When the BCS system was designed, it wasn't all too welcoming to teams not named Notre Dame and not in the big six conferences. However, in the past seven years, teams in the six "power" conferences have had to deal with these pesky non-BCS teams fighting for poll position and potential BCS bowl bids.
While these non-BCS conferences lost Utah and BYU (now independent) and will lose TCU in 2012, there are still a host of teams that could be fighting for an undefeated season by year's end and be in the mix with the BCS big boys.
Having 17 returning starters on a team that only had one conference loss last year, on the road to the MAC West winning Northern Illinois Huskies, is a main reason why good things are expected for this Toledo Rockets team.
They were 4-2 on the road last year, beating Western Michigan and Purdue, and only losing to Boise State and Northern Illinois, a very good indication they can not only compete at home in conference, but on the road and out of conference.
This year, they'll have another crack at Boise State, this time in Toledo, as well as getting their shot at taking down the "Tatoo 5" Ohio State Buckeyes, a game that should not be taken lightly for Ohio State. The tough schedule also includes going to Syracuse and Temple, two more games that will test this team's road ability.
Thanks to the loss of head coach Jerry Kill, who led them to 11 wins a year ago, to Minnesota, many are counting out the MAC West winners a year ago. However, they return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Chandler Harnish, who showed signs that he could be ready to take the next step this year as the team's go to weapon on offense.
Losing Chad Spann at running back, who had this team ranked seventh in the country in rushing a year ago, will hurt, but they have five returning starters on the offensive line and depth at running back.
The schedule this year won't be easy, as they'll face an improved Army team week one and then back to back BCS conference foes in Kansas and Wisconsin, the latter game being a match-up of Brett Bielema and his former assistant Dave Doeren. Western Michigan, Toledo and Bowling Green all won't be easy wins, either, this year.
Since Case Keenum of Houston was out all of last year with injuries, quarterback G.J. Kinne of Tulsa got a chance to be the conference's offensive player of the year. Now a senior and following up a 3,650 pass yard, 31 touchdown season, Kinne and his top target Damaris Johnson are poised to do better than their 10 win season a year ago.
They'll need to first travel to Oklahoma against the Sooners. Obviously a win there would be huge, but staying competitive and keeping it within 20 points would show that this offense and team is for real, even without head coach Todd Graham. After that, they'll still have to take on Oklahoma State, travel to Boise State and play SMU, at UCF and Houston.
They're schedule sets up for seven or eight wins, but they have some great talents on this team, and talent-wise, they're among the best in the non-BCS world. But they'll need a lot to go their way this year.
Quarterback Tim Jefferson returns as the team's leader in their option attack, but last year, he was able to be a more effective passer. That's something that will really scare both Mountain West teams as well as other foes on their schedule.
The past four years, they've had at least eight wins, and that's very possible once again, if not more wins, this season. They'll have an Andy-Dalton less TCU team and San Diego State at home this year, both winable games for this experienced team with one of the best coaches in the country in Troy Calhoun.
Games at Navy, Notre Dame and Boise State will determine the season, but it's not out of the possibility that they can win two of those games and maybe get to 10 wins this season for the first time in a long while.
June Jones, former Hawaii passing attach architect, now has this SMU team poised for a C-USA championship if things work the way they are supposed to. They have 10 returning starters back on offense, including junior quarterback Kyle Padron, who had 31 TDs last year.
On defense, they were ranked in the top four in all major categories among the C-USA, and they return eight starters, including linebackers Taylor Reed, who had 145 tackles, and Ja'Gared Davis, who had nine sacks.
They could make for an upset special week one as they play at Texas A&M, and if they can win that one, they'll get some instant national spotlight. After that, they play at TCU. A few weeks afterwards, they begin their C-USA schedule that includes Central Florida, at Tulsa and at Houston.
Last year, this UCF team was ranked either one or two in every major defensive category in the C-USA, and while they return less than half of that defense (only four players), they have plenty of depth on the defensive line and two All C-USA secondary members.
Offensively, they have one of the country's best young dual threat quarterbacks in Jeff Godfrey. He, along with two other running backs, had 10-plus rushing touchdowns last season, and this team gets back former All C-USA running back Brynn Harvey from injury last year.
After an 11-win season and a Liberty Bowl win over Georgia, this team is expecting not only another C-USA East championship, but even contending for national attention. They'll be tested all season long, with games against Boston College and at BYU out of conference, and road conference games against SMU, Southern Miss and East Carolina. Also, they take on Tulsa, another potential contender to be a BCS buster.
The loss of head coach Brady Hoke is something that can't be overlooked, as he quickly brought this team from consistent two and three win seasons to a nine-win season.
Whether it's credit to Hoke or this team's crop, in their four losses last year (at Missouri, at BYU, at TCU, and to Utah), their loss margin was minus-15 combined. That's 3.75 points per game they lost by against four teams in the mix for a BCS bid at one point or another during last year.
While their top two receivers are gone, potential NFL Draft top two round quarterback Ryan Lindley returns, along with six other starters on offense and five more on defense. If they can win at Michigan (against former head coach Brady Hoke) in week four, they could be on track to win games against TCU, at Air Force and then against Boise State in their third to last game of the year.
Last year's BCS buster, the TCU Horned Frogs, have had at least eight wins in the past five years, with only one of those years now 11-plus wins. However, with only six returning starters combined on both sides of the ball, including the loss of their catalyst at quarterback in Andy Dalton, there's lots of question marks across the team this year.
Still, with Gary Patterson, defensive leader Tank Carder, returning rushing leader Ed Wesley and a host of young talent at receiver and on defense, they should be right in the mix for another Mountain West title and could even challenge for an undefeated season. Having to go to Air Force, San Diego State and Boise State is asking a lot of this team, however.
Case Keenum returns from injury last year after he previously lead this team to a conference title in 2009. Not only is team on track to be the face of the C-USA this season based on their loaded offense, they're set to break many all time records.
Keenum is 3,486 yards and 27 passing touchdowns from the all time passing leader in D1 history. His receivers, Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards, are 93 receptions and 115 receptions from being the all-time D1 leaders there as well. And running back Bryce Beall is 11 TDs from 50 in his career, a very impressive landmark.
With their big four on offense returning, and seven defensive starters back, head coach Kevin Sumlin has probably his best chance to get onto the national spotlight before he eventually leaves for a high profile job. Compared to other C-USA teams, he has a fairly easy schedule. After UCLA in week one in Houston, they get East Carolina, Marshall and SMU at home, don't play Central Florida and have a game at Tulsa that could determine if they are BCS bound or not.
Last year's loss to Nevada was more than a heart-breaker. It was the only loss in what looked like a second straight perfect season. It was the final game for Austin Pettis, Titus Young and Kyle Brotzman, three of the school's best players all time.
However, one of the best coaches in college football, Chris Pederson, has seven starters on offense and seven on defense, including his potential NFL Draft first round left tackle Nate Potter and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Kellen Moore returning.
They're in a great position to win the Mountain West conference and get back to a BCS game this year. And based on the fact that they're already in the top five or higher in most polls, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they could challenge for a BCS title shot. They'll start out playing at Georgia in week one, a game that could be the start of something special this year.
Still, they'll play their hardest schedule probably in the school's history. After going to Georgia, they still have to play MAC favorite Toledo, one of the C-USA favorites Tulsa, WAC favorite Nevada, Air Force, TCU and travel to San Diego State. The road won't be easy, but this could be their best and final shot for awhile at BCS title glory.