Ranking the nation's Top 10 surprise teams entering 2014
You know all about the national title favorites for the new season -- Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma, et al. But what about the teams that aren't getting enough attention? Here are 10 teams that are in position to surprise this fall.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY SportsMatt Cashore
No. 10: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has a tough road this season, with road games at Florida State, USC and Arizona State. The Irish also host Stanford, North Carolina and Louisville. So no question it will be a challenge to crack the postseason. But QB Everett Golson is back, and strength of schedule will be emphasized more than ever with the new system. With a couple timely upsets, Notre Dame could make big noise in 2014.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
No. 9: North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels enter what feels like a swing year for Larry Fedora in Chapel Hill. A great season could catapult the program to a new level; a down year will make some wonder when UNC should start looking for its next coach. However, the Tar Heels return plenty of talent and have opportunities at Clemson, at Notre Dame and at Miami to notch a couple signature wins. More good news: They miss Florida State in the regular season.
No. 8: Texas Longhorns
Most simply assume it's going to take time for Charlie Strong to rebuild Texas into a national power, but there's a good chance the 'Horns exceed expectations in 2014. With Strong, they'll have a physical defense, and a healthy David Ash (he's been medically cleared to play) could give Texas solid QB play while the QB of the future (unknown) develops. Nine wins would be a great start to Strong's tenure.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY SporJohn David Mercer
No. 7: Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss has never been to an SEC title game, and although it might be a longshot for that in 2014, now would be the time. The league is in transition, while the Rebels have QB Bo Wallace back and get both Alabama and Auburn at home. Double-digit wins is in play for the Rebs.
Derick E. Hingle
No. 6: LSU Tigers
It's hard to believe LSU could "surprise" in any season, but the Tigers are not getting enough talk this preseason. With super-freshmen Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre leading the next wave of elite talent into Baton Rouge, the Tigers could grown quickly and win an unsettled SEC West.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY SportsKelvin Kuo
No. 5: USC Trojans
Steve Sarkisian returns to Los Angeles to take over the Trojans, and as usual, he will have plenty of talent to work with. Cody Kessler has been named the starting QB, and now USC fans will wait to see Sark open up the offense in ways it didn't last season with Lane Kiffin leading the way. USC goes to Stanford and UCLA, but it misses Oregon and gets Notre Dame at home. The talent is good enough and the schedule tough enough to put together a playoff resume.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
No. 4: Iowa Hawkeyes
Would 10 wins from Iowa surprise you? Well, it's possible for Kirk Ferentz's club, which won eight last season. Iowa has an easy schedule, missing Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, and it gets Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern at home. Their road couldn't be more set up for Big Ten title contention than it is currently.
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY SportsDaniel Shirey
No. 3: Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia has RB Todd Gurley, which automatically gives them an advantage over their SEC East rivals, but they also have new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. With even reasonable improvement on D in 2014, the Bulldogs are primed to get to Atlanta and the SEC title game. Do that, and they're one win away from the College Football Playoff.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
No. 2: Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin is a legitimate Playoff threat. Why? They have a Heisman candidate in RB Melvin Gordon and a ridiculously easy schedule. No Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State. They figure to take a step back on D after losing so many starters, but on the other side, they return one of the nation's best O-lines. Getting a playoff nod probably requires beating LSU in Week 1 since the rest of the schedule is so soft, but the Badgers are talented enough to do that; it helps they get the young Tigers so early.
No. 1: Florida Gators
It almost feels like an all-or-nothing season for Will Muschamp at Florida. With a healthy Jeff Driskel at QB and a revamped offense under new OC Kurt Roper, to go along with Florida's stingy D, the Gators can absolutely contend for an SEC East title. If they suffer a similar number of injuries that led to last season's 4-8 record, they're doomed and Muschamp will be fired. But that incredibly bad luck can't repeat, can it? The guess here is Florida challenges in the East and Muschamp gets off the hot seat.