Everyone know about the teams that are expected to be the truly elite squads in college football this year – Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State and so on. We also know about the teams that just aren’t ready for prime time. Where the real opportunities are for college football handicappers, though, is in spotting the teams poised have a better season than people expect. Being ahead of the betting public is always a good place to be. Here are three teams that have the potential to be surprisingly good – perhaps even good enough to win their conferences, or in one case at least their division:
Stanford – The Pac-10 is an absolute crapshoot this year. There isn’t a single clear favorite, and there are six or seven teams that can be viewed as legitimate contenders. The risk is that the teams will beat each other up and a weak conference champion will emerge, or even worse that USC will be the only really strong team but they are not bowl eligible. I don’t trust USC this year, though, and I do think that another team or two are going to emerge as powerhouses. Stanford is chief among the possibilities in my eyes. This is a very well coached team, and Jim Harbaugh is moving in the right direction. The team was second best in the conference last year, and they beat three ranked opponents. This year they have a reasonable schedule – USC, Oregon, and Oregon State at home – and they could be poised to take another step forward. What I really like most about this team is QB Andrew Luck. If you saw him play last year you realize just how good he already is, and how good he can potentially be. He led the top Pac-10 offense as a red-shirt freshman last year, and now that he’s a year older and wiser I look for him to take a step forward. They’ll have to make up for the loss of Toby Gerhart, but they have some impressive depth at the position so something should emerge. Defensively, the team is shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and that’s ideal given that they have just one returning starter on the line but their linebacking corps is incredibly impressive. If everything goes well then this team certainly has 10 win potential, and that will be a surprise to many.
Iowa – It’s hard to believe that people will be too surprised by a team that is coming off a BCS appearance last year, but there isn’t nearly as much buzz around the Hawkeyes as there should be. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is back and healthy this year. He’s far from the most impressive QB on the planet, but he led this squad to 9-0 last year before getting injured. He’s one of those guys who just knows how to win. He’s one of 15 returning starters on the team, so experience won’t be a problem. The team has the best receivers they have had in a long time, and the best defensive line that Kirk Ferentz has ever had. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is a ridiculously good player who stands a very good chance of being the buzz d-lineman this year like Ndamukong Suh was last year. Iowa’s defense has been consistently excellent recently, and I expect more of the same. Their schedule sets up perfectly for them as well – the non-conference schedule is a gift, and they play the three toughest teams in the Big Ten – Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State – all at home. They were the second best team in the conference last year, and they have the real potential to go one step further this year.
South Carolina – The thing that has been missing since Steve Spurrier left Florida is his swagger. Back when he was with the Gators he had an aura around him, and you got the sense that a player wouldn’t dare play anything below their very best. In the NFL and now at South Carolina that hasn’t been the case. It’s been a kinder, gentler Spurrier, and the results have been underwhelming as a result. There are clear signs this year that that’s going to change. He’s shown a fire that has been long absence, he’s taken over calling all the plays – something he did in his glory days, and he has upgraded his coaching staff in ways that finally make sense. Spurrier has publicly called out QB Stephen Garcia and questioned his commitment, but that seems like a calculated attempt to get the QB on track. In his first full year as a starter last year Garcia led the entire conference in total yardage he he clearly has some game, and with a newly aggressive Spurrier pushing him on he could have a big year. He has a strong receiving corps, and a running game that could be special. Florida has to go through a huge post-Tebow transition this year, and Georgia and Tennessee aren’t certain to have great teams, so there is a real chance that Spurrier could grab the division and get a shot at the SEC Championship. A strutting Spurrier against Saban for all of the marbles would be worth watching.
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