College Football Preview: 10 Surprise Teams for 2009
Every year there are surprises in college football and that's part of what can make the game so much fun.
Who will be this year’s Texas Tech and which team crashes the BCS party like Utah did last year?
Here are 10 teams flying under the radar that could end up in the national title game or just become over achievers that surprise and grab a bit of the limelight.
Last year the Bulldogs held the No. 1 preseason ranking and struggled with lofty expectations. This year the Dawgs fly under the radar at the No. 13 spot.
Although the team lost household names Mathew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, they are still loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.
Fifth year senior QB Joe Cox will take over having made only one career start. But he will have plenty of talented receivers to throw to, led by SEC receiving yardage leader A.J. Green.
Green lead the conference as a true freshman and will be joined by Tavarres King, Michael Moore and top recruit Marlon Brown. Georgia’s receiving corps could be one of the nation's best.
Cox will also have a solid and veteran offensive line to keep him standing upright.
The line has combined for 99 starts as a group and will also pave the way for potent ground game even with the loss of Moreno to the NFL.
The Bulldogs will replace Moreno’s production with a stable of top flight talent lead by youngsters Caleb King, Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas and highly touted frosh Washuan Ealey.
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a birth in the BCS championship will be the strength of schedule.
Besides the normal tough grind of the SEC, the Dawgs must face non conference foes Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Georgia Tech.
Even with the tough schedule, I’m predicting the Bulldogs turn heads right from the start and upend No. 9 Oklahoma State in Stillwater Sept 5.
Could this be the year the Dawgs upset Florida and surprise everyone with a national title game appearance?
Georgia’s top flight receivers, veteran offensive line and speedy and talented defense is why I pick these Dawgs to be the surprise team of 2009.
Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions were a surprise team last year, beating Ohio State and appearing in the Rose Bowl. But they are not picked to win the Big 10 this year. They are ranked below Ohio State at No. 9 in the AP preseason poll.
Penn State state only returns nine starters and is particularly decimated in the wide receiver position. But star QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster return.
Clark is one of the nation's most talented duel threat QB's and Royster gained 1,266 yards on the ground with 12 TD's and a whopping 6.5 ypg avg.
The defense figures to be strong again, especially at linebacker, with the return of Sean Lee who missed the ’08 campaign due to injury.
The Lions will also get Ohio State at home this year.
South Florida Bulls
The Bulls burst on the scene in their 11th year as a college football program and cracked the top 10 twice in both ’07 and ’08.
They were ranked as high as No. 2 in 2007 but have collapsed in the second half of the season the past two years.
As the program enters its 13th year of existence, they are poised to take the national spotlight again.
The biggest reason for my inclusion of the Bulls on this list is senior QB Matt Grothe—famous for his late game heroics and slaying of top 20 teams—and All-American DE George Selvie.
Selvie will lead a DL that is expected to be among the nation's best.
The Bulls have cause to be concerned with only one starter returning on the OL, but they have an easy early non conference schedule before meeting with Florida State on Sept. 26. They should be undefeated coming into that matchup.
They also have to face Miami later in the year.
A win against one of the two Florida powers could propel them to a top 10 ranking.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Scarlet Knights are another Big East team that came from nowhere in ’07 to take the national spotlight but faded away in 2008.
Rutgers started last year 1-5 but reeled off seven consecutive wins, including a victory over NC State in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
The Scarlet Knights are another team that benefits from a highly talented and experienced offensive line as all five starters return.
There is a battle brewing to replace all-time school passing leader Mike Teel.
QB’s Dominic Natale and Jabu Lovelace will face stiff competition from 6'6", 240 pound redshirt freshman D.C Jefferson, who was one of the top rated QB prospects coming out of High School.
Rutgers will also benefit from a weak non conference schedule that includes Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern and Army.
Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini had a stellar ’07 campaign, earning a Rose Bowl berth, but had a disappointing 5-7 season last year.
I am predicting the Illini will return to national prominence behind 13 returning starters including senior QB Juice Williams and junior wideout Arrelious Benn.
Williams threw for 3,173 yards and rushed for 923 while the 6'2", 220 pound Benn caught 67 balls for 1,055 yards.
Coach Ron Zook has had several top notch recruiting classes and the Illini are loaded with highly ranked prospects on both sides of the ball.
Standing in the way of a turn around season will be a tough non-conference slate, headlined by a Sept. 5 opener against Missouri.
They also face Cincinnati and Fresno State while playing Ohio State at the horseshoe.
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack are lead by 6'6", 215 pound dual threat QB Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick became only the fifth player in NCAA history to have 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season while directing the nation's No. 5 ranked offense.
Nevada also sports two running backs who have had 1,000 yard seasons in Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott.
The Wolf Pack ranked No. 80 in total defense last year but should be a more experienced group this time with seven returning starters.
They return defensive ends Kevin Basped and Dontay Mock who combined for 21-and-a-half sacks and 14-and-a-half tackles for loss last season.
Nevada will travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame on Sept. 5 and I predict Nevada will turn heads and gain national spotlight exposure by giving Notre Dame its toughest battle of the season.
A close battle or win against Notre Dame would would put the Wolf Pack on the road to national recognition.
This could be the year the Wolf Pack topple Boise St. in the WAC.
TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs went 11-2 last season and are my pick for “BCS Buster” this year.
TCU beat a ranked Boise State team in the Poinsettia Bowl last year and had the No. 1 defense in the nation.
The defense only returns four starters from a unit that allowed just 47.1 yards rushing per game.
But one of those starters is Jerry Hughes. Hughes led the nation with 15 sacks last year and turned down the NFL to lead this defense.
The Frogs also will benefit from a veteran offensive line to protect experienced QB Andy Dalton.
With a crushing defense and veteran offense, it’s not out of the question to think the Horned Frogs will be this year’s Utah and crash the BCS party.
This year’s Cougar squad is flying under the radar after last years lofty expectations.
BYU was everyone's trendy pick for BCS buster and sported the FBS’s longest win streak at 16 before being torn apart by an angry Horned Frog defense at hostile TCU.
The Cougars lose NCAA leading receiver and BYU's all time receiving leader Austin Collie to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. But they retain all-everything QB Max Hall.
Hall threw for 3,957 yards and 35 touchdowns last year and he will get help on the ground with RB Harvey Unga who rushed for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The Cougars also return eight starters on defense and have a very good and veteran DL.
Standing in the way of the Cougars BCS hopes is an inexperienced offensive line and a tough schedule including an opener against No. 3 Oklahoma and a Sept. 19 clash at home against Florida State.
The Cougars make my list due to an insanely prolific offense that ranked No. 2 overall last year. The Cougars averaged 562.8 ypg and went over 400 yards in every game last year.
Junior QB Case Keenum returns and threw for an amazing 5,020 yards and 44 TD’s, with just 11 interceptions.
Keenum will get help from CUSA freshman player of the year RB Bryce Bealle who rushed for 1,272 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Standing in the way of Houston and the national spotlight is just four returning starters on defense and non conference foes with potent offenses of their own in Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
The Cougars also will face Southern Miss, UTEP and Tulsa.
The biggest reason for my inclusion of the Jayhawks in this list is diminutive starting QB Todd Reesing. Reesing stands just 5'11" but has thrown for a monstrous 7,578 yards and 67 touchdowns in his two years as a starter.
Reesing has set 30 career records at Kansas and is 20-6 as a starter. Not bad for a school known more for basketball.
His favorite targets, All-American candidate Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier both return. The WR tandem were the only combo to top 90 receptions and 1,000 yards in 2008.
The running attack is bolstered by RB Jake Sharp who gained 888 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
Kansas has a manageable non-conference schedule. Its strongest test will be against Southern Miss Sept 26.
They also face both Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 this year.