Nation's top 'sleeping giant' programs

Updated: November 16, 2012, 12:40 PM ET
By Ryan McGee

Three weekends ago, I was sitting in the sparkling new press box of Apogee Stadium, home of the North Texas Mean Green, with my mouth agape. Why? Because I hadn't been on the Denton, Texas, campus in more than a decade, and I couldn't believe where I was sitting and what I was seeing. It was as nice a press box as I've seen in college football, the product of a nearly $80 million stadium construction project and a larger Mean Green athletic village that will soon be home to 13 of the school's 16 sports teams.

Looking out the south end of the press box tower, over the three giant turbine fans that sent power through the village, I saw cars rumbling by on I-35, the main corridor between Oklahoma City, Okla., and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. One thought kept rumbling through my mind, the same thought repeated after the game by Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn.

"Located where it is and with the commitment they're making to facilities," the former Auburn offensive coordinator said, "this place is a sleeping giant."

Yes, it is. But while UNT is still in the midst of a pace-yourself construction project, what are the other sleeping giants of college football -- the programs quietly on the cusp of something big, or at the very least on the verge of a long-sought breakthrough?

In the fall of 2010, I listed the five programs that I believed should be a college football superpower but weren't. At the top of that list was Texas A&M. Two years later, the Aggies are the buzziest team in the land after their shocking upset of Alabama last weekend.

To find out which programs are one push away from greatness, I enlisted the help of the people who know the business best, college coaches and athletic administrators from around the nation.

Here is our list of the top sleeping giants in college football:

5. North Carolina Tar Heels

This spot was a virtual tie between two ACC schools, UNC and Miami. But in the eyes of those polled, the Heels got the nod over the Canes for two reasons.