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August 26, 2006
Undervalued and overlooked: The sleeper teams
Some football teams just need a strategic wake-up call to jump-start a better-than-expected season.
Others seem to doze off at the most inopportune times, losing games they're expected to win or slumping into prolonged losing streaks.
Then, there are comatose programs that post losing records year after year after year.
A few others have aspirations so grandiose that skeptics roll their eyes and huff: "You must be dreaming."
No matter which category they fall into, they are all potential sleeper teams, undervalued and overlooked, but carrying chips on their shoulders just waiting to prove a point.
Sleeper teams might not be national champions (although in some years they have been), but they're very often the best stories in a given year.
That was undoubtedly the case when the 1995 Northwestern Wildcats, perhaps the most memorable sleeper team of all time, awoke from the coma of 23 consecutive losing seasons and stunned the nation by winning the Big Ten and booking an improbable trip to the Rose Bowl.
Another example - on a smaller scale - occurred in 1974 when Baylor rebounded from a 2-9 disaster in '73 to emerge as the Southwest Conference champion.
The Bears had not managed a winning season in a decade, and it was their first conference championship in 50 years.