With the 2010 season rapidly approaching, I've received numerous questions lately from e-mailers, talk-radio hosts, bloggers, etc., about who my "dark horse" team is this year. Presuming this to mean "a team aside from usual suspects Alabama/Ohio State/Florida/Texas that could rise up and win the national title," I've been going with Miami.
Well, yes -- going by recent BCS history, No. 13 Miami is as close to a "dark horse" as you'll find. It's been seven years since a team that low rose up and won the title (No. 14 LSU in 2003), and only one team with a lower ranking (No. 19 Oklahoma in 2000) has ever pulled it off. The average preseason ranking of the past six BCS champions: 3.8. Even with the circumstances ripe for a more
However, if we change the topic from "BCS champion" to "BCS bowl participant" -- then we can ditch the "dark horse" connotations and start identifying true, off-the-radar "sleepers." Over the past four seasons, eight teams that were unranked to start the season ended the year with a BCS berth, including such out-of-nowhere teams as ACC champ Wake Forest in 2006, Kansas' 12-1 team in '07, Illinois' Rose Bowl team that same year and, believe it or not,
I've got my eye on at least five candidates that could fit the BCS "sleeper" bill this year.
(Note: For the purposes of this column, I do not consider two-time BCS participant Cincinnati --
Oregon is still my pick to win the Pac-10. USC is ineligible for the postseason. And Oregon State checks in at No. 22. After that, there are several similarly bunched Pac-10 teams -- Arizona, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State -- that could be poised for a breakout, but
Arizona returns standouts at quarterback (
The Huskies have won at least eight games in four of their six seasons since joining the Big East, even sharing a conference title with West Virginia in '07, but they've yet to climb that final hurdle and reach the 10-win plateau. This could be the year. Last year's team teetered ever so close, losing five games by a combined 15 points before closing with four straight wins, including a double-overtime thriller at Notre Dame and a 20-7 silencing of South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
UConn returns 16 starters, including its quarterback (
Five other ACC teams appear in the preseason rankings. Fortunately for the Eagles, four of them (Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech and UNC) play in the opposite division and only two of them (Virginia Tech and Florida State) appear on BC's regular-season schedule. That alone gives
The Eagles have a bona fide stud at running back (
On the flip side, BC's offense was dreadful last season, with then 25-year-old freshman quarterback
With four Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason top 14 (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 10 Iowa, No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 14 Penn State), you're excused if you haven't given a passing thought to the Boilermakers. But perhaps you should reconsider. Remember, this is a team that handed Ohio State its only conference defeat last season, came within a last-minute two-point conversion at Pac-10 champ Oregon and lost three other contests by less than a touchdown.
Now in his second season, coach
Who says this year's "BCS buster" has to come from the Mountain West or WAC? The Midshipmen took a notable competitive leap last season. For the first time since their seven-year bowl streak began under former coach
Navy's triple-option offense returns six of last year's top seven rushers. The school is touting quarterback
A few other teams and items worth noting:
• There are no SEC teams on this list simply because so many of them (six) are already ranked. No. 21 Georgia and No. 23 Auburn might otherwise have qualified as sleepers, and I don't have any particular faith in South Carolina or Kentucky.
• There are no Big 12 teams on this list because, outside of Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, the Big 12 is not going to be very good.
• I strongly considered Notre Dame. Both of the Irish's last two coaches,
• Finally, a few other non-AQ "sleepers" to consider: Houston (10-4 last season, though a Nov. 27 return trip to Texas Tech a week before a potential date in the Conference USA title game comes at a tough time); Air Force (8-5 last season and creeping up on TCU/Utah/BYU in the Mountain West); and SMU (8-5 last season, and playing for a coach,