Twenty Teams and the BCS

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Twenty Teams and the BCS
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

 

The wait is finally over.

The College Football season begins tonight; temporarily putting an end to articles written on the foundation of conjecture over actual "on the field" results.

And to celebrate the arrival of the regular season, I’m going to write another article with the foundation of conjecture over actual "on the field" results.

Let’s face it–the top teams in the country claim to have their eyes on their next opponent, but the actual contenders are dreaming about where they will be come January.

Why can’t I look ahead? Why can’t I try and determine who’s going to be where after the crystal ball drops? And no, not the crystal ball pictured above, I’m talking about the big one that drops in Time Square on New Year’s Eve.

Ten teams will play in BCS bowl games this January. Six of those spots will be filled by the conference champions of the automatic BCS qualifying leagues (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 10 and the SEC). I’ve already offered my two cents on who those teams will be.

Here’s a look at 20 teams and what they must do to reach a BCS Bowl (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta Bowl or National Championship Game).

 

Florida State Seminoles

Florida State will be looking to continue their momentum in 2009 after thumping Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. After a nine-win campaign last season, Coach Bowden looks to put the NCAA investigations behind him and get his team back to glory.

 

What They Must Improve On

Consistent quarterback play has been an issue for the Seminoles the past few years. A lot of people are excited about Christian Ponder, and EJ Manuel will be in the mix if Ponder starts to slip.

There are also some questions on the defensive side of the ball, mostly in the secondary. They lost both starting safeties and a starting cornerback from last year’s squad. It remains to be seen if the Seminoles can patch those holes.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They take a more consistent passing game to the ACC Championship game and beat Virginia Tech. This could be a year where the ACC gets two teams in the BCS, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They’ll either automatically qualify or find themselves in the Chic-fil-A Bowl. 

 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Ah, the anchovies of college football. You either absolutely love them, or act like Charlie Weis farted on your arm when somebody brings them up in conversation. The golden domers have a roster stacked with blue chip recruits that have experience. Will this be the year everything clicks?

 

What They Must Improve On

The rush attack for the Irish over the past two years has been atrocious. New running back coach Tony Alford looks to take a promising group, led by Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, and give them a more effective rushing game in 2009.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They win 11 games. The schedule for the Irish is a soft one, so I’m not sure if the BCS computers will acknowledge a two-loss Notre Dame team. They should be favored in most of their games, with the exception of USC and maybe Michigan State.

 

West Virginia Mountaineers

Mountaineer fans will have to get used to watching a new quarterback in 2009. Pat White exhausted his eligibility, forcing Jarrett Brown into the spotlight. Fortunately for Morgantowner’s, Brown is a good quarterback and a capable replacement. 

 

What They Must Improve On

Three of West Virginia’s four losses last year came on the road. It seemed as though Coach Bill Stewart was unable to make in-game adjustments, especially in their losses to ECU and Colorado.

He wanted to make Pat White a pocket passer, which he was not. Coach Stewart was either too stubborn to admit his "pass oriented spread offense" wasn’t suiting Pat White’s skill set or he was oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t working. This needs to change for them to be a BCS contender.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They win the Big East, because there is no way this conference is getting two teams into the January Bowls. As I’ve already projected, I do think they’ll win the conference and earn the automatic bid.

 

Michigan State Spartans

Mark Dantonio raised the Spartans from a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten to a factor in the conference race in two short years as their head coach. His teams are known for stingy defense and mistake-free execution on offense.

 

What They Must Improve On

Well, it’s not so much what they need to improve on as much as it’s what they need to replace. Javon Ringer takes his 30-carries-a-game with him to the NFL this season. There’s a whole lot of inexperience at the running back position, and you’re with the majority in East Lansing if you think that a true freshman will end up getting the nod, whether it’s Edwin Baker or Larry Caper.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They don’t get blown out the freaking water by real competition. Every game on the Spartans schedule looks winnable (they do not play Ohio State this year), but their season finale against Penn State could decide who gets admittance into the BCS. If they play in this game like they did in Happy Valley last year (a 49-18 throttling), they can just book their flights to the Capital One Bowl.

 

TCU Horned Frogs

Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Gary Patterson knows how to coach up a defense. His team led the country last year defending the run. The Horned Frogs stifled unbeaten Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl, holding the Broncos to just 28 yards on 20 attempts. TCU is one of the few non-BCS league teams who could make a splash in the BCS this year.

 

What They Must Improve On

Again, in TCU's case, it's what they must replace. The Horned Frogs suffered heavy losses to the interior part of their D-line, as well as two all-conference linebackers in Jason Phillips and Robert Henson.

Do-everything defensive end Jeremy Hughes must help the replacements understand the heavy standards coach Patterson holds for his defenses.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They go unbeaten. This is an obvious prerequisite for teams in non-BCS leagues if they want admittance into the big games. TCU will have to be road warriors in their non-conference matchups with games at Virginia and at Clemson. Key returning offensive players will look for revenge against Utah on the second Saturday of November.

 

Boise State Broncos

Ian Johnson leaves Boise after a successful 15-year career (or at least at seemed like 15 years) with the Broncos. Kellen Moore takes over the team, and he is well equipped to do so. After a phenomenal freshman season, throwing for just under 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns, he will look to lead the Broncos to another undefeated season.

 

What They Must Improve On

It's hard to criticize a team that have absolutely dominated the majority of their opponents. But if you look at last year's season, the Broncos had trouble stopping teams that had any kind of pulse in the running game. Against Oregon, they coughed up over 225 yards on the ground. Against TCU in their bowl game, they gave away 275 yards. It doesn't help that they have massive turnover in the front seven.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They beat Oregon in the season opener and win an arms race with TCU. Obviously, the chances of both TCU and Boise State going undefeated are small. But if this does happen, only one of them will be allowed into the BCS. Style points might come into play.

 

Georgia Bulldogs

Head coach Mark Richt lost his star power when Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno left for the NFL. He takes his new-look team through a tough schedule. Who said SEC teams don't play tough out-of-conference games? The Bulldogs play Oklahoma State in Stillwater, host Arizona State the last week of September, then play Georgia Tech in the season finale. Yikes.

 

What They Must Improve On

I know this is hard to do considering it's unavoidable in most instances, but the Bulldogs have to stay healthy this season. Last year's No. 1 preseason team took serious hits to their offensive line because of injuries, and it crippled their chances of winning the SEC. Even Moreno battled the injury bug, as he was sidelined at times. They have a much better chance at battling for a BCS spot if they stay healthy.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They win 10 games and the SEC West champion have four losses after the title game. Obviously, I don't think Georgia are going to win the East over Florida. Their only hope is that the SEC West champion has enough losses that they would scare the BCS committee from giving them an invitation as an "At Large" bid over Georgia. The chances of this are slim, but it's the only way I see the Bulldogs getting in.

 

Oregon Ducks

Coach Mike Bellotti is out (or should I say up since he's the athletic director now) and Chip Kelly is in. The Ducks will be tested early as they open the season on a Thursday night against Boise State. Fortunately for Kelly, he has an offense that scores more points than the women's basketball team.

 

What They Must Improve On

Defense. Oregon treated defense last year like Joe Paterno treats his Twitter account—with neglect. They have holes to fill with only one D-lineman returning, as well as some attrition in the secondary.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They finish no lower than second in the Pac 10. They need to rebuild their offensive line and remain as efficient on offense as they were last year. If they do that and step up on defense, finishing second in the league isn't too far-fetched. The conference should get two teams into the BCS this year.

 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

The Yellow Jackets return more starters than any other team in the ACC. Second-year coach Paul Johnson had great success (reread with Borat accent) with his triple-option attack. Georgia Tech will again field one of the best rushing offenses in the country this season.

 

What They Must Improve On

A more effective passing attack. I understand the priority for Paul Johnson is running the ball, but things would be a lot easier for this team if defenses had to at least worry about the passing game. Josh Nesbitt only completed 44 percent of his passes. If he can improve his accuracy, it will be that much harder to keep the Yellow Jackets out of the end zone.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They survive the first half of their conference schedule and make it to the conference championship game. Like the SEC, there is too much balance in this league for two teams from the same division to make it to the BCS (unlike the lopsided Big 12). They must represent the Coastal Division in the championship game to have a shot at the Orange Bowl.

 

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Mike Gundy is a man alright, but he hasn't been 40 in two years.

One of the most exciting teams to watch in 2008 returns arguably the best trio of playmakers in Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter, and Dez Bryant. Things get exciting very early for the Cowboys as they play host to Georgia on opening weekend.

 

What They Must Improve On

Big 12 fans remember how Head Coach Mike Gundy would sit on the sideline during a game and completely ignore what was happening on defense. He did this so he could draw up exciting plays for the next offensive series. Well, my suggestion would be to find someone who could do that same thing for the defense.

New defensive coordinator Bill Young receives that honor. He needs to teach these guys how to sack the quarterback (the Cowboys only accumulated 12 sacks last year, 107th in the NCAA).

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They can finish in the top two of the Big 12 south division. Recent history is on the Cowboys' side: Only one Big 12 North opponent has made it to the BCS in the past five years (Kansas during the '07 season). The BCS should invite two Big 12 teams to the BCS, so if they can beat out either Oklahoma or Texas (a very tall order), they could find themselves in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

Mississippi Rebels

Ole Miss surprised everyone last year with an impressive nine-win season. The preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback Jevan Snead...oops, I mean, second-team All-SEC quarterback Jevan Snead returns to lead the Rebels through a Florida-less schedule.

 

What They Must Improve On

A week before Ole Miss upset the Florida Gators last year, they were beaten by an eventual six-loss Vanderbilt team. A week after they upset the Florida Gators, they were beaten by an eventual six-loss South Carolina team. If the Rebels want to reach the BCS, they must be able to beat the giants and the little guys.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They go all "Under-Armour catch-phrase" on us and "protect their house." The Rebels get their stiffest competition (LSU and Alabama) in Oxford this season. If they can hold serve on their turf, get to the SEC title game and give Florida the same problems they did last year, they'll be in good shape for a big-time bowl.

 

Penn State Nittany Lions

When Penn State won the Big Ten Championship in 2005, they followed that season with four losses in 2006. Joe Pa is working hard this offseason to prevent history from repeating itself. With stars like Daryl Clark, Evan Royster, Navarro Bowman, and Sean Lee returning to the roster, four losses seem very unlikely. 

 

What They Must Improve On

Overall, Penn State's defense was very, very good last year. The front four was scary good and the linebackers were arguably better. The secondary, on the other hand, was about as intimidating as one of their cheerleaders.

And whether this is a good or bad thing for the Nittany Lions, they return zero starters from last year’s secondary. The new starters need to bring a new attitude to the defensive backfield after the last group gave up more than 400 passing yards to USC in the Rose Bowl.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

Christmas comes early and they get their wishes in November. Their toughest games come when they host Ohio State on Nov. 7 and then visit the Spartans in East Lansing two weeks later. Penn State should be high in the rankings when the month begins, and if they can stay there, they should at least get an "At Large" bid to the BCS.

 

LSU Tigers

The Tigers thumped Georgia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A bowl last year and entered the offseason with momentum. Les Miles found a decent quarterback on his roster at season’s end with Jordan Jefferson. "The mad hatter" starts a new and promising season with a visit to Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies.

 

What They Must Improve On

It's easy to dominate the teams that you are expected to, but at LSU, they're expected to dominate almost everyone. That was certainly not the case last year.

Against teams with winning records in 2008, LSU gave up just under 35 points per game. New Defensive Coordinator John Chavis looks to get the Tigers back to the way things were in 2007 when they were suffocating opposing offenses.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They represent the SEC West in the championship game. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they play the toughest competition in their division on the road (they play Georgia in Athens, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Ole Miss in Oxford). If you've ever seen the "Debbie Downer" skit from Saturday Night Live, this is where the trumpet would sound its depressing tune.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies

The Hokies have spent the past few years climbing their way to the ACC mountain top. The past two seasons have been impressive for Frank Beamer and his team; winning consecutive ACC championship games as well as last year’s Orange Bowl. This season brings higher expectations with some tabbing the Hokies a dark horse for the National Championship Game.

 

What They Must Improve On

Offensive balance should be a high priority for the Hokies. Virginia Tech struggled to keep opposing defenses off balance with successful aerial and ground attacks. They were running the ball effectively, or passing the ball effectively in a game; never really putting the two together. They have the pieces to be great on offense (even with Darren Evans injured), but it's a matter of putting it all together and making it work.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They live up to the hype. They are the favorites to win the conference and have a strong schedule to lean on even if they don't win the ACC. They could make things much easier on themselves if they beat Alabama in the season opener and take care of other non-conference opponents—Nebraska and East Carolina.

 

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State looks to reload after the departures of James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Freeman, and Beanie Wells. Having one of the most dangerous play-makers in the conference behind centre helps the transition period. Head coach Jim Tressel hands the keys of the offense to Terrelle Pryor as Ohio State goes for their fifth straight conference championship.

 

What They Must Improve On

The offensive line for the Buckeyes was supposed to be a strength going into the 2008 season. It turned out that Janet Jackson could protect herself from an "unfortunate wardrobe malfunction" better then Ohio State's O-line could protect its own quarterback. A guy as athletic as Terrelle Pryor should not be getting sacked 21 times (although some of those were his fault by holding on to the ball too long).  The new guys up front for Ohio State (Andy Miller, Justin Boren, maybe J.B. Shugarts) need to give Pryor more time to get through his reads.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They beat the teams that they should. At this point, there are only two games on the Buckeyes schedule they could likely lose (USC and Penn State). Even if they lose both of those games, a 10-2 Ohio State team will be very hard for the money-hungry BCS bowls to pass up. 

 

Alabama Crimson Tide

Lousiana's favorite coach, Nick Saban, returns this season (and every season from now 'til 2017) with the goal of finishing what he started in 2008. Will the loss of Senior quarterback John Parker Wilson and most of the O-line hinder him from doing so?

 

What They Must Improve On

Some people think the loss to Florida in the SEC championship game last year knocked the motivation out of this team. Those people point to the lacklustre performance in the Sugar Bowl against Utah as evidence.

If that is the case, this team will have to show much more 'staying power' this year. Alabama probably won't be able to run the regular season unbeaten as they did last year.We'll call it the bounce-back factor. If the Tide can show it's still competitive after a regular season loss, they'll be in good shape.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They can make it to the league title game (and for those of you paying attention-yes-this is exactly what I said about the Ole Miss and LSU). The road to the Sugar Bowl will most likely be a one-way street through the SEC title game for any team in the west.

 

USC Trojans

The Trojans were hit by the NFL draft harder than any other team in the country. This year will be Pete Carroll's toughest test as far as replacing lost talent; he needs eight new starters on defense and a new quarterback. Not to mention the fact that he has brand new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators to break in.

The thing about USC—they could take eight contestants from the television show "Project Runway," a lizard, Andy Dick, and Oprah as replacements and they'd still win 11 games.

 

What They Must Improve On

The Trojans are a model of consistency. They dominate out of conference opponents. They've owned the Pac 10 for the better part of this decade. They basically get any recruit they want on the West Coast. But they also lose to a severely outmatched and inferior conference opponent ever year (well, at least the past three years). That has cost them at least two National Championship Game appearances.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley can manage the offense and get the ball to his play-makers. He doesn't need to be Mark Sanchez/Rambo for this team to win. All he needs to do is trust his natural instincts and avoid costly turnovers. If he does, there's no way the Trojans lose more than two games during the regular season.

10 wins + USC = Roses.

 

Oklahoma Sooners

Last year's incredible string of 60-point games showed us that this team can score points. Heisman Trophy-winner Sam Bradford returns as the center point of the offense, once again. The Sooners will try to forget their 14-point output in last year’s National Championship Game, and maybe take out a little of their anger on BYU this Saturday.

 

What They Must Improve On

Consistency on the defensive side of the ball has to be a high priority for Oklahoma this year. We saw weeks where they surrendered 45 points to Texas, 41 to Oklahoma State and 35 to Kansas State (!), and other weeks where they held TCU to 10 points, Texas Tech and Missouri to 21 points, and a high-powered Florida offense to 24 points. If they can regularly slow down the opposing team’s offense, Oklahoma will be very hard to beat.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They can replace four offensive linemen from last year’s dominating squad. Keeping Bradford off the turf and in good condition is a must for this team to get to the BCS. As previously stated, the Big 12 North division is going to have a tough time getting a team into the BCS with the giants in the south division.

If they can win either of their matchups against Texas and Oklahoma State while avoiding being upset, they should be in good shape to at least reach the Fiesta Bowl.

 

Texas Longhorns

Last year, Oklahoma was the rock, Texas Tech was the scissors and Texas was the piece of paper that eventually got burned by the BCS computers (it took me just under nine minutes to figure out how I was going to word that...quite the ordeal).

The Longhorns are coming off their Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State with a (Tostitos) chip on their shoulder (took me another six minutes to think of that one... I'm done—I promise).

 

What They Must Improve On

The defensive secondary will have to take a big step forward this fall, a step that many people think they will take under second-year Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp. In the two biggest games of the season last year, Texas gave up almost 400 passing yards to Oklahoma and nearly 500 yards to Texas Tech. The run defense will be stout; the front seven just needs a little help from the defensive backfield.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They take care of business and avoid those tie-breakers. October will be an important month for the Longhorns. They have their annual rivalry matchup with Oklahoma on the 17th, then travel to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State two weeks later. We will find out if Texas is wearing a "contender" costume or a "pretender" costume on Halloween night (four and a half minutes on that last one...apparently I wasn't done).

 

Florida Gators

Urban Meyer. Tim Tebow. Brandon Spikes. Every starter on defense and every starter’s backup. All the angels in heaven. Anything and everything you need to repeat as National Champions returns to the Florida Gators this season (Percy Harvin, who?).

If that wasn't enough, the scheduling god's didn't think the Gators had a strong enough hold on the SEC, so they decided to give them a favorable slate; no Alabama and no Ole Miss. It's good to be the king.

 

What They Must Improve On

...I don't know...more shade for their fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

In all seriousness, this team could really use an every-down kind of running back. I know that Tebow will be Tebow, and he's going to lower his shoulder and plow through any offensive lineman, linebacker or four-foot thick brick wall that stands in his way. But every time I see the highlights from last year’s Ole Miss game, when Tebow gets stuffed at the line on fourth down, it's hard not to see how beneficial it would be to have that go-to running back.

 

They Will Reach the BCS If

They stay hungry, and stay away from injury. We've seen it before—a team comes into the season with everyone telling them how good they are (like Georgia or Ohio State last year), only to come out and play uninspired football. With the leaders this football team has, it's extremely hard to imagine that happening.

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