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College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Dark Horse BCS Teams

Joey HnathCorrespondent IMay 17, 2011

College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Dark Horse BCS Teams

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Every year, there are several teams that surprise all of us and make it to a BCS bowl.

    Take last year’s BCS champion for example.

    The Auburn Tigers started the season ranked no. 23 in the AP Poll and ran the table to win it all.

    Two other BCS teams, Stanford and Connecticut, weren’t even ranked in the preseason rankings last year.

    2011 will be no different.  There will be some teams that come out of nowhere to make one of the BCS bowl games.

    Here are the top ten dark horse BCS teams.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Sun Devils return 18 starters off a team that went 6-6 last season.

    This year, Arizona State is primed to break out.

    Their defense is a menacing bunch led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and the offense has always been able to put up points.

    Coach Dennis Erickson’s job may be riding on this season, so the Sun Devils may play with a little more urgency in 2011.

    With Stanford off the schedule, a ten win season and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship are in reach for Arizona State.

9. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Coach Pat Fitzgerald has changed the culture of Northwestern football and has them consistently winning and going bowling.

    In 2011, he’ll look to take the Wildcats to the next level and make a BCS bowl.

    Northwestern has one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation in Dan Persa, who scored 24 touchdowns before going down with an injury.

    The Wildcats have a favorable schedule, with Wisconsin and Ohio State both missing from it in 2011.

    In a wide open Big Ten, Northwestern could emerge as a BCS team.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Oklahoma State had an exceptional 2010 campaign, going 11-2 and competing for a Big 12 title.

    The key question mark the Cowboys must address this year is their defense.  The Oklahoma State defense was mediocre last year, and they lost five of their starting front seven from last year.

    However, their offense will be exceptional.  Both quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon have preseason Heisman buzz around them.

    The schedule does the Cowboys no favors though.  Along with playing the other nine Big 12 teams, the Cowboys will host Arizona and travel to Tulsa in September, neither of which will be easy games.

    Like many dark horse teams, if the Cowboys can sure up the defense they can make a BCS bowl.

7. Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan has been a mess the past three seasons, despite playing in the Gator Bowl last season.

    Under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines will again put an emphasis on being a hard-nosed football team that plays defense.

    Their offense is in good hands in quarterback Denard Robinson, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 2010.

    They have a tough early season test at Notre Dame, the first night game ever in the Big House.

    If the Wolverines can get past the Irish and improve on defense, Michigan could be a contender for the Big Ten Championship and a BCS bowl.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Under the guidance of coach Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State Bulldogs capped off a strong 2010 season with a victory over Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

    Behind running back Vick Ballard and a good defense, the Bulldogs will look to keep improving in Mullen’s third season.

    Three of the Bulldogs’ first five games are against Auburn, LSU and Georgia, so they will have to be ready to play at a high level right from the start.

    Mississippi State has great coaching and talent, the question is whether they can navigate a brutal SEC schedule.

5. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Boise State has received much of the preseason hype for mid-major programs, but don’t count out TCU.

    Despite losing several players, the Horned Frogs will still compete for an at-large BCS bid.

    Behind All-American linebacker Tank Carder, the TCU defense will again be one of the nation’s best.

    If the Horned Frogs can take care of business in their first two games at Baylor and Air Force, then their November 12th showdown against Boise State could be for a BCS bowl.

4. South Florida Bulls

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    It’s no secret the Big East has been down the past couple of seasons, and they will again be the weakest BCS conference in 2011.

    The West Virginia Mountaineers are the preseason favorite to win the Big East, but don’t discount South Florida just yet.

    The Bulls are primed to make a run at the conference title.  With coach Skip Holtz guiding the team and quarterback B.J. Daniels returning and primed to have another big year, South Florida could steal the Big East.

    Their December 1st matchup against West Virginia could be a de facto Big East championship game, and the Bulls will have the home field advantage.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

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    The Aggies had a great 2010 season, going 9-4 and 6-2 in conference.

    Despite losing linebacker Von Miller, Texas A&M is poised for another great season.

    The offense returns quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray and will be one of the most dynamic offenses in the Big 12.

    Their schedule is somewhat tough, especially with an out of conference meeting with Arkansas.  However, most of their toughest games will be played in College Station.

    The Aggies have a BCS caliber offense.  If their defense can step up, Texas A&M may make one of the big bowls.

2. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Georgia has been a disappointment the past two seasons, failing to live up to their high expectations.

    In 2011, look for the Dawgs to return to being one of the SEC’s best.

    Freshman All-American Aaron Murray is back and is a dark horse Heisman candidate, and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell will try to have the same impact in his first year as South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.

    Their SEC schedule also is favorable, with Alabama, LSU and Arkansas off the schedule this year.

    However, the Dawgs have question marks at wide receiver and on defense.  If they can address those areas, the Bulldogs could win the SEC East and play in Atlanta for their first SEC Championship since 2005.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After a strong finish to the 2010 season in which they whipped Miami in the Sun Bowl, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are poised to contend for a BCS bowl in 2011.

    Coach Brian Kelly has brought in talent on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Dayne Crist is back from injury has been tabbed as a dark horse Heisman contender.

    As always, the Irish face a daunting schedule.  Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Stanford are just some of the teams Notre Dame will have to go up against in 2011.

    Notre Dame is a team on the rise.  If they can win some of their big games this season while avoiding an upset, the Irish could make it back to the BCS.

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