Notre Dame reached last year’s BCS title game, after starting the season outside the AP Top 25. They were one of six teams to reach the game starting outside the Top 12 since 1998. Here are five teams that could perform that feat this season. These scenarios are longshots, obviously, otherwise these teams would be ranked higher.
Oklahoma State (No. 13) The Cowboys are undervalued. Despite an 8-5 record, they finished top 15 in SRS for the third-straight season. They ranked first in the Big 12 in yards per play offense. They ranked second in yards per play defense. If the coordinator transition goes well, a softer Big 12 schedule (five home games including Oklahoma and Baylor) could see this team make a second run at the title game in three years. If so, this unfortunate Mike Gundy story gets forgotten.
Texas (No. 15) Recent history has voters cautious. But, looking at this team on paper, one could easily make the case they should be a top 10 or even a top five team. If David Ash steps forward with loaded offensive personnel and the defense is at least decent, Texas could weasel their way into the conversation and save Mack Brown’s job.
Michigan (No. 17) The Wolverines are young. They are also talented. Devin Gardner, who showed flashes in 2012, could make “the leap” with a full off-season at quarterback. Greg Mattison finally has depth on defense. They get Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State at home this year. Maybe the team that looks loaded for 2014-16 is a tad precocious.
Boise State (No. 19) The Broncos are not getting enough respect. They have lost four games the past three seasons, by a combined seven points in regulation. They won 11 games last year, despite returning almost no one from the year before. Big road wins at Washington and BYU to see them finish undefeated along with their name-brand status could vault them ahead of a blemished conference champion.
Michigan State (NR) Announcing a four-way quarterback battle just days before the season starts breeds no confidence. That said, the offense, returning players who have thrown and caught passes at the college level, should be at least a little bit better. Last year’s defense, fifth overall in yards per play, performed at an elite level. They dump Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State from the Big Ten schedule. They play Michigan at home. Their season comes down to four games. It’s not inconceivable they sweep them.