One of the reasons why college football will always be more exciting and more meaningful than, say, college basketball, is that teams only get 12 games to win or to lose. And, occasionally, even one loss—especially at the upper echelon of college football—can mean your team does not achieve its goal for an entire year.
Postseason bowl games, especially the highly lucrative BCS series, are the promised land—at least for now until they tinker with the current system to, hopefully, get our nation closer to some semblance of a playoff.
Looking at the 2012 schedules, some teams appear to have an easier road to a BCS bowl than others. In the Pac-12, for instance, while the bar will be set higher in 2012 because of USC's postseason ban being history and an influx of four new well-respected head coaches, Oregon and USC should only have their showdown on Nov. 3 in the way of a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
In the Big Ten—and what are we doing about that name now that there are 12 schools?—reigning champ Wisconsin must play newly-scary Ohio State during the regular season but then can pretty much coast until the conference championship.
In the SEC, LSU has a bye week before the Alabama game in Baton Rouge, La. Sounds like cushy timing to me. And Georgia doesn't play LSU or Alabama until the SEC Championship Game, assuming the Bulldogs make it.
So, which of the probable highly rated teams will have a tough go making it to a BCS bowl game? Here's what I think.
After what had to have been one of West Virginia's most successful football seasons ever in 2011, capped by the Mountaineers 70-33 whipping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, it will be interesting to watch how they navigate their move to the Big 12 conference.
Will they step up to the challenge in a power conference? Will they survive the lengthier travel playing in the Big 12 will require?
The Mountaineers first Big 12 game is Sept. 29 at home against Baylor. But then they become frequent fliers for two straight weeks with games at Texas and at Texas Tech.
In a game of interest, the two newbies to the Big 12 will play on Nov. 3, when West Virginia hosts TCU. After that tough game, the Mountaineers travel to Stillwater for a date with Oklahoma State, and then rush back home to host Oklahoma.
Welcome to the Big 12, Mountaineers.
There is no other way to say it: Michigan State has a wicked schedule in 2012.
It starts at home, which is good, against Boise State, which is bad. You may recall Boise taking on a little team (Georgia) on the road in the first game last year and handing it a solid beatdown.
Yes, Kellen Moore and most of his strong supporting cast have finally graduated, but guess who's still the coach? That would be "73-6 in his head coaching job" Chris Petersen. Yep, 73-6.
After the Boise State opener, the Spartans get a little breather before Notre Dame comes to town on Sept. 15. This would be the same team that beat them soundly in 2011, 30-13.
They do get Ohio State at home, but then, toward the end of October, the Spartans have road games against Michigan and Wisconsin, followed with an at-home game against Nebraska. Anyway you slice it, that's three potential nightmares in three successive weeks.
I like this team, but I see at least two—and probably three—losses in this tough schedule.
Speaking of Notre Dame, did you know that in the BCS selection procedures, Article 4 in the Automatic Qualification section reads: "Notre Dame will have an automatic berth if it is in the top eight of the final BCS Standings."
I swear to God I did not know this. Why the Irish and not, oh, Dartmouth or Brigham Young? Did you know this? Am I the only person on the planet who didn't know this little factoid and thinks it's grossly unjust? Whatever happened to democracy and the free-market system?
I'm not sure their 2012 schedule is all that tough, but the Irish do have road games at the aforementioned Michigan State, Miami (in Chicago), Oklahoma and USC.
Let's hope that's enough to keep them out of the No. 8 ranking—it's just not fair.
I understand this is supposed to be a rebuilding year for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lost star QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon, among other big losses.
Conventional wisdom says they can't possibly repeat as conference champions. Personally, I've never been real big on conventional wisdom, and I would not rule out Oklahoma State continuing to be a thorn in the side of its conference mates.
The Cowboys have a tricky non-conference game at Arizona. Even though they beat Arizona at last year's Alamo Bowl, there's a new sheriff in Tucson (Rich Rodriguez), and he knows how to win a fight.
Texas, TCU and West Virginia will make the trip to Stillwater, but the Cowboys have Kansas State and Oklahoma on the road. S'pose the Sooners will be ready for this game? Uh-huh.
I think the Cowboys have a difficult path in 2012, but I wouldn't turn my back on them if I played in the Big 12.
And now, for the new kids in the Big 12: the Horned Frogs of TCU.
I have recently adopted TCU as my second favorite team—Fear the Frog! However, I fear the Frogs have a rough, scaly year ahead of them. There is just no getting around the fact that they will be facing tougher competition in the Big 12 than they did in the Mountain West.
The Frogs have road games at Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas. They then have the privilege of winding up their inaugural Big 12 year by hosting what will probably by then be a very mad Oklahoma team.
Good luck, Frogs. You are going to need it.
I'm going on record right now and tell you I don't believe Alabama will repeat as national champion.
It's not that I don't think the Tide are a great team (they are). It's certainly not that I don't think Nick Saban is one of the top three coaches in the land (he is).
It's just very difficult to repeat when everyone you play wants to beat you more than anyone else. Throw in losing two starters who will likely be first-round NFL draft picks, including Trent Richardson's 1,679 yards.
The Crimson Tide start their season in the ultimate fishbowl against Michigan at Jerry Jones' place in Texas. That game will tell us a lot about both the Big Ten and the SEC.
Alabama's other road game in September is Arkansas and it also goes on the road to play Missouri and LSU. I believe 'Bama will lose two of these three games, but I'm not going to tell you which ones.
While I think Arkansas has a very good chance to knock off Alabama in 2012 because it gets the Tide at home this year, the Razorbacks schedule is no cakewalk either.
Only two teams beat Arkansas in 2011: Alabama and LSU. The bad news is they have to play them both again in 2012. And they get South Carolina on the road.
The Razorbacks have to beat either Alabama or LSU to make a big bowl, and that's going to be a tough act again this year.
It looks the most difficult journey to a BCS bowl in the Pac-12 in 2012 will be for Stanford.
Even if the Cardinal have success replacing you-know-who, the Pac-12 looks to be tougher all around this year. USC is off probation and back in the mix. The Ducks have won three straight conference championships and appear hungrier than ever.
And there are four new head coaches in the conference, all with a bad attitude and ready to bring it.
The only thing that might make the 2012 campaign less difficult for the Cardinal is that their three tough games—USC at home, Notre Dame and Oregon on the road—occur in three separate months, allowing them time to catch their breath and prepare.
I see Oregon at the BCS National Championship, USC at the Rose Bowl and Stanford getting left out.
Actually, it's a toss-up between Clemson and Florida State as to who will have the most difficult path back to the Orange Bowl.
I give the nod to Clemson only because it has to go to Tallahassee to take on the Seminoles. Also, it has a tricky little game on Sept. 1 against Auburn.
I also think it will be very hard for Clemson to regroup this season after its disastrous loss in the 2012 Orange Bowl. And if the Tigers do make it through their 2012 campaign and repeat, I would like to see a better bowl performance.
Why is Boise State No. 1 on this list of teams with the most difficult path to a BCS bowl?
Because Boise State always has the most difficult path in the BCS, and 2012 won't be any different.
Even if the Broncos whomp Michigan State in their opener in East Lansing before a huge ESPN audience, what would make you think that would stand up even better than their opening romp against a solid Georgia team last year?
If the Broncos beat the Spartans and Michigan State goes on to win the Big Ten, there's a teensy chance there might be, at long last, a sympathy vote for Boise State.
However, the Broncos still have to overcome losing Kellen Moore and many other good players. Even if your coach is 73-6, it's a lot to overcome.