1. SEC (Georgia defeats LSU)
The Bulldogs have just about everything going for them this year: a powerful and experienced offense, a tough defense, and several returning starters. They also have a strong Heisman candidate in running back Knowshon Moreno.
When he doesn’t get the ball, quarterback Matthew Stafford (only a junior, by the way) can throw to Mohamed Massaquoi, one of the best receivers in the conference, if not more. In addition...oh, who am I kidding? It’s their turn.
The SEC is far and away the most dominant conference in football, and with LSU, Florida, and Tennessee collecting crystal footballs in the BCS era (and with Auburn’s unforgettable, undefeated, untied, and uncrowned 2004 campaign), it just seems the Bulldogs are next in line.
And you know what? If they can survive the most challenging schedule in football, they’ll get it.
2. Big Ten (Ohio State)
The other half of college football’s running joke, the Ohio State Buckeyes seem primed to make another national title run. There’s simply too much talent on both sides of the ball for them not to do just that, especially if they can knock off the Trojans on Sept. 13.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman brings experience and leadership to the ticket while the nation’s top high school recruit Terrelle Pryor is the Bucks’ hope and change. Anchoring the offense, however, will be the law firm of Wells & Wells, led by the bruising power of senior partner Chris (who is actually a year younger than the speedier Maurice). Chris “Beanie” Wells is by far the Big Ten’s top Heisman candidate.
The Buckeyes also have the nation’s top defensive Heisman candidate (albeit a longshot) in linebacker James Laurinaitis, who would have been a first day pick if he had gone early. The battle in LA will be titanic, but the rest of the schedule is manageable. See you in South Beach?
3. Pac-10 (USC)
Death, Taxes, and Southern Cal winning the PAC-10. This century (or at least since 2002), these have seemed just about constant.
The Trojans had a major disappointment last season, losing (gasp!) two games, and still captured the conference crown, and another Rose Bowl victory along with it.
USC is not quite as talented as the best team ever (according to Jim Harbaugh) last season, but with about 100 tailbacks, they still should be pretty good. Joe McKnight should get plenty of carries this year, especially with quarterback Mark Sanchez’ recent injuries.
The defense, as usual, is stacked. The Buckeyes and Trojans will meet at the Coliseum on Sept. 13, with the winner in the drivers’ seat to Miami and the loser probably relegated to the Rose Bowl.
Ultimately, however, if there is one certainty among the possible BCS bowl teams, it’s the Trojans one way or another.
4. Big XII (Oklahoma defeats Missouri)
The one question that almost no one is asking, who is going to stop Oklahoma? Quarterback Sam Bradford set all kinds of freshman records last season, and returns with plenty of offensive talent.
Running back DeMarco Murray has already been compared to Adrian Peterson, and OU’s traditionally talented receiving corps includes senior Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney.
The strength of Bob Stoops’ teams has been the defense, and this year is no exception with talent in the secondary and power up front.
What would seem to favor the Sooners the most, however, is the schedule. The non-conference slate is soft, and includes TCU (who beat them in 2005) and a visit to Washington, after Bob Stoops vowed never to return to a Pac-10 stadium.
An equally-soft conference schedule means that their toughest games (and Nebraska) are either at home or in the Cotton Bowl. If the Sooners can stave off the customary let-down game, they could conceivably run the table. If not, it’s another trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
7. Big East (West Virginia)
OK, I’ll admit it. I was wrong about the Big East. When Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College all jumped ship for the ACC, I figured a powerless Big East would be mostly irrelevant, to the point that their automatic BCS bid should be reconsidered.
Then West Virginia whacked Georgia upside the head in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. What followed was an incredibly exciting conference race in 2006 that was won by, of all teams, Louisville. They beat ACC champion Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl, by the way.
Last year, the dynamic duo of Pat White and Steve Slaton raced off to a 10-1 record and were literally one game away from the national championship game. But the injury bug bit the Mountaineers and they stumbled in the Backyard Brawl.
This year, West Virginia says goodbye to Steve Slaton (who left early for the NFL) and good riddance to Rich Rodriguez (who left early for the Michigan Wolverines).
Will they challenge for the national title like they did last year? Probably not, but they should edge out South Florida for a spot in, let’s say, the Orange Bowl.
8. ACC (Virginia Tech defeats Wake Forest)
The Atlantic Coast Conference just hasn’t been the same since it expanded to 12 teams. In fact, it’s suffered three down seasons, thanks at least in part to their championship game.
Unranked Florida State upset fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in 2005, and the next year Wake Forest (seriously?) outlasted Georgia Tech in a game that would have made for boring soccer.
Last year produced a decent yet unseen game: Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville was empty, and it finished a distant third in the ratings on Championship Saturday. Expect the conference’s doldrums to continue in to this year.
The media’s pick is Clemson, and the popular sentiment is that Tommy Bowden could be out of a job if the Tigers don’t end their string of disappointing seasons. Well, quarterback Riley Skinner is back for Wake Forest, and so is coach Jim Grobe, so it doesn’t look good.
The class of this conference (which isn’t saying very much) is Virginia Tech, being clearly the most consistent team in a mediocre conference. After what should be an unremarkable win in Tampa Dec. 6, expect the Hokies to get outclassed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
What can you do for an encore? After a season that produced Chuck Norris-like accolades, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow is set to run roughshod over the SEC, and possibly repeat for the first time since Archie Griffin.
They will battle Georgia for the SEC East (and national) title, and even if they don’t get it, they should make a BCS bowl if they can make it through a usually tough schedule relatively unscathed.
The Gators have one of the best offenses in college football, along with a rebuilt defense that should correct the inconsistencies of last year. The Bulldogs and Bengals proved in years past that not winning your own division can have its BCS rewards.
Both watched championship game losers Arkansas and Tennessee relegated to lesser bowls as they eventually danced on Bourbon Street against Notre Dame and Hawaii, respectively.
Expect this trend to continue as Florida advances to their first Sugar Bowl since January 2001.
Last year, quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin took college football by storm. The duo terrorized the Big XII as Daniel passed for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns in a quick-gunning spread system.
The Tigers won the Big XII North—their first championship of any kind since 1969—and came within a game of playing for the national championship. Those hoping for a West Virginia-Missouri title game on Dec. 1 were sorely disappointed as both went down.
Just about everyone from last year’s 12-2 team comes back, and the Tigers are preseason favorites to repeat as Northern champions.
They may have a little more than revenge on their minds should they play in the Big XII Championship this year, and it would start week one in St. Louis with a date involving Illinois.
A repeat performance from last season should be enough to vault the Tigers to a BCS bowl, maybe Sugar or Rose.
9. Arizona State
“We won the PAC-10 for the first time in 11 years and all we got was this lousy trip to the Holiday Bowl.” While that may be a t-shirt you won’t see in Tempe this year, it could be regarded as the sentiment.
The Sun Devils have probably the best returning quarterback in the conference, but he was also sacked 55 times. If he can avoid that and get the ball to his talented receivers, they should do better this year.
A close loss against Georgia and one loss in conference would seem to be enough to get the Sun Devils in a BCS bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1997. Ironically, their bowl placement could depend on the outcome of USC-Ohio State.
A Trojan victory would likely send them to Miami and mean that all PAC-10 teams would move up a bowl. It could also set up a rematch with the Buckeyes in Pasadena. A Buckeye win would mean that likely-PAC-10 winner USC would go to the Rose Bowl, and Arizona State would head for New Orleans.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest the BYU Cougars as a BCS-buster. And why not? They’re the best shot a non-BCS team has of running the table this year. Max Hall follows in the great tradition of other BYU quarterbacks, like Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Robbie Bosco, and Steve Young.
The defense is also tough, even though you probably haven’t heard of them. Last year, they were a run-stuffing defense that was tough to score upon.
However, the main reason everyone is talking up the Cougars is their schedule, which could lend itself to an undefeated season: at Washington, UCLA at home, and trips to TCU and Utah would seem to provide the only stumbling blocks.
Survive those and finish 12-0, and there’s no reason not to include BYU in the BCS. Maybe a trip to the Sugar or Fiesta Bowls would be in order, but after 1996, Cougar fans really don’t care which.