Predicting the "surprise" teams heading into a season has become almost as common as guessing the national champion.
Wake Forest surprised in 2006. The previous season, the Demon Deacons went just 4-7, but they rebounded to post an 11-2 record and win the ACC championship.
Kansas surprised everyone in 2007. The Jayhawks, who had not managed more than seven wins in 11 seasons, went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl during the '07 season.
Alabama went 7-6 in '07, but notched a 12-2 record in 2008 and earned a No. 1 ranking late in the season.
Projecting this season's surprise team will surely spark debate, but one potential sleeper would make its fans go hog wild with a good season.
First, thank you for your service in the Marine Corps. Second, your Razorbacks will be significantly better this fall and will qualify for a bowl. With some luck, they could be one of the most improved teams in 2009.
There are several reasons to be optimistic.
• The Razorbacks obviously got better in the second half of their first season under coach
• New quarterback
• Last season, the secondary was suspect (and that's being kind). Three junior college transfers have been brought in to bolster that area.
• Seven games will be played in Fayetteville or Little Rock, and another will be at a neutral site (vs. Texas A&M).
Frustrating, isn't it? When the Bulls approach national power status, they always take a step (or two or three) backward. In each of the past two seasons, USF has gone unbeaten in September, then stumbled in October.
The Bulls started 6-0 in '07 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation. Then, they lost to Rutgers, Connecticut and Cincinnati consecutively. Last season, they won their first five, then lost four of the next five.
Will 2009 be different? It could be. The Bulls have enough talent to contend for the Big East championship. Quarterback
The schedule again will allow for a fast start. The Bulls open with Wofford, Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern. That leads to a tough non-conference game at Florida State, but they've fared well in similar circumstances.
Remember, USF pulled off an upset at Auburn in '07 and last year won at home against Kansas and on the road against North Carolina State. It wouldn't be a surprise for the Bulls to prevail in Tallahassee. But either way, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia will loom in October.
Perhaps USF will finish what it starts this fall. Until the Bulls do, though, there is going to be doubt. I know I have some.
No argument that Ole Miss and Oregon State were on equal terms. They both posted nine victories. They both knocked off top-ranked opponents.
But losses are only one part of the argument. Maybe USC did deserve a slight edge of consideration over Florida because the Trojans' loss was on the road, while the Gators' loss was at home. Florida fans could counter with an argument about the teams the Gators beat compared to the teams USC beat.
It's true Florida dropped to No. 12 after losing to Ole Miss, then climbed back to No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Gators made that climb by beating seven teams that finished with winning records. Four were nationally ranked when they lost to Florida, and three were ranked in the top six (No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama).
After falling to Oregon State, USC beat one ranked team -- No. 21 California -- and only three teams with winning records.
USC pulled out close wins against Arizona and California. In addition, five of the Trojans' victories after their loss came against opponents that didn't qualify for a bowl.
Florida had the advantage of getting a boost by beating top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. USC didn't have a chance to post another impressive win. The Pac-10 doesn't have a championship game.
Those are the breaks. Perhaps the Pac-10 should add two teams and stage a conference championship game.
Now, those facts don't mean USC couldn't have beaten Florida. USC was as good as any team in the nation. But the flawed BCS system doesn't necessarily match the two best teams in the championship game. Rather, it matches the teams that can make the best argument.
When comparing the teams Florida beat to those USC beat, it's obvious Florida had a better argument.
Still not convinced? That's OK. But then explain why USC should have been in the BCS championship game over Texas or Utah. Like USC, Texas' only loss occurred on the road, but to a higher-ranked opponent. Utah didn't have a loss and beat Oregon State, which beat USC.
I maintain there is no bias against USC.
BYU is as much a factor in the national championship picture as any team in a non-BCS conference can be. The Cougars have won at least 10 games in each of the past three seasons and won the national title in 1984, so BYU has some national cachet.
Alas, the Cougars are in the Mountain West Conference, which automatically puts them at a huge disadvantage. Remember, Utah was the only unbeaten team last season, and the Utes didn't get a chance to play for the national crown.
BYU could be different, though. Utah's success in '08 has raised the profile of the MWC, which has a good argument for its champion to be an automatic qualifier into a BCS bowl.
If the Cougars could go undefeated in '09, they would have an excellent chance to get into the national championship game. Of course, that would mean beating Oklahoma to open the season and Florida State two weeks later.
It's possible an undefeated MWC team would again get snubbed, especially if there were multiple undefeated teams. But if an unbeaten MWC team with wins over Oklahoma and Florida State were left out, Congress might really get involved and try to force a change in the process.
BYU projects to have a strong team in '09. The Cougars return eight defensive starters. Quarterback
The Cougars will be a team to reckon with. But I'd still pick Oklahoma in the season opener.
Had Dixon not injured his knee against Arizona in '07, he -- not Florida's
Dixon was having an incredible season for Oregon. The Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the nation and he was the primary reason. Through the first nine games, Dixon had passed for 2,074 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 549 yards and eight scores. He'd led the Ducks to victories over Michigan, USC and Arizona State.
But against Arizona in the 10th game of the season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the first quarter. He already had a 39-yard touchdown run in the game.
Before the injury, he was on pace to pass for almost 3,000 yards and rush for almost 800. Oregon was in good shape to finish 11-1, and likely would've faced Ohio State for the national championship had Dixon not gotten hurt. Instead, the Ducks lost the final three games of the regular season.
Dixon still got 17 first-place votes for the Heisman even though he played only three-fourths of the season. But he was not better than Young, who led Texas to the national championship in 2005. Young was college football's most dominant individual since Georgia's