Each year conferences have teams that sneak up and surprise a frontrunner with a big upset or even finish high in the conference. I am sure 2008 will be no different.
This post will have three of the six teams I believe can upset the balance of power in their BCS conference. The other three will be posted in Part Two.
The Michigan State Spartans finished the 2007 season 7-6 and went to their first bowl game in four years, but in all reality the season could have been much better. They suffered close losses to Ohio State (seven points), Wisconsin (three points), OT loss to Northwestern, and a three-point loss to Boston College.
A few breaks either way, and the Spartans may be looking at a nine or 10-win season.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer finished the season solidly in wins against Purdue and Penn State, and he looked good even in their loss to Boston College. Hoyer will be back this year, as will running back Javon Ringer, who rushed for 1,447 yards last season.
Mark Dell and Devon Curry are back to be Hoyer’s main targets. On the offensive line, the Spartans return three of five starters.
On defense they have to retool a bit, mainly on the defensive line, but coach Mark Dantonio has brought in some good talent. Using their aggressive attacking-style defense, the Spartans could be a dangerous bunch.
An early season game at California will set the barometer for the team. A win against the Bears could go a long way. Looking ahead in their schedule, the Spartans could be 7-0 when when Ohio State comes to East Lansing.
The Pittsburgh Panthers are the sexy pick in the Big East for a surprise team, but I feel it will be the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who will surprise a few teams this season. Yes, I know Ray Rice is gone, but the Knights return not one, but two record-breaking wide receivers for Mike Teel to throw to.
Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood both had over 1,000 yards receiving last year and will wreak havoc in opposing teams' defensive backfields.
As always, Greg Schiano has a stout defensive line to anchor his defense and returns three of four starters in the defensive backfield. Rutgers doesn’t have a warm-up game to start the season off though. Fresno State comes to town in week one, and 10 days later North Carolina pays a visit.
The Bulldogs are thought to be one of the top non-BCS schools in the country, so if Rutgers wins that game, it should give them a lot of confidence.
All of their tough conference games are on the road: West Virginia, South Florida, and Pitt. Nevertheless, if the Knights can find some sort of a running attack to take the pressure off Teel, they can put up some big offensive numbers and knock off a few teams.
Ed Orgeron might no longer be the coach at Mississippi, but he didn’t leave the cupboards bare for the Ole Miss Rebels. They should be strong on both the offensive and defensive lines, Coach O’s specialty.
Next, insert a transfer quarterback by the name of Jevan Snead, who was highly recruited and initially went to Texas, only to transfer after the starting job was given to Colt McCoy.
With the new QB, the Rebels have the makings of a team which will improve offensively from 2007. Snead has three returning starters at wide receiver but does need to break in a new running back.
On defense Ole Miss returns eight starters. On paper they look like they can make waves, and with Snead I think they will be able to hang in games by scoring more, something that plagued them last season.
With the SEC West being up in the air a bit after Auburn, Ole Miss could be a team that makes some waves. At worst they should be 3-1 when they travel to Florida to play the Gators.
If I were fans of Alabama and LSU, I would not take the Rebels lightly, even though Ole Miss will be playing both of them on the road. Houston Nutt has been known to get a lot out of his players, and the raw talent is there. Nutt just has to polish it.
In Part Two I will talk about the teams in the Pac-10, ACC, and Big 12 which could upset the balance of power in their conferences.