Every year it seems some teams are one or two wins away from playing in a January bowl game. Last season Boise State fell out of BCS conversations when they lost in overtime to Nevada.
It's hard to fathom how one loss could so quickly derail a once promising season. However, that is the system that's in place in college football today.
Like it or hate it the BCS is the system by which the national champions are determined. This means that one loss can be a fatal blow to a season. It's happened so many times before, somtimes in the last week of the season, and will continue to happen again and again.
The question is which team will be the spoiler at the party come January?
Teams are in spring practice. The following will chronicle 10 teams that may have made bowl games last season, but could make even more noise and perhaps a BCS run next year.
Note: These are in no particular order....
BYU put together a nice second half of 2010. Their season did not start out very well, but they managed to pull it out by the end and get a bowl birth. In that bowl game they dismantled UTEP, putting up 52 points. Most of their high-octane offense returns for 2011.
Jake Heaps is a dark horse Heisman candidate and should put together a nice season. If Heaps plays like he did in the New Mexico Bowl, though, he could single-handedly bring nine wins to BYU. That would give them a strong case to go to a January bowl.
BYU has a very tough road ahead. They have road games against Ole Miss, Texas and Hawaii that could easily destroy the BCS dreams the Cougars have. If they can get through those games, and win maybe two of them, a January bowl game could be in their grasp.
Navy had high hopes coming into the 2010 season. After beating Missouri in the Texas Bowl of 2009, Navy hoped to get their names into the BCS conversation in 2010. Those hopes were dismantled opening day when they lost to Maryland.
Navy rebounded after the devastating loss and managed to put together another nine-win season. That was respectable enough to get Navy into their eighth straight bowl game. Now Navy looks to take the next step and make it to into the BCS.
Navy has lost two big stars off their team from last season. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs has gone into service, as has defensive leader Wyatt Middleton. Both of these players will be sorely missed, as they were the big playmakers for Navy in 2010.
They have a tough game Week 3 against South Carolina. Other than that they will look to make noise in the rankings and in January 2012.
The Baylor Bears enter 2011-2012 with two key components returning. Robert Griffin is looking to make his way into the Heisman conversation. He should be helped by the return of wideout Kendall Wright.
The Bears managed upsets against Kansas State and Texas last season.
They were blown out, though, in their last four games (including the Texas Bowl against Illinois). Despite those losses, Baylor can be a serious contender next season. With Nebraska bolting for the Big Ten it will be interesting to see what Baylor can do. They still have plenty of tough opponents and could struggle as they continue to grow as a program.
Can Baylor surprise everyone and make it to the Big 12 Championship game? It's a long shot, but they might just be able to do it.
San Diego State surprised everyone last season by putting up nine wins. More impressive is the fact that they posted an upset over 23rd-ranked Air Force. They even managed to push eventual Rose Bowl champions TCU to the limit.
They will look to make even more waves as 2011-2012 approaches. With the return of quarterback Ryan Lindley, SDSU's passing game will be among the best in college football next season.
They have a tough game early on at Michigan. If they can pass that, SDSU could easily make a solid push for a January bowl game.
This group of players may be the best on this list. They put together an impressive 2010 campaign and capped it off with a dismantling of Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Now they will look to take the next step, and bust into the BCS.
The Bulldogs play in the tough SEC, and will have to go through Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida to have a chance to make the SEC Championship Game. That's a tall order for a program that is still growing.
Their best player is returning for another season. Quarterback Chris Relf is looking to etch his name into the Heisman at seasons end. He will have to be as good and better than last season if the Mississippi State Bulldogs want a chance to crash the BCS party.
The Wolf Pack pulled off the upset of the year in 2010. Next season they are looking to be the one that busts the BCS. Beating Boise State last season was a major step forward for their program. Yet they are still growing and will likely hit a snag or two on the way.
Star quarterback Colin Kaepernick is gone. He will be difficult if not impossible to replace for the Wolf Pack.
Kaepernick was not the only loss this offseason. The Wolf Pack will be without a lot of their defensive and offensive weapons that made them a surprise team last season.
Nevada is optimistic with a strong recruiting class for 2011. Nevertheless, it might be a big drop-off from last season and could be a while before they see the success of 2010 again. Yet, they might be able to win eight or nine games to give them a shot at a January bowl game.
It seems every year Pittsburgh is right on the cusp of a Big East title. Then it gets ruined as early as Week 3.
Dave Wannstedt did a decent job at Pittsburgh. He put together teams that, on paper could contend with the best in the Big East.
Then the Panthers would go out and lose games they simply should not have. They had great athletes that had every opportunity to turn Pittsburgh into a Big East powerhouse. It never really happened though, and now Wannstedt is gone. Those gone along with him include star wideout Jonathon Baldwin, and running back Dion Lewis.
That leaves the Panthers' success on the shoulders of quarterback Tino Sunseri. He was erratic last season and will need to clean his play up a lot if he wants to lead the Panthers to a BCS bowl berth.
A few years ago Illinois received a BCS bowl berth. They got crushed in the Rose Bowl by USC. Since then they've had a hard time getting back into the BCS. Has it necessarily been because they have had bad teams? No. The fact is that the rest of the Big Ten is getting better every year.
This season it might be Illinois turn. Their schedule starts out with five consecutive home games. It's when they hit the road that things get tough. Last season the Illini only managed two wins on the road (not counting the bowl win over Baylor). They will need to improve on this in 2011 to make a push for a high-level bowl game.
Heisman hopeful Nate Scheelhaase leads the team. If he can put up numbers of 1,000 rushing yards and over 2,000 passing yards, Illinois should be in good shape by the end of December.
Maryland surprised everyone last season. The Terrapins suffered through a terrible 2-10 season in 2009. They rebounded in 2010, with surprise wins over Navy and NC State. Overall, they pulled out nine wins in 2010.
They now are looking to do even more in 2011. They missed out on playing for the ACC championship last year. This year they will be looking to be the ones in line to make it to the BCS, via the ACC bid. To do this they will have to improve on the offensive side of the ball.
Their offense ranked 82nd in the rushing game last season. New head coach Randy Edsall will look to improve on that number. He is a coach who loves to run the football. That is good news for running back Davin Meggett, who will look to take the bulk of the carries this season.
Maryland has plenty of playmakers on defense. If their offense can control the clock and not turn the ball over they will be in a good spot to make the ACC Championship Game in December.
Last season the Cowboys came so close to playing in the Big 12 Championship Game. Losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma derailed those hopes. This season, Oklahoma State must feel like 2011 will be their year.
Oklahoma State blew out opponents last season. That was largely due to their explosive offense led by quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden put up amazing numbers in 2010, despite an injured thumb. If he can put up 4,000+ passing yards, and 34 touchdown passes when injured.
Another returning star for Oklahoma State is Justin Blackmon. Blackmon pulled in over 100 catches last season. Blackmon also added over 1,000 receiving yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He is widely considered the best wideout in college football.
If his 2011 is anything like his 2010, Cowboy fans will be in for a show from their 2011 offense.
The Oklahoma State defense will need to improve in 2011. They were the biggest weakness of Oklahoma State in 2010. They allowed 51 and 47 points to Nebraska and Oklahoma, respectively. It's difficult for any offense, regardless of their prowess, to match those point totals.
If the defense can improve, there will be no stopping the Cowboys of 2011-2012 from capturing the Big 12 title and securing a spot in a big-time bowl game.