Every year, there are always a number of teams that rise above the expectations of the experts. Some of these teams go from cellar dwellers to bowl games. Others may go from winning teams to championship contenders, shocking the college football world. Regardless, this mix of uncertainty and cinderella stories make college football extra special. For this reason, there simply is nothing like the college game. Upsets and exciting finishes are always lurking somewhere. Nonetheless, a champion will be crowned at the end of the year.
Be that as it may, there are ten teams that should have a great chance to make that leap in 2017. Each one has a chance to make a surprise run to win their respective conference. This is my top 10:
#10-Colorado St. Rams
The Rams finished 7-6 last year and went to the Famous Idaho Bowl. In addition, they nearly knocked off #23 Boise St. but lost 28-23. Colorado St. was a 28-point underdog in that game.
Currently, the Rams stand at 1-1 with a huge win over Oregon St. 58-27. However, the second game was not nearly as impressive in a loss to Colorado 17-3. The Rams also draw Alabama in Week 4 in Tuscaloosa. Ultimately, this team has enough firepower on offense to keep things close on any given night. With a few lucky bounces here and there, the Rams could win 8-9 games and could compete for the MW Mountain Conference championship.
#9-Appalachian St. Mountaineers
Appalachian St. is one of those teams that are well on their way to making their mark in the FBS. The Mountaineers are the only team in FBS history to make a bowl in their first two years of eligibility. After two years of 11-2 and 10-3, being an overachiever is gonna be tough to top.
After losing the opening game to Georgia 31-10, the Mountaineers bounced back with a thumping of Savannah St. 54-7. Appalachian St. is a small school with only 18,000 students and made the jump from FCS in 2015. By and large, this team has already overachieved. Technically, they were an FBS team in 2014, but the NCAA rules didn’t allow bowl eligibility until the next year.
In 2016, Appalachian St. nearly beat then-ranked Tennessee in overtime, but the Vols ended up winning 20-13. Of course, the biggest win came back in 2007 against Michigan in “The Big House.” This upset may have been the greatest of all time. Currently, they sit at 1-1 with one the best running backs in the country Jalin Moore and plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball. In my opinion, the Mountaineers have an outside shot to run the table the rest of the way. Regardless, look for them to make a run at the Sun Belt Conference title in 2017.
#8-Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Coach Skip Holtz is the main reason for the Bulldogs rise into relevancy in Ruston. He’s posted four winning seasons in the five years he’s been there. Additionally, La. Tech has been to the Conference USA Championship game twice the last two of three years.
Louisiana Tech is a tough place to keep winning year after year. With a team named LSU, any other team in Louisiana has it tough for anyone to lure a player from Tiger country. But Tech has done remarkably well with their rural location and unknown brand. Tech’s offense has always been a lock to put points on offense. The last three years, Louisiana Tech has averaged about 40 points a game, and the defense is slowly coming around.
This year could be the year the defense catches up, as the D-line is ranked near the top in Conference USA. Additionally, their linebackers should be well improved.
The one thing missing in their resume is that huge signature win. They have one chance left with South Carolina on September 23rd. Miss. St. blew them away last week 57-21. However, look for the Bulldogs to bounce back and compete for the the West and possibly the Conference USA Title game.
Originally, the Kentucky Wildcats were ranked a little higher in my poll. As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago, the Wildcats were in my top three overachievers. At the same time, the creeping thoughts of Wildcat football come into play every year. Can Kentucky be a real contender in the SEC in football?
The short answer is NO! Not just yet anyway. At any rate, there is reason to believe that Kentucky is really shooting for that high place where only Alabama stands. The Wildcats have started at 2-0 with an impressive win at Southern Miss 24-17. On the other hand, they struggled mightily against Eastern Kentucky pulling away 27-16.
The problem in the last few years has been the defense. Giving up 31 points usually would not give much of a chance to any team. That being said, the offense nearly matched that with a 30-point average. In the SEC though, the defense is gonna be the main factor whether or not a team can be relevant.
In 2016, Kentucky pulled off a major upset of Louisville on the road 41-38. By the same token, the SEC schedule sets up well this year. They don’t have to play Alabama or LSU and play Florida at home. Kentucky needs to beat Florida to make things interesting. Also, they’ll get a stern test from South Carolina on the road this Saturday. Look for some surprise wins in 2017.
The Toledo Rockets are going to win the MAC this year. It’s been over 13 years, and they are way overdue. The Rockets have seven straight winning seasons in a row. In 2015, the Rockets were huge underdogs to the Arkansas Razorbacks by 21 points but won 16-12. Also, last year they nearly knocked off BYU in Provo, which is always a tough place to play.
Toledo’s schedule sets up favorably with one HUGE matchup against the Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 23rd in Miami. Toledo also plays Western Michigan at home the last game of the season. Consequently, the 9-4 record of last year should be surpassed by at least 10 wins total. Moreover, Toledo’s QB Logan Woodside is ranked in the top 25 quarterbacks in the country. There’s an outside chance that you might see him playing on Sundays. All things point to a very good year for the Rockets.
#5- Indiana Hoosiers
This is the second so-called basketball program that is gonna start turning their football programs into legitimate competitors. The Hoosiers have made great strides the last couple of years going 6-6. Back-to-back bowl games are unfamiliar territory for the Indiana Hoosiers. The last time that happened is when Trent Green was quarterback in 1990-91.
In addition, the last time the Hoosiers won eight games was 1993 and 2007 for a winning season. Accordingly, Hoosier fans haven’t come around yet to embrace football. For this reason, the faith in the football team is low. No doubt, it’s totally understandable.
That being said, there’s evidence to be upbeat in 2017. With 17 starters back, the Hoosiers have shown some grit. They held their own against Ohio St. for nearly three quarters before getting worn down. But in Week 2, the Hoosiers bounced back with a big win against Virginia on the road. The 6-7 record should be improved to overachieve this year in the Big 10 Conference.
#4-UCF Golden Knights
Just two years ago, UCF went 0-12 which led to the exit of legendary coach George O’Leary. Coach O’Leary lead UCF to national prominence during his tenor there. The rise was extremely quick for a team that only has played in the FBS for just seven years. Even so, the expectation grew so rapidly that O’Leary’s success was ironically his demise.
In any case, UCF finds themselves in a great position currently. In fact, the Golden Knights have been to four straight bowl games with a Fiesta Bowl win against Baylor in 2013, 52-42. Ironically, it’s their rival USF that is garnishing all the attention at the moment. However, don’t be fooled. Of course, the USF Bulls are the team to beat in 2017 in the AAC. But look for UCF to be the surprise contender this year in the East.
The biggest challenge for UCF is gonna be adversity from the after effects from Hurricane Irma. Two of their games have been cancelled already. As a result, the Knights will only play 10 games this season. Regardless, their schedule sets up nice with a final game against USF. This game could decide the East Division. If UCF can “weather the storm” early keep an eye on them.
The moment new coach Mark Richt stepped into the Miami program, there was an instant transformation. In his first year, Miami went from past memories to being a relevant ACC opponent. Actually, the 5-3 record posted in the ACC was only one game behind Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division to have the chance at Clemson. Two years ago, The Miami Hurricanes got thumped by Clemson 58-0 at home.
In 2017, the only way Miami would play Clemson, if both get to the ACC Championship game. Regardless, look for Miami to be there. Returning 15 starters from last year’s team gives them plenty of stability this year.
The Miami vs. Florida St. game that was supposed to take place this Saturday has been moved to October 7th. That was going to be the ultimate gauge of where this Miami team is really at. In 2016, they lost by one point 20-19 against the Seminoles. Currently, Miami sits at #15 in the Coaches Poll. Look for them to rise up the polls the next couple of weeks until the Florida St. game. Miami is a legitimate contender to make the four team playoff.
#2-Oklahoma St. Cowboys
This team is built to win a national championship. Oklahoma St. has been a very good team the last few years. The one team that stands in their way seems to be the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma has won four of the last five in the series and 12 of the last 14. The Sooners own the series at 86-18-7.
In 2017, there is going to be a new era that will build into the future. QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington is the best tandem in college football. In 2016, the Cowboys put up an average of 38.6 points a game against just 26.5 points given up. Be that as it may, the Cowboys did lose half their starters on defense.
Actually, this year the Cowboys have given up only 31 points a game. One of those was against an underrated Tulsa team 59-24. Oklahoma St. has a favorable ACC home schedule that includes Oklahoma on Nov. 4th. The only other game that could trip them up is the TCU game on Sept. 23rd. Texas is also gonna be a tough fight on the road as well on Oct. 21st in Austin. Either way, look for the Cowboys to be near the top five teams in the country when Oklahoma comes into Stillwater. This is a team that definitely can make the playoffs and be a dark horse to win it all.
#1- Oregon Ducks
After many hours of research and sweat, the Oregon Ducks are gonna be the biggest overachiever this year. A 4-8 record gives plenty of room to make that jump to possibly double the amount of wins. With an impressive win over Nebraska last week 42-35 over Nebraska gives them the start they need to make a dramatic improvement with new coach Willie Taggert from USF.
Oregon finished 2-7 in PAC 12 play in 2016 including a thrashing from Washington 70-21 and Washington St. 51-33. Even their crosstown rivals Oregon St. beat them 34-24. The Beavers also finished at 4-8.
In 2017, things are going to be like “night and day.” The Ducks are gonna face two road games coming up against Wyoming and Arizona St. By the same token, the schedule doesn’t get much more friendlier after. In my opinion though, this team is one year away from competing for the PAC 12 Conference Championship. No one is gonna want to play this Oregon Duck team.
The Ducks have the experience with 17 returning starters on both sides of the ball. No team is gonna scare or intimidate Duck Nation. Look for at least an 8-9 win season.