Bulldogs to state their case on national television.
2. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Until this guy is accepted across the country as a top-three quarterback, articles like this need to be written.
Cato's stats from 2012 are ridiculous.
He threw for 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions, where he is clearly limited by the talent of those around him.
Marshall is in for a grueling fight to win the Conference USA and has next to no shot at earning a BCS berth, but with a trip to Virginia Tech looming early in the season, Cato will have a chance to lead the Thundering Herd to a big win.
1. Frank Beamer, HC, Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer, the longest tenured head coach currently leading a college football program, is the head coach in the best position to deliver the most shocking surprise of the season.
The Hokies open their year against Alabama, in a game that most anticipate will be a practice session for the Tide as they steam roll the Hokies.
But what if they don't?
What if Beamer and his staff find a way to coach up the rest of the offense, and quarterback Logan Thomas finally lives up to the potential that has been identified in each of the past two seasons?
Beamer's Hokies would hand the Tide a loss that would be a crushing blow to Alabama's national title hopes.
Now, back in reality land, we know this is incredibly unlikely, but after watching college football for any length of time, one learns that nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.