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College Football’s Best Surprise Teams

While some teams disappointed, here are five teams that exceeded expectations.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Colorado vs Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Buffaloes

Here are some fun facts about Colorado football.

The Buffaloes have not had a winning season since 2005, when they lost to Clemson in the Champ Sports Bowl and finished 7-6. They’re not without some positive history though. They’ve appeared in five Orange Bowls and claim a 1990 split National Championship. From 1989 to 1996 under Bill McCartney and Rich Neuheisel they went 78-15-3 appeared in two Orange Bowls, two Fiesta Bowls, and a Cotton Bowl - winning one of each.

They entered this season with low expectations after going 2-25 in the Pac-12 in three years under current head coach Mike MacIntyre. Their senior-laden squad surprised the conference though. With their only losses coming to Michigan, USC, Washington, and Oklahoma State away from home, the Buffaloes won the Pac-12 South and earned a trip to the Alamo Bowl.

Southern Cal

The Trojans finished the year with 10 wins and a Rose Bowl Championship. They last won the Rose Bowl in 2008. Pete Carroll would leave after the 2009 season to take the Head Coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks. Since then four different men have led their program (Kiffin, Orgeron, Sarkisian, and Helton), and while they’ve had a few solid seasons during that span, the tumult has been bad for the program. After a 1-4 start, many felt the Clay Helton hire was a mistake and they’d again be looking for a new coach at the season’s conclusion.

They rattled off nine straight wins including victories over Colorado, Washington, and Penn State en route to getting USC back. They’ll come into next season with high expectations and an opportunity to do big things!

Penn State

The Nittany Lions entered 2016 with humble expectations following a 7-6 in 2015. A 2-2 start seemed fitting. Aside from USC, whose improvement can be tied to a change at QB, no team showed more improvement throughout the season than Penn State.

Following their 2-2 start, the Nittany Lions squeaked by Minnesota. Next they handled Maryland. Finally, their signature moment came when the then 4-2 Nittany Lions hosted the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes. A blocked kick was returned for a TD and their defense held the Buckeyes at bay.

They’d pick up five more wins against the weaker competition in the Big 10 before playing Wisconsin in the conference title game. Losing by 14 at halftime, the Lions outscored the Badgers 24-3 in the second half to win their conference for the first time since 2008, when ironically their season ended with a Rose Bowl loss to USC as it would this season.

Western Michigan

Western Michigan put together the best year in school history and likely in MAC history with a perfect 12-0 regular season, which included a critical 22-21 victory over Northwestern. A hard fought win over Ohio in the MAC Championship game pushed them to 13-0 and into the Cotton Bowl bringing program changing levels of money and publicity to Western Michigan.

One of Houston, Navy, or Boise State was expected to claim the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Six Bowls, but WMU did it, and though they’d lose to Wisconsin, it was a historically good year for the Broncos.

Air Force

The Falcons reached 4-0 after beating rival Navy, but then hit a rough spot losing three straight to bowl teams Wyoming, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

Fortunately for the Falcons, they rallied. They’d win their remaining games to finish with 10 wins and just those three loses. Down the stretch they beat Boise State and Army, making them 2-0 against the other service academies and giving them possession of the Commanders-in-Chief Trophy.

They’d accept an invitation to the Arizona Bowl, where they’d fall down 3-21 to South Alabama, only to rally again with six straight TDs and win 45-21.