As the season winds down and we are closing in on what could be a wild finish (especially in the Big 12), it is time to reflect on some of the biggest surprises this season.
We all know about Alabama and Ball State, who check in at No. 1 and No. 14 in this week's CBSSports.com 120, but what about some of those other teams we predicted to not do so well back in August.
Two teams in the Big Ten are at the top of the list, beginning with Iowa, who joins the Top 25 this week, moving up from No. 30 to No. 25.
The Hawkeyes were predicted to finish eighth in the conference in our Big Ten preview, but here they are with a chance to go to a Jan. 1 bowl game.
Back in August Dennis Dodd said: I never thought I'd see Iowa sink this low under Kirk Ferentz. The off-field stuff is more than a distraction. The biggest blow is the decline in talent. The recruiting just hasn't been good in recent years. Last year's 6-6 record is going to look like a BCS bowl after 2008.
Iowa looked like it was headed for a rough season after losing three in a row to drop to 3-3 after six games. But the Hawkeyes finished strong, beating Wisconsin 37-16, Penn State 24-23 and closing out the regular season with a 55-0 thrashing of Minnesota.
"It's a long season and we've had our ups and downs," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I cannot say enough about the leadership we've gotten from our upperclassmen and a lot of other guys. I'm pleased with the attitude the team kept all through the season."
One guy Ferentz can thank is running back Shonn Greene. The junior came into the season with just 378 career rushing yards and sat out all of 2007 to work on his academics.
Now his name is popping up on Heisman lists after rushing for 1,729 yards with 17 touchdowns this year.
"My expectations at the beginning of the season were just like everybody else - I didn't know what to expect," Greene said to Daily Iowan. "I just stuck with it, and with my teammates helping me out with stuff like that, we just happened to have a good season."
Iowa can now look forward to capping their strong season in either the Outback Bowl against a SEC team or Champs Sports Bowl vs. an ACC squad.
The Hawkeyes aren't the only Big Ten team that has been a surprise -- Northwestern is sitting at No. 18 after downing Illinois 27-10 this weekend. Many publications, including ours had the Wildcats finishing near the bottom of the rankings. But led by quarterback C.J. Bacher, the Wildcats are looking for their first 10-win season since winning the Big Ten in 1995.
Another big surprise has been Cincinnati. The Bearcats were predicted to finish fourth in the Big East behind West Virginia, Pittsburgh and South Florida, but they are on the verge of winning the Big East and check in this week at No. 16 with a 9-2 record, including 5-1 in the conference.
Not a bad season for a team that has played four different quarterbacks. Tony Pike guided the Bearcats to their biggest win of the season, beating Pittsburgh to take control of the Big East. They only need to beat Syracuse this weekend to earn an automatic bid to a BCS Bowl, most likely the Orange Bowl.
One more team that has surpassed all expectations is Air Force. Since this one is all on me, this is what I said in the Mountain West preview, when I predicted them sixth:
The Falcons should expect a drop-off from last season after losing two of the best players in school history -- Shaun Carney and Chad Hall -- to graduation. Only three starters are back on offense and the Falcons will break in a new quarterback, either Eric Herbort or Shea Smith. The defense is thin on returners too, but safety Chris Thomas is back after recording 110 tackles.
So much for finishing sixth. The Falcons are 8-4 and in fourth place in the division, behind three ranked teams (Utah, TCU and BYU). Air Force had a tough loss this week, but are still ranked No. 43 this week, much higher than was expected at the beginning of the season.
... Mississippi jumped from No. 43 to No. 28 and is on the verge of reaching the Top 25 for the first time this season.
... The highest-ranked team with a losing record is N.C. State, which checks in at No. 57 this week. The Wolfpack have won three in a row, beating Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
... Rotten Apple Cup. With Washington State's victory, it moved up to No. 104, while Washington fell to No. 117. The Huskies are ranked ahead of SMU, North Texas and Western Kentucky.