Steele: College football teams that could surprise in 2019

Zack Moss' season was cut short in 2018, but he still managed 1,096 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

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 when a team that isn't considered a consensus preseason top-10 team makes a playoff run. This season, my projected preseason AP top 10 is Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan and Texas.

A year ago, my No. 1 surprise team was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish came through for me, finishing 12-0 and making the College Football Playoff. My No. 2 surprise team was Texas. I had the Longhorns in my preseason top 10, but they were just No. 23 in the AP poll. Texas got to the Big 12 title game and finished the year ranked No. 9 in the polls.

What under the radar teams are in the running to make some serious noise in 2019? Here are my top picks.

1. Utah Utes (O/U 9.5 wins, 75-1 to win title)

Utah has a stout defensive line, and that can take you a long way. Last season, the Utes had the fifth-best run defense in the FBS (102 rush yards allowed per game) and collected 37 sacks. This season, the defense returns seven starters, with the D-line almost fully intact. The Utes had the toughest schedule in the Pac-12 last season, with five road games and matchups against the top four teams out of the North, but in 2019, they have five home conference games and avoid Oregon and Stanford. Quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, who were lost with five games to go last season, return for a team that still was able to make the Pac-12 title game. The Pac-12 is much tougher overall this season, so the Utes can probably afford one loss and still make the playoff. But with just two road games against teams that made bowl games last season, the Utes are capable of winning all of their games, and two of my nine sets of power rankings have them going 12-0.