With the start of a new college football season, hope springs eternal for fans everywhere. Will this be the year? Is a conference championship possible? How about that coveted crystal football that comes with a national title? Or perhaps even that rarest of feats—an undefeated season—is just around the corner.
While it might seem like a distinct possibility for so many teams, in reality undefeated seasons are extremely rare. Even mighty Alabama has only made it through the season unscathed just once in the last 20 seasons.
But we all think our team can do it this year, right?
So what really are the chances the Crimson Tide—or the Buckeyes, or Aggies, or Ducks—can achieve that rarest of marks and pitch a perfect season? Here's are the odds for the 10 of the most likely undefeated college football teams in 2013.
We're going to start with last season's darling program, Northern Illinois. The Huskies made headlines by not only becoming in the first MAC program to earn a BCS berth, but did so as the first non-AQ program to find its way to the BCS without an undefeated regular season.
We all know what happened next.
But before the Huskies were dismantled by the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl, they were knocked off by mediocre and bowl-less Iowa in Week 1. If Northern Illinois wants to make its way to yet another BCS game, the Huskies will probably need to go undefeated in 2013—which will include a win against Iowa this time around.
The Huskies also face Purdue in nonconference action as well as a good Kent State on the road in conference play.
All told, there's not a great chance for NIU to find its way to 14-0 this season, even if the chips fall into place about as perfectly as they did last year.
It really didn't get a lot of attention after November last season, but there was one FBS program that actually finished without a loss. Ohio State, mired in NCAA sanctions, posted a less-than-perfect-looking perfect record of 12-0.
Narrow wins over mediocre teams like California, Michigan State and Purdue made most people scoff at the possibility of at least an AP title (for which the Buckeyes were still eligible), but even so, Ohio State put up a goose egg in the loss column in 2012.
So what about 2013?
Even if nothing changed, it would be extremely difficult for the Buckeyes to repeat their unblemished season. Still, the schedule sets up nicely for Ohio State, without Michigan State (17-16 last season) or Nebraska, two teams that could challenge for the Legends Division title in 2013.
Still, Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan all show up on the schedule. With a questionable defense that returns just four starters combined with no passing game to speak of, we're just not convinced any team from the Big Ten will skate through next season without at least one loss.
And now it's time for everyone's favorite—or least favorite—topic: an undefeated Boise State team. The Broncos have actually put together more undefeated seasons—two—in the past decade than nearly any program in the nation (Ohio State and Utah also has two, no team has three).
Boise State's fame has faded over the past year with the graduation of so many stars, some costly losses and an end to that epic home unbeaten streak. Still, the Broncos are a threat to win any game on their schedule, and in 2013 that schedule looks pretty favorable.
The Broncos will play their familiar season-opening road game against a BCS-AQ opponent, but this year it's Washington. The Huskies just don't present the same kind of challenge teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia or even Michigan State did. In fact, Boise State's last football game, the 2012 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, was against Washington, and the Broncos won that one, too, 28-26.
Add in a weak conference schedule and nonconference meetings with BYU, Southern Mississippi and FCS Tennessee-Martin, and suddenly a third undefeated season in a decade isn't so laughable.
Whether that translates into a BCS trip or even national championship consideration is an entirely different argument.
Texas is an interesting team to try and figure out for 2013. With 19 returning starters there's plenty of hope for the Longhorns this season, and the Big 12 looks ripe for the picking. But the history of Texas, particularly recent history has us doubting the final destination for the Horns in 2013.
Mack Brown is certainly one of the most successful coaches in the nation, at least when you take a look at his win-loss record. But if you, like a good many people, equate success with championships, it's entirely possible to argue that Brown and his Longhorns miss the mark more often than not.
Since taking over the Texas program in 1998, Brown has led Texas to just two conference championships. During that same span, Oklahoma and Bob Stoops have won eight. National championships are great, too, but Brown has just one—exactly the same number as Stoops. If you're keeping score, that's nine total trophies for the Sooners and just three for the Longhorns.
Still, it's hard to ignore Texas's opportunity in 2013. Oklahoma has some legit questions, particularly on offense, and the Longhorns have so much returning talent, it's hard not to jump on the Bevo bandwagon.
A few seasons ago, picking Notre Dame as a potential undefeated national championship was laughable. After 2012, no one—other than Irish fans—are laughing. Notre Dame was an impressive, if not surprising 12-0 at the end of the regular season only to suffer a loss at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
In 2013, no one is going to discount the Irish. Say what you will about Notre Dame, but a cream puff schedule isn't on the menu these days in South Bend. Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC and Stanford all make appearances, giving the Irish more than enough schedule points to satisfy even the stingiest of computer ranking system.
Brian Kelly's squad also had 15 returning starters, including a much more seasoned quarterback in Everett Golson. While another undefeated regular season would be tough to repeat for Notre Dame, the “luck o' the Irish” means anything is possible.
Texas A&M might have 12 combined returning starters in 2013, but there's really only one name that matters: Johnny Football.
Johnny Manziel returns for his sophomore season on the heels of an unprecedented Heisman-winning freshman year. Texas A&M has settled into the SEC nicely, and with a year's worth of experience, the Aggies are a real threat to win the West Division in 2013. And while the Aggies will host Alabama this season, A&M will need to travel to Baton Rouge for the first time since 1994—when they knocked off LSU, 18-13.
Expect more points this time around.
Louisville proved that teams from the Big East can still compete on the nation stage. The Cardinals dismantled the Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl thanks in large part to the exploits of Teddy Brigewater.
The Big East expands to 10 teams this season, finally putting together a more normal-looking conference schedule. Still, adding Houston, Central Florida, Memphis and SMU doesn't exactly scream danger for teams like Louisville. The nonconference schedule for the Cards shapes up only marginally better, consisting of Ohio, FCS Eastern Kentucky, Florida International and Kentucky. The Wildcats will provide the best test, but that's only compared to Ohio, FIU and an FCS team.
The real kicker for Louisville will be the grind and the press surrounding Bridgewater, who could be a Heisman contender this season. The bowl draw is critical, too, and a possible face-off with an SEC champ in the BCS National Championship Game could end any undefeated streaks pretty quickly.
Chip Kelly may be gone, but Mark Helfrich is no slouch.
Some of you out there might be thinking Oregon's glory days are coming to an end, and that there's no way the Ducks can keep up their furious pace of outscoring the other opponents with just first quarter points. But Kelly didn't develop Oregon's high-flying offense alone. His partner in crime was his offensive coordinator during Kelly's entire tenure at Oregon: Mark Helfrich.
Add in nine returning offensive starters (and seven on defense), and there probably won't be any perceptible drop-off in Oregon's offensive output in 2013.
Gone, apparently, are the days of “that other football team in California.” The Cardinal have not only reintroduced themselves to the national scene, they've done it in style, earning three consecutive trips to BCS games, including two victories. There's also that Pac-12 title from last season that preceded an impressive Rose Bowl Game title.
Star running back Stepfan Taylor is gone, but we learned out lesson about writing off Stanford because of superstar graduations last time. Seven returning offensive starters in more than enough to keep things humming on The Farm, but the Cardinal have 10 defensive starters back, just in case.
The big test for both Stanford and Oregon will come against each other on November 7. That game at Stanford will all but certainly decide the Pac-12 North Division champion.
We've come to the defending national champions and all-but-assured preseason No. 1 team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. There's little doubt the Tide are in the midst of a dynastic stretch under Nick Saban, and there's no signs of things slowing down in Tuscaloosa just yet.
All that being said, Alabama is never guaranteed of perfection. As we mentioned earlier, Alabama, despite all of its success, has put together just one perfect season in the past 20 years. While an SEC title and another trip to the BCS National Championship Game may seem likely, we're not placing odds on those two outcomes—at least not here.
When figuring out the odds for perfection in 2013 for the Tide, we have to look at a whole gambit of complicated variables. First, let's look at experience. Alabama will return just 13 starters, seven on defense and just six on offense.
There are a lot of big losses in those departures, including Barrett Jones, Dee Milliner and Eddie Lacy. But if there's any coaching staff in the nation that can reload a talented team with one just as talented, it has to be the boys at Alabama.
Speaking of coaches, they figure into our next variable. From top to bottom, there likely isn't a staff as good anywhere at any level as the one Saban has put together in Tuscaloosa. We're not so dumb to compare the skill at Alabama to anything in the NFL (although some people are exactly that dumb), but there are few that even come close in the college world.
Finally, we're going to take a gander at Alabama's 2013 schedule. Games on the road against Virginia Tech (neutral) and at Texas A&M could be potential stumblers, but beyond that, the Tide were gift-wrapped a schedule by the SEC. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU all travel to Tuscaloosa while the Tide only need to visit always bad Kentucky, not-as-advertised Mississippi State and listless Auburn.
Another SEC joke of a nonconference schedule which “features” Colorado State, first-year FBS program Georgia State and FCS Chattanooga. It doesn't matter what former connections Alabama had to Georgia State (former GSU head coach Bill Curry coached Alabama from 1987 to 1989, winning the program's first SEC title since the Bear Bryant years), there's no excuse for scheduling a team like the Panthers. And Curry and the Tide didn't exactly part on the best of terms.
So what does all of this add up to when it comes to figuring out the odds of Alabama making through 2013 without a blemish? Well, if you're a fan of the Crimson Tide, you're going to like the answer.