Who saw these guys as SEC champions?
With the 2013 college football regular season in the book, it’s time to look back at some of the players and teams that surpassed preseason expectations.
In the ACC, a constant cellar dweller proved that it deserves to be considered among the conference’s best. Elsewhere, a first-year starter carried his team to the first Big 12 title in school history. Meanwhile, the SEC title was decided by two teams who combined for just two conference wins a year ago.
All in all, this was a college football season that was more than friendly to several underdogs across the nation.
Here are 10 of the teams and players who should be considered the biggest overachievers in 2013.
Williams is easily one of the biggest surprises in college football this season.
Season Stats: 329 CAR, 2,102 YDS, 17 TDS
Running back Andre Williams can be credited for single-handedly helping the Eagles improve in head coach Steve Addazio’s first year at the helm.
Last year, Boston College struggled to a 2-10 mark. Although Williams led the team in rushing, he only accounted for 584 yards and four scores on the year.
Nobody saw his 2013 campaign coming.
In 12 games, the senior absolutely crushed it. His 2,102 rushing yards blows away his total of 1,562 yards over his first three seasons with the Eagles.
Furthermore, Williams was consistently dominant. He rushed for 160 yards or more in seven games this season.
Williams’ play has earned him a trip to New York City for Saturday’s Heisman Trophy presentation, via ESPN.
Although he doesn’t have a realistic shot of winning the award, the fact that Williams made it to the ceremony on a five-loss team is impressive enough.
Cutcliffe (center) has brought the Duke football program a long way.
2013 W-L: 10-3
Unless we’re speaking basketball, the Blue Devils just aren’t expected to do too much winning.
However, in 2013, head coach David Cutcliffe and his squad proved that the school also knows how to play football.
After just nine games, Duke secured its first winning season since 1994. Furthermore, the team recorded its first 10-win season in school history.
But most impressive was the fact that the Blue Devils wound up playing in the ACC title game for the first time ever.
Although a lot of the wins weren’t pretty, the team won when it counted. That included solid victories over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, 13-10, and then-No. 23 Miami, 48-30—two teams considered Coastal Division favorites.
Not only was this a campaign to remember, but it is also likely the turning point for a program that had been accustomed to losing.
Mettenberger has had a 2013 to remember.
Season Stats: 64.9 CMP%, 3,082 YDS, 22 TDS, 8 INTS, 171.4 RAT
On its own, quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s numbers aren’t that spectacular.
But compared to his stat line from a year ago—58.8 CMP%, 2,609 YDS, 12 TDS, 7 INTS, 128.3 RAT—the senior’s 2013 campaign is down right phenomenal.
To make this much improvement in one season is uncalled for. After throwing for 240 yards or more just three times in 2012, Mettenberger has accomplished that feat eight times this year.
Furthermore, the most touchdown passes he threw in a game was two last season. This year, Mettenberger has tossed three scores or more four times already.
A lot of that credit should go to first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. However, the player deserves a lot of credit too for putting the lessons to work on the field.
Backed by Mettenberger’s play, the Tigers offense has ranked No. 26 in total offense after finishing No. 87 in 2012.
It's been an impressive run for Arizona State this year.
2013 W-L: 10-3
In just his second year at the helm, Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham has accomplished more than he expected.
The team wrapped up the regular season on an eight-game winning streak that secured Arizona State a spot in the Pac-12 title game. Although the team eventually fell to Stanford, 38-14, it doesn’t take away from the accomplishments the 2013 season brought.
For starters, the Sun Devils have secured the teams first 10-win season since 2007. If the team can win its bowl game, it would be the school’s first 11-win season since 1996.
Not to mention, Arizona State should also be proud of finishing 8-1 in the Pac-12 and 3-2 against Top 25 opponents this year.
Behind the strong play of quarterback Taylor Kelly and the emergence of a stingy defense, the Sun Devils were a win away from an improbable berth into the Rose Bowl.
Although the team will feel disappointed that it ultimately fell short, the future is certainly bright for the program.
Petty has had a lot to celebrate about in 2013.
Season Stats: 61.8 CMP%, 3,844 YDS, 30 TDS, 2 INTS, 179.2 RAT, 83 CAR, 192 YDS, 11 TDS
In his first season under center, quarterback Bryce Petty was expected to make the Bears competitive in the Big 12. Nothing more.
Instead, the junior has navigated Baylor to an 11-1 record and the school’s first Big 12 title ever.
While Petty proved to be phenomenal through the air, he also was quite dangerous with his legs. The Midlothian, Texas native found the end zone on the ground in all but three games this season.
Furthermore, Petty threw for at least 280 yards 10 times on the year.
Behind his sensational play, the Bears led the nation in both scoring (53.3 PPG) and total offense (623.8 YPG).
Pretty impressive for a first-year starting quarterback.
Who saw this coming?
2013 W-L: 12-1
Too much wasn’t expected of the Spartans this season.
The team began the season unranked and suffered an early season setback, losing to Notre Dame, 17-13, in Week 4. In fact, Michigan State didn’t crack the Top 25 until Week 10.
In their first game in the rankings, the Spartans made the most of it, blasting in-state rival Michigan, 29-6. The team impressively held the Wolverines to a school-low negative 48 rushing yards.
But all season long, a stingy defense has carried Michigan State.
Thus far, the team ranks No. 4 in scoring defense (12.7 PPG), No. 1 in total defense (248.2 YPG), No. 6 against the pass (167.4 YPG) and No. 1 against the run (80.8 YPG). Furthermore, the Spartans have conceded just seven rushing touchdowns on 2.7 yards per carry and 12 passing touchdowns.
Aided by the emergence of running back Jeremy Langford—1,027 rushing yards and 13 scores over the last eight games—Michigan State capped off a remarkable season with an improbable 34-24 victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Now, an appearance in the Rose Bowl against Stanford awaits the team.
Hyde (left) has been phenomenal in 2013.
Season Stats: 183 CAR, 1,408 YDS, 14 TDS, 14 REC, 108 YDS, 2 TDS
Last season, running back Carlos Hyde proved to be a tremendous asset to the Buckeyes rushing attack. He finished second behind quarterback Braxton Miller with 970 yards on the ground while finding the end zone a team-high 16 times.
The expectations this season for Hyde took a major hit given his three-game suspension and fellow running back Jordan Hall’s performance in his absence.
However, since returning, Hyde has easily been one of the top backs in the country.
In 10 games, the senior has averaged a whopping 140.8 rushing yards per game. Furthermore, he topped the century mark in each of Ohio State’s final eight contests.
That includes rushing for more than 225 yards twice on the year—a school record.
What Hyde has accomplished this season is truly sensational.
Had he played a full 13 games, there’s no doubt that Hyde would be accompany Jameis Winston and Co. to New York City for this weekend’s Heisman Trophy ceremony.
The Tigers had an impressive 2013 campaign.
2013 W-L: 11-2
Following last season, the Tigers football program was a mess.
In its first year in the SEC, the team recorded its fewest wins (five) since 2004. Furthermore, head coach Gary Pinkel was firmly on the hot seat.
Then, 2013 happened.
After racing out to a 7-0 start, only a fourth-quarter collapse paired with an injury to starting quarterback James Franklin slowed Missouri down. However, the team quickly regrouped and won its final four regular-season games—including wins over then-No. 24 Ole Miss and then-No. 21 Texas A&M.
It led to the Tigers capturing their fourth 10-win season since 2007 and a berth into the SEC title game.
Although the team eventually fell to Auburn, 59-42, there’s a lot to be proud of this season.
Not only did Missouri prove that expectations are meant to be exceeded, but the team also proved it belonged in one of college football’s toughest conferences.
Mason has been unreal for Auburn this season.
Season Stats: 282 CAR, 1,621 YDS, 22 TDS, 11 REC, 121 YDS
Running back Tre Mason has really turned it on during the second half of the season.
The junior has topped the century mark in seven of the Tigers last eight games while finding the end zone 17 times during that span. He’s easily surpassed career highs in every category.
Last year, Mason was a bright spot in a rather bleak and dark season. He rushed for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns, but watched Auburn struggle to win three games.
This season, the Palm Beach, Florida native has taken matters into his own hands.
Mason is an instrumental part to a Tigers rushing attack that ranks No. 1 in the country (335.7 YPG). That became evident by his 304-yard, four-touchdown performance to help the team capture the SEC crown over Missouri last weekend, 59-42.
Now, Mason will help Auburn prepare for a date with top-ranked Florida State in the BCS title game next month.
Who saw that coming back in August?
The Tigers have had the kind of season you could only dream up.
2013 W-L: 12-1
The 2013 Tigers have to go down as one of the biggest feel-good stories in college football history.
This was a team that had won just three games a year ago. After firing former head coach Gene Chizik, Auburn was only expected to make a small step forward this season.
Instead, the team is preparing to take on top-ranked Florida State in next month’s BCS title game.
Backed by a rushing attacked ranked No. 1 in the country, the Tigers have tossed aside nearly every opponent that has been placed in front of them. Aside from a road loss to then-No. 6 LSU, Auburn is an impressive 5-1 against Top 25 opponents this year.
Whether it’s by last-second return touchdowns or Hail Mary passes, the Tigers have simply found ways to win football games.
The job first-year head coach Gus Malzahn has done deserves to be applauded.
But surely, he’ll settle for a BCS title instead.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.