It's the most wonderful time of the year, and no, I'm not talking about the holidays. It's bowl season. As the college football season enters its final weeks, the postseason will become clearer. The national media will, of course, keep a watchful eye on the BCS games and the National Championship.
What about the rest? There are a number of very solid football teams missing from the Top 25 that are sure to give any opponent a hard way to go. Let's take a closer look at some of the unranked programs with a great shot at a bowl victory this year.
1. Miami Hurricanes
Once upon a time, the Hurricanes were 7-0 and starting to emerge as a dark horse national title contender. Losses at Florida State, at home to Virginia Tech and at Duke ended talks of both the national title and the ACC championship.
The Hurricanes rank 31st nationally in points per game, averaging 35.5 per contest. The Hurricanes can beat you through the air, on the ground and with their defense.
Senior quarterback Stephen Morris has thrown for 2,572 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Sophomore running back Duke Johnson has rushed for 920 yards with six touchdowns. His counterpart Dallas Crawford has rushed for 501 yards and 12 touchdowns, while top receiver Allen Hurns has 965 receiving yards.
The Hurricanes avoided major NCAA sanctions from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and appear to be on the rise nationally. This spells disaster for the unfortunate team paired up with Miami this bowl season.
2. East Carolina Pirates
The Pirates don't get much national attention because of their small market, soft schedule and small conference. Make no mistake about it. The Pirates are legit. East Carolina is a five point loss to Virginia Tech and an overtime loss at Tulane away from a perfect season.
The Pirates rank 12th nationally in points per game, averaging nearly 42 points a game. They use an air attack offense to move the ball up and down the field. ECU ranks 10th nationally in passing yards per game, averaging 335.2 yards a game. Quarterback Shane Carden has thrown for 3,575 yards with 32 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Because of the bowl tie-ins Conference USA has, the Pirates will likely not be matched up against a powerhouse opponent. That's a real shame because it would be interesting to see how that high-flying offense would match up against a big time defense.
I feel for the secondary that has to handle this passing attack.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels are a team being overlooked by many analysts on a national level. This is no doubt because of the modest 7-4 record the Rebels currently possess. Those four losses came at Alabama, at Auburn and at home against Texas A&M and Missouri. Those losses are understandable when you consider those teams are currently ranked No. 1, 4, 5 and 19.
The Rebels are coming out of the toughest conference in America: the SEC. They rank in the top 50 in rushing yards, passing yards and points allowed per game. Ole Miss has been battle-tested throughout the season, and that will help them tremendously in the postseason.
The grind of an SEC season should give the Rebels a manageable and winnable bowl game regardless of the opponent.
Anything can happen during bowl season, but you can bank on Miami, East Carolina and Ole Miss giving whatever team they match up with a few sleepless nights.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.