College Football: 5 Teams That Could Surprise This Season

John Bain@John_BainCorrespondent IIAugust 19, 2011

College Football: 5 Teams That Could Surprise This Season

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    Going into every College Football season there is speculation as to which schools will compete for the BCS National Championship come January.

    There are always the favorites who some claim to be leaps and bounds better than anyone else in the sport, and it's usually just two teams. In 2011, there aren't two concrete answers for that question.

    There are several teams that could be in New Orleans for the BCS National Championship game in January 2012, and some of them you wouldn't expect to be there or even compete with the top teams in the NCAA this season.

Iowa Hawkeyes (Big 10)

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    This may come as one of the bigger surprises on the list, but don't count out the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2011.  With the controversy and penalties assessed to the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2011, the Big Ten is still up for grabs.

    The Hawkeyes enter the year with a new man behind center in Junior QB James Vandenberg.

    Vandenberg gave Hawkeye fans a preview of what to expect when in 2009 he was forced into action against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game and a possible spot in the National Title game. 

    The Hawkeyes lost the game 27-24 in overtime, but not before Vandenberg put up 233 yards through the air and 2 touchdown passes, he also threw 3 interceptions, but not a terrible first game for a freshman quarterback. 

    The home-state hero owns 12 Iowa highschool football records, and is a threat through both the air and on the ground.  Vandenberg could be one of the bigger surprises on the field this year.

    The Hawkeyes will also have a new running back this season in Marcus Coker. Coker is coming off a huge game against Mizzou in the 2010 Insight Bowl where he put up 219 yards rushing with 2 TDs in a 27-24 victory.  With the return of 3 members of the starting offensive line from a year ago, Coker is poised for many big games in 2011. 

    The only problem for Iowa will be their defense. In 2010, the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 5 in the Big Ten, but they only have four returnees for the 2011 campaign.  If the newbees don't step up, this poises big issues.

    One last benefit for the Hawkeyes this season is they do not have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin, the two big guns in the Big Ten, if their offense can put up points, look out for the Hawkeyes in 2011.

Texas Longhorns (Big 12)

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    Ok, so sure the Texas Longhorns are a powerhouse program year in and year out, but 2011 could be an off year. The Longhorns are at the basement of the preseason top 25 rankings, and for once are not a favorite to win the Big 12. They have 7 returnees from a offense that was deemed underwhelming in 2010, and a lot of unproven players.

    Led by Junior QB Garrett Gilbert, Texas fans are concerned that he will have the same struggles he did last season, and rightfully so after he threw just 10 TDs with a whopping 17 INTs in 2010.

    Gilbert could easily lose his job early on to former UT star Colt McCoy's younger brother Case if he doesn't figure it out.  It isn't like he doesn't have weapons at receiver.  John Chiles and Mike Davis are poised to have huge years if Gilbert can get them the ball.

    What the Longhorns lacked in 2010 was big play offense, instead they slowly moved down the field and turned the ball over more often than not. Luckily for them they had an excellent defense.

    With 7 returnees on D, the 2010 23rd ranked defense is in fine form in 2011. Of the 7 returnees, two of 2010's All-Big 12 LB's Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are back to lead the D. 

    Given the opportunity, the Longhorns have potential to make a big leap this year if their offense allows them to.

Auburn Tigers (SEC)

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    Coming off a National Championship season is never easy, especially when you lose your star player and leader right away. The Auburn Tigers aren't even in the conversation for the SEC Title this season, and that may not be totally fair. 

    Cam Newton is gone, but Auburn's offense is still strong. Led by running back Michael Dyer, Tigers fans shouldn't expect as big of an offensive drop as many people are predicting. Dyer is coming off a 1000 yard season as a backup.

    Included is last years incredible performance in the BCS Title game where he put up 143 yards for 2 touchdowns. Auburn's offense will predominantly be on the ground in 2011 until new Junior QB Barrett Trotter can prove his worth. 

    On the defensive side of things, the loss of Nick Fairley is devastating. There is no way to replace him along with several others from the 2010 Title winning team. With a defense mostly built up of sophomores, the Tigers have a lot to prove on the defensive side of the ball this season.

    The Tigers schedule is also brutal. It has them visiting South Carolina, Arkansas, and LSU in what are huge games if the Tigers want to show they can without Cam Newton. 2010 was a perfect year for Auburn, but don't expect the Tigers to just fall off the map completely without him.

Texas Christian Horned Frogs (Mountain West)

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    The TCU  Horned Frogs come into 2011 with a chip on their shoulder. 

    The Frogs want to prove that 2010 was no fluke, and that they did indeed deserve that BCS Bowl date with Wisconsin in their Rose Bowl victory in 2010.  With the Horned Frogs set to move to the Big East in 2012, they will try to up their level that much more in 2011 to showcase their talent before the big move.

    Now the 2011 TCU team won't be as talented all-around as the 2010 teams as star QB Andy Dalton is no longer with the team, but they still have the ability to win.  With star running back Ed Wesley slated to get even more touches this season and improve on a 1000+ yard year in 2010, new Sophomore QB Casey Pachall should have it a little bit easier.  Wesley allows Pachall to ease into the position while tearing up the turf.

    The TCU defense hasn't been hurt much in the past year.  Led by preseason All-American LB Tank Carder, as well as All-MWC DE Stansly Maponga and LB Tanner Brock, the Horned Frogs should lead a lot of defensive categories yet again. 

    Don't count the Horned Frogs out, there is a reason Head Coach Gary Patterson has only lost 3 games in 3 years, and don't expect TCU to fall far out of the race for another BCS Bowl berth.

Arkansas Razorbacks (SEC)

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    The highest ranked team on this list may come as a surprise to most.  The Arkansas Razorbacks could surprise critics in 2011.

    But given the injuries they have had before the 2011 season even gets under way, they are  arguably the toughest conference in the nation in which they play.

    Season ending injuries to preseason All-American RB Knile Davis is out due to a broken ankle, and his back up Broderick Green is out due to a torn ACL.  This puts a lot of pressure on new QB Tyler Wilson. 

    Razorbacks fans know all to well however, that Coach Petrino's passing offense is a perfect fit for Wilson who will have returning star receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs to throw the ball to.  Obviously a big question mark is Ronnie Wingo's ability to take over the running game for the Hogs. 

    Defensively, Tramain Thomas, Jerry Franklin and Tenarius Wright lead the way.  Wright and Franklin should be a nightmare for opposing QB's and running backs in the SEC West in 2011.

    Together they combined for 12.5 sacks in 2011 and 128 tackles.  Thomas should take care of the back end and try and improve upon his 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles from a year ago.   Arkansas' defense won't be as powerful as the best in the country, but they can get by in the SEC West with their offense and their D playing just good enough.

    Coach Petrino can win with any quarterback that fits into his offense and it appears Tyler Wilson is just the guy for that.  If Wilson can keep turnovers to a minimum (unlike his predecessor Ryan Mallett), Arkansas can have success this season.

Surprises, Surprises, and More Surprises

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    Anything can happen in college football.  One upset can change a season. 

    Surprises aren't so surprising in college football, so don't be so shocked when one of the listed teams is competing for tops in the nation in January. 

    If we have learned anything since the BCS began, more often than not, the preseason prediction has changed by week two of the season. Look forward to a 2011 full of surprises.