Surprise team candidates for 2013

Updated: January 2, 2013, 1:32 PM ET
By Travis Haney

As much as it seemed improbable for Notre Dame to come from out of nowhere to play for the national championship, that's exactly what the Irish did this season. Coming into 2012, we suspected Notre Dame would be a better team, but not necessarily one capable of stringing together wins against a fairly difficult schedule.

It was ugly at times, no question, but the Domers did something no other postseason-eligible team did this season -- they won all of their games. In looking back, were there earmarks -- in recruiting or elsewhere -- that indicated a surprise season was coming?

Florida is another "surprise team of the year" candidate with Will Muschamp and first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease taking the Gators from 7 to 11 wins and a return to the BCS.

Even though it's sitting at home this bowl season, I suppose Ohio State merits some recognition in this vein. It's not that Urban Meyer turned around a team that went 6-7 in 2011 -- that much was expected -- it's that OSU went undefeated.

Who will be next season's Notre Dame, Florida or Ohio State? I've selected primary and secondary candidates from each of the five major conferences that could be surprise contenders in 2013.

Primary candidates

ACC -- North Carolina Tar Heels

Ohio State isn't the only team that will again be postseason-eligible in 2013. Even with confounding conference losses this season to Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels still managed eight victories in Larry Fedora's first season.