College football is stocked with surprises every year. The Southern Cal Trojans took a Thursday night road trip to Corvallis, Oregon a couple of years ago for a gimme conference game. They left in an entirely different mood after being upset by a "weak" Beavers team.
That 2008 game is just an example. Upsets happen every week. What about the teams that far exceed expectations for an entire season?
Here's a look at a few teams who have the pontential to take giant steps forward in 2010 and perhaps even win their conferences.
Stranger things have happened...
By common logic, Wisconsin is the fourth best team in the Big Ten. At the end of the year, they just might have gained an automatic BCS bid.
The Badgers return 16 starters from a team who dominated the faster Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl. One of those returning is running back John Clay, who gained over 1,500 yards and reached the end zone 18 times in 2009.
The schedule is also in the favor of the Badgers. There is no game with Penn State. Ohio State has to visit Camp Randall. The toughest test for Wisconsin will be a mid-October trip to Iowa, one of the frontrunners in the conference, along with the Buckeyes.
If Wisconsin can continue to excel with the ball on the ground, it wouldn't be a shock to see them in Pasadena on January 1.
If the winner of the SEC isn't Alabama or Florida, anyone else would be a surprise. LSU is next in line in the nation's top conference.
Jordan Jefferson needs to become more consistent. Les Miles needs to make better game management decisions. Terrance Toliver needs to quit pouting on the sidelines. Alabama must falter for LSU to even get into the SEC Championship.
It could happen. There are just a lot of variables here.
On a more positive note, if they win the SEC, chances are good that they'll get a crack at a national title as well. That's just how the SEC works.
USC just got hammered by probation and is out of the picture. Oregon's quarterback is suspended for the year. That means Oregon State is a lock for the Pac Ten title, right?
Maybe not. Jake Locker is coming back for another season as a Husky and could potentially lead Washington to a conference title.
One thing is for certain. Locker is being and will continue to be promoted as a viable Heisman candidate. He's going to get the opportunity to throw the ball all over the field.
That's probably a good thing. The Washington defense isn't going to stop anyone. If the Huskies can come out on top of their high scoring affairs, they may come out on top of the Pac-10, before it becomes the Pac-Whatever-Is-Next.
Raise your hand if you thought this was going to be about North Carolina. You can't judge a slideshow by its first cover slide, now can you?
The Tar Heels are everyone else's dark horse pick to win the ACC, but not here. The problem with them is that their side of the conference features games at Miami and Florida State, and against Virginia Tech, Clemson, and the 2009 ACC champs in Georgia Tech. So forget about that.
Florida State is on the other side of the league, which means no games against Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech. Christian Ponder is a legitimate first round pick at quarterback. He might possibly be the most technically sound signal caller in the land.
The Atlantic Division is a different beast, and figures to be a two horse race between Florida State and Clemson. If FSU wins that late season showdown in Tallahassee, they should have a berth in the league title game.
This is Jimbo Fisher's team officially now, but it has really been his squad for some time. With no issues regarding who is in control now, look for the Seminoles to start to regain their old form.
If anyone other than Texas wins the Big XII in 2010, most college football fans will be shocked.
Oklahoma is probably the next best bet.
If the Sooners do win in 2010, they can thank Sam Bradford's injury from the year before. His shoulder allowed Landry Jones to get valuable minutes and gain maturity.
It seems odd to look at Oklahoma as anything but a favorite, but somehow that is the state of the world in 2010.
Smart money is on Pittsburgh. South Florida looks to be a a contender as well.
West Virginia would be a bigger payoff. The odds are more slim, but the potential is definitely there.
If Noel Devine can handle the load, the Mountaineers could literally run away with the Big East. West Virginia gets the conference title and a BCS berth. Bill Stewart gets to keep his job for a bit longer.