NCAA Football 2012: Dark Horse Picks to Win Each BCS Conference
So the rankings are out, and the season is set. We're already going through the schedules to figure out if Southern Cal or Oklahoma is going to play LSU or Alabama for the BCS Championship.
It's all just a forgone conclusion, right? Wrong.
Every year in every conference, someone jumps up out of nowhere or falls flat, turning the preseason rankings upside down.
Last year Clemson stepped up, while Big Ten favorite Nebraska disappointed.
How might the 2012 season unfold?
Here are some dark horse picks to win each BCS conference and whom to watch.
Big East: Syracuse
Why Syracuse can win it:
With the departure of West Virginia and Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib is the most experienced and capable quarterback in the division.
Syracuse plays well in the Carrier Dome, and they'll open with a game against Northwestern that they can win. With likely losses to non-conference foes Southern Cal and Missouri, the rest of their schedule sets up nicely from a home and away standpoint.
Road games at South Florida and Cincinnati will challenge the Orange, but they get conference favorite Louisville at home.
ACC: Georgia Tech
Favorite: Florida State
Why Georgia Tech can win it:
Dual-threat quarterback and option master Tevin Washington returns to lead Paul Johnson's run-oriented and headache-producing offense.
They'll finish their ACC schedule with games against North Carolina and Duke while Coastal division favorite Virginia Tech will have to finish the campaign with a game against conference favorite Florida State, a trip to Boston College and a battle with in-state rival Virginia.
This bodes well in a division where anyone is capable of beating anyone, possibly opening the door for the Yellow Jackets to slip into the conference title game and catch lightning in a bottle.
Big 12: Kansas
Why Kansas can win it:
Charlie Weis inherits a roster full of upperclassmen molded with Turner Gill's discipline.
He'll have former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, whom he recruited himself, running his offense.
If they can beat TCU at home, the Jayhawks have a realistic shot at heading into the Oklahoma game 6-0.
In a conference without a title game, a loss to the Sooners would not necessarily be the end of the road to a championship, especially considering that Oklahoma travels to TCU and West Virginia.
Favorite: LSU or Alabama
Why Florida can win it:
The Gators lost a lot of key playmakers on offense but will field a starting offensive line comprised entirely of upperclassmen who will be fully capable of opening holes and providing protection for the next generation of Gator skill players.
One thing people in the Big 12 know from his recent years at Texas is that you never underestimate a Will Muschamp defense.
They'll play their three toughest conference games at home against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina, setting them up nicely for a trip to the SEC Championship game.
PAC 12: Washington
Favorite: Southern Cal
Why Washington can win it:
The Huskies return with Keith Price, arguably the most underrated quarterback in the nation.
They'll play home games against USC, Stanford and Utah. Their only true road test looks to be Oregon, who lost several key players to the draft and graduation.
They'll also close out the regular season with Colorado and Washington State.
Big Ten: Iowa
Why Iowa can win it:
Nobody seems to be talking about Iowa this offseason, and I have to think Kirk Ferentz likes it that way.
His Hawkeyes will again be one of the most disciplined teams in the Big Ten, something that can go a long way in a league that will essentially be up for grabs.
Ferentz will also sleep well knowing he has the conference's most polished passer in James Vandenberg running his huddle.
Depending how how the chips fall, Iowa will likely be favored in every game on their schedule outside of Michigan, closing out the year against border-rival Nebraska at home on Black Friday.