It's not easy for one of college football's biggest brands to truly surprise anyone, but Phil Steele says that's exactly what's going to happen in his 10 surprise teams for this fall on ESPN Insider.
Texas is very unlikely to start the preseason in the top 10, but Steele has them as his No. 2 team in his talent rankings, behind only Alabama. That includes the top-ranked offensive line in the country that should pave the way for the Longhorns' hyped duo of running backs in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. Joe Bergeron and Daje Johnson provide even more depth there, too.
Steele says the injuries and poor tackling that plagued the Longhorns last season will be gone and the result will be the Longhorns returning to the top of the Big 12 in total defense. Steele also picked the Longhorns to win the league.
He also tabbed two other surprise teams in the Big 12. Steele picked Oklahoma State to finish 10th nationally in 2013, and the schedule is the biggest reason why. OSU's likely to be favored in all of its Big 12 road games but one. It has to face Texas Tech, Iowa State and West Virginia on the road. Texas is the only game it's likely to be an underdog. Steele's other four Big 12 contenders all have to come to Stillwater, which sets the Pokes up well for a surprise season.
I agree the overall talent at Texas is superior to Oklahoma State, but for me, the Cowboys are the better team. Call it a "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" type of situation. I buy Mike Gundy and his staff more than I do Mack Brown's.
Steele's third surprise team from the Big 12 is another big brand: Oklahoma.
Steele has a couple interesting notes on the Sooners. First off, Oklahoma hasn't been ranked outside the preseason AP Top 10 since 2000. You may also know that as the last time Oklahoma won a national title. The defense is replacing a lot of talent, but Steele believes in them as a top 20 unit. The schedule isn't friendly with trips to Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State, but Steele says the Sooners are capable of running the table at 12-0.
Consider me skeptical of that idea, mostly because of the youth on the defense.
Still, with the Big 12's modest preseason expectations, it's not hard to see somebody emerging and truly being a surprise team on a national level.