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  1. #1 2018 surprise teams from Phil Steele 
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    Surprise college football teams 2018 Texas Longhorns Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    by Phil Steele on 2018-07-22 14:01:00 UTC (original: http://www.espn.com/college-football...fighting-irish)
    Editor's note: This article was adapted from Phil Steele's college football preview magazine, which is available here.
    What constitutes a surprise team? For me, it's a team that isn't considered a consensus preseason top-10 team that could make a playoff run. This year, my projected preseason AP top 10 is Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma, Miami, Washington, Wisconsin, Auburn and Penn State.
    A year ago, my No. 1 surprise team was Florida, but the Gators suspended nine key players before the opener against Michigan and never had a chance to fulfill expectations. However, my No. 2 surprise team, Miami, won 10 games for the first time in 14 years and came within an upset of Clemson in the ACC title game from making the playoff. My No. 7 surprise team, TCU, won 11 games and earned a spot in the Big 12 title game. I had Georgia as my No. 10 surprise team, and the Bulldogs went on to win the SEC and lose in the national title game by only three points in overtime.
    What under-the-radar teams are in the running to make some serious noise in 2018?
    1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    In 2017, I pegged the Irish as my No. 1 most improved team and they delivered by rising from 4-8 to 10-3. One of those losses was a one-point heartbreaker to Georgia at home. My power ratings project an even better year this season for Notre Dame, which would put the team in serious playoff contention. The Irish are experienced at head coach, with ninth-year man Brian Kelly, and at quarterback, where Brandon Wimbush is a returning starter and backup Ian Book threw the game-winning TD pass in the Citrus Bowl defeat of LSU.
    Overall, 15 starters return, including nine from a defense that ranks no lower than No. 21 on my three defensive top individual units. Even with the graduations of Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, the offensive line is stocked with talent and will be stout. Finally, the Irish play only four true road games. Two of the toughest of those trips will be at Virginia Tech, which will be very young on defense, and at USC, which could struggle to effectively replace quarterback Sam Darnold. It won't take long to get a read on the 2018 Fighting Irish, who host Jim Harbaugh and Michigan in an opening-week revival of a rivalry that has been dormant the past three seasons.

    2. Texas Longhorns
    The Longhorns are (finally) ready to get back to winning 10 games for the first time this disappointing decade. In fact, one of my computers thinks the Horns could win 11 regular-season games. It's Year 2 for head coach Tom Herman, so the staff knows the players, and the players now know the expectations in Austin. Texas was only 7-6 in 2017, but four of those losses were by five points or fewer, and the quarterbacks, Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele, were both very young. Ehlinger and Buechele are a year older, and they will be supported by seven returning starters on each side of the ball. Big receivers Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey, in particular, are ready to grab the attention of NFL scouts.
    On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando says he thinks he has the personnel to cause disruption in 2018. On my annual experience chart, Texas ranks second in the Big 12 and No. 27 in the country. The slate is manageable, especially on the road. It begins with a trip to Maryland, where the Horns will have revenge on their minds following last September's upset loss. Though Texas boasts two quarterbacks with starting experience, most of this year's toughest opponents, like USC, TCU, Oklahoma State and especially rival Oklahoma, are breaking in new signal-callers. In a wide-open Big 12, Texas has not been this ready to contend for a championship since the Mack Brown days.
    3. Michigan State Spartans
    The Spartans are trending north again after going from 3-9 in 2016 to 10-3 a year ago. The Spartans are set up to seize the momentum and parlay it into a run at a second Big Ten title in the past three years. Just about everyone is back from last season for coach Mark Dantonio's 12th year, headlined by up-and-coming quarterback Brian Lewerke. Lewerke accounted for 25 touchdowns in his debut season as starter, and will be even more dangerous as a junior. MSU ranks No. 13 in my experience chart (No. 2 in the Big Ten) and there are no glaring roster holes.
    A cornerstone under Dantonio, the defense will be among the nation's stingiest in 2018. Eight of the nine Spartans defenders who earned at least honorable mention All-Big Ten a year ago are back from a unit that gave up only 20 points per game. Michigan State is in the Big Ten East Division, so the schedule will always be challenging. Two of the three toughest opponents, longtime rivals Michigan and Ohio State, must visit East Lansing, and Notre Dame, which knocked off the Spartans in 2017 (38-18), is not on this year's schedule. In crossover games with the Big Ten West Division, top-10 Wisconsin is missed. With a veteran backfield that includes running back LJ Scott and a defense that's No. 22 up front, No. 19 at linebacker and No. 7 at defensive back in my individual unit rankings, Michigan State is built for a title run.
    4. Michigan Wolverines
    The Wolverines went 8-5 a season ago, dropping their final three games, including another loss to rival Ohio State. Coach Jim Harbaugh, who is beginning to feel some pressure to get the Wolverines over the hump, finally has a dynamic quarterback capable of unlocking his offense's full potential. The NCAA decided in late April that Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson would be immediately eligible, which means the program will have access to a true playmaker under center who will help elevate the deep skill talent. That skill talent features running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, budding receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, and tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry.
    Michigan is already talent-rich on defense with my No. 6 defensive line, No. 12 linebackers and top-ranked secondary. Overall, the Wolverines welcome back 17 total starters, not counting Patterson, a degree of veteran experience that could be enough to overcome a nasty road slate that includes trips to Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan also hosts Big Ten West kingpin Wisconsin, so a loss with this thorny schedule will not eliminate Harbaugh's team from playoff contention.
    5. Stanford Cardinal
    The Cardinal have been rock steady under David Shaw, who is averaging more than 10 wins over seven seasons on The Farm. In 2017, Shaw was just below average at 9-5, but four of the losses were by a total of 11 points, and two defeats came at the hands of Pac-12 champ USC. Unlike in 2017, though, Stanford hosts USC this September. And unlike in 2017, Shaw's staff won't have to defend QB Sam Darnold. The Cardinal have been traditionally stout on defense, giving up no more than 22.7 points per game in each of the past eight seasons, yet have traditionally been average offensively. But the offense is ready to carry a little more of the workload in 2018.
    Nine offensive starters are back, led by Heisman runner-up running back Bryce Love and emerging wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and the always physical offensive line sports 93 combined career starts. If the defensive line can overcome the loss of defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, this is the kind of complete team that can get the Pac-12 back into the playoff mix after missing last year.
    6. USC Trojans
    The Trojans figure to start the season just outside of the top 10, despite winning 11 games and the Pac-12 title in 2017. Now in his fourth year at the helm, coach Clay Helton has brought stability to the Trojans. They've won 21 games over the past two years, while amassing a roster filled with highly touted players. USC returns 13 starters (seven on offense, six on defense), so there is a strong foundation on which to build. Plus, the biggest concern of deciding who will be Sam Darnold's replacement at quarterback will have the luxury of handing the ball to my No. 3 running Stephen Carr, throwing it to my sixth-ranked receiving corps and being protected by my No. 9 offensive line.
    Defensively, the back seven will be as star-studded as any in the country, led by a collection of linebackers and defensive backs that are both No. 3 in my positional unit rankings. Yes, the schedule is nasty, including trips to Stanford, Texas, Arizona and Utah in the first seven games, but USC has the talent and the championship know-how to buck preseason forecasts.
    7. Florida State Seminoles
    Since the Seminoles begin most years in the top 10, they're rarely available for this list. However, this season is an anomaly, since the 2017 team slumped to 7-6 and former coach Jimbo Fisher is now at Texas A&M. Still, this is Florida State, so the talent pool is as deep as any in college football, and six-loss seasons in Tallahassee are extremely rare.
    Last year unraveled before it ever got started, as up-and-coming quarterback Deondre Francois was lost in the opener to a knee injury. He is back, as is James Blackman, who stepped in and earned a full season of valuable reps as a true freshman. Add in second-year running back Cam Akers and Florida State has the nation's best young backfield this side of Athens, Georgia. New head coach Willie Taggart is justifiably bullish about his offense, while a rebuilding defense can always bank on speed and athleticism. ACC Atlantic nemesis Clemson, which has won three consecutive matchups in the series, visits Doak Campbell this fall and will be a marquee test for a Seminoles team looking to make strides in 2018.
    8. Mississippi State Bulldogs
    The first representative from the SEC on this list is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a new head coach -- Joe Moorhead -- for the first time since Dan Mullen came to Starkville in 2009. Otherwise, there are a ton of familiar faces here, including 17 returning starters and 92.5 percent of the offensive production from 2017. Seniors pop up on every unit of the two-deep, led by the backfield tandem of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams. Plus, line play, which is so important in the SEC, is set with four returning offensive line starters and nose guard Jeffery Simmons, defensive end Montez Sweat and defensive tackle Braxton Hoyett wreaking havoc on defense. Last year, the Bulldogs lost to eventual national champion Alabama by only seven points, a game that was tied in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs have the veteran roster, proven bodies in the trenches and dual-threat leader under center to be unbeaten by the time they travel to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10.

    9. Boston College Eagles
    BC is improved quarterback play away from being extremely dangerous this season. The Eagles have been unable to move beyond the 7-6 barrier for the past eight years, but this team is constructed to finally raise the bar. Back in the Tom O'Brien days, Boston College leaned on a formula of north-south running and a bare-knuckle defense. Current head coach Steve Addazio will dust off the old script, because running back AJ Dillon is going to steamroller opponents running behind my No. 6 offensive line (139 career starts). The defense has legit star power up front with defensive end Zach Allen and on the back end with safeties Will Harris and Lukas Denis. Boston College should have a wicked head of steam before reaching the meat of a schedule that includes visits from Miami and Clemson and trips to Virginia Tech and Florida State.

    10. TCU Horned Frogs
    Head coach Gary Patterson has routinely coached his team beyond preseason forecasts. In 2014, for instance, I had TCU as my No. 4 surprise team, despite going 4-8 a year earlier. The Horned Frogs delivered, going 12-1 and just missing a playoff berth. Expect more of the same from a team likely to start near the bottom of the top 25. Patterson's defense is predictably strong, and the program is very high on second-year QB Shawn Robinson.
    11. Utah Utes
    Like Patterson above, Utah's Kyle Whittingham consistently does a fantastic job of making preseason predictions look foolish. The Utes are rarely derailed by departures, rebuilding on the fly, and my power ratings see a fourth nine-win season in the past five years as a realistic goal. Utah was just 7-6 in 2017, but losses to Stanford, USC and Washington (all ranked) were by only seven combined points. Plus, quarterback Tyler Huntley missed time to injury, including the Cardinal and Trojans losses. A healthy Huntley and running back Zack Moss give the Utes a backfield that will cause fits for Pac-12 defenses.



    12. South Carolina Gamecocks
    Programs tend to take the next step by a staff's third season. That's exciting news for the Gamecocks, because Will Muschamp has already overseen three-win improvements in each of his first two seasons. The team went 9-4 last year, and now returns rising quarterback Jake Bentley and electrifying wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who passed on the NFL draft after suffering a season-ending injury last September. In fact, South Carolina leads the country in returning offensive production (99.6 percent). The Gamecocks are poised to become the next best thing to Georgia in the SEC East and host the Dawgs in an early Week 2 matchup.

    Roulette Chip: Florida Gators
    If you walk up to a roulette table and pick just one number, you have a 38-1 shot (37-1 in the big-money rooms with no 00) of having your number come up, so it's a long shot but still a possibility. Auburn was 3-9 in 2012, yet became the first team in recent history to go from a losing record to a national title. Two years ago, I put my chip on Nebraska. Coming off a 5-7 campaign, the Huskers started 7-0 and rose as high as No. 7. This year, I'm taking my chances with Florida. The Gators have a new coach in Dan Mullen who knows how to win in the SEC and are one of the most experienced squads in the country.
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  2. #2  
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    Surprise teams? Steele picks a 10-3 team as a "Surprise" team? What a fraud. Steele is a Harbaugh lover, which has to tell you something. Steele is the most desperate of a very desperate profession these days.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Pooh View Post
    Surprise teams? Steele picks a 10-3 team as a "Surprise" team? What a fraud. Steele is a Harbaugh lover, which has to tell you something. Steele is the most desperate of a very desperate profession these days.
    Steele may be a fraud as a prognosticator
    but he clearly defines his qualifications as a team that isn't considered a consensus preseason top-10 team that could make a playoff run.
    It is not specifically based on last year's record.


    Maybe you are a fraud as an informed poster
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    Quote Originally Posted by magking1 View Post
    Steele may be a fraud as a prognosticator
    but he clearly defines his qualifications as a team that isn't considered a consensus preseason top-10 team that could make a playoff run.
    It is not specifically based on last year

    Maybe you are a fraud as an informed poster
    Show me where that is "clearly" stated. Go on, show me. Maybe you should read before you run your mouth.
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    1) all you have to do is read the first sentence

    2) Michigan went 8-5 last year as the article states. Maybe that will be their 2018 record as you have your dates all wrong anyways
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    I don't understand why people are always boosting up the leather helmet champions Notre Dame. I mean they always pretty much fizz out by the end of the season. I was wearing stone wash outfits the last time they won a title.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seminoles View Post
    I don't understand why people are always boosting up the leather helmet champions Notre Dame. I mean they always pretty much fizz out by the end of the season. I was wearing stone wash outfits the last time they won a title.
    I grew up a hurricanes fan. That loss in 1988 still bothers me.

    Also loved the Miami/FSU rivalry back in the day. Kinda fizzled out now as neither school has both been "elite status" at the same time for a while
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    If you are a Miami fan, you have years of frustration ahead of you. This coming season will be a perfect example. Miami will win 10 regular season games or more. They should be favored in all 12 games, especially with the demise of the Va. Tech defense. But they will blow a game or two here and there. Then they will get blown out by Clemson in the CC game. This is classic Mark Richt. He just cannot get over the top. Last year was a perfect example.
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    If you walk up to a roulette table and pick just one number, you have a 38-1 shot (37-1 in the big-money rooms with no 00) of having your number come up, so it's a long shot but still a possibility.
    Actually, Phil, that would be 37-1, or 36-1 with no double-zero.
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    Auburn was 3-9 in 2012, yet became the first team in recent history to go from a losing record to a national title.
    Phil, Auburn's national title was in 2010, and they were 8-5 the year before.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knightrofins View Post
    I grew up a hurricanes fan. That loss in 1988 still bothers me.

    Also loved the Miami/FSU rivalry back in the day. Kinda fizzled out now as neither school has both been "elite status" at the same time for a while
    I think it's more UM that has not been on elite status tbh. FSU has a title, playoff appearance,and an Orange Bowl win in the last 5 years. I think it took UM 15 years just to make it to the ACC chip game.

    UM just seems to get poor coaches. Richt was a horrible hire. Soon as he leaves GA they are in the Chip game. The obligation thing that saves UM from being a 6 win team is the easy schedule.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Pooh View Post
    If you are a Miami fan, you have years of frustration ahead of you. This coming season will be a perfect example. Miami will win 10 regular season games or more. They should be favored in all 12 games, especially with the demise of the Va. Tech defense. But they will blow a game or two here and there. Then they will get blown out by Clemson in the CC game. This is classic Mark Richt. He just cannot get over the top. Last year was a perfect example.
    Last year was the 1st time the canes made it the the ACC championship game (would have been a few years ago, but they decided to ban themselves due to allegations). The canes overachieved last season and fans were excited again. It was a fun season as they beat FSU (finally) and beat ND and VT as they were home dogs. Plus the "turnover chain" brought back some swagger.

    Canes fans will be happy again to make it to the ACC championship game this season only to be waxed by Clemson again.

    However once fans think that "The U is back", fans will be mad if the Canes cant get over the hump
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seminoles View Post
    I think it's more UM that has not been on elite status tbh. FSU has a title, playoff appearance,and an Orange Bowl win in the last 5 years. I think it took UM 15 years just to make it to the ACC chip game.

    UM just seems to get poor coaches. Richt was a horrible hire. Soon as he leaves GA they are in the Chip game. The obligation thing that saves UM from being a 6 win team is the easy schedule.
    Canes havent been elite in a while. Hopefully they are on their way back as football is the best (according to me) when the Canes, Noles, and Gators are all elite teams. I think Richt was a GREAT hire (as he is a canes alum) but like u said, he needs to get over the hump unlike what he did at UGA.

    As i said in my last post, they would have made it to ACC chip game a few years ago, but they decided to take a postseason ban due to Nevin Shaprio allegations (canes werent that good anyways that season)
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    May I suggest all RXform members here play PS's picks.

    After four weeks you will be broke and maybe cap your own games.

    Or, tell your book you go to UCF where we win regardless of spreads.

    Yeah, that's the ticket.
    FAKE Sports Championships are like pennies, two-faced and worthless! Sad Central Florida,
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knightrofins View Post
    Canes havent been elite in a while. Hopefully they are on their way back as football is the best (according to me) when the Canes, Noles, and Gators are all elite teams. I think Richt was a GREAT hire (as he is a canes alum) but like u said, he needs to get over the hump unlike what he did at UGA.

    As i said in my last post, they would have made it to ACC chip game a few years ago, but they decided to take a postseason ban due to Nevin Shaprio allegations (canes werent that good anyways that season)
    Sorry but as soon as Richt left GA became contenders. GA has a lot of talent so there was no excuse. UM schedule has been pretty weak, so yes they will win about 10 games a season. But soon as they play the heavy hitters you will see performance like you saw when they played Clemson and Wisconsin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knightrofins View Post
    Canes havent been elite in a while. Hopefully they are on their way back as football is the best (according to me) when the Canes, Noles, and Gators are all elite teams. I think Richt was a GREAT hire (as he is a canes alum) but like u said, he needs to get over the hump unlike what he did at UGA.

    As i said in my last post, they would have made it to ACC chip game a few years ago, but they decided to take a postseason ban due to Nevin Shaprio allegations (canes werent that good anyways that season)
    As long as Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are around, Miami Florida State and Florida will NEVER be elite teams. What you are telling us is that you are so desperate, you will root for ANY team in Florida to win. You deserve to be chased out of here. Can you imagine the reaction that Clover would get in here if he pulled for Alabama AND Auburn? What about me rooting for USC AND UCLA? You are a disgrace to the true fans of college football.
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