Dark horses pop up every year and sneak into our top 10 rankings, or onto the Heisman ballad, or take down the top dog's and win their conference though preseason rankings suggested they had no chance. This is the first of three dark horse articles I will be writing.
CONFERENCE DARK HORSES
ACC - Clemson Tigers - Last years favorite to win the ACC is now not even in the top 25. Clemson as of late has been given relatively high expectations and fallen short each time. That however, is the reason they are my dark horse. Clemson has as much if not more talent then anyone in the ACC. They recruit as well as any other team and have a good set of returning starters especially on the Offensive line where they return four starters.
A freshman QB is really their biggest concern but with C.J. Spiller and a good offensive line he should be able to just get by if need be. The defensive line could be the best in the ACC as well. Let's hope Howards Rock has a magical touch this year.
Big East - South Florida - This was the hardest of the six to pick because no team in the Big East really stands out. This conference has five or six teams that have a realistic chance of being the 2009 Big East champ...even if that's like being the smartest person on the short bus, it's still something they are all reaching for.
USF brings back George Selvie, Matt Grothe, and two of their top three receivers from last year. New Offensive Coordinator Mike Canales hopes to bring more success to this team quickly. South Florida has as much talent as anyone in the Big East, if they can stay on track on not have yet another mid season melt down they could grab their first conference title this year.
Big 10 - Michigan Wolverines - This one might shock you but I can these guys moving up to the top of the Big 10 quick. Rich Rod is a very good coach and Michigan still has All-American talent despite the horrendeous 3-9 season last year. Does anyone remember how well West Virginia did ZRich Rod's second year compared to his first? Think Alabama a year after with Saban.
I can see Michigan with their three QB system which worked quite well Saturday posing serious problems verse the top Big Ten teams. Nine Offensive starters return for Michigan and this team has more experience then any other in the big 10 on the offensive side.
Big 12 - Kansas Jayhawks - 17 Starters returning from last year, this squad could be very dangerous. In my opinion, Kansas has the best wide receiving core in the nation coming into the year. Add to that the fact the Todd Reesing is once again leading the offense everyone should be scared of the Jayhawks.
Potential problems like replacing all three linebackers could be an issue but I doubt it will be anything more then a speed bump. Expect a better running game as well from Kansas this year especially from Senior Jake Sharp. Could they reach and possibly upset a Big 12 South team in December? The possibility is certainly there.
Pac 10 - Arizona Wildcats - I think picking any team not called Southern Cal is a sleeper pick in this conference, but picking Cal or Oregon State seemed to easy. Arizona has a lot of returning starters this year; seven on offense and seven on defense. Arizona ranked high in total defense(24th) and total offense(33) in the nation last year but just couldn't seem to break through.
They lost five games last year, but only by a combined total of 18 points. Mike Stoops is considered by many as a coach on the hot seat, because the talent is there. I have faith in Mike though, and I can see this Arizona team seriously contending this year.
SEC - Arkansas Razorbacks - Returning 17 starters from the previous year means Arkansas is one of the most experienced teams in the SEC this year. New QB Ryan Mallett, a transfer from Michigan, looks to take the reigns of Bobby Petrinos offense and shake up the SEC West.
Arkansas is coming off a losing season, but that doesn't mean much. This team has a butt load of talent, and expect to see them on Sportscenter highlight reels often. Bobby knows how to call a game, and he has more talent in Arkansas then he did in Louisville, where he went to and won a BCS bowl in a very short time. The West is deep, and that should actually help Arkansas. No team will be completely dominate, and teams might over look this group.
Expect Arkansas to jump at least one of the big three and finish with a very impressive record, maybe even taking a trip to Atlanta in December if the cards fall right. Defense will need improvement over last season, but the nine returning starters should be a much better group then the year before.
Mid Major Conferences
Conference USA -Houston
MAC - Bowling Green
Mountain West - Colorado State
Sun Belt - North Texas
WAC - Nevada