Every year in college football there is always a surprise team. A school will fly under the radar for a few weeks before eventually being ranked. This team will find their way into the top 10 by the end of the season and be one of the best teams in the country. Teams are overlooked for a variety of reasons during the preseason. They could have had coaching changes, they might have lost key players for last year’s team, or they may have finished with a poor record giving fans and analysts little faith they would be a good team. No matter the reason, at least one team surprises the country every. Number three in our series 99 Things will focus on previous surprise teams and who candidates might be this season.
Last season there were three surprise teams who started the season unranked but finished in the top 10. Michigan, Baylor and Michigan State all shocked the country with their final season ranking. Michigan was the only team in the group to obtain votes in the preseason poll. The Wolverines would have been ranked 32nd if the rankings expanded. Michigan would go on to win the Big Ten over heavy favorite Ohio State and make an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. Baylor had one of the biggest turnarounds in the country after finishing 2-7 in 2020. The Bears won the Big 12 with a 12-2 record and also won the Sugar Bowl. Baylor was picked to finish eighth in the conference by the media in their preseason poll. Michigan State was picked to finish last in the Big Ten east after a 2-5 record in 2020. The Spartans flipped the script and finished 11-2 including a win over arch rival Michigan.
Florida State is a team who could completely surprise the nation. The Seminoles won five of the final eight games which included wins over Miami FL and North Carolina. Their three losses came to Clemson, Florida and NC State. The Seminoles were competitive in each one of their losses. Florida State led Clemson late in the fourth quarter before the Tigers scored a a touchdown with less than three minutes remaining. Jordan Travis is an experienced quarterback who could make a jump in 2022. The ACC also has a void at the top of the conference allowing Florida State to make the jump. Florida State could still easily lose five games but they also could make the jump and finish the season ranked in the top 15. An opening weekend showdown against LSU will give us an early look at the Seminoles.
Mississippi State is another team who could make the jump this season. Mike Leach struggled in his second season finishing with a 7-6 record. The Bulldogs record may not reflect how close they were to having a 10 win season. Mississippi State lost by 10 points or less to Memphis, Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs will not be winning the SEC this year but Leach is bound to win at least 10 games in a season soon. Will Rogers is entering his third season as the starting quarterback. A veteran quarterback is a common reason why teams make the jump. The SEC schedule is a grind which is a main reason why Mississippi State could still finish with only eight wins. Leach has found success at each one of his coaching stops so it is reasonable to think he will eventually find success in Starksville.
College football’s uncertainty is another reason why the sport is the greatest in the world. Every season we have at least one team which completely surprises the country by coming out of nowhere. We also have at least one team who starts in the top 10 and finishes the season unranked. Determining who these teams will be is hard to predict. Could Florida State or Mississippi State be the program to jump into the top 10 because the season is completed?