When I thought of candidates for a surprise team, I tried to make a list of teams I thought would make a bowl game or win their conference that missed out last season. I left off teams like BYU, SMU and Houston, because I don't think it would surprise anyone if they had good seasons.
First take a look at Colorado State, a team that should make a bowl game in 2011. If you look at the first five games of the season -- against New Mexico, Northern Colorado, Colorado, Utah State and San Jose State, the Rams could easily start 4-1 or even 5-0 if they can beat the Buffs. That means they would only need to win a few more games in conference play to become bowl eligible. That is possible with a game at UNLV and a home game to close the season against Wyoming.
Southern Miss is a team nobody is talking about right now, but it returns an underrated quarterback in Austin Davis, who came into his own last season. The Golden Eagles have a relatively light nonconference schedule with their most difficult game coming at Navy. They also get UCF and SMU at home. Of the three teams from C-USA West on its schedule, SMU is the only one that is expected to have a winning record.
Fresno State has a difficult nonconference schedule but has just as good a shot as Nevada and Hawaii to win the WAC, especially if Derek Carr lives up to the hype. Louisiana Tech has made big strides under coach Sonny Dykes and could also contend in the WAC. Running back Lennon Creer is poised to have another 1,000-yard season. ULM was one win away from being bowl eligible last season and returns 18 starters on offense and defense, including quarterback Kolton Browning. The Warhawks could be the FIU of this season.
Disagree with me? Write in your choice in the comments section and we will discuss next week.