College football programs around the country get ready to hold spring practice, giving many coaches their first chance to evaluate how new players might fit into the offensive and defensive rotations.
That means fans and players begin that yearly yearning for another shot of achieving a share of post-season glory.
The dream never dies of receiving that ultimate invitation to play in a BCS Bowl in January—college football's version of the big dance.
Following are the steps to get there and the teams most likely to make the guest list in 2012:
Determining Who Plays in the BCS Bowls: Automatic Qualifiers - Conference Champions
Step One: The first two teams selected will be the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country as ranked in the BCS.
Step Two: The PAC and the Big Ten will host the Rose Bowl. The ACC Champion will host the Orange Bowl, the SEC will host the Sugar Bowl and Big 12 Conference will host the Fiesta Bowl—unless the champion of any of these conferences is scheduled to appear in the National Championship Game.
Step Three: If the conference champion from one of the above conferences is selected for the NCG then the bowl affected shall select a replacement team from the automatic qualifying teams and the at-large teams before any other selections are made.*
2012 BCS Bowl Projections:
Rose Bowl: Big Ten + Pacific Coast Conference (PAC 10), January 2, 2012 in Pasadena
2012 Rose Bowl: Nebraska vs. Oregon
Nebraska joining the Big Ten Conference has to mark the greatest shift in the college football landscape since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993.
Bo Pelini, now at the helm, seems to have the Huskers poised to make a run at the Big Ten championship, despite the horrific schedule assigned in their opening season.
It will not be easy. Nebraska must play Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan on the road while entertaining Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa at home.
Still, as members of the Legends Divisions going head to head with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern, Nebraska could expect to win their Division. This would place them in the Big Ten Championship game against either Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State—more than likely.
It appears that Ohio State will have a rocky start to their season with maybe more misery to follow.
It stands to reason that this may be a good year for Nebraska to squeak through on a neutral field—not with great talent on offense, but good enough in 2011. Making the Rose Bowl would be a real triumph for the Cornhuskers.
On the west coast, the Ducks will find themselves in the "Granddaddy of Bowls," the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 2012.
After flopping in the National Championship game in January, Oregon will be back in the spotlight again in 2011 vying for the No. 1 ranking as the season gets underway.
Along with Oklahoma, as pre-season favorites on everyone’s list, the Ducks will stay close all season long.
Oregon will be led in their charge by LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist at the tailback spot for the Ducks, along with QB Darron Thomas.
Adding to the mix, of course, is Cliff Harris who made punt returns an experiment in terror for opposing defenses as he streaked down the field.
The Ducks have a few positions to reload, but overall, the talent is there complemented by first-rate, innovative coaching at all positions.
But like other top-rated conferences who come to the end of the season, waiting for their turn at trophy corner, Oregon must be able to stand toe to toe with SEC teams to make it to the final game. Moreover to get to the final championship game the Ducks need to remain unbeaten.
As the game at LSU will prove, the Ducks will accomplish neither but Oregon will do well on January 1 in the Rose Bowl.
Sugar Bowl: Southeast Conference (SEC), January 2 or 3, 2012 in New Orleans
2012 Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Stanford
Stanford, hands down, was one solid football team in 2010, suffering one loss all season to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.
The Cardinal has, however, lost their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, to the NFL. That will cause a momentary interruption in the status quo.
Harbaugh initiated tough, aggressive football to Stanford and turned an ineffective program into a PAC 10 powerhouse.
With the return of Andrew Luck as quarterback, Stanford, despite other key losses, will rise into the top ten in the BCS again in 2011.
This year, the Cardinal play the Oregon Ducks at home in Stanford—a slight edge for them. Moreover, Stanford plays Notre Dame at home as well. The schedule for the Cardinal is very favorable.
Early on Stanford will build momentum remaining undefeated the first half of the season as new coach David Shaw scrambles to replace 11 starters from the 2010 team including standout Owen Marecic and receivers Delano Howell and Michael Thomas.
The Cardinal will be very good again in 2011.
Last January in the Capital One Bowl Alabama destroyed Michigan State 49-7.
This fact redeemed the Tide who fell far short of their pre-season hype and fan expectations.
As is typical of the SEC powerhouse, Alabama, who won the National Championship game after the 2009 college football season, expected to repeat the feat in 2010.
That degree of dominance did not materialize for the Tide during the 2010 season as Alabama ended with a 9-3 record.
The bowl win against the Spartans suggested that 2011 would provide a better ending for the vaunted Alabama machine.
Still, backs Mark Ingram and Julio Jones are gone, as is quarterback Greg McElroy. But Trent Richardson is returning in the backfield along with solid fills on the offensive and the defensive lines.
The quarterback picture will come into focus after spring practice.
The problem for Alabama is that the SEC West is dominated by top-tier teams and the competition is going to be absolutely lethal all the way down the line.
This will probably knock the Tide out of the Championship Game but keep them in the top ten.
Alabama should bring home the SEC championship, but it is not going to be easy, especially with an untested quarterback. The Tide will, however, prove to be too much for any team outside the SEC.
Orange Bowl: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), January 3 or 4, 2012 in Miami
2012 Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Ohio State
Ohio State will lead “Tattoo Nation” onto the gridiron in 2011.
As the disclosures and allegations continue to mount, this incident will prove to be too much distraction for coaches and players in 2011.
While Ohio State has driven a stake into the heart of their Big Ten Rivals for the past few seasons, look for this off-field skirmish to provide some wiggle room for the Buckeye’s Big Ten competitors.
This state of affairs bodes well for newcomer Nebraska.
Had it not been for this incident involving QB Terrelle Pryor, TB Boom Herron, WR Devier Posey and OT Mike Adams causing them to miss the first five games of the season, Ohio State would be in the Big Ten driver’s seat once again.
Most of these misses by the suspended players occur during the non-conference schedule. These games are not as key as the Big Ten contests. Still, normally, Ohio State would breeze by considering the depth of their talent.
The problem lies with the suspensions themselves and the reintegration back into the offensive and defensive units by these suspended players.
It will cause a bump in the road and perhaps a loss or two along the way. Enough so to dislodge the Buckeye grip on the throats of their opposition.
Nonetheless, the Buckeyes will win enough to get a BCS berth—just not the top one or two.
Florida State was the runner-up of the ACC and played South Carolina of the SEC in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, defeating them 26-17.
Florida State, under the leadership of Jimbo Fisher, will win the ACC Championship in 2011 and appear in the Orange Bowl.
This is Fisher’s second season with the Seminoles and he just pulled off the best recruiting foray of the year.
Florida State will be loaded with talent once again. With enough coaching bravery to make it pay, expect the Seminoles to be back on top very soon.
The Seminoles lost quarterback Christian Ponder but have E.J. Manuel returning with some experience in quarterbacking duties.
Their real issues on offense will come on the line as the Seminoles try to replace their left guard Rodney Hudson.
Although Florida State must play both Oklahoma and Miami, both of these tough opponents must travel to Tallahassee to play.
Fisher will keep building this program back to its historic place in college football’s elite.
Tostitios Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 Conference, January 4 or 5, 2012 in Glendale
2012 Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. Texas A&M
This match up repeats the 2010 season-ending Cotton Bowl that the Aggies lost 41-24 to LSU.
This year, however, Texas A & M returns 18 starters from last year’s team. The Aggies won their last six regular season contests, including wins over Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
The defense was first-rate all year and the offense caught fire once Ryan Tannehill took over the quarterback spot.
The defense will return to top form in 2011 and the offense has Tannehill in place for the whole season.
The Aggie quarterback will be assisted by running back Cyrus Hill who piled up 100 plus rushing yards in each of the seven final games of the season.
Predictions are that receiver Jeff Fuller will fulfill the promise he flashed in 2010 when he pulled down over 1000 receiving yards and 12 touchdown passes.
2011 will find the Aggies at the top of the heap in the Big 12—just beneath Oklahoma.
LSU is continually touted as one of the best out of the SEC. Last year the Tigers lost only to Auburn and Arkansas.
Almost the entire team is back in 2011. Many college football prognosticators pick the Tigers to walk away with the SEC title at the end of the 2011 season. LSU certainly has the potential to win it all.
The question remains—will they?
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson returns to push to offense, hopefully to heights they have not scaled since LSU won the national championship back in 2007-2008.
The Tigers must do just that to win in the talent-laden SEC West Division. The truth is that you put this team in any other conference and their path to the BCS Championship Game becomes twice as easy.
As it is, LSU will have to play top-ranked teams just to have a shot to win their division. Plus the Tigers open their season playing the Oregon Ducks which will prove to be a pivotal game for both programs.
The LSU Tigers will come close, but they will not win the Division. They will, however, be ranked in the top ten and they will qualify to play and defeat the Aggies once again–this time in the Fiesta Bowl.
National Championship Game: January 9, New Orleans
2012 BCS Championship Game: Oklahoma vs Boise State
Landry Jones will be back at for the Sooners with a full year of experience as the Oklahoma quarterback to build upon.
Having a seasoned quarterback is a big plus for the Sooners who ended their 2010 campaign on the gridiron on a positive note.
Jones who amassed 4,718 passing yards and 38 touchdowns will have plenty of chances to improve upon that in 2011.
The absence of running back DeMarco Murray will hurt but Oklahoma should make up for the deficit with Roy Finch who managed an average of 4.7 yards per carry in 2010. Plus Oklahoma will have an impressive list of reserves and transfers populating the backfield.
Returning in 2011, Sooner Ryan Broyles will be the highest ranked receiver in the Conference—maybe even in the nation with Jones tossing the ball his way.
Then too, 18 starters return to populate the Sooners on offense and defense.
If the Sooners do not win the Big 12 championship then the sun does not rise in the east.
An undefeated season remains a definite possibility if the Sooners can get past Florida State on the road. This should be Oklahoma's season.
The season-crushing loss to Nevada at the end of the 2010 football campaign cost Boise State big time—kicking them out of the lime light and into the Las Vegas Bowl.
In 2011 Boise State makes a move from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference.
Even though they return starting quarterback and Heisman hopeful Kellen Moore, the Broncos must still reload their receiving corps as Austin Pettis and Titus Young departed.
Then too, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left for Texas. The defense must also reload at nickelback and safety where they lost two keys on defense.
The Broncos seek redemption in 2011, moreover, after the disappointment in 2010.
They have slightly less to work with than they did coming into the 2010 season but QB Moore is a huge positive as well as tailback Doug Martin—both sitting behind an offensive line that remains almost intact from the 2010 season.
The defense also fares well boasting defensive end Shea McClellin and hard-nosed linebacker Byron Hout. The key game will come once again against TCU. This should be the defining season for Boise State.
*The Big East Champion who would figure into this scenario, depending on the accuracy of the teams selected for the BCS Championship game, is West Virginia. The Mountaineers should qualify as well and would take one of the spots discussed above.