Spring Preview 2013 - The Surprise Teams
Kansas RB James Sims
Kansas RB James Sims
Posted Apr 2, 2013

What teams are the most likely to step up and play better than expected? Which ones have the right mix of schedules, returning experience, and emerging talent to be better than the preseason prognostications? It's No. 9 on the key questions of the offseason ... Who's going to surprise?

2013 Spring Preview - No. 9

The Surprise Teams Will Be ... ?

- 2013 Spring Preview

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Every year some teams come from out of the blue to play much better than expected and end up pulling off upsets, throw wrenches into the system and hang around conference races longer than anyone thought they could've. Kent State, Texas A&M and San Jose State were shockingly good last year, and Northern Illinois got to the Orange Bowl. There will be more where they came from this year.

So what teams in each conference have a shot to go from irrelevant in the offseason to potentially great in November? What teams could go from being underappreciated to elite? Here are programs most likely to surprise in 2013.

20 Big Offseason Questions 
8. Teams that will disappoint
9. Teams that will surprise
10. What will the preseason polls look like?
11. How's your unit? DBs
Top DB Battles
12. How's your unit? LBs
Top LB Battles
13. How's your unit? WRs
Top WR Battles
14. How's your unit? RBs
Top RB Battles
15. Bulletin Board Material
16. How's your unit? DLs
Top DL Battles
17. How's your unit? OLs
Top OL Battles
18. Bowl Expectations
- December Bowls
- Non-BCS Bowls
- BCS Bowls
19. Top 50 Non-Conference Games  
20. Top QB Battles  
ACC – NC State
Dave Doeren might have a sneaky-good team. The Wolfpack weren't that bad last season with a win over Florida State and a seven-win regular season, and now there's enough experience returning to a strong defensive front to think the pass rush could be among the best in the ACC. With Clemson and North Carolina at home and the second-toughest road game, based on last season's results, against Duke, there's a chance to get to eight wins or more, but …
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … the toughest road game is at Florida State, and part of the reason the Wolfpack came up with the win was because Mike Glennon came through in the clutch. Doeren doesn't have Jordan Lynch under center to tear off 1,700 rushing yards.

Big East – South Florida
It might not take too much work to turn USF into a powerhouse. Willie Taggart turned around Western Kentucky; dealing with an underachieving Bull team should be easy by comparison. There's a ton of talent and athleticism to play around with, and if the offense can stop turning the ball over and if the D can start taking it away, with 15 starters back, not including Notre Dame defensive end transfer Aaron Lynch, going from 3-9 to at least 7-5 isn't asking for too much with a not-that-bad schedule that included McNeese State, Florida Atlantic, Houston, Memphis and SMU.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … it's still going to take some work to find some scoring punch after coming up with just 35 points over the last four games. It's going to be a fight to get to seven wins unless the defense can start to play far tighter.

Big Ten – Nebraska
The world will be down on the Huskers after the miserable Big Ten championship performance along with the bowl loss to Georgia, but there are four reasons why there could be a return trip to Indianapolis in December: Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State. That's your 2012 Nebraska road schedule, and while going to Michigan will be a bear, Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota should be beatable by anyone good enough to even think about winning a Big Ten title. There's no Wisconsin or Ohio State from the Leaders, the first road game isn't until mid-October, and with potentially nine starters back on offense, depending on the alignment, the Big Ten's top rushing game should be dominant.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … only four starters are back on a defense that has to be ready for UCLA on September 14th. No, the schedule isn't bad, but some of the home games are far tougher than they might appear. The Bruins are going to be nasty, and Northwestern and Michigan State aren't going to be layups. Yes, there's only one really bad road game, but losing to Michigan could cost the Huskers the Legends.

Big 12 - Kansas
Anything would be a surprise after a 1-11 season and with so many strong teams returning to the Big 12, but there's hope for more pop to the passing game with former BYU Cougar Jake Heaps ready to take over – he has the spot on top of the early depth chart. The Jayhawks should've beaten Texas and Texas Tech, and they played Oklahoma State tough. Throw in the close calls against Rice and Northern Illinois, and five of the losses were decided by a touchdown or less. There might be miles to go before there's any hope of winning the Big 12, but with five home games in the first seven, and winnable road games against Rice and Iowa State, a four-win season wouldn't be crazy.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … KU could lose to any team on the slate but South Dakota. It happened last season, and while the team is better, there isn't a sure-thing win to count on. The offense was last in the Big 12 in just about every major category by a mile, and it still needs a talent infusion and help in the receiving corps.

Conference USA – Southern Miss
When you go 0-12, one win makes it a positive season by comparison, but there really is hope for new head coach Todd Monken to turn things around in a hurry. Star linebacker/end Jamie Collins is gone, but nine starters return to a defense that has talent, but needs tweaking – a lot of tweaking. After a rough three game September stretch on the road at Nebraska, Arkansas State and Boise State, there isn't a game the rest of the way against a team that went bowling.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … the offense has to replace seven starters including four starters up front and running back Desmond Johnson.

Independents - Army
When the only games against BCS teams are against Stanford and Wake Forest at home and Boston College and Temple on the road, that's not too bad. 15 starters are back, and while quarterback Trent Steelman is gone, the backfield should be terrific and the running game stronger than ever. The D that was loaded with underclassmen last season comes back loaded with veterans and depth.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … it always seems like Army is about to have a surprising season, and it hasn't exactly worked out well. The defense still has to show it can stop someone, anyone, and the nation's worst passing game has to be more efficient.

MAC – Bowling Green
It's one of the big offseason calls to anyone who'll listen, and to many who won't. Watch out for Bowling Green to be this year's Kent State and possibly a Northern Illinois. The defense that finished sixth in the nation and first in the MAC against both the run and pass gets nine starters back. The offense might have been mediocre – to be kind – but ten starters could potentially return to the offense. There's a trip to Indiana in September and Mississippi State in October, but the toughest conference games against Toledo and Ohio are at home.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … there are only two losses on defense, but they're massive. Defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Dwayne Woods were heart-and-soul types who'll be missed. There's still some concern about star running back Anthon Samuel, who took a semester off from school to be with his family.

Mountain West – Fresno State
Even with the 43-10 Hawaii Bowl loss to SMU, Fresno State should still be the hot team throughout the offseason – at least that's what we're trying to push. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball including Derek Carr, who might have been the third quarterback taken in the draft had he come out early, and with a rising defense that was tremendous against the pass and decent enough against the run to get by, the pieces are there to win the Mountain West title. With Rutgers making the trip cross-country, and the road date at Colorado the other non-conference game against a BCS team, there's reason to think really, really, Northern Illinois-like big.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … SMU 43, Fresno State 10. Yeah, the Bulldogs were awesome over the second half of the season, but the one decent win came at Nevada. There were a lot of wins against bad Mountain West teams, and then came the disaster against the Mustangs. Did that expose Fresno State or was it an aberration?

Pac-12 - USC
It's quickly becoming fashionable to fire on the Trojans after the lackluster 2012 season with five losses in the final six and the ugly, lifeless bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Losing Matt Barkley and Robert Woods doesn't help, especially with the problems Max Wittek had after taking over under center. However, there's still a ton of talent returning on both sides of the ball with a starting 22 that should be as good if not better than any in the Pac-12. The schedule is a big plus missing Oregon from the North and getting Stanford at home. The toughest road dates are at Arizona, Notre Dame and Oregon State – that's not awful for a team with the bar set a tad lower.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … Matt Barkley still has to be replaced. The passing game has to show it can work with someone other than No. 7 under center. Depth is still a big concern after getting way too thin as last season went on, and the defense still has to show it can stop someone's ground game after getting rolled on by everyone by Arizona State late in the year.

SEC - Missouri
The Tigers were a major disappointment last season, and the coaching staff knows it. The call has gone out to be more physical and a whole lot tougher this offseason, but more than anything else, the Mizzou offense has to be the Mizzou offense again. The Tigers were supposed to enter the SEC with an ultra-efficient passing attack that could overcome the lack of a pounding ground game, but the offense couldn't complete a downfield pass and struggled to come up with timely drives. Eight starters return on offense, and that doesn't include running back Henry Josey, who's trying to come back from a bad knee injury. The schedule should be far easier with Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State and Vanderbilt to provide a nice base of wins over the first five games.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … it's hardly a given that the Tigers are going to walk past Toledo or Indiana and Vanderbilt on the road. As much as Mizzou might want to get physical, that's easier said than done with Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the middle of the season. Having Texas A&M to close things out won't be a peach.

Sun Belt – Texas State
The Bobcats could be dangerous in Sun Belt action with a veteran team getting 17 starters back that beat Houston and was more than just competitive against Louisiana Tech and Nevada. The running game, when it's working, should be able to crank out 300 yards against the lesser run defenses, and with so much talent returning on defense, there should be an improvement. Having Prairie View A&M, Georgia State, South Alabama and Idaho on the slate should help the record, too.
Actually, this might not be a surprising season because … as good as the offense can be, losing top running back Marcus Curry and quarterback Shaun Rutherford is a problem. The defense didn't stop anyone with a real offense, other than Houston, and while beating the Cougars was nice, the other three wins came against Stephen F. Austin, Idaho and New Mexico State – whoopee.