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June 1, 2010
Even in a disappointing season, signs of progress can be found.
That season, the second under coach Nick Saban, the Tide won their first 12 games. Last season, Alabama won the national championship.
Confidence can be gleaned from a season of near misses. The realization is one or two plays could have turned a close loss into a hard-fought victory. The experience fuels individuals' desire to improve. And maybe the law of averages will catch up; the fluke plays that went against a team one year may help them the next.
Perhaps a new player or two can make a difference and turn a good team into a great one, as was the case with Ohio State in 2002. The Buckeyes lost five games the previous season. Then, with freshman running back Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes won the national title.
Some times a team gets a big boost from a player returning from injury. For instance, erratic quarterback play doomed Pittsburgh to a 5-7 finish in '07. But when Bill Stull returned from injury, the Panthers posted nine victories in '08. And when Stull raised his performance level in '09, the Panthers won 10 games.
With that in mind, here's a look at several of the nation's "under the radar" teams, ones that may be overlooked or underrated going into this season. With a few breaks, those teams could have memorable seasons in 2010.
If they do, we'll look back and see that the signs of progress were there all along.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.