Coming out of high school, those graduates who decide to extend their education must choose between two collegiate paths: private school or public school.
While this dilemma also comes into factor for some student-athletes on National Signing Day, private school options become much slimmer for prospects hoping to play under the brighter spotlight of a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) football conference.
Like most students entering college, an athlete’s decision between private or public will not necessarily make-or-break his future.
There are numerous public colleges that can create comparable opportunities as their private school counterparts, and for the average college student, the amount of money saved by attending a state-run school can really pile up over a four- to five-year stint.
But for the scholarship brandishing athlete, the price of tuition is not necessarily his biggest concern.
The pressing issue for these gridiron celebrities is whether or not the private school’s football team can turn their names from a signing day blurb into a household conversation.
When you consider the number of national titles collected by private schools since the beginning of the BCS era (three), the scale tips dramatically toward attending one of the excellent public universities scattered around the country.
In fact, only five of the 11 BCS private school teams have maintained a winning percentage above .500 over the past three years, and only two schools have actually made it into a national championship game since 1998.
However, many of these colleges have just enough football talent to vigorously stir their conference’s pot at a moment's notice. While these private schools often get lost in the shuffle because of the public school brigade constantly lifting the AFCA National Championship Trophy, they should not be so quickly overlooked.
Let us see how these BCS private schools rank amongst each other, and also try to spot any possible national championship candidates lurking somewhere in the meadows.
Not only is Vanderbilt probably the worst team in a BCS conference, they are certainly doing their best to contend for the title of worst team in the FBS.
The Commodores have averaged a depressing 3.4 wins per season the past 10 years, and have failed to reach the three-win plateau in half of those seasons.
This year, Vanderbilt will not see much improvement with only six starters returning from an abysmal offense, and four starters from an even worse defense.
After hitting rock-bottom in their one-win 2005 season, Syracuse has remained consistently bad over the past five seasons, winning only 14 games in that span.
While four wins in 2009 is nothing to get too excited about, this has been the third straight season that the Orange have improved in the win column and any type of progress is always welcomed.
Consistently putting up points will be crucial to Syracuse’s success, but they just don’t have the proper weapons to contend in a Big East shootout.
Although they do tentatively return their top running back from last year in Delone Carter, his lack of spring practice due to off the field troubles parlayed with the loss of their top quarterback Greg Paulus should produce another season filled with question marks and disappointments.
When looking at Duke's football record over the past decade, it is hard not to cringe at all of those goose eggs.
Since 2000, the Blue Devils recorded three zero-win seasons and sadly, only had three seasons where they collected more than two wins.
But the atmosphere is taking a noticeable change in Durham.
Predominantly known for their basketball success, the new football regime at Duke is hoping to channel some of that mojo to the gridiron. Three years of steady improvement lead many to believe that it might be working.
Duke returns 16 starters (eight offense, six defense, two special teams) from last season’s five-win team, which was the most wins by the Blue Devils since 1994 (eight).
However, finding a replacement for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis may cause some regression. If finding a replacement for this offensive threat does not reach fruition, it could be back to business as usual for Duke football.
The Baylor Bears have not posted a winning record since 1995, but they are desperately hoping that quarterback Robert Griffin will be their savior in 2010.
Griffin, the Bears’ dual threat prospect, went down in the third game of 2009 with an injury to his knee, and after his spectacular freshman season, all seemed lost without him.
His return brings to this team a wild card player that is capable of completely turning around the Bears’ overall season expectations.
If Griffin can prove that he hasn’t lost a step, the Bears offense could keep them in several conference games during a possible topsy-turvy year in the Big 12.
This one spark may not only help them sneak away with a winning record, but maybe even a bowl game.
After decades of mediocrity, the Demon Deacons exploded on to the scene in 2006, posting the most wins in Wake Forest history (11). Before that season, the highest win total ever achieved by this private school did not surpass eight.
Over the next two seasons Wake Forest would continue to run hot, but with a slight cooling effect, winning nine and eight games, respectively.
Last season, the air-conditioning returned to high, and the Deacons once again fell below the .500 mark.
It is hard to tell whether or not Wake Forest can recover from this abbreviated stumble, especially with the loss of quarterback Riley Skinner.
The Deacons do return six players on offense, and seven players on defense. These returning members will have to carry the weight brought on by Skinner’s departure, but there may not be enough talent here to stack up against the monstrous opponents waiting within the ACC.
Although they are not technically a team within a BCS conference, the loophole surrounding Notre Dame within the BCS constitution allow them to fall on this list.
With their recruiting pool larger than any other school, Notre Dame’s talent levels should be stacked for the indefinite future, no matter how poorly the team may be performing on the field.
The coach Brian Kelly Era is fully underway, and with this fresh start comes a clean slate.
While the Irish’s 43.2 winning percentage over the past three years has not exactly been to the liking of Notre Dame's ardent followers, this season has something that South Bend never really experienced during the entire Charlie Weis Era—lowered expectations.
A lowered hoop for this fresh batch of players to jump through may be just what Notre Dame needs to succeed moving forward.
Notre Dame football will be meaningful again, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Once a consistent contender in the Pac-10, Stanford football headed due south at the turn of the millennium, quickly becoming the conference doormat for several years on end.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has since changed the perception and attitude of the Cardinal, and following their first above .500 season since 2001, they appear to be only getting started.
While many think that the loss of Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart at running back will eventually be the demise of this team, the underestimation of quarterback Andrew Luck and their caliber of talent at wide receiver could be exactly what the Cardinal needs to sneak up on teams in 2010.
If Luck can find his groove early, and become the All-Conference quarterback that Harbaugh believes he will be, the Cardinal should be able to compete with any team pitted against them and they could theoretically make a run for it all.
But if the Cardinal's shaky defense can't find a way to buckle down, and keep opponents out of the end zone, it might be too much to ask this sophomore QB to do it all on his own.
Most teams are either consistently good or consistently bad. Northwestern, however, has recently been consistently mediocre.
Over the past decade, the Wildcats posted a perfectly symmetrical 61-61 record, keeping their fans fully engrossed in the process.
Northwestern has finished at or above .500 in five of the past six seasons, and with 16 returning starters slated to come back in 2010, they hope to reach the double-digit win mark for the first time since 1995.
The graduation of quarterback Mike Kafka does send this team slightly backward, but the keys to the offense falls in the more than capable hands of senior QB Dan Persa.
While it may be far-fetched that Northwestern will contend for a Big Ten crown, the Wildcats should not be overlooked, because this team definitely knows the meaning of upset—just ask Iowa and Wisconsin.
Boston College’s 68.2 win percentage over the past three years has been the second-best amongst BCS private schools. But during that span, their total wins have also experienced a slight downward trend.
With a fairly young offense, head coach Frank Spaziani’s Eagles still managed to put together an impressive season in his first year at the helm.
Sophomore quarterback Dave Shinskie showed promise in his first season, but he will have to jockey for the starting job with sophomore Mike Marscovetra, who had a very impressive spring game.
But the weapon really keeping the Eagles afloat is junior tailback Montel Harris. In 2010, Harris will need to become an even larger part of this offense, improving on the 1,457 yards, and 14 touchdowns that he collected last season.
However, if one of these young quarterbacks can distinctly emerge as the leader of this offense, beware, because Boston College could be right back in contention to take over the ACC.
Ever since making the jump from the Big East to the ACC, the Hurricanes have struggled to regain the dominance and swagger that they possessed so often in the past.
After three straight seasons of utter disappointment, Miami experienced a mini-renaissance last year, looking more like the Hurricanes that decided to change conferences in 2004.
Last season, Miami tied their highest win total (nine) since becoming a part of the ACC, and the return of quarterback Jacory Harris gives the Hurricane a great chance of reaching the double-digit mark for the first time since 2003.
Miami also returns three All-Conference starters from last year’s 38th ranked defense, which should bring even more stability to this team.
While the defense as a whole could still use some improvement, they should be able to keep Harris and their offense within striking distance for most of the season.
USC has, by far, been the most successful private school in a BCS conference since the inception of this ludicrous system.
It is a strange thing to say after looking at the rest of these private schools, but USC’s nine-win season last year was a disgrace for their thousands of followers throughout California.
For the first time in seven years, the Trojans failed to reach 11 wins, but their fans, for the most part, never headed toward the ledge.
In true powerhouse fashion, the now coach Pete Carroll-less Trojans are reloading with a cupboard filled with blue chip, five-star recruits, and despite only returning 12 starters from last year, USC should contend for the Pac-10 title, and possibly a National Championship if all of the cards fall as planned.
Reloading also occurred at the head coach position this offseason, with the Lane Kiffin Era primed to get underway.
With a multitude of talented players at his disposal, Kiffin could have everything he needs to make a serious national title run in his first season as the Trojans’ head coach.