10 Teams Most Likely to Play in the 2014 National Championship Game
Let's talk about the title game.
The 2014 title game.
In the last BCS national championship before the playoff system is implemented, who will take the field?
Given the recent dominance of the conference, it's safe to assume an SEC team will be at least one of the participants, so for that reason, half of this list is comprised of teams from said conference.
But what about the rest?
The Big 12 and Big East will not have legit title contenders, and the good ACC teams must overcome some stout non-conference competition in order to have a shot at a national title bid.
The ten teams in this list are the top 10, at this point, with the best shot at making the final BCS national title game, the exclamation point to a system that will surely go down in history as the worst idea in sport.
10. Stanford Cardinal
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2012 has been great to Stanford.
The Cardinal entered the season without Andrew Luck, arguably the greatest quarterback in school history, and yet still managed to come out on top in a tough conference.
Head coach David Shaw has done a great job of demanding excellence, and getting it from his players.
That's not going to change in 2013.
Yes, Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas will be gone from a defense that dominated opponents this season, limiting them to only 88 yards on the ground, but this defense is deep. The returning starters and guys stepping in will continue to play with a physical, aggressive style that knocks teams out of their comfort zones.
Kevin Hogan is back at quarterback and has already demonstrated through the course of this season that he is capable of leading this team to success.
With a more experienced, cohesive offensive unit and some fresh young talent interspersed on defense, the Cardinal will be primed for a run at the top of the Pac-12 again, and if they can beat Notre Dame November 30, have a legit shot at a national title.
9. Wisconsin Badgers
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You might scoff at the idea of a team with a new head coach and losing Montee Ball making the BCS title game, but these Badgers are going to be loaded.
Leading receiver Jared Abbrederis returns, running backs Melvin Gordon and James White are ready to pick up where Ball left off and quarterback Joel Stave, with a year of experience under his belt, will be one of the best in the conference.
Tight end Jacob Pedersen will be back, as will stud linebacker Chris Borland, and it looks like the Badgers are closing in on a new head coach.
A road trip to Arizona State in the non-conference schedule will be surprisingly tough, and Ohio State and Penn State are going to be hard to beat again in 2013.
But this team has tons of talent returning and has the potential to run the table with a few breaks.
8. Texas A&M Aggies
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Yes, Damontre Moore will be gone, along with his 20 tackles for loss.
But you have to love the chances of any team with Johnny Manziel at the helm in his second season.
Besides the wunderkind quarterback, Kevin Sumlin's offense is loaded.
Leading receiver Mike Evans returns for his second season, running back Ben Malena will be back, and Sumlin is already reeling in the recruits.
Winning the SEC is no easy road, but A&M is stacked, and one loss will not necessarily eliminate it from title contention.
Early games against Alabama and Arkansas will be interesting, but if the Aggies can beat those two, they should enter their November 23 contest against LSU undefeated.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Don't kid yourselves into thinking that the Irish are a flash in the pan and will be back to mediocrity next season.
Quarterback Everett Golson is returning, as is Stephon Tuitt, who leads the team in sacks with 11.
Brian Kelly's offense is going to be even better next season as his young stars such as Golson begin to develop.
The Irish again play a schedule featuring no FCS teams, unlike some others we could name, but the schedule they do face is not exactly overwhelming.
Stanford and Oklahoma will present major barriers, but with wins over those two teams, a second perfect season is a very real possibility for the Irish.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
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Steve Spurrier knows how to win championships.
He did it at Florida, and now he has turned around a South Carolina team that was in the throes of football mediocrity.
This defense is going to be one of the fiercest, most physical units in the nation led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has already confessed aspirations to win the Heisman.
"That's my next thing, New York."- #SouthCarolina DE Jadeveon Clowney on winning the Heisman next year.— Around The SEC (@AroundTheSEC) December 18, 2012
With a defense as ferocious as will be fielded by the Gamecocks, they need only find some level of consistency on offense.
With running back Marcus Lattimore gone, the offense will need to turn to an untested commodity at the position.
If the offense is even slightly better than mediocre, Spurrier and the Gamecocks might finally break through to that elite level of undefeated in the SEC.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
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If Aaron Murray returns, this team will again be in the SEC title hunt, and thus competitive for the BCS title.
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will continue to be one of the most dynamic rushing tandems in the nation and have another excellent season for Mark Richt's squad.
But it all rests on Murray's decision.
He's the leader of this team, and without him, the offense will be much less effective.
The defense, while not returning studs Bacarri Rambo or possibly Jarvis Jones, still has the potential to be one of the tops in the nation.
The schedule is tougher than it has been, with a visit to Clemson and visit from LSU this season, besides the rivalry meetings with South Carolina and Florida.
However, if Murray returns, this team has the talent to take it all in 2013.
4. Oregon Ducks
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Marcus Mariota is vastly underrated.
When we discuss the best quarterbacks in the nation, we tend to overlook this kid for some strange reason.
All he did this season as a freshman was throw 30 touchdown passes, rush for four more and complete 70 percent of his passes while running a complex offense.
While his top running back will be gone, Mariota himself was second on Chip Kelly's team in rushing and will be a huge part of the rushing game again for the Ducks.
De'Anthony Thomas returns, and if Josh Huff returns for his senior season at wide receiver, Mariota's top two pass-catchers will be back.
This team is predicated on an explosive offense that overwhelms teams.
With Mariota, Thomas and Huff back, the road to a BCS title game is wide open for the Ducks in 2013.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
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The Buckeyes, due to their postseason ban, will not be featured in a major bowl this off-season.
But this team is legit and will be a serious title contender next season.
Urban Meyer, as a recruiting machine and strategist, has already proved his worth, first at Utah and then at Florida,
Then, in his first season at the helm of the Buckeyes, he led them to a perfect season.
And he still has Braxton Miller to lead the offense.
While Johnny Manziel was off winning the Heisman, Miller was repeatedly making clutch plays, making all the throws and generally making tacklers look foolish.
Another year with some more maturity on defense and Miller leading the offense and a favorable Big Ten schedule, and OSU has a great chance to finish next season without a loss.
Doing so in the Big Ten next season should be enough for a title berth.
2. Florida Gators
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Florida fans have to be happy with the way the "Will Muschamp Experiment" has gone.
The Gators were just short of a national title bid this season, and the offense finally started to demonstrate that it could be at least semi-productive.
Jeff Driskel and favorite target Jordan Reed will be back, as will much of a defense that was absolutely dominant this season.
The SEC slate is more the difficult, but with a more experienced Driskel at the helm of the offense, this team has the players on both sides of the ball to win every game it plays in 2013.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
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The SEC comprises half of this list, starting with Alabama.
And that's as it should be. The Tide are largely responsible for the SEC domination of title games in recent years.
If you want to deny that Nick Saban is building a dynasty in Tuscaloosa, you are out of your mind.
The Tide are heading to their third BCS title game in four seasons.
Saban continues to recruit and develop players at a tremendous clip, and until they are knocked out of title contention every season, they are going to remain as title competitors.
With running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon returning, along with wide receiver Amari Cooper, it's difficult to see the offense taking a step back, unless Jay Cutler steps in at quarterback.
Kirby Smart's defense will continue to be excellent, and the Tide will find themselves in every game.
If they can find a way to sole their Manziel problem in 2013, a fourth title appearance in five years will be in order.