It seems as if every year so far this decade some college football program rises from (relative) obscurity and becomes a fixture in the national championship race. What did all of these teams have in common, and what teams care candidates to rise this season?
The dawning of the millenium saw two prestigious programs that had fallen on hard times return to glory.
Breakout Year: The Sooners went 13-0 under second year coach Bob Stoops and won the national championship.
Epilogue: Following their breakout season, Oklahoma has won 2 Big 12 titles, played for 2 national titles, played in 3 BCS bowls, won more than 10 games 4 times, gone a cummulative 55-11 (.833) and never lost more than 4 games.
Prologue: In Stoops' first season, 1999, Oklahoma went 7-5 (5-3 in the Big 12). However, they were 0-2 in close games (games decided by 8 points or less). Their expected record based on points scored and points allowed was 9.8-2.2. They had the same starting quarterback, Josh Heupel, in 1999 and the following season when they won the national championship.
Breakout Year: The Canes went 11-1, and defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Epilogue: Since 2000, the Canes have won 1 national title, played for another, won 3 Big East titles, played in 3 BCS games, have a cummulative record of 53-9 (.855), and have never lost more than 3 games.
Prologue: In 1999, the Canes were coming off vicious sanctions and they finished 9-4 (just 2 seasons removed from a losing record). They were 2-2 in close games and their expected record was 10.8-2.2. The Canes integrated a new starting quarterback in 2000 as Ken Dorsey took over for Kenny Kelly.
Two seasons later, 2 additional prestigious programs rose from the depths.
Breakout Year: The Trojans finished 11-2 and knocked off Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
Epilogue: Depending on your persuasion, USC has won either 1 or 2 national titles since 2002 and played for a 2nd or 3rd. They have 3 Pac 10 titles, a cummulative record of 37-2 (.949), and have not lost more than 1 game.
Prologue: In 2001, USC finished 6-6 under first year coach Pete Carroll. However, they were an astoundingly unlucky 1-5 in close games. Their expected record was 8.4-3.6. They returned the same quarterback in 2002, Carson Palmer.
Breakout Year: The Buckeyes went 14-0 and upset Miami for the national championship.
Epilogue: Ohio State has played in 2 BCS bowls with a cummulative record of 29-8 (.784) and has not lost more than 4 games since winning the national title.
Prologue: In Jim Tressel's first season, Ohio State went 7-5. They were 2-4 in close games and had an expected record of 7.7-4.3. Ohio State had a new starting quarterback in 2002. Craig Krenzel took over for the departing Steve Bellisari. However, Krenzel had started 2 games (Illinois and Michigan) in 2001 when Bellisari was suspended for a DUI violation.
2003 saw a resurgence in Death Valley.
Breakout Year: The Bayou Bengals went 13-1 and won the national title.
Epilogue: In the 2 seasons since their national championship campaign, LSU has gone 20-5 (.800) and played for an SEC title.
Prologue: In 2002, LSU went 8-5. They were 2-1 in close games and had an expected record of 8.8-4.2. Though not in his first season, Nick Saban was relatively new at LSU. It was his 3rd season there. LSU had different quarterbacks in their breakout season (Matt Mauck) and in the year before their breakout season (Marcus Randall).
Another group of tigers made the leap in 2004.
Breakout Year: Auburn went 13-0, but were left out of the national title game.
Epilogue: Auburn went 9-3 last season.
Prologue: Auburn was expected to be a title contender in 2003, but began the season 0-2 and finished 8-5. They were 3-1 in close games and had an expected record of 9.8-3.2. Auburn not only returned their same quarterback the following season (Jason Campbell), but also their two starting tailbacks (Cadillac Willams and Ronnie Brown).
In 2005, Penn State, Alabama and Notre Dame have to be considered breakout candidates, but we'll have to wait and see if they can continue their resurgence.
So what do these 6 teams have in common? In the year before their breakout season, half had losing records in close games (indicating they were a bit unlucky). All 6 underperfomed their expected won/loss record. Half had new coaches in the year before their breakout season. Miami was under sanctions so Butch Davis has to be considered relatively new. Nick Saban was only in his 3rd year at LSU. Only Tommy Tuberville at Auburn had an extended tenure at his school (5 years). In addition, each program also had winning traditions. So which teams share some of the same characteristics? Let's take a look.
Pros: 2nd year coach, returning quarterback
Cons: winning record in close games (4-3), actually went 7-5 which is better than their expected record (6.1-5.9), not much of a winning tradition
Pros: 2nd year coach, allegedly a great recruiting class (16th by rivals.com)
Cons: 2-2 in close games, went 3-8 but actually only had 2.6 expected wins, don't return starting quarterback (maybe a good thing since they only scored 13.5 points per game), play in the SEC West (Bama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas)
Pros: 2nd year coach, 0-3 in close games, went 5-6 but had 6.1 expected wins, return starting quarterback Tyler Palko
Cons: 2nd year coach is Dave Wandstedt
Pros: 4th year head coach, 1-2 in close games, went 5-6 but had 6.6 expected wins, return starting quarterback Drew Stanton
Cons: Very helter-skelter team historically
Pros: 2nd year coach, good tradition, returning quarterback (Chris Leak)
Cons: 3-2 in close game, went 9-3 but had 8.7 expected wins, tough schedule
Pros: 2nd year coach, returning quarterback (Brady Quinn), 2-2 in close games
Cons: went 9-3 but only 8.7 estimated wins, tough schedule
So that's my take. What do you think?