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Top Five Surprise Teams
August 26, 2004
Can QB Jay Cutler lead Vandy to a bowl game?
Every season in college football, there are about five teams that are considered "surprises," teams that no one expected to do as well as they did. Teams like Maryland in 2001 (won the ACC), Arkansas in 2002 (tied for SEC West Championship), Georgia in 2002 (won SEC Championship), and Ole Miss in 2003 (tied for SEC West Championship), all came into the season with lower expectations. Here are my top five surprise teams for this season.

Vanderbilt - Yes, you heard right, Vanderbilt. The Commodores return 20 starters from a team that did only finish 2-10, but a good season at Vanderbilt would be simply making it to a bowl game, which could very well happen this season as both South Carolina and Kentucky could be victims of the Commodores. QB Jay Cutler, who is now a three year starter, will lead the offense with the option attack with RB Kwane Doster, who was the top SEC Freshman a few seasons ago. Vanderbilt opens with South Carolina at home in Nashville, and the Commodores can without a doubt play with the Gamecocks, but can they beat them? That is the question. It remains to be seen but one thing is for sure: Vanderbilt won't be getting beat 40-10 too many times this season.

Season Record Prediction: 6-5 (regular season) and a birth in the Music City Bowl in their own city of Nashville.

Pittsburgh - The Panthers lost nearly all of their key players from last season, and the two most notable are Larry Fitzgerald and Rod Rutherford. Most would figure this season to be a rebuilding year for the Panthers, but not so fast. It would most likely be a rebuilding year if the Panthers still had to contend with the likes of Miami and Virginia Tech, but since those schools left, Pittsburgh catches a big break. Instead of rebuilding, Pitt may be actually able to contend for the conference championship. Crazy? Not really considering the fact that they get West Virginia at home on Thanksgiving, and their toughest game will be against Nebraska and that isn't even a conference game (as everyone knows). Pittsburgh has recruited well the past few seasons, most of the time finishing in the Top 30 with most recruiting services. Pitt is my personal pick to win the Big East as I always pick a "darkhorse" candidate each year from one conference, and Pitt is my pick this season.

Season Record Prediction: 9-2 (regular season) and a birth in a BCS Bowl as designated by the Bowl Committee.

Virginia Tech - To count Virginia Tech out this season would be ludicrous. Virginia Tech has a few questions they must answer, such as, can Cedric Humes carry the load at RB? How will the secondary perform? These are questions we'll see answered when VT takes on USC at FedEx Field in Washington D.C. on August 28th. The Hokies have a tough schedule to say the least in the new and tougher ACC and that includes games like NC State and Maryland, among others. The Hokies will be counting on QB Bryan Randall, who took over his freshman year when Grant Noel went down with an injury. He has been proving doubters wrong ever since. He'll continue that this season as the Hokies will finish second in the ACC behind Florida State. What will be interesting to see is if the Hokies get a birth in the Gator Bowl by finishing second in the ACC, and WVU finishes second in the Big East, will we get another rematch? We'll see.

Season Prediction: 9-2 (regular season) and a birth in the Gator Bowl.

Arkansas - The Razorbacks return just three starters on the entire squad. Bad you say? Yes, perhaps, but the Hogs have one player that makes all the difference, Matt Jones. Matt Jones is the lone returning starter on offense, but I'm sure if Arkansas Head Coach Houston Nutt could choose one player to have return on offense, it would be Jones. Jones is very close to setting the SEC rushing record for a QB and will most likely shatter that record this season. He led the Hogs to victories over powerhouse Texas last season as the Hogs went into Austin and left the Longhorn fans stunned in what really wasn't a close game as Arkansas dominated nearly the entire game. The Hogs return two starters on defense, and that will be their achillies heel this season. Arkansas puts out quite possibly the most CB's of any school in the SEC, and Houston Nutt recruits speed for his defense and has reeled in some very good recruiting classes the past couple seasons. Arkansas has some tough games such as a home game against arch rival Texas, a trip to their "home away from home," War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the "Battle of the Golden Boot" against LSU, a trip to Gainesville to face the Gators, and a visit from Georgia in Fayetteville. The Hogs, in my opinion, can weather this extremely tough schedule and go to yet another Bowl Game.

Record Prediction: 7-4 (regular season) with a birth in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Nebraska - The Cornhuskers come into this season unranked but will make some noise in the Big XII. New Head Coach Bill Callahan is bringing a west coast offense to Nebraska and going away from their "pound the ball" mentality. It will take a few years for them to successfully incorporate this offense, but they will find a way to make it work. The Cornhuskers reeled in yet another good recruiting class as they went into the off-season with some momentum after defeating Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Lord is gone, and the Nebraska offense will need a new QB to fit the type of offense they plan on running. Will it work? I believe it will, and Nebraska will have a good season this year.

Record Prediction: 8-3 (regular season) with a birth in the Alamo Bowl

As you can see, these are my surprise teams for this season. College football seems to have more and more every season, and this year will be no different. I'm sure there are many more out there that will have fantastic seasons, but I think the five I have listed are going to have very respectable seasons.

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