The thing about BCS title game contenders? You generally see them coming. Of the 30 teams to appear in the game, 24 were in the initial AP Top 12. Here is a breakdown of the other six.
Notre Dame [2012 - NR] The Irish were a surprise. They should not have been that much of a surprise. They finished in the Top 25 in SRS the two previous season. The difference between Notre Dame and Michigan State was they went 5-6 in one-score games those years. MSU went 8-1. Voters over-corrected based on the perception Notre Dame would be overrated. Voters also rated them lower before the season because their schedule looked harder (always asinine).
Auburn [2010 - No. 22] Gene Chizik’s track-record was not all that hot. Auburn lost five games in conference the year before. People knew of Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn. No one saw them forming one of the most lethal offensive partnerships in the sport’s history.
LSU [2003 - No. 14] Saban was not yet Saban, having won 28 games the preceding three years. Voters underestimated LSU slightly. One could argue the Tigers should not have reached the title game ahead of an undefeated USC. One might also argue that LSU team would have beaten USC and beat themselves against Ron Zook’s Florida.
Ohio State [2002 - No. 13] This won’t please the natives, but voters were not so far off on Ohio State that year. The Buckeyes went 7-0 in one-score games in 2002. One could interpret that as having a great defense and being resilient. One could also interpret that as having fate save their bacon on more than one occasion. OSU finished 5th in SRS. Run the simulation a few more times, they are probably a Top 10 team.
Oklahoma [2000 - No. 19] There’s no way voters could have seen this coming. Things were looking up in Norman, but it’s hard to credit a program that had not had an eight-win season since 1993. Voters saw them as a Top 20 team, not a Top 20 team all-time.
Virginia Tech [1999 - No. 13] Normally, the shrewd play is to temper your expectations with a freshman quarterback. When that Freshman quarterback is Michael Vick who finishes 1st nationally in yards per attempt and 3rd in passer rating, you get burned.
So, what would we look for in a 2013 to make that leap? Judging from the past, basically the same things you would expect from a team in the Top 5 to make it: a dominant quarterback or an overpowering defense. Most teams that project to have either one of those get the benefit of the doubt. It also should be a major conference team that can fight its way in against teams preordained to be in contention.
Is there a team that fits those criteria? There doesn’t appear to be one. But there never appears to be preseason. Texas on paper is better than Texas in perception. Oklahoma State seems to be a bit underrated. Maybe the Michigan defense clicks in a third year under Greg Mattison, with more depth on the D-Line?
Related: College Football 2013 Top 25 Preview: No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs
Related: College Football 2013 Top 25 Preview: No. 17 Michigan Wolverines
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