With the opening of a fifth BCS bowl game and the recent trend of non-BCS schools making BCS bowl games in three of the past four seasons (2-1 in those games), which team from outside a BCS conference has the most likely chance to make a BCS bowl game this season? Here is a list of the major contenders.
1) Fresno State
Arguably, Fresno State is the most talented team of any school outside the BCS and the best team Pat Hill has ever coached. However, Fresno State's biggest obstacle is as usual, its tough schedule.
The Bulldogs bring back seventeen starters to a team that was 9-4 a year ago, including their top skill players. They lose last year's WAC Defensive Player of the Year, but they return a top defense that will shut down WAC opponents.
The key to Fresno State's success is getting through their non-conference schedule and whether or not they can win at Boise State for the first time since this series became a regular part of the conference schedule in 2001.
Toughest Games: @ Rutgers, vs. Wisconsin, @ Boise State
BYU returns nine starters from one of last years most explosive offenses in all of college football.
Returnees include junior quarterback Max Hall who threw for over 3,800 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, their entire offensive line, and stud sophomore running back Harvey Unga, who rushed for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman.
However, BYU loses nine starters on defense and it will take for them to gel. All of BYU's toughest games are also on the road. Similar to Hawaii last year, the amount of shootouts BYU can win, will determine whether they can make a BCS bowl game.
Toughest Games: @ Utah, @ TCU, @ Washington
3) Boise State
In recent years, the Broncos have proven they can do anything except beat BCS schools on the road. This includes last season's loss at Washington and 2005 losses at Georgia and Oregon State.
In order to make it to a BCS Bowl game Boise needs to win at Oregon which will be their toughest game of the season. They return Fiesta bowl hero and star running back Ian Johnson and seven starters on defense, but they have an entirely new offensive line and a red-shirt freshman playing at quarterback.
Toughest Games: @ Oregon, vs. Fresno State
Utah returns its top senior skill players in quarterback Brian Johnson and Darrel Mack. Utah keeps most of its offensive line, but only six starters on defense.
Utah's schedule is favorable. Their two toughest games against Oregon State and BYU are at home while they travel to the Big House when Michigan will most likely have a down year. Their chances of taking the Mountain West title will be determined by their Holy War match up against BYU.
Toughest Games: vs. Oregon State, vs. BYU, @ Michigan
Dark Horse: Tulsa
Outside of their quarterback, Tulsa returns one of college football's top offenses and a top front four on defense.
They might have a suspect secondary and lack the talent of the top Mountain West and WAC schools, but Tulsa, as a member of Conference USA, has a much easier schedule.
They do not play a single ranked team all season and their toughest opponent, Arkansas, lost their top skill players which makes that a winnable game for the Golden Hurricane.
Toughest Games: vs. UCF, @ Arkansas