These teams fit the sleeper profile
So who is this year's Auburn? Here's a list of potential sleepers for the 2005 season.
Five potential breakthrough teams for 2005 -- as well as five more worth watching -- and how they measure up on the ESPN.com checklist of Sleeper characteristics:
Lost 3 or more last year: Check. A&M was 7-5 (5-3 Big 12 South).
Experience: Check. 17 returning starters and 48 lettermen. (Biggest assets: returning QB, leading rusher, four offensive linemen and six of the defensive front seven. Biggest losses: leading receiver Terrence Murphy and three of their top five tacklers, including two leading sackers.)
First-round talent: Maybe. Mel Kiper Jr. rates QB Reggie McNeal among the top five in the country at his position. Free safety Jaxson Appel and a few members of the defensive front could have a chance with a big year.
Senior QB: Check. McNeal has started 24 games over three years and has developed into a high-efficiency passer. Dangerous with his feet, too.
Dominant D: Maybe. A&M must improve after surrendering 26 points and 394 yards per game last year. But a good front seven gives Carl Torbush's unit a chance to do just that.
Game-turning kicking game: No. Kicker Todd Pegram is reliable from inside 45 yards, but the Aggies are breaking in a freshman punter and haven't shown much in the return game.
Schedule: No. Opener at Clemson is scary. Three of four conference road games are against 2004 bowl teams, including back-to-back trips to Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
Intangibles: Check. Dennis Franchione's track record for turnarounds suggests the revival is at hand in College Station.
Lost 3 or more last year: Check. Oregon was 5-6 (4-4 Pac-10).
Experience: Check. 14 returning starters, 41 returning lettermen. (Biggest assets: returning QB, leading rusher, leading receiver. Biggest losses: three starting offensive linemen, two of three leading tacklers.)
First-round talent: Check. Junior DT Haloti Ngata (338 pounds) could be poised to dominate. Some of the new recruits could be future first-rounders.
Senior QB: Check. Kellen Clemens has thrown for more than 5,000 yards, with 42 TDs and 20 interceptions, but still hasn't adequately filled the cleats of Joey Harrington. Could he team with new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to be this year's Jason Campbell/Al Borges breakthrough tandem?
Dominant D: Maybe. Oregon should have a dynamite D-line, but the rest of the unit is iffy.
Kicking game: No. New kicker, new punter, new kickoff returner -- but high-impact punt returner Justin Phinisee is back.
Schedule: Maybe. Nonconference schedule is complicated by a home game against Fresno State Sept. 17. But at least Oregon gets USC in Eugene and does not play UCLA.
Intangibles: Check. Mike Bellotti has done too well to stay down for long. And he brings in two recruits -- freshman running back Jonathan Stewart and juco wide receiver James Finley -- who some ranked No. 1 in the nation at their positions.
Lost 3 or more last year: Check. Alabama was 6-6 (3-5 SEC).
Experience: Maybe. 16 returning starters, 44 returning lettermen, but only 11 seniors on a probation-thinned two-deep. (Biggest assets: Quarterback Brodie Croyle, leading rusher Kenneth Darby, top five returning pass catchers and almost the entire defense. Biggest losses: three offensive linemen and leading tackler Cornelius Wortham.)
First-round talent: Maybe. Safety Charlie Peprah, linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach and guard J.B. Closner are all on scouts' radar.
Senior QB: Check. Alabama was 3-0 before Croyle was lost for the season to injury last year, 3-6 after.
Dominant D: Check. Tide's linebackers and secondary could be among the best units in the nation.
Kicking game: Maybe. New place-kicker and punter, but kickoff man Jamie Christensen produced 24 touchbacks last year and kickoff returners Tyrone Prothro and Brandon Brooks have big-play ability.
Schedule: Check. Nonconference games are all at home and all in the prohibitive-favorite category (Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, Utah State). Tide's first three road games are winnable as well (South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State).
Intangibles: Maybe. Croyle has the charisma of a leader, but Mike Shula doesn't -- and the pressure will increase on the third-year coach if Alabama should stumble during a user-friendly September. This team is still young and thin enough that a key injury or two could be devastating.
Lost 3 or more last year: Check. Purdue was 7-5 last year (4-4 Big Ten).
Experience: Check. 18 returning starters and 41 returning lettermen. (Biggest assets: All 11 starters back on defense, plus top two rushers. Biggest losses: Prolific passer Kyle Orton and Big Ten all-time receptions leader Taylor Stubblefield.)
First-round talent: Maybe. Safety Bernard Pollard is the top prospect, but there are others to watch on the defense.
Senior QB: No. But it's not like junior Brandon Kirsch is stepping in cold. He's started six games in three years, and put up good numbers last year in a close loss to Iowa and an upset win over Ohio State. For the season, Kirsch produced 711 yards passing, 153 rushing and seven passing TDs, and Joe Tiller tweaked the spread offense Urban-style in the spring to incorporate more running opportunities.
Potentially dominant D: Check. Brock Spack's defense allowed just 206 points last year, second-lowest total in the Big Ten. Now he's got everyone back, including a very good defensive line.
Kicking game: Check. Kicker Ben Jones, who had a great sophomore year and an ugly junior year, now seeks to regain his sophomore form. Punter Dave Brytus was solid last season. Purdue specializes in blocking kicks.
Schedule: Check. Bypassing both Michigan and Ohio State makes Purdue an automatic Big Ten title contender. Key stretch is Sept. 17 through Oct. 8 -- at Arizona, at Minnesota, Notre Dame and Iowa. After that, Purdue could be favored in final six games.
Intangibles: Maybe. Five losses by 14 points shows how close Purdue came to being undefeated last year -- or it might show a fatal lack of poise and playmaking ability in the clutch.
Lost 3 or more last year: Check. BC was 9-3 (4-2 Big East).
Experience: Check. 14 returning starters, 38 returning lettermen. (Biggest assets: Top 10 offensive linemen return, plus most of the playmakers on defense. Biggest losses: Resourceful QB Paul Peterson and leading receiver Grant Adams.)
First-round talent: Check. Senior defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka has scouts frothing, as does three-way player Will Blackmon (WR, DB, kick returner). A couple members of BC's huge offensive line and outside linebacker Brian Toal are intriguing as well.
Senior QB: Check. Quinton Porter redshirted last year but started in 2002, with mixed results. If he takes a big step forward, so does the team.
Dominant D: Maybe. Some star players back from a unit that didn't give up more than 23 points through the first 10 games last year -- then was strafed for 43 by Syracuse. Blackmon's switch from full-time corner to starting WR will hurt the pass defense.
Kicking game: Maybe. Both kickers are back, but both need to improve as sophomores over sketchy freshman seasons. Returner Blackmon is a home-run threat on every runback.
Schedule: No. The Eagles open at BYU, then play three road games against ACC opponents with winning records last year (highlighted by defending champ Virginia Tech). ACC debut at home vs. Florida State could be a great springboard opportunity.
Intangibles: Maybe. BC has won five straight bowl games, but they've all been low-level games -- because the Eagles have traditionally struggled to beat the best teams on their schedule. There are more big names than ever on the schedule this year.
Plus five more sleeping with one eye open:
Fresno State Bulldogs
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.