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Top 5 colleges storylines of 2013

Face it: Underdogs just have more fun.

Sure, it’s satisfying when your team goes wire-to-wire, from the preseason favorite to the postseason champion. But is there anything like an unexpected triumph to really get the heart racing?

Just ask the 2013 Red Sox if you’re unsure.

Or, if you prefer amateurs to professionals, ask a (supposedly) undermanned Harvard hoops team what it’s like to upset the supposed order of things. Or ask a beleaguered BC football team what it feels like to be bowling once more.

Or ask the diminutive point guard with the big impact what it’s like to lead an undefeated UMass team back into the national consciousness for the first time this millennium.

Yes, 2013 was a year of surpassing expectations for many Boston-area colleges. Here are five of the top moments from the past year:

5. Sept. 30: UMass-Lowell emerges

The first puck had yet to drop, but the River Hawks were already making noise in the college hockey world. After reaching their first Frozen Four the season before, Norm Bazin’s boys were ranked No. 1 in the country in the USA Today/USA Hockey News and USCHO.com preseason polls.

And though they lost their opener and the hold on the top spot, the ranking cemented the River Hawks as a team to beat going forward.

The news isn’t all being made on the ice, either. When a spot opened up in America East (because Boston University left for the Patriot League), Lowell decided to take the plunge and move all sports to the Division I level (joining men’s ice hockey, which had been part of Hockey East for years).

4. Nov. 25: Minutemen partying like it’s 1998

After starting the season 6-0, Chaz Williams and the Minutemen were rewarded with the team’s first AP Top 25 ranking since 1998 -- at No. 24. Derek Kellogg has this long, athletic team off and running and ranked as high as No. 21 in the polls.

Can junior big man Cady Lalanne (15.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG) & Co. keep it up through the Atlantic-10 schedule and make it to March Madness for the first time since that 1998 season?

3. Nov. 16: Addazio pushes BC football back to bowl berth

After the disappointment of the past few years, when the Eagles bottomed out with a 4-8 record in 2011 and a 2-10 record in 2012, it seemed there was nowhere to go but up for new coach Steve Addazio.

But who could’ve predicted that BC would go this far, this fast?

After a 38-31 win over NC State, BC improved its record to 6-4 and clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. To recognize the accomplishment, athletic director Brad Bates told security to allow the maroon-and-gold-clad fans to rush onto the Alumni Stadium field and celebrate with the team.

The result was a moment that BC seniors Kevin Pierre-Louis and Kasim Edebali said they’d never forget -- and one that many fans likely won’t forget, either.

2. Dec. 14: Andre Williams, Heisman finalist

There were almost too many moments to choose from for Williams, the 6-foot, 227-pound senior workhorse back who carried the Eagles (literally) at times this season. Take that win over NC State, for example.

All the Schnecksville, Penn., native did in that one was set new BC and ACC records for single-game rushing (339 yards), set a new BC single-season rushing mark (surpassing Mike Cloud’s record of 1,726 yards in 1998), tie his own school record for carries in a game (42) and unofficially launch his dark-horse candidacy for the Heisman.

What would’ve seemed laughable before the season -- when he had a career high of 584 yards in a single season -- was suddenly understandable, and when he finished the season with an FBS-best 329 carries and 2,102 yards, to go with 17 TDs, he found himself invited to Manhattan for the Heisman Trophy presentation as one of six finalists.

Thoughtful, well-spoken and genuinely grateful for the experience, Williams was a great ambassador for BC throughout the wild week leading up to and during the Saturday night affair, when he finished fourth, something that can only help the rejuvenated BC brand nationally.

1. March 21: Harvard busts brackets nationwide

When the Crimson beat No. 3 seed New Mexico in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it wasn’t just the first postseason win in school history. It didn’t just ruin office pools for many, many people across the country.

It was also validation, an announcement that what Tommy Amaker has built in Cambridge is strong enough to not only survive the losses of two key players -- with would-be senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry sitting out the year after being implicated in a campus-wide academic scandal -- but thrive despite them.

With Casey and Curry back in the fold (though Curry’s out indefinitely with a foot injury), and Siyani Chambers (Ivy Rookie of the Year in 2012-13) and Wesley Saunders another year older, the Crimson will try to make it three straight outright Ivy titles and NCAA berths in 2013-14.

If that happens, the Crimson will get what they really want: the opportunity to show that what happened in Salt Lake City, Utah, in March was just the beginning.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.