I am a big believer in the idea that if you want to predict the future, you have to use the past as your guide.
Predicting winners is never an exact science. If it was, then sports betting wouldn't be a multi-billion-dollar industry because all of us on the top half of the IQ ladder would never lose.
You and I don't know who is going to win the national title, but we all probably have our short list of top contenders.
I have looked at the past 10 BCS national champions (1999-2008) and have discovered five characteristics that all of these teams share. I have used these trends to narrow my list of national title hopefuls to seven teams.
While some of these teams are no-brainers, others may surprise you because they surprised me.
A BCS national champion must...
1. Begin the season ranked in the AP preseason poll top 20.
Every national champion has begun the season ranked in the AP top 20. Oklahoma, the 2000 champ, began the season ranked 19th.
Six of the past 10 winners started the year in the top five, while five were ranked either first or second in the AP preseason poll.
The trend holds true for a few reasons. First, teams ranked in the preseason poll generally were pretty good the previous season. If you were mediocre one year, you are not going to win it all the next.
Second, while I don't completely trust any of the polls because voters have their own agendas, the media has a pretty good sense of which teams are good and which aren't.
Third, it is tough to climb into the top five and stay there if you begin the season unranked. Those teams must go undefeated to even have a shot.
This criteria narrows the list to the following teams:
Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Southern California, Alabama, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Penn State, LSU, California, Georgia, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Oregon, TCU, Florida State, Utah, and BYU.
Sorry Big East—your entire conference has been eliminated already.
2. Be a member of one of the six BCS conferences.
Every winner over the past decade has been a member of either the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, or SEC.
We have seen teams in the past go undefeated and not have chance to play for the national title because voters didn't respect the strength of their conference.
Teams eliminated: Boise State, TCU, Utah, and BYU.
Teams remaining: Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Southern California, Alabama, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Penn State, LSU, California, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Oregon, and Florida State.
3. Have a junior or senior starter at quarterback who has previously started at least one game in his career.
There have actually been more juniors (seven) than seniors (three) that have won the national title as starters.
Ohio State's Craig Krenzel (three) and LSU's Matt Flynn (one) had the fewest career starts before the year they led their teams to a national title, but both had a previous bowl victory under their belts.
As gifted and hyped as some of these freshmen and sophomores are, they will not be hoisting the crystal ball this year. Even Tim Tebow didn't win it all in his first year as a starter.
Teams eliminated: Oklahoma, Southern California, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and Georgia.
Oklahoma is eliminated because of the health of Sam Bradford. Even though there is no timetable set yet, he will likely miss at least a few weeks.
Teams remaining: Florida, Texas, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Penn State, California, Georgia Tech, Oregon, and Florida State.
4. Be in the top 25 in the country in scoring offense.
The one exception to this rule is the 2002 Ohio State team. They were 41st in scoring. Only two other national champions over the last 10 years were outside the top 15 (2003 LSU—19th, 2006 Florida—23rd).
Of course, we are only one week into the season, and making judgments with this year's rankings would be absurd. To help me out, I used last year's rankings as a guide.
Teams that are good offensively one year are usually good the next year unless they lose key players to substantial injuries (Oklahoma). Florida State (28th), California (31st), and Ole Miss (32nd) all ranked just outside the top 25 last season and have a good chance to move up in the rankings because they return starting quarterbacks.
However, Georgia Tech ranked just 58th last year, and I don't think they can move up enough in the rankings. I also don't see the triple option working against the very best defenses in the country.
Teams eliminated: Georgia Tech
Teams remaining: Florida, Texas, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Penn State, California, Oregon, and Florida State.
5. Be in the top 25 in the country in both scoring defense and total defense.
Again, the one exception is 2002 Ohio State. While they were second in points allowed, they were just 23rd in yards allowed.
Here's one other note about the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes: Five of their conference games were decided by seven points or less, including an overtime victory at Illinois.
While it is important to have a good offense, it seems to be even more important to have a good defense.
Every champ over the past 10 years, except the 2007 LSU Tigers, ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense. Seven of those recent champs ranked in the top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense.
Again, I used last year's rankings as a guide because it is too early to use this year's.
Last year, Texas was 51st in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed. However, they played four straight games against teams that ranked in the top eight in total offense.
Most of the remaining teams had above average defenses last year. Oregon (78th in points, 82nd in yards) and Oklahoma State (76th in points, 93rd in yards), however, have too much of a defensive liability to slow down the best offenses in the country.
Teams eliminated: Oregon and Oklahoma State
Teams remaining: Florida, Texas, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Penn State, California, and Florida State.
Final Notes and Predictions
Virginia Tech and Florida State already have one loss and would have to run the table to even have a shot at the national title game because the ACC is widely regarded as being one of the weaker BCS conferences.
It appears that Penn State will be favored in every game they play and have the benefit of playing Ohio State at home this year. The Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten.
California has a tough schedule but gets to host Southern California. The Golden Bears will win the Pac-10.
Ole Miss has a favorable schedule. Their remaining road games are all against average to below average opponents (South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Mississippi State).
The Rebels are my favorite to win the SEC West because LSU and Alabama are both breaking in new starting quarterbacks.
Texas is clearly the best team in the Big XII with Bradford out for Oklahoma. I believe last year's denial to the Big XII championship game will fuel them this season.
The Florida Gators are the defending champs and return tons of talent, especially on defense.
BCS title game: Texas over Florida