Few things in all of sports are more highly scrutinized than college football's BCS rankings. As arbitrary as the rankings may seem to some, there is no question that the system has produced a myriad of controversial and exciting matchups.
Since very few people understand the ins and outs of the BCS system, predicting the BCS Bowl games can be a difficult task. As unpredictable as the BCS is, one thing is for sure: after the selections are announced, some team or fan base will feel cheated.
Here are the projected matchups for each of the five BCS Bowl games for the 2011 season.
After a 10 year hiatus, the Wisconsin Badgers reached the Rose Bowl in 2010. Although the result, a 21-19 loss to TCU, certainly wasn't what the Badgers were hoping for, they look poised to get another shot in 2011. Wisconsin should be the beneficiary of a fairly weak Big Ten Conference this season, with only newcomer Nebraska and the train wreck that is Ohio State likely to give it a run.
Wisconsin isn't without faults, however, as it will have to compensate for the loss of quarterback Scott Tolzien, as well as the left side of its offensive line in the form of Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt. One thing that should remain constant for the Badgers in 2011 is their rushing attack. James White and Montee Ball, who combined for 2,048 yards on the ground last season, will both be back in Madison and should pick up where they left off.
There are few big names on the defensive side of the ball, but that normally isn't a problem for the Bret Bielema-led Badgers. With Wisconsin's propensity for plugging in little-known, blue-collar players on the defense, it shouldn't be stung hard by the few departures it did have.
With Oregon as a favorite to represent the newly-formed Pac-12 Conference in the National Championship Game, Stanford would be in line to receive the at-large bid into the Rose Bowl. As underwhelming as Stanford's supporting cast may look on paper, the return of Andrew Luck at quarterback automatically makes the Cardinal a top contender.
While Stanford sustained a few significant losses on both sides of the ball, the biggest adjustment will be the installment of David Shaw as the head coach after Jim Harbaugh's departure to the San Francisco 49ers. The transition should be a smooth one, though, as Shaw has served as Stanford's offensive coordinator for the past four seasons.
The Pac-12 looks to be fairly strong this season, so a trip to the Rose Bowl certainly won't be a cakewalk. Oregon, USC, UCLA and Arizona will all pose stiff threats to the Cardinal, but if they can get through those four with a 3-1 record or better, a second straight BCS Bowl game is in the cards.
Often, the winner of the SEC plays for and wins the BCS Championship Game. With the amount of top-tier teams in the conference this season, however, the likelihood of an undefeated team is quite low. With nine returning starters on offense and seven on defense, the LSU Tigers have a legitimate shot to go all the way, but if they should slip up, the Sugar Bowl will be a nice consolation prize.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Auburn will all be huge obstacles for the Tigers in 2011, but LSU has the experience edge over all of them. The biggest challenge will likely come in the form of an Oregon Ducks team who fell just short of a National Championship last season. The September 3 game will take place at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas, and the loser will have to battle back in the polls all season long.
Even with the loss of all-world cornerback Patrick Peterson to the NFL, LSU is projected to have the SEC's stingiest pass defense once again, with three returning starters in the secondary. A key to the Tigers' success will be the continued development of their passing game which, although it struggled at times, showed marked improvement near the end of the 2010 season. Top receivers Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle will both be back for the Tigers, as well as quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
As highly criticized as the Boise State Broncos are on a yearly basis because of their perceived weak schedules, there is no question that the Broncos have permanently entered themselves into the BCS conversation. Their move from the WAC to the Mountain West Conference should give them more credibility, but it will be difficult for Boise State to shake the small-conference stigma.
It's no secret that the Broncos essentially must go undefeated to even be considered for a BCS Bowl, but with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, Boise State has a fantastic opportunity. Although Boise State's 2011 schedule isn't stacked with powerhouses by any means, there are certainly some landmines to look out for. Georgia, Nevada, Tulsa and TCU will all provide stiff tests, but the veteran-laden Broncos should be able to handle it.
Losing top receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young will be difficult to overcome, but fantastic quarterback Kellen Moore is incredibly adept at spreading the ball around, which should allow some new stars to emerge on offense. When you consider that a total of eight all-conference performers will suit up for the Broncos this season, it's clear that they will be the class of the MWC.
Florida State may not be considered among the elite teams entering 2011, but in a generally weak ACC, the Seminoles should have little difficulty securing a spot in the Orange Bowl. There is no question that Florida State is a program on the rise as, last season, the Noles recorded their first nine-win season since 2003 in Jimbo Fisher's first year at the helm.
With 16 starters returning, Florida State is poised to build on last season's breakout performance. The biggest hurdle the Seminoles will have to clear is the loss of starting quarterback Christian Ponder to the NFL. Ponder's experience and leadership was paramount to Florida State's success last season, but the return of starters at every other skill position should make E.J. Manuel's move to the starting role a bit easier.
After missing out on a BCS Bowl in 2010, the Alabama Crimson Tide should be expected to make a triumphant return in 2011. Despite the losses of quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus to the NFL, Alabama will return a total of 17 starters, including 10 from a formidable defense.
The emergence of Trent Richardson at running back will be the key to Alabama's success on offense. Although Richardson was relegated to a backup role under Ingram, it can be argued that Richardson is the more explosive, and perhaps the better all-around back.
Much like Florida State, 'Bama will have to rely on an inexperienced quarterback if they want to move back into the BCS picture. As steady as McElroy was under center, the Tide have won with defense and their running game over the past few seasons. Because of this, A.J. McCarron should be able to ease into the starting role.
After competing in the Fiesta Bowl in three out of the past five seasons, Oklahoma is poised to head for greener pastures in the form of the BCS National Championship Game. This leaves an opening for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, an ascending program that's never played in a BCS Bowl game.
When it comes to the Cowboys, everything starts and ends with their offense. The installation of a spread offense was a rousing success as Oklahoma State rode it all the way to an 11-2 record last season. Ten starters from that explosive offense will return in an effort to bring the OSU football program to new heights. Among them is the nation's best receiver, Justin Blackmon. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner registered 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. The man who delivered the ball to Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden, will be back as well.
The main thing holding Oklahoma State back, however, is an extremely flawed defense. In a Big 12 Conference loaded with offensive talent, this could certainly present itself as a huge roadblock en route to a BCS Bowl game. It isn't impossible to go far with a suspect defense, however, as the Auburn Tigers proved last season, a well-oiled offense can cover up mistakes on the other side of the ball.
Although the Big East has no apparent top-25 team at the moment, the conference's status as an automatic qualifier will allow West Virginia to sneak into the Fiesta Bowl, much like UConn did last season. The Mountaineers are, by no means, a bad team, but there will likely be many more deserving teams who might get snubbed in their favor.
With many of the Big East's teams in rebuilding mode, it isn't inconceivable that West Virginia could run roughshod over the conference. With the exception of LSU, the Mountaineers also have a fairly easy non-conference schedule, so there isn't much standing in their way.
The loss of running back Noel Devine could be tough to compensate for, but with quarterback Geno Smith returning, as well as three of the team's top receivers, West Virginia's passing game should be potent enough to carry it through the lethargic Big East.
After falling just short in last season's National Championship Game against the Auburn Tigers, it can be argued that the Oregon Ducks missed their best chance at winning the big one. Even in a losing effort, however, the Ducks gained valuable experience which should aid them in making another run at the title.
The two most important cogs in the Oregon offense, quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, will be back in 2011, ensuring the continued development of the Ducks' explosive spread option. The loss of top receiver Jeff Maehl might sting a bit initially, but it will allow Oregon to shift the onus to the running game, which is where the Ducks shine most.
There is no doubt that the coaching staff will have its hands full if Oregon is to return to college football's grandest stage, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Six starters from last year's underrated squad have departed Eugene, leaving a great deal of uncertainty in the front seven. The incredible efficiency of Oregon's offense often overshadowed a solid defensive unit last season. While the importance of good defense shouldn't be understated, a repeat performance from the Ducks' offense should take a lot of pressure off the defense and cover up for some of its shortcomings.
Coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2010 and returning 18 starters from a 12-win team, the Oklahoma Sooners are likely to enter 2011 as the top-ranked team and odds-on favorite to win the National Title. Although Bob Stoops has been labeled a choker due to often coming up short in BCS Bowl games, the 2011 squad should be a confident bunch after dismantling UConn in last year's postseason affair.
Offensively, the Sooners will feature a passing attack that few other teams can even hope to match, or contain for that matter. After averaging an astounding 330 passing yards per game last season, junior quarterback Landry Jones will orchestrate the offense, with All-American receiver Ryan Broyles reaping the benefits. The loss of do-everything running back DeMarco Murray shouldn't be overlooked, but there is so much talent on the Sooner offense that his production can be replaced with a by-committee approach.
As great as Oklahoma's offense is, its defensive unit may be nearly as good. Anchored by linebacker Trevor Lewis, the Sooners were among the best defenses in an offensively-gifted Big 12 Conference in 2010. No team in the country can match Oklahoma's collective talent, but it is essential for the Sooners to play at a high level of intensity in each and every game, which is something they struggled with last season. If they can prevent those lulls from happening, a National Title isn't just possible, it's probable.