The WAC Vs. the Big Six: 10 Potential Upsets in 2009
While most teams within the BCS conferences have the luxury of lining their out-of-conference schedules with cream puffs from the lower conferences (or even divisions), those in conferences without an automatic BCS berth have no such luxuries.
In order to have even an outside chance at a prestigious bowl berth, teams in the WAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, etc., have to not only schedule ranked teams outside of their conference, but also hope the rest of their inter-league foes can reach a respectable record so their own might seem at least slightly impressive.
This can present a problem for teams like Boise State and Utah, perennial BCS contenders that many traditional powers can afford to avoid while they pad their OOC slate with easy wins.
On the flip side, many of the downtrodden non-BCS teams are forced to donate their time to so-called "body bag" games, in which they serve as a tune-up for schools from the "Big Six" conferences for the sake of raising some cash.
All the while, a conference like the Mountain West can finish a season with three teams in the top 25 (including their undefeated champion) and not be rewarded with an automatic BCS bid.
At the same time, a team like Penn State can set up arguably the easiest OOC schedule in the country (Akron, Temple, Syracuse, and Eastern Illinois, all at home) and cruise through the declining Big Ten with only one in-conference juggernaut foe to a guaranteed pass to the BCS.
Despite the fact that the Mountain West and WAC conferences each have more ranked opponents than the BCS conference Big East heading into 2009, changes toward a fairer system of play appear nowhere in sight.
Outside of a playoff, the best way for these conferences to earn some respect is to keep scheduling and beating the big guys.
The WAC, a conference with one bona fide power at the top, a few dangerous teams in the middle, and some of the worst programs in the country at the bottom, never shies away from high-profile opponents. Some of their OOC games this season will amount to body bag games, while others have the potential for eye-popping upsets.
The following is 10 games involving the WAC against "Big Six" conference opponents, broken down from the least to most likely to finish with what most of the country will view as an upset.
10) San Jose State at No. 4 USC, Sept. 5
What makes a San Jose State victory even possible? Appalachian State over Michigan, Stanford over USC. That's about how long of a shot the Spartans have in this game.
Both teams are tied up in heated quarterback competitions, though with two former Gatorade National High School Players of the Year in the USC competition, the Trojans are in much better shape than San Jose State.
The Spartans will need to keep the score low, recover a few Trojan turnovers, and count on a slow 2009 start from USC. If they field a typical Dick Tomey swarming defense, they have a slim chance. Very slim.
9) Louisiana Tech at No. 11 LSU, Nov. 14
There's no doubt that Louisiana Tech, with Derek Dooley at the helm, is a program on the rise.
Coming off an eight-win season in which they received a bowl berth and beat SEC program Mississippi State, La. Tech is poised for more upset wins. The chances of one coming against 2007 National Champs LSU aren't very good.
LSU is a consistent quarterback away from being a top 10 team. The Bulldogs may have a chip on their shoulders coming into this interstate rivalry game, which should be enough to make it competitive, but a Louisiana Tech victory would make national sports headlines.
8) San Jose State vs. No. 19 Utah, Sept. 12
A week after a likely drubbing at the hands of USC, the Spartans host their second straight BCS winner in Utah.
Working in their favor is the fact that many of the players that led Utah to their undefeated 2008 season are gone, including their quarterback.
If San Jose State can come away from USC relatively healthy, they may be able to use the experience of that game to pull off a stunner at home.
Realistically, the Spartans are looking at an 0-2 start to 2009.
7) Fresno State @ Cincinnati, Sept. 26
A year removed from preseason expectations of being a BCS buster, Fresno State again has a very respectable OOC schedule.
In the Bearcats, they face the defending Big East champions, who were 11-2 in 2008. Cincinnati is not expected to field a dominant team in 2009, but neither is Fresno State.
What will keep the Bulldogs in this road game will be ball control through their dynamic rushing duo of Ryan Matthews and Lonyae Miller. But with Fresno State breaking in a new quarterback this year, teams will be able to focus on stopping the run.
A Fresno State win is not out of the question, but it definitely will be a very difficult road game.
6) Hawaii @ Wisconsin, Dec. 5
A year after rebuilding their highly potent offense, the Warriors are now in rebuilding mode on the defensive side of the ball. To their credit, they developed quarterback Greg Alexander in his first year in 2008, and the former juco transfer seems poised to have a typically prolific season for Hawaii.
Unfortunately, Hawaii will be dealing with a long flight to Wisconsin for this game and don't typically perform well in the Midwest and further east. If they can't slow down the Badgers' running attack, it could be an even longer flight home.
5) Nevada at No. 23 Notre Dame, Sept. 5
Nevada enters the season as the most highly regarded team in the WAC outside of Boise State, and with their offensive firepower, they stand a realistic chance of upsetting the Irish in South Bend.
With three 1,000-yard rushers on their roster, including 2008 WAC Offensive Player of the year Colin Kaepernick under center, the Wolf Pack is destined to put up a lot of points in 2009 no matter who they are playing.
If their defense can contain Notre Dame and keep pressure on quarterback Jimmy Clausen, they should be able to control the game. A victory in week one for Nevada could immediately call into question Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' job security.
4) Fresno State @ Wisconsin, Sept. 12
After having their BCS hopes derailed early by Wisconsin in 2008, Fresno State should have revenge on their minds heading into their Week Two tilt with the Badgers.
Despite the home field advantage Wisconsin will enjoy, the Bulldogs will benefit from having prepared for and played Wisconsin last year, a game Fresno State was in through the fourth quarter.
Also working in their favor is the fact that they always seems to pull off an upset each season and tend to play well against their toughest opponents.
3) Louisiana Tech @ Auburn, Sept. 5
Coming off their disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2008, the rebuilding Auburn Tigers are ripe for an upset loss—about as ripe as Louisiana Tech is for an upset victory.
One program is on the upswing, the other in a downturn, and they could be meeting in the middle in week one.
Depending on how new head coach Gene Chizik works out, the Tigers probably aren't in a free-fall. But his first game at the helm might not be a good time to coach opposite one of college football's rising stars at a rising program.
The travel won't be rough, and the Bulldogs should be used to the SEC atmosphere by now. A victory for them is well in reach.
2) Nevada vs. Missouri, Sept. 25
Like Fresno State against Wisconsin, Nevada will be facing the Missouri Tigers for the second time in as many seasons. Unlike Fresno State, they get Mizzou at home.
The Wolf Pack should benefit from facing a rebuilt Tigers offense that lost quarterback Chase Daniel, receiver Jeremy Maclin, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.
Meanwhile, their explosive offense, which was able to move against the Tigers last year, should put up more than the 17 points they had last season. It's a safe assumption that Missouri won't be posting the 69 points they put up last season, especially on the road in Reno.
The revenge-minded Wolf Pack should make it an even matchup this season.
1) No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 16 Oregon, Sept. 3
In a nationally televised showdown to kick off the college football season, the Oregon Ducks are tasked with taking on the Broncos on their home blue turf, where they are 64-2 over the last decade. Predictably, Boise State is the slight favorite heading into this game.
Oregon will be looking to avenge a 37-32 home loss to the Broncos in 2008, but they face a reloaded Boise State team that has one of the best home field advantages in college football. With a victory, the Broncos will be a front runner for an at-large BCS berth provided they cruise through the WAC—which they typically do.
With the Ducks transitioning to a new head coach, the odds will be against them to spoil Boise State's home winning streak.
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