Discussion

Unranked teams that could rise

Which programs could surprise this season? Here are five to consider

Updated: February 11, 2013, 2:16 PM ET
By Brian Fremeau | Football Outsiders

Mark Schlabach has a new top-25 set of rankings for 2013, and there was a little bit of shifting after the results of signing day last week. At Football Outsiders, we've been pulling together preliminary projections, as well. The factors that go into our annual FEI projections included five-year weighted possession efficiency, five-year program recruiting success, returning starter data and more.

With that all factored in, here are five teams that don't appear in Schlabach's top 25 but will have a good chance to break into the rankings this fall.

Michigan State Spartans

Program FEI -- No. 24
Program recruiting -- No. 27

Last season, almost every Michigan State game was a struggle for the Spartans. Five of their six losses came by less than a touchdown, and the offense never truly clicked under new starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell. But they are a good candidate to bounce back into the top 25 this fall precisely because they were better than their record indicated in 2012. Modest efficiency gains will flip the close games in their favor. Michigan State avoided three-and-out on only 62.3 percent of non-garbage drives last year. Four more first downs per game could be worth two or more wins.

That, however, is true only as long as the defense continues to dominate. The loss of defensive end William Gholston to the NFL draft hurts, but seven starters return overall to a defensive unit that gave up only 1.2 points per drive, seventh best nationally. (And Gholston had a down year, by his standards.) Since coach Mark Dantonio's arrival in 2007, the Michigan State defense has fielded an above-average defense in terms of overall efficiency every season, and it has shown steady improvement each of the past four seasons. MSU doesn't boast the highest-ranked recruiting classes in the Big Ten, but there is enough talent to win at least eight or nine games, especially against a schedule that avoids Ohio State.


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