- Phil Steele, ESPN Insider
Editor's note: This article was adapted from Phil Steele's college football preview magazine, which is available here.
Let's pretend you were in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31, 1999, for the Independence Bowl. You just watched Oklahoma lose 27-25 to an average Mississippi team to finish the season 7-5. Despite the loss, it was a good season for the Sooners, especially after coming off five consecutive non-winning campaigns.
Your friend says to you, "I guarantee you Oklahoma will win the national championship next year." Your first thought might have been that your friend has "over-celebrated" New Year's Eve, because the next year the Sooners would have just 13 returning starters and face a schedule that included the three powerhouses of the Big 12 in Nebraska, Kansas State and Texas.
The Sooners entered the 2000 season as a 50-1 shot to win the national title and were ranked No. 19. However, when the dust cleared in January of 2001, OU stood atop the college football world, winning its first national title since 1985. You may think that Cinderella stories are a one-time thing, but in the BCS era, there have been major surprises at the top of the college football world almost every year. Ohio State in 2002, LSU in 2003 and Auburn in 2010 were all teams that started the season outside the AP top 10 but surprised nearly everyone and won it all. Even last year, Notre Dame started the season unranked but at the end of the regular reason ranked atop the polls.
Each of the past four years, during the offseason, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. My expected 2013 preseason top 10 included Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, Texas A&M, Georgia, Notre Dame, Florida, South Carolina and Louisville. It is likely those teams will make up the top 10 this year, so I did not use any of them as my surprise teams.
The following are 10 programs that, while not as highly ranked, have the potential to shock the nation in 2013.
The Seminoles were my preseason No. 1 team in 2012, and they were favored by at least 13 points in every game except against Florida, when they were "only" a seven-point favorite. They disappointed me by blowing a 16-0 halftime lead against NC State and then blew a 20-13 fourth-quarter lead against Florida. This season, they lose 11 players -- including five first- or second-round picks -- to the NFL. While a lot of talent departs, a lot returns as FSU ranks in my top 12 in the country in seven of eight positions. Two of the past four national champions have had first-year quarterbacks, and as long as Jameis Winston stays healthy, he could have a huge year.
Last year's schedule was tailor-made for a title considering FSU played its toughest opponents at home. However, in 2013, the Seminoles have to travel to both Clemson and Florida. They do have a bye before they play the Tigers -- and play lowly Idaho before the Gators -- so this very talented team is capable of running the table. I believe they have the best shot of any preseason non-top 10 team of winning the national title.
Phil Steele ranks his top 10 surprise teams for the 2013 college football season, outlining programs not likely to be ranked high to start the season that could make a run for the national title. Florida State tops the list.