If you’re a college football fan, you don’t need anyone telling you who the powerhouse programs in the sport are on a yearly basis. But what about those schools out there who are constantly underrated?
There are a few of them out there who constantly strive for respect year in and year out, and are trying to do so once again in 2011.
Without further adieu, here are five college football schools that never get the respect they deserve.
Undoubtedly, Virginia Tech has been the most successful college football program in the 12-school ACC era. But who’s been the second-best? Not traditional powers like Florida State, Miami and Clemson.
You could strongly argue that the Demon Deacons—yes, Wake Forest—have had the second-best ACC football run this century. In 2006, the Deacons won a school-record 10 games en route to a surprising ACC Championship.
This year, the Deacons are at it again, as they’re off to their first 3-0 conference start in the school’s history. Unfortunately, much like in 2006, people will probably overlook Wake Forest as a legitimate BCS team. But should they?
It’s time we start giving the Deacons the respect they deserve. Fans outside of Winston-Salem couldn’t pick Wake head coach Jim Grobe out of a lineup, but he’s proven over the years that he’s arguably the most underrated coach in America.
Wake Forest recruits no blue chippers, which makes Grobe’s job that much more impressive, as he maximizes what little talent he’s given. And while the last few years were down ones, Wake is back in 2011.
The Deacons don’t beat themselves, and they already defeated supposed conference favorite Florida State. So why can’t this so-called “basketball school” run the conference table and recapture that same lightning in a bottle on the gridiron they did back in 2006?
For years, the Cowboys have played the role of little brother to the big brother Oklahoma Sooners. But Oklahoma State has proven they’re one pretty darn good little brother.
Let’s not forget it was the Cowboys—not the Sooners—who produced arguably the greatest running back ever in Barry Sanders. And let’s remember that it’s the Cowboys who are supported by a billionaire oil tycoon in T. Boone Pickens.
And while Sooners coach Bob Stoops is considered one of the great coaches in America (and rightfully so), the one coach I’d want to play for right now has to be the Cowboys’ Mike Gundy.
Coach Gundy has become a YouTube sensation over the years, declaring his manhood, defending his players and even busting a move or two with them after a big victory. And, oh yeah, he’s directed a total football renaissance in Stillwater.
Under Gundy’s guidance, Oklahoma State has become a yearly Big 12 Championship contender. And this may be the Cowboys’ best chance to finally beat big brother Oklahoma and get to the national title game. The Cowboys offense is as potent as ever, led by the best quarterback-receiver hookup since Brady Quinn-to-Jeff Samardzija in Brandon Weeden-to-Justin Blackmon.
And for those who think the Cowboys can’t play defense, they got the needed stops against a pretty good Texas A&M offense to complete a stunning 30-29 comeback victory over the Aggies weeks ago. Meanwhile, Oklahoma hasn’t faced any stiff competition yet in 2011, and will do little to shed their constant “overrated” label until they meet their in-state rival on December 3. And when the Cowboys beat the Sooners then, little brother finally will have earned a little respect.
Given their amazing recent success, can you really say Boise State is a disrespected football program? Actually, yes, you can.
When it comes to getting a shot at a BCS national championship, the late Rodney Dangerfield’s got nothing on the Broncos in terms of getting no respect. College football fans from BCS power conferences like the SEC continue to argue that Boise State doesn’t deserve to play for a national championship, and yet, the Broncos keep winning every big game they play in, from the Statue of Liberty victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, to handing previously undefeated TCU its only loss in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, to last season’s victory over Virginia Tech.
Although the Broncos suffered a slight hiccup against Nevada, Boise is back to its old tricks in 2011. Led by Kellen Moore, they dismantled the SEC’s Georgia in basically a season-opening road game at the Georgia Dome.
So isn’t it about time the Broncos get one big shot at the national championship? I know what all those haters are thinking—they don’t play anybody! Well, I feel like they would play everybody if enough non-conference schools stepped up to the plate.
I personally think we’ve seen enough of a sample of how well Boise can do against big-time competition. Would it kill the naysayers to give the Broncos one shot? Finally giving them a BCS championship appearance would please both sides.
If Boise wins, it will vindicate them once and for all as a true powerhouse, not merely Cinderella. And if they fall flat on their faces, all that speculation of whether they can truly hang with the big dogs can vanish, once and for all.
But considering how many undefeated teams will probably remain so at the end of the year, it doesn’t look like the disrespected Broncos are going to catch a break this year.
Many college football historians will point out that two decades ago, the now-defunct Southwest Conference was back then to the game what the SEC is to the game today. The Southwest Conference was the sport’s premier conference back in the day, and one of its best teams was the Houston Cougars.
The Cougars shot to the ranks of the nationally prominent under the two best quarterbacks to ever play for the program—Andre Ware and David Klingler. Ware threw for 4,300 yards and 44 touchdowns in his 1989 Heisman-winning season. Klingler succeeded Ware by flourishing under the early days of the Run and Shoot offense, throwing a then-NCAA-record 54 touchdown passes in 1990.
The new generation of college football fans may not realize that Houston was once great, but now a new elite quarterback is reminding Cougar fans of the glory days, and that’s Case Keenum. A sixth-year senior, Keenum is showing hardly any ill effects from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last year.
Keenum has put up gaudy numbers throughout his entire college career (like 5,800 yards total offense and 48 touchdowns in 2009), and is doing so again this season. So far in 2011, Keenum has thrown for 2,300 yards with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions.
His production is the biggest reason the Cougars are undefeated, and will probably go through the rest of the regular season unscathed in Conference USA. And even though they will be unbeaten, the Cougars will probably be denied a fair shot at a BCS bowl game thanks to their weak schedule and it’s a shame.
Keenum and his team proved in 2009 they can go toe to toe with college football’s heavyweights when they defeated fifth-ranked Oklahoma State. Mr. Keenum is a superb college quarterback, one who deserves the opportunity to show what he can do in the BCS spotlight. If Houston is snubbed, they will have a right to cry about a lack of respect.
Surely not many experts had the Illini pegged as serious Big Ten contenders in 2011, but yet here they are, undefeated and poised to do great things once again under head coach Ron Zook. Let’s face it—the Big Ten is down this year, with preseason contenders like Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Nebraska proving they’re very average teams.
Yes, the Illini still face two big challenges with games against Michigan and Wisconsin, but they get both those teams on their home turf. So why can’t Illinois get to a BCS bowl?
Nobody thought they were Rose Bowl-bound in 2007, but they made it and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they found their way to Pasadena once again in 2011. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase may not have the same hype Juice Williams had, but he’s a solid quarterback who isn’t going to make big mistakes like Williams had the tendency to do. Plus, he’s supported by an underrated and stingy defense.
And let’s not forget about Zook, arguably the most disrespected coach in America. Zook remains one of the best recruiters in the game; just ask Urban Meyer, who won his first national title at Florida with Zook’s players. And, just when people are ready to write Zook’s coaching abilities off, his players always seem to respond, just like they did in 2007 and are doing thus far in 2011.
Florida’s fans were quick to run Zook out of Gainesville, but something tells me he’s getting the last laugh, considering how the Illini are in better shape than the Gators right now. And if Zook and his team can keep its early season magic going down the stretch, then once again, Illinois will be getting the last laugh in the Big Ten.