As Boise State, TCU and Utah have all proven over the course of the past few college football seasons—you can never count a team out just because they are not in a NCAA football AQ-conference. These BCS conferences have tried their hardest to keep teams in non-BCS leagues out of all of the Bowl Championship Series bowl games, but the little guys keep finding a way to make it there on a regular basis since the 2004 season.
In BCS games over the years, the non-AQ teams have managed to compile a 5-2 all-time record, with a 4-1 mark against BCS opponents alone (two non-BCS squads, TCU and Boise State, squared off in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl).
Although none of these teams have managed to win a national championship yet, some have proven that they deserved a chance to at least get a shot at one.
Whether it is this year or down the road, their time will come soon enough.
In 2011, there are a bunch of great matchups between the non-AQ and AQ teams of the world. Here, we take a look at the top 10 games that are sure to raise a lot of excitement.
There will be no one looking forward to this game more than Houston senior quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum was believed to be a Heisman Trophy contender heading into 2010, but a devastating season-ending knee injury at UCLA in just the third game of the year appeared to end not only his season, but his career as well.
However, the NCAA granted Houston's wish and gave their star quarterback a sixth year of eligibility after they sent in an application that made the case for Keenum to be awarded with a medical redshirt.
The Cougars open this coming season with a shot at revenge against the Bruins at home.
Coming off one of the best seasons in school history for both Nevada and Oregon, expectations will be at an all-time high heading into 2011. Even though both schools lose a lot of talent and experience to graduation, each has a solid core of returning starters to build around.
The loss of star quarterback Colin Kaepernick for Nevada will be tough to replace, and the fact that they will still be breaking in a new quarterback in raucous Autzen Stadium will be a scary sight. However, the Oregon defense has a ton of question marks too with the number of players they will have to replace on the front-seven.
The two are slated to square off in Eugene during the second week of next year. This could be a potential trap game for the Ducks coming on the heels of a very physical season opener against LSU.
New Michigan head coach Brady Hoke will face his former team, San Diego State, after two years at the helm of turning around the Aztecs' previously down program. Before Hoke got to San Diego State in 2009, the team did not have a winning season since 1998, and held a record of just 2-10 the year before he arrived.
After a 4-8 record in his first year, Hoke took the Aztecs to an improbable 9-4 record last season with what could have been an even more special year with narrow losses to two top 15 teams in TCU and Missouri.
Michigan feels like they are getting a steal in the coaching ranks with the hiring of Hoke, and after so many down seasons lately, there fans can only hope they are right. Look for Hoke to try and instill the same type of toughness he did at San Diego State with the Wolverines.
This game should be a good measuring stick for both teams to figure out what they have in the early part of the season.
Like they have for so long under head coach Pat Hill, the Fresno State football team will battle a tough non-conference schedule again in 2011. This game against California in Candlestick Park will only be the third meeting between the two teams overall, and the first in more than 10 years. The Bulldogs have won both games in the series so far.
This has the makings of an entertaining matchup for college football fans, especially considering the way Fresno State has battled on the field against BCS foes over the years.
And with both teams losing a lot of pieces from their 2010 squads, this season opener should provide a lot of answers for the coaches, players and fans of these schools.
After two straight seasons of East Carolina having to travel to North Carolina's home field to take on the Tar Heels, the Pirates get the luxury of having the home field advantage in 2011.
The past two meetings, UNC handled business rather easily by the final scores of 42-17 (2011) and 31-17 (2010). However, the last time the Tar Heels did make the trek across the state to Greenville, they came away with a heart-breaking 34-31 loss.
This will only be North Carolina's third road game in the series between the two teams in 13 total games.
Both teams return a solid nucleus on both sides of the ball that should make for a great affair in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium come the 1st of October.
The Cougars and Beavers will square off in Corvallis in a midseason match-up this coming year. The last time these two squads met on the field, it was a 44-20 win for BYU in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl.
After they both finished that year in the top 25 in the final poll, each team struggled by their standards the following season; Oregon State failed to make a bowl game with a 5-7 mark, and BYU limped to an average 7-6 record.
BYU will be looking to make their inaugural season as an independent and memorable one, and this game will be a key part to their potential success. Meanwhile, Oregon State will look to bounce back from a down year with the majority of last year's offense returning.
The Beavers lead the all-time series between the teams, 5-4.
Oklahoma State and Tulsa have a long history between each other that includes as many as 71 meetings between the two. Last season was the first time they have met on the gridiron since the 2004 season, reuniting a brilliant in-state rivalry that should be played every year.
Last year, the Cowboys rolled up 722 yards of total offense—a school record—en route to a 65-28 drubbing of the Golden Hurricane in Stillwater. However, just as it appeared that Tulsa was heading for another disappointing campaign after starting off the year 1-2, the Hurricane won nine of their last 10 to finish the season 10-3 and ranked No. 24 in the final AP poll.
Even with their former head coach Todd Graham leaving to take over the same position in Pittsburgh, Tulsa could be on the verge of cracking next year's preseason top 25 with 17 starters returning.
Oklahoma State will also have high aspirations in 2011 with 10 starters on offense back from last year's 11-2 team.
This game has all the makings of a high-octane, offensive shoot-out.
One of the few true rivalries that still remain between two teams on different ends of the spectrum, Colorado and Colorado State have met nearly every year since renewing the game in 1983, with the Buffaloes dominating the all-time series, 60-20-2.
Nonetheless, the Rams have had their share of moments as well, and are capable of pulling off an upset every year because of the emotion involved between the two teams.
Since 1998, the game has usually been played at a neutral site in Denver's Invesco Field at Mile High. The two schools recently reached a 10-year deal with Invesco Field that will allow the game to be played there until the end of the 2019 season.
After just three wins for the Rams and five wins for the Buffaloes in 2010, both teams will be looking to rebound after poor seasons. Winning this rivalry game could help vault the victor to a successful campaign.
Following an amazing season in which the Horned Frogs went 13-0 and finished off the campaign with a Rose Bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, TCU will look to have similar success in 2011 in their one year with the Mountain West Conference before moving on to the Big East in 2012.
Their rival, Baylor, was embarrassed after last season's 45-10 beat-down at the hands of the Frogs, but the Bears still achieved seven wins on their way to their first bowl game since 1995. A lot of the offense returns from last year's team, including star quarterback Robert Griffin, who will make it his mission to start the season off on the right note.
The Bears and Horned Frogs have been meeting on the gridiron since 1899, when both schools were located in Waco, Texas. The two have had some serious battles over the years, shown by TCU's slim edge in the overall series at 50-49-7.
This game is slated to be played during the opening week of the season.
Arguably the most anticipated game between a non-BCS and BCS school going into next year, Boise State vs. Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic on September 3rd should be quite the spectacle for college football fans around the world.
The game will be played at the Georgia Dome, where previous season openers such as LSU-North Carolina and Alabama-Clemson have taken place in the past.
As they are every year, the Broncos will be the talk for the preseason "BCS Buster," but head coach Chris Peterson and the players know that those words and prognostications don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, with seven starters on both offense (including Heisman Trophy contender Kellen Moore) and defense slated to return in 2011, it is hard not to get excited about the potential of this team if you are a Boise State fan.
On the other side of things, Georgia is coming off their first losing season in quite some time after finishing with a 6-7 record. Just because they struggled last season though, don't expect that to continue this coming year as head coach Mark Richt has vowed to turn the program back around. Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray is a great place to start with some solid skill players around him on offense, but the defense is the biggest concern. If they get that fixed, the sky is the limit for the Bulldogs.
Boise State and Georgia previously met on the field just one time with the game resulting in a 48-13 blowout at the hands of the Bulldogs. The Broncos have also faced three other SEC opponents since 2000 (Arkansas-2000, 2002 and South Carolina-2001), losing all three of those games as well.
But this Boise State team is different than the ones that have faced SEC foes in the past. Can the Broncos finally stand up and go head-to-head with a physical SEC opponent after years of questioning from the non-believers?
Tune in on opening weekend to find out.