We all have heard way too much about which teams will win their respective conferences. But which teams could sneak in under the radar, a la Wake Forest last year? Here are my sleeper conference picks:
(NOTE: I don't necessarily believe these teams will win, they are just the sleepers)
ACC: Miami: New coach, new season, new life? Who knows, but fans of the Hurricanes just hope this year is significantly better than last year. Boy it feels weird to refer to them as sleepers.
Big East: South Florida: Everybody's favorite sleeper pick. USF returns 20 starters from a team that went 9-4 and knocked of West Virginia last year. QB Matt Grothe had a good season last year (Big East freshman of the year) and another year will only help him improve.
Big Ten: Penn State: Joe Pa's boys return 14 starters from last season, including QB Anthony Morelli, who has improved immensly over the offseason. OLB Dan Conner, a Bednarik finalist last year, moves to the middle to take over for Bednarik winner Paul Posluszny, now with the Buffalo Bills.
Big 12: Kansas State: Last year's team that defeated Texas brings back much of its skill players, led by QB Josh Freeman and CB Marcus Watts (2nd team All-Big 12 last season, missed 4 games with a hand injury)
Pac-10: Oregon State: The Beavers return 17 starters to a team that finished strong, winning 8 of its last 9, including one against USC. They may not beat the Trojans this year, but should one of the big three falter (USC, UCLA, or Cal) look for OSU to jump right into the mix.
SEC: Alabama: Another easy sleeper pick. They get a new head coach in Nick Saban (and he's got a national championship), a new O coordinator in Major Applewhite (he coached Vince Young at Texas), and QB John Parker Wilson returns after an up-and-down year that ended with over 2500 passing yards and a 57% completion percentage.
Another sleeper to watch: Kentucky
The Rest (non-BCS bowl conferences): Southern Miss: USM returns sophomore running back Damion Fletcher, the most productive true-freshman RB last year. He ran for almost 1400 yards last season, and should improve on that this season (NOTE: Fletcher is also my sleeper Heisman pick)
Criteria: I didn't consider any teams considered as Conference winners by general consensus (obviously) Also, Boise State, Hawaii, and TCU were out of consideration for the Non-BCS category. Also, I didn't consider any team in the top 25 (excluding Penn State) or any other team regarded as top 3-4 in the conference. (some exceptions apply) For conferences that are split, I considered only one team.