The SEC has dominated the college football scene for years now. Whether it be Florida, Alabama, Auburn, LSU....well, you get the picture. But with a new year comes a new chance to dethrone the SEC as college football's best conference. We look at 10 teams with a shot at knocking the SEC off their perch and finally restoring some parity to the college football scene.
Stanford is an immensely talented team with the nation's best player behind center in Andrew Luck. Yes, they lost head coach Jim Harbaugh, but this is a smart, disciplined, and talented football team who absolutely dismantled Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Despite Harbaugh's departure, Stanford was able to parlay their big season into the 18th ranked recruiting class according to ESPN.com.
Stanford's schedule is set up very favorably. They finish the season with three straight home games, their toughest game of the year is a home game, against Oregon, and outside of USC, they don't really have a difficult road game. Stanford is in great position to run the table.
Oregon gave Auburn a tougher game than anybody all season (yes, that includes you Alabama), and return a ton of their players.
Throw in that they brought in the best recruiting class in program history, and play at a frenetic pace that usually throws their opponents off, Oregon has a solid shot to repeat as Pac-10 champs. A road game at Stanford will most likely decide the winner of the Pac-10.
Nebraska is the newest member of the Big 10 and will try to make a splash early. They lose three seniors from their secondary, and another three from their offensive line, but return all of their skill players on the offensive side of the ball, and see their front seven on defense hardly touched.
This is a very tough and physical team, and expect Taylor Martinez to be much more consistent after a full season under center.
Oklahoma has a very good chance of entering the season atop the polls. They lost very little to graduation/draft, have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Landry Jones, and watched Nebraska, one of the top teams in the conference, head out the door.
Offensively, Oklahoma is scary good. Defensively, they have the potential to be scary good. But potential is a dangerous word, and they'll have to solidify their defense if they want a shot at running the table.
Boise State's move to the Mountain West should mean that if they are to finish the season undefeated, everybody will finally get a shot to see them in the national championship game.
The Mountain West is a big upgrade over the WAC, and Boise State will have to adjust without their top two receiving options in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Still, they have Kellen Moore under center—one of the most accurate passers in the game—and the best home field advantage maybe in all of college sports. They'll be tested early with a road game at Georgia—an SEC powerhouse for years.
As a Miami fan, it pains me to say this, but in a wide-open ACC, it's plausible that Florida State can make a run. They had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, play a fairly easy schedule, come from a "Big Six" conference, and outside of Christian Pounder, they return nearly all of their skill players.
Jimbo Fisher is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Tallahassee, and, with Virginia Tech having major questions at the quarterback position (as well as almost every team in the ACC), Florida State has a shot to bring back some pride to the ACC.
TCU will have to replace Andy Dalton, one of the winningest quarterbacks in college football history, but as great as Dalton was as a game manager, he wasn't a guy who lit up the stat sheets game after game.
Basically, what I'm saying is that, while he'll be tough to replace, it isn't as big of a let down as people are making it out to be. Still, a tougher Mountain West and a road game at Boise State will be obstacles for TCU to overcome if they plan on making another run to national glory.
This pick is partially because I like what West Virginia is doing, and partially because the Big East is that bad. Last season's Big East champ, UConn, saw head coach Randy Esdall and best player, Jordan Todman, leave. Pittsburgh dealt with a hiring fiasco to find a new head coach, and Syracuse won't be able to sneak up on anybody like they did last season.
West Virginia returns eight starters on offense, including four lineman and quarterback Geno Smith—most of their starters from the nation's seventh-ranked defense. They'll be tested in a home game against LSU and a road game at Maryland, but the Big East is wide open.
The Spartans surprised everybody with their run last season by coming up with upset after upset. They return nearly all of their skill players, but their offensive line and linebacker position will be their two question marks coming into the season. The Big 10 is brutal, so they don't get any breaks with their schedule, but Michigan State has more than enough talent and experience to compete and make another run.
Add on that they face Ohio State without five of their top players due to suspension, and Michigan State catches a major scheduling break.
This is a bit of a reach, but I'd just be shocked if Mack Brown let this team slip again so much for the second consecutive season.
There is too much talent on this team for it to simply fall apart again, and without Nebraska, the Big 12 is not as "Big" as it used to be. Oklahoma is their toughest game, but that matchup rarely ever comes down to pure skill. If Texas can get by them, there isn't one game on their schedule where they won't have a great chance to win.