Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have become a BCS juggernaut.
Love it or hate it, the current BCS system is returning to college football for one more campaign. Last season, it was a familiar name that wound up taking the sport's biggest prize. Alabama, for the third time during the past four seasons, claimed victory in the BCS National Championship after an utter demolition of Notre Dame.
As the 2013 season unofficially kicks off with spring practice, there are a few teams that look poised to make a BCS run. Not surprisingly, a few of them come from the SEC, which has claimed the crystal football since Florida's victory in 2007. There are, however, teams throughout the country that would consider anything less than a BCS bowl a failure. Some accomplished this feat last season, while others are looking to take the next step to college football glory.
In any case, here are ten teams that will enter the 2013 regular season with a "BCS or bust" mentality.
The winner of three of the past four national titles, Alabama has built a reputation of excellence.
It is no longer BCS or bust for Nick Saban and the Tide. It is now national championship or bust.
The most dominant program college football has seen in a long time is once again an immediate favorite in the title race. Returning to Tuscaloosa are quarterback AJ McCarron and his leading target from last season, Amari Cooper. Also returning are 1,000-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and a host of other offensive weapons. Despite losing Eddie Lacy, the Tide scoring attack should not skip a beat.
While the Tide's defense has to overcome losses of its own, including Dee Milliner and Nico Johnson, it should remain a dominant unit in 2013. The combination of returning players—such as C.J. Mosley—and highly touted freshmen in ESPN.com's top-ranked recruiting class will once again give Saban a first-class defense.
The SEC has dominated the national title picture since 2006, and Alabama has led the charge in recent years. This should not change once the fall arrives.
Heisman contender Tajh Boyd looks to lead the Tigers to glory.
If not for an early loss to Florida State, Clemson would have had the fast track to a BCS game. After coming extremely close to the promised land last season, the Tigers are prepared to reload for another shot.
Tajh Boyd is at the center of things. The explosive signal-caller will once again be at the helm of the Tiger offense, which ranked sixth in the nation in scoring. If he can cut down on turnovers, he and his teammates can put even more points on the board.
Once again, Florida State and South Carolina are the only immediate threats on the Tigers' schedule. Their matchup with the latter has the potential to be one of the most dramatic of the end-of-season college football slate. If they can beat the Seminoles, however, they will likely have a spot in the ACC championship game.
Dabo Swinney has this program as competitive as it has ever been. With a relatively easy schedule and an explosive offense, Clemson should be in a BCS game next season.
Todd Gurley and the Dawgs came within five yards of the BCS title game.
That was the distance that separated the Georgia Bulldogs from a spot in the national title game. Instead of taking on Notre Dame, however, they were forced to settle for a victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Without a doubt, the 2013 Bulldogs will be out to avenge their devastating loss against Alabama. They have the quarterback to accomplish this feat. Aaron Murray is returning to Athens for his senior season with one of the best arms in college football. His supporting cast is lethal as well. Todd Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell will lead this talented set of skill players.
However, Georgia also needs to find replacements for a few key defensive contributors. The departures of Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo leave big shoes to fill for other members of Mark Richt's unit. If he can find the right athletes to take over these spots, the impact of those key absences will be less significant.
The Bulldogs will have to survive a rough SEC schedule to once again participate in a BCS bowl. However, they have the talent to make it happen.
Bridgwater and the Louisville offense torched the Gators in the Sugar Bowl.
Louisville was an afterthought heading into last year's Sugar Bowl. Most assumed the Cardinals would be handily beaten by a Florida team that almost played for the national championship. Instead, Charlie Strong put together a solid game plan and led them to a convincing win against the Gators.
As for the 2013 season, the Cards may very well find themselves in the same position by next January.
Of any BCS team from last season, Louisville has the easiest return path with a weak Big East schedule. The only two opponents that should pose any problems are Cincinnati and Rutgers. Based on talent alone, the Cardinals should be marked as the favorite in every single matchup.
Plus, they happen to have one of the best quarterbacks in the country returning to lead them. Teddy Bridgewater is big and athletic, and he simply can produce week-in and week-out. here's no reason to believe he cannot improve upon his 2012 total of 27 passing touchdowns.
The loss of Jeremy Wright is an obstacle the team will have to overcome. However, Louisville is still the clear favorite in the Big East. Anything less than another BCS appearance would be a huge disappointment.
Brian Kelly (right) and Everett Golson will fight for another chance to win the BCS title.
Before last season, Notre Dame had little respect among the masses as a BCS contender. After coming within one victory of winning the national title, however, the pressure is now on for Brian Kelly and his squad.
The face of the program, Manti Te'o, is no longer in South Bend. However, many talented starters will be returning for the Irish, including quarterback Everett Golson. That being said, Kelly will have to replace nearly 1,700 rushing yards that left with Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, not to mention tight end Tyler Eifert. This will put the pressure on DaVaris Daniels and others to step up and make plays.
Of course, the Irish went undefeated in the regular season last year thanks to their stout defense. Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson are two players who will anchor this unit, which is experiencing changes of its own.
With all of this being said, Notre Dame is once again in the national spotlight. The expectations for this program are no longer nine wins and a decent bowl game. Notre Dame fans now expect nothing less than a BCS appearance. This will be the main goal for Brian Kelly and his troops next season.
Urban Meyer is hoping to rekindle the BCS magic he found at Florida.
It is basically impossible for any coach in his first year with a new team to outdo Urban Meyer's accomplishments last year at Ohio State. Despite the dark shadows of NCAA sanctions that lingered over the program, he was able to rally the Buckeyes to an undefeated season.
The pieces are in place for a repeat performance. Much of the Buckeyes' potential success will depend on early Heisman contender Braxton Miller. The star quarterback remains one of the best duel-threat throwers in the country and is extremely difficult to scheme against. Primary tailback Carlos Hyde also returns to set the tone for a rushing attack that ranked tenth in the country.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team will be without six of its starters on the front seven from last season. If any coach in college football has proven he can find the right places for new contributors, however, Urban Meyer is at the top of the list.
Now free from their bowl ban, the Buckeyes have emerged as favorites to go all the way. By this point, basically everyone is aware of how much Meyer wants to win. With the talent on his roster, success will only be reached with a BCS invitation.
Marcus Mariota and the Ducks possess one of the most potent offenses in college football.
If the Oregon Ducks did not lose to Stanford late in the season, they would have likely been playing in the championship game against Notre Dame. Mark Helfrich now takes over a team that boasts arguably the most high-powered offense in college football.
Despite losing Kenjon Barner, the Oregon offense should once again find the end zone and find it often. Marcus Mariota will be looking to avoid a sophomore slump after accounting for 37 total touchdowns during his freshman campaign. Fellow play-maker De'Anthony Thomas will do his part to make sure the Ducks remain deadly with the ball.
Normally, the departure of a head coach would lower a team's expectations, but Chip Kelly's decision to leave should not significantly hurt the Ducks. Helfrich has served as offensive coordinator for the past four seasons, which means that he knows every single intricacy of the team's playbook. He should be able to pick up right where Kelly left off.
The Ducks have the firepower to score points at will. They have made four consecutive BCS bowls, and their speed and athleticism leave them with a golden opportunity to make it five in a row.
South Carolina's BCS aspirations primarily stem from the disruptive impact of Jadeveon Clowney.
Considered by most to be the best defensive player in college football, Clowney is already talented enough to start for an NFL team. If you need proof, click on the provided video and have another look at his now famous Outback Bowl hit on Vincent Smith.
Clowney will set the tone for a defense that ranked 13th in the nation in points allowed last season. Of course, he will need some of his fellow defenders to step up if he and the Gamecocks expect to maintain their defensive dominance. The unit enters the spring with six new starters on top of the depth chart.
There should not be quite as much turnover on offense. Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have spent extensive time under center, but Shaw remains the preferred starter. Furthermore, the Gamecocks have already experienced life without Marcus Lattimore after his 2012 season painfully ended early.
Because Steve Spurrier has not been able to lead South Carolina to a BCS bowl prior to this point, he and his team are once again flying under the radar as a contender. The time is now for Spurrier to leap the final hurdle. If the right people step up on both sides of the ball, this could very well happen next season.
Stanford enters 2013 as the defending Rose Bowl champion.
Stanford defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but David Shaw's team has been more frequently remembered as the squad that ruined Oregon's shot at the national title. However, the Cardinal has a great chance to cement its name among the college football elite next season.
Kevin Hogan took over as quarterback and led the team to six straight wins, including the aforementioned overtime clash with the Ducks. He will return to kick-start a pedestrian passing attack. Unfortunately, the team's leading rusher, Stepfan Taylor, and receiver, Zach Ertz, from 2012 have departed.
Even if the offense falters a bit, Shaw's defense should be just as effective as it was last season. A.J. Tarpley and Ed Reynolds will provide senior leadership for a talented bunch that ranked 11th in the country in scoring defense.
Stanford looks to be a program that is not going away anytime soon. If enough players improve on offense, this team should once again be on track for a BCS game.
Despite key departures, the Aggies maintain Manziel and one of the most dangerous rosters in the country.
No one considered Texas A&M a BCS threat prior to last season. After all, the program was entering its first season in the SEC, and head coach Kevin Sumlin had to hand the offense to a freshman quarterback.
Luckily for the Aggies, that freshman quarterback was Johnny Manziel.
We all know the story by now. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, "Johnny Football" became a national phenomenon. He led the Aggies to a huge upset of Alabama and rode one of the most prolific seasons for a quarterback in the sport's history to a Heisman Trophy.
He returns in 2013, along with running back Ben Malena and leading wide receiver Mike Evans. If you are worried about the Aggies' ability to score points, don't be. They are going to find the end zone with regularity, even after losing three important pass-catchers from last year's squad.
On defense, the main issue is the replacement of Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart at the linebacker position and Damontre Moore on the line. If these gaps are effectively filled, other play-makers like Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews should make the Aggie defensive unit a formidable one.
Texas A&M emerged as one of the most popular choices for the national title conversation by the end of last season. If Manziel comes anywhere close to replicating his 2012 success, there is no reason why this team should not make a BCS bowl.