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Oklahoma and 4 Non-SEC Programs That Are BCS National Championship Contenders

Joe FitzhenryCorrespondent IIJune 7, 2012

Oklahoma and 4 Non-SEC Programs That Are BCS National Championship Contenders

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    The picture above may best capture the frustration of fans of non-SEC college football teams over the past six years. Teams from the Southeastern Conference have come to dominate the landscape of college football and have completely owned the BCS Bowl Championship Series.

    Specifically, the national championship game.

    The last non-SEC team to win a title was the 2005 Texas Longhorns, when Vince Young put on a show for the ages. Starting in 2006, with some guy named Tim Tebow serving as a backup to Chris Leak, Florida won the first of what is now six consecutive titles for the SEC.

    LSU, Auburn and Alabama are the other conference members which have joined the list of champions in recent years. In 2011, the Alabama defense, one of the best we will ever see, completely and utterly overwhelmed its inter-conference rival from the Bayou.

    SEC teams are often loaded with star-studded prospects and usually prove too much for teams from other conferences.

    This article will take a look at the top five contenders to knock the SEC off its pedestal when the 2012 season kicks off.

Oklahoma

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    The decision of Landry Jones to return to school gave hope to Sooners fans everywhere.

    Coming off a disappointing season, by Oklahoma standards, the Sooners should be able to return to their typically lofty status this season. That is, as long as they are not ranked No.1 in the preseason, something the program has struggled with in recent years (see 2011).

    The offense, despite the loss of Ryan Broyles, will be the one of the best in the country, with Dominique Whaley and Kenny Stills, the best young receiver in the country, in my opinion.

    These are just a couple of the weapons that Jones has to work with.

    On the opposite side of the ball, the team must adjust to life without Travis Lewis, Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander. Head coach Bob Stoops knows a thing or two about recruiting, however, and should find capable replacements to fill those holes.

    With that being said, the hardest part of the season for this team may be finding a way to navigate its tough schedule, especially in an improved Big 12.

    Yes, I know the conference lost Missouri, but it also added two consistently solid programs in West Virginia and TCU. The Sooners will travel to both schools and will also host Notre Dame in a non-conference tilt.

USC

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    After sitting out the 2011 postseason due to NCAA allegations, Lane Kiffin's squad should put themselves right back in the thick of the national-title chase this season.

    To the surprise of many, Matt Barkley turned down millions from the NFL in order to come back and make one last run at a national championship.

    In addition to Barkley, the team will also return eight other starters on offense; nine more will return on defense. The biggest question for the offense will revolve around who will protect Barkley's blindside, following the departure of tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL.

    Nonetheless, Troy should be able to get through an incredibly mediocre Pac-12 South with few problems. The main challenger to this team will come from up north in the form of the Oregon Ducks, which will be featured later on in this article.

    The Trojans and Ducks will meet on November 3 at the Coliseum, with a likely rematch coming in the second edition of the Pac-12 Championship game in December.

    This team has the talent and pedigree to run the table. Now it's just a matter avoiding any upsets along the way.

Oregon

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    Same old, same old for the Oregon Ducks this season.

    Despite the loss of LaMichael James, who departed early for the NFL, Oregon will still have one of the most explosive and exciting offenses in the country. Meanwhile, the defense remains serviceable, getting the job done when needed.

    Quarterbacks Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota will compete to replace Darron Thomas. Speedsters Kenjon Barner (pictured above) and De'Anthony Thomas join either Bennett or Mariota in the backfield. The relentless offensive pace often employed by Chip Kelly and his staff will be used once again and will continue to tire out opposing teams in the latter stages of games.

    As noted on the USC slide, the Ducks are seemingly on a crash course to face the Trojans twice this year. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Oregon should win the Pac-12 North Division title for the second year in a row.

    (Sorry, Stanford fans, but I think your team will take just a few slight steps back in Year 1 of the AL [After Luck] era.)

    Oregon's non-conference schedule is comprised of three layups in Arkansas St., Fresno St. and FCS school Tennessee Tech. As for the meaty portion of the schedule, the aforementioned road game against USC is the toughest game overall, but expect a tricky one against Stanford when the Cardinal travel to Eugene on November 17.

Florida St.

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    I keep telling myself that I shouldn't put the Seminoles on this list, but I'm going to do it anyway.

    This is what preseason predictions are all about—having some fun and making picks that you know you'll later regret. What fun would college football be if the season went according to the preseason predictions year after year?

    The last-second touchdowns, the goal-line stands, the historic upsets and the passion are just a part of what make college football so great.

    Well, excluding the BCS, that is.

    Anyway, getting back to Florida St., the defensive unit is absolutely loaded, with nine starters coming back this season, including Greg Reid and Brandon Jenkins, both of whom will both be playing on Sundays in the future.

    The questions for this team, however, will center around with the consistency of the offense—particularly the quarterback position.

    E.J. Manuel, the redshirt senior QB from Virginia Beach, must be even better than he was last year, when he threw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. The main problem for the Seminole offense, however, was the lack of game-changing plays at critical moments in ball games.

    Let's just put it this way, Jimbo Fisher wasn't exactly planning in August of last year on heading to Orlando for a bowl game.

Michigan

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    As a Notre Dame fan, it pains me terribly to have to do this, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

    The job that Brady Hoke did with this team last year was one of the best coaching jobs in the country.

    Still feeling the effects of the ill-fated Rich Rod experiment, Hoke led the Wolverines to their first 11-win season since 2006. Among those wins were a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech and a win over the hated Ohio State Buckeyes, which ended, for Michigan fans, an agonizingly long losing streak.

    In 2012, the Maize and Blue should be just as strong with Denard "Shoelace" Robinson returning for his senior season, albeit with an almost completely new offensive line.

    Other skill position returnees include 1,000-yard rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint and the guy who last year broke the collective heart of Irish fans everywhere, Roy Roundtree.

    However, if one thing can't go unnoticed from last season, it is the miracle worked by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to rebuild the Michigan defense. The Wolverines went from 99th in the nation in points allowed in 2010 to sixth overall last season.

    Expect Hoke to field another very good team this year, but as the Wolverines get better, the schedule gets tougher. For 2012, the slate includes a neutral-site game versus defending national champion Alabama, along with road trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.

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