We all know the college football programs that are perennial favorites to win a title. Alabama, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State and the like will be on that list more often than not. However, there are plenty of programs that are bubbling under the surface. A few years ago, a Stanford or even a Florida State national championship seemed unlikely, but now they're among the top programs in the nation. Here are ten teams that seem primed to go on a big run, or will remain among the nation's elite programs for years to come.
The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 2009, when Rich Brooks' team went 7-5. The last time Kentucky had a winning SEC record was in 1977, when the team went 6-0 in conference, but was barred from post-season play because the program was on NCAA probation. Putting a team coming off of a 2-10 (0-8) season on this list may seem bold, but Kentucky definitely has a ton of room to move on up, and Mark Stoops seems to be giving them some life, especially on the recruiting trail. Stoops' first two recruiting classes ranked 29th and 17th on Rivals' team rankings, are they're currently in good position to land another Top 25 class. The climb to the top of the SEC is a long and arduous one, but Stoops and Kentucky have some forward momentum.
The Cardinals had a tumltuous off-season, losing coach Charlie Strong to Texas, and bringing back former coach Bobby Petrino for a second run. Petrino brings a ton of baggage with him, especially because his original departure from U of L was far from amicable, and he is known for his transience. No matter what you think of Petrino as a person, it is hard to deny that the man can coach, and Louisville's new conference digs makes it a much harder job to leave. The Cardinals begin ACC play this year, which should provide a solid step up from the American Athletic Conference competition. Under Strong, Louisville became a BCS bowl contender. That rise should continue in the ACC with Petrino.
8. Michigan State
The Spartans, led by Mark Dantonio, are one of the more consistent teams on this list. Dantonio has been at MSU since 2007, and has the rare ability to say that he made a program better than it was under Nick Saban. The Spartans have been solid for a long time, but Dantonio has them rolling with three 11+ win seasons in his last four years, including a high-water mark of 13-1 and a Rose Bowl win over Stanford this past season. Sparty continues to improve, and Dantonio seems very happy in East Lansing.
7. Texas Tech
Everyone loves Kliff Kingsbury. The 34-year old coach is energetic, handsome, charismatic, and can really coach an offense and develop a college quarterback. Hiring young, enthusiastic coaches is definitely becoming a trend, and Texas Tech's selection of Kingsbury certainly continues to look like an inspired choice, especially after his Red Raiders landed a big upset over Arizona State in last season's Holiday Bowl. Connecting with players is increasingly important at the college level, and Kingsbury does it as well as anyone. Plus, with names like Sumlin, Briles, and Strong at the other big Texas schools, Kingsbury may be in Lubbock for a while.
The Bruins avoided a bullet when Jim Mora reportedly turned down the Texas opening. With him and Heisman hopeful quarterback Brett Hundley returning, expectations in Westwood are as high as they've been in a long time. In four seasons under Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins went 21-30, and only had one winning year in conference play. In two years, Mora has gone 19-8, and recruiting is on the way up as well. The Bruins signed a top 20 class last year, and were ranked 8th and 13th in Mora's first two years on the trail. Neuheisel's last class was ranked 45th by Rivals.
Life after Brett Hundley will be interesting, but Mora is stacking the roster with young talent to make that transition easier.
As strange as it may seem, Washington lost its head coach this off-season to a conference rival and may have upgraded anyway. Washington was able to lure Chris Petersen away from Boise State. Petersen had long been a popular name for openings at top schools, but he never found a place he wanted to jump to until the Washington job came free, and most Huskies fans don't seem to be willing to trade him for the chance to get Steve Sarkisian back. Petersen has a long history of beating top programs when given the chance at Boise State, and the opportunity to see him coach a power conference team, especially one with a solid foundation like UW, is exciting.
Kids love playing in fun systems, and there aren't many better examples than the football renaissance currently taking place at Baylor. Art Briles built a powerful program out of nowhere, and has produced BCS teams and a Heisman winner. Recruiting is on a steady incline, and Baylor has become a very attractive program for those who want to play football and participate in track and field. Big things are happening in Waco, and Briles doesn't seem interested in taking his offense anywhere else for the time being.
3. Penn State
Losing Bill O'Brien, who successfully guided Penn State through massive reputation hits and NCAA sanctions following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, is very difficult. Filling in the void with James Franklin, who created a winning program out of thin air at Vanderbilt, is a pretty good recovery. Franklin is an ace recruiter who grew up in Pennsylvania, and should be able to lock up the key recruits in the Northeast. Penn State also has a much better football pedigree than Vanderbilt. If he can win nine games with an SEC schedule, he shouldn't have too much trouble building on that with the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten.
Gus Malzahn was the brain behind the offense that won the 2010 National Championship, and in his first year back at Auburn as head coach he turned a 3-9 squad into a 12-2 National Championship runner-up immediately. Alabama fans likely thought they had created some serious distance between themselves and their state rivals in the post-Cam Newton era, but Malzahn has the program flying high. Saban-Malzahn helmed Iron Bowls are going to be so much fun.
1. Florida State
This is an easy answer, but the program with the brightest future, both immediate and long-term, is Florida State. They have a fairly young head coach in Jimbo Fisher, who is 48 years old, a Heisman and National Championship winning quarterback with at least a year left in Tallahassee in Jameis Winston, a manageable conference to deal with, and elite recruiting in perhaps the best football state in the nation.
Florida State will be prohibitive favorites to repeat as National Champions in 2014-15, and while there may be a slight set-back after Winston leaves, recruiting isn't slowing down. According to Rivals.com, Florida State has had a Top 10 classes every year since 2007. Expect Florida State to be a fixture in the College Football Playoff, and for Fisher to raise up quite a few crystal trophies in his career.