1: Fresno State Bulldogs – The emergence of QB Derek Carr, the younger brother of former Fresno State standout, QB David Carr really made a difference this past season for the Bulldogs. It was the first year of the post-Pat Hill era, and it was certainly a success in the Mountain West. The Dogs only failed to cover one game this past season, and it was a road game against Boise State, and there’s no shame in failing to cover a game on the Smurf Turf.
2: Northwestern Wildcats – The Wildcats surprised a lot when they came out of the blocks with five wins and covers in a row to start the year, especially knowing that they played three straight games to start off the campaign against BCS conference teams. The scheduling wasn’t the best in the world, but the end result was a battle tested team that only got beaten by more than seven points once all season long. Give Northwestern a lot of credit for making all of this work with an offense that only ranked 63rd in the nation last year at 395.1 yards per game. The Legends Division is there for the taking in 2013 as well, and the Wildcats might turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
3: Utah State Aggies – QB Chuckie Keeton and RB Kerwynn Williams were men amongst boys last year for Utah State, and the Aggies were excellent as a result. They managed to win the big time battle in the Beehive State against Utah in overtime in a nationally televised game, and that was a part of a 9-1-1 ATS start to the season. The only game that represented an ATS loss last year was the 45-9 win over Idaho, a game in which the Aggies just missed covering a 37-point spread. The question is whether Utah State is going to be anywhere near as effective in the MWC as it was in the WAC. That’s going to be a huge question mark going forward from here.
4: San Jose State Spartans – San Jose State is going to have a similar problem that Utah State is expected to have. Life in the Mountain West is likely going to be significantly harder than life was in the WAC. That said, this is a team that has a budding offensive revolving around QB David Fales, one of the most accurate and most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. It’s going to be impossible to duplicate last year’s 10-2 ATS mark this season, especially with four of the team’s first six games coming on the road, but we still think that the Spartans could be a side to watch out for in the biggest games of the year against big time point spreads.
5: Kent State Golden Flashes – The Flashes finished the year at 10-2-1 ATS, and their only losses in the regular season came against Kentucky and Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. Kent State was actually right on the verge of the BCS potentially as well. This season won’t be an encore performance by any stretch of the imagination, but don’t discount the possibly that the club won’t be severely underrated again. Remember that the Golden Flashes were only -7 against FCS Towson to start last season, and they ended up being underdogs against what turned out to be a 4-8 Buffalo team as well.
6: Kansas State Wildcats – Head Coach Bill Snyder created a dynamite last season in Kansas State, and he led a team with QB Collin Klein to the BCS. Wins against Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU on the road were tremendous accomplishments, and the only major trip that the club had was against Baylor. As it turns out, the Wildcats were probably never National Championship material, but they turned out to be a whole heck of a lot better than most figured at the start of the year when they were 15.5-point underdogs against the Sooners in Norman. Klein is gone though, and any time you take a Heisman Trophy contender away from a team, especially at the quarterback position, it’s going to be tough to repeat the same type of season the next year.
7: Penn State Nittany Lions – This was the best kept secret in America, and at 9-2-1 ATS, the Nittany Lions most certainly were one of the shocks of the season, especially after such a disastrous start to the campaign. Penn State was obviously smacked by the NCAA for the whole Jerry Sandusky incident, and Head Coach Bill O’Brien had his work cut out for him just to keep this team relevant. Not only were the Nittany Lions respectable, but they were arguably one of the best 25 teams in the land last year. Their losses to Ohio and Virginia didn’t end up looking all that bad at the end of the year, and the only other game that wasn’t covered was the 35-23 loss at home against what ended up being an undefeated Ohio State outfit. Penn State should hold its head high for what turned out to be a great season.
8: Northern Illinois Huskies – The MAC was taken by storm by the Huskies last year, who ended up busting the BCS for the first time in the conference’s history. Of course, NIU didn’t look so hot against a dominating Florida State team in the Orange Bowl, which really questioned the legitimacy of the conference and the BCS bid. What wasn’t arguable is the fact that Northern Illinois went 9-2-2 ATS in its 14 games last season, and it really did turn out to be one of the best clubs to bet on in America in spite of the fact that it was seemingly square every single week.
9: Miami Hurricanes – It wasn’t quite a totally resurgent year for the Hurricanes, but they did make a lot of headway towards getting back to respectability in the ACC. Miami actually started the year at just 3-3 ATS, but it rolled off six straight covers to end the season. The trick this year is going to be figuring out how to take some of those games that were close losses against teams like North Carolina and Virginia and turning them into victories. Still, “The U” was blown out three times last season, and that isn’t up to the standard of what we have come to expect out of Miami.
10: Ole Miss Rebels – Head Coach Hugh Freeze did a great job with the Rebs last year to take them out of the depths of the Houston Nutt era and back into respectability in the SEC. This year, some think that Ole Miss has the ability to be a really, really good team, but unfortunately in the SEC West, the opportunity to say, crack the BCS is non-existent. Worse is that the Rebels have to visit Texas as well, and just getting to six wins to reach bowl eligibility will be tough. Still, Mississippi has the goods to be a great cover team this year, especially early on with games against teams like the Longhorns and Alabama on the road.
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.