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College Football Rankings: Classifying Every Top 25 Team as BCS or Bust

David LutherFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2011

College Football Rankings: Classifying Every Top 25 Team as BCS or Bust

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    For teams that start the season ranked in the Top 25, the goal is clear: earn a BCS bowl berth.

    Of course, with just five BCS games, there are only 10 spots available, and not every team who starts the year in the Top 25 will finish the year with that same distinction.

    If it's “BCS or Bust,” which teams are headed for the BCS and which teams will bust?

    Let's find out...

No. 25 Michigan

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    If you're a Michigan fan, you're desperately hoping that a new era is dawning in Ann Arbor with the firing of Rich Rodriguez, the hiring of Brady Hoke and the forced resignation of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor quitting.

    It's also worth noting that Denard Robinson is another year older, another year more mature and probably another year wiser with the mountain of experience he gained last season.

    Will Michigan be better this year than last? Absolutely.

    Will they be able to win the Big Ten this year? Absolutely not.

    While the Wolverines will make their first in what will likely be a series of quantum leaps forward, they're still a year or two removed from competing for a Big Ten championship and the automatic BCS berth that goes along with it. Sure, there are at-large berths out there, but Michigan first needs to be in a position to compete within the Big Ten before they can hope for an at-large berth.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 24 Georgia

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    To say that Georgia had a rough start to the 2010 season would be a massive understatement.

    To say that Georgia will have another rough start to the 2011 season would be massively incorrect.

    While the Bulldogs do start the season off against one of the top teams in the nation—Boise State—it's highly doubtful the Georgia will go 1-4 over their first five games again this season.

    Perhaps the brightest spot for Georgia is their up-and-coming star quarterback in Aaron Murray. After a very impressive freshman season, Murray will be guiding the Bulldogs in 2011 with a good deal more experience, and hopefully confidence in 2011.

    Murray definitely has the potential to be a superstar in the SEC, and signs of his emergence will show during the upcoming season.

    However, the SEC will b e a beast again this season, and although Georgia has a legit shot in the East, it's questionable as to whether or not they have a shot at the BCS this season.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 23 Florida

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    For many teams, eight wins would be a fairly successful season. None of those teams are the Gators. Eight wins won't cut it in Gainesville, and the task of restoring double-digit win totals falls on the shoulders of new head coach Will Muschamp.

    Regardless of Florida's performance last season, the Gators are still a team loaded with talent. While the transition to a completely new coaching staff will have an effect, it may provide the Gators with just the spark they need to return to the national conversation.

    The East in the SEC is generally viewed to presently be the weaker division. The Gators aim to be the exception to this rule and have the players in place to make a definite run at the SEC in 2011.

    Whether they have the horses to top teams like Alabama or LSU in early December, however, is the biggest question for the Gators, and it's likely that the West will again produce the SEC champion this season.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 22 Texas

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    There are plenty of words to describe Texas's 2010 season. Awful. Horrible. Horrendous. Laughable. Embarrassing. Pitiful.

    There weren't too many people in the nation last year who weren't shocked at the Longhorns' precipitous fall from Big 12 glory. Many of those same people honestly believe that 2010 was an aberration, and Texas will be back to their winning ways in 2011.

    The problem with that thinking is the assumption that Texas will be a new and different team this season. In reality, Mack Brown has the unenviable task of taking a 5-7 team and attempting to compete with the likes of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State with basically the same personnel.

    Many of the same players that gave coaches fits last season are back in burnt orange for 2011. On top of that, Mack Brown, for all of his winning, Texas has only won two Big 12 championships under Brown. Over that same span, rival Oklahoma has won seven.

    Not only will Texas not make a return to the BCS in 2011, they won't be much of a threat in the Big 12 race this year, either.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 21 Missouri

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    Missouri's chances for the 2011 Big 12 season may have departed along with Blaine Gabbert. While the Tigers return the bulk of their 2010 team, the intregal piece—Gabbert—is gone, and it's doubtful that Missouri will be able to compete with the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the new, championship game-less Big 12.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 20 Nebraska

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    Nebraska's move to the Big Ten this season is one of the most compelling storylines in the Big Ten (at least until the Jim Tressel-Terrelle Pryor scandal).

    The Cornhuskers are bringing their football talents to a new conference, and there is a rather spirited debate going on as to whether or not Nebraska will be able to adjust to the style of play in the Big Ten quickly enough to make a run at the Big Ten championship in 2011.

    With the assumption that Ohio State won't be making a run this year (either due to suspensions, resignations, or the fact that they may not be allowed to make championship bid), Nebraska's stock rose considerably for 2011.

    Taylor Martinez is probably the wild card. He has shown the ability to be an absolutely great quarterback but has worried some at times with shockingly poor decisions on the field and inconsistent play at times. The up side to all of that is that it can still be explained away as the mistakes of youth. If Martinez controls and eliminates many of those mistakes in 2011, the Huskers could indeed be a difficult team to beat in 2011.

    Still, a fairly tough schedule and the fact that it's understandable for any team to take a half-season or so to acclimate to a new conference probably means that Nebraska won't be playing the in the BCS this season.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 19 Notre Dame

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    Brian Kelly had a solid first season as the head coach of the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame didn't really do anything completely embarrassing (as losses to Navy these days aren't the end of the world), and the Irish not only made a bowl game, but thoroughly handled the Hurricanes from Miami in said bowl game.

    The Irish will also have quite the collection of talent and experience returning for 2011 and don't be surprised if the Irish take advantage of a less-than-killer schedule to post double digit wins in 2011.

    Notre Dame may be able to take advantage of their special BCS tie in this season, as well, as they are the first team on our rundown to catch a whiff on the BCS. While it's unlikely Notre Dame will finish the season ranked in the top eight needed to receive an automatic BCS berth, there's nothing that is stopping Notre Dame from being in a position to receive an at-large berth come bowl selection time.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 18 Virginia Tech

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    The Hokies are looking for a return to the BCS in 2011 after claiming the 2010 ACC Championship and earning their way into the Orange Bowl.

    The Hokies were crushed by the Stanford Cardinal, but a potential hangover from that game isn't the only problem Virginia Tech will have heading into 2011.

    When any team loses a player like Tyrod Taylor, it's a major blow. Players like Taylor don't come along every day, and you can't just replace them. Regardless of how good Logan Thomas ends up becoming for the Hokies, he just won't be as good as Taylor.

    Virginia Tech will also have some added competition in the ACC as Florida State looks to make another giant step towards recapturing past glory. The Hokies were able to slip past the Seminoles in the 2010 ACC Championship Game. It's questionable as to whether or not they can do it again.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 17 Mississippi State

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    Picking Mississippi State to not make a BCS bowl game in 2011 probably isn't a shocking selection. After all, Mississippi State does play in a conference that is sure to have at least one top five team come December.

    But just because Mississippi State isn't picked to win the SEC or earn a BCS berth in 2011 doesn't mean they should be overlooked.

    The Bulldogs are returning eight offensive and seven defensive starters from last year's impressive squad. Mississippi State will be a good second-tier team in the SEC this season, and another strong bowl game run could set up the program for making some big leaps forward over the next few seasons.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 16 South Carolina

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    South Carolina had a magical season in 2010, from beating the then-No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide to winning their first-ever SEC-East divisional title, to playing in their first-ever SEC Championship Game.

    Of course, the Gamecocks were beaten soundly by Auburn in the SEC title game and edged out by Florida State in the Ckick-Fil-A Bowl, but that doesn't mean that South Carolina has lost their edge and won't be able to return to their winning ways in 2011.

    The biggest obstacle for SC to overcome in 2011 will be off-the-field distractions and doubts. Fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia is, by all accounts, a mess. After suffering through his fifth suspension since coming to South Carolina, head coach Steve Spurrier took the lowest road possible by becoming an equivocating joke.

    Rather than sternly speaking out on Garcia's consistent inability to follow even the simplest rules (like showing up to a mandatory SEC leadership seminar sober), Spurrier decided to pass the buck to the university's administration—who clearly won't do anything to embarrass Spurrier or their star quarterback.

    Garcia will be the starter for the Gamecocks come September. How well Carolina does this season will depend on how long Garcia can stay out of trouble.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 15 Ohio State

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    Oh boy, here we go.

    A few weeks ago, we had Ohio State in the top 10 in the nation, hovering somewhere around No. 7. After Memorial Day and the events that followed, Ohio State has slipped from No. 7 to No. 15. That was bound to happen with the loss of head coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

    But any team who believes Ohio State won't be a very talented team in 2011 does so at their own peril. The truth is that the Buckeyes have as much talent in their second string as many teams have on their starting roster. From that standpoint alone, Ohio State will win their fair share of games in 2011.

    It's possible that Ohio State will also win enough conference games to “win” their division in 2011, but it's highly likely that won't matter. When Ohio State and the NCAA meet in August, everyone now fully expects the NCAA to hand down a crushing load of sanctions. Those sanctions are bound to include a ban on postseason play, and the Big Ten has already confirmed that any program prohibited by the NCAA from postseason play is ineligible to play for (and thereby win) the Big Ten Championship.

    Even if Ohio State is eligible for the postseason in 2011, there's still some lingering doubt as to their ability to win their seventh shared or outright conference title. The Big Ten is beginning to catch up to the Buckeyes, and there are going to be some tough challenges from Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, and Wisconsin—all of whom have their eyes set on the Rose Bowl.

    Because of Ohio State's likely ineligibility, they'll be listed as a bust—but with an asterisk.

    BCS or Bust: Bust*

No. 14 Arkansas

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    There's been a lot of talk about the loss of Ryan Mallett. But Tyler Wilson is no pushover, and he'll be surrounded by six returning starters on the Razorback offense.

    While Wilson will have a lot of experience to back him up both in the backfield and at the receiver positions, the Hogs do have to replace a few bodies on the O-line, and that can be a concern when you're breaking in a quarterback.

    While the Razorbacks did well enough in last year's SEC West to earn themselves an at-large BCS berth to the Sugar Bowl, it's doubtful they'll be able to repeat the accomplishment. There just seems to be one too many holes to fill in order to hope for a better-than-expected showing in this season's SEC.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 13 Texas Christian

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    The 2010 season can only be described as magical for the Horned Frogs.

    Andy Dalton and his TCU teammates made it through the entire season without a loss—including a Rose Bowl championship after beating Wisconsin.

    But Dalton is gone, and so are most of his teammates for that matter. TCU returns just five offensive starters for 2011, and the lack of experience would be troubling enough if it wasn't compounded by the fact that TCU doesn't have a true star waiting in the wings. There's no “Dalton Jr.” waiting to step up, and the Horned Frogs have drawn the short stick in their final MWC season, as they must travel to Boise State to face a Broncos team that hasn't lost a home conference game in over a decade. Their last home conference loss was during the 1998 season.

    The only hope any team has for making the BCS out of the MWC is to go undefeated. There are no if's, and's or but's about it. And in 2011, the Horned Frogs just won't be able to accomplish that feat.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 12 Auburn

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    Auburn certainly had a great season last year, winning everything in sight, from the SEC to the BCS championship.

    Auburn's impressive run through the SEC and the country last season started and finished on the shoulders of Cam Newton. Granted, Newton had an extraordinarily talented supporting cast, but Newton was key to the Tigers' success.

    Newton is gone, but so is pretty much everyone else. Gene Chizik will have to figure out a way to defend the SEC and BCS titles with just eight returning starters—a combined eight returning starters from both sides of the ball.

    The Tigers will have just four offensive and four defensive returning starters from last season's national championship team, and with the exception of Michael Dyer, there aren't a whole lot of names many fans will recognize from score sheets.

    Auburn is one of those programs that is loaded with talent, from the top of the depth chart all the way down to the last name. But such a staggering lack of experience in the SEC spells disaster.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 11 Wisconsin

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    After earning a share of the Big Ten championship in 2010, the Wisconsin Badgers are hoping for a repeat Rose Bowl berth following the 2011 season.

    The Badgers were placed in the Leaders Division, along with Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana and Penn State. With Ohio State likely out of the mix for at least the 2011 season, it's likely that the Leaders Division will come down to Wisconsin and Penn State. While Joe Paterno can certainly still coach at a very high level, his current crop of recruits just don't seem to be able to keep up with the top echelon of the conference, and Wisconsin is looking like a shoe-in for the Big Ten's inaugural championship game.

    Even if Wisconsin were to lose in the Big Ten title game, it's likely they would still receive an at-large berth, owing to their lofty preseason ranking and the fact that they're not likely to lose much over the course of the 2011 season. Look for Wisconsin to return to the BCS this season.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 10 Michigan State

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    Sparty had to be pleased with the way his team performed last season, posting one of the best MSU football seasons in the past twenty years.

    While Michigan State is unquestionably one of the nation's top basketball programs, in football, the Spartans have usually been relegated to the middle of the Big Ten pack.

    Mack Dantonio is hoping to change that mentality in East Lansing, and 2011 went a long way towards the goal of bringing Michigan State into the top tier of the Big Ten and staying there.

    Michigan State's main obstacles to the 2011 Big Ten championship include a loss of impact linebackers Eric Gordon and Greg Jones. MSU must deal with their opponents in the Legends Division, which include Nebraska, Michigan, and Iowa.

    Unlike Wisconsin, MSU is probably not a lock for the Big Ten Championship Game, and their contests against Nebraska and Iowa loom large on their schedule. MSU also has Wisconsin and Ohio State this season, and earning a trip to Indianapolis will mean some impressive and inspired play from the Spartans in 2011.

    But if there's one coach who is able to lead this current group of Spartans to something they haven't done since 1987—win an outright Big Ten title—it's Mark Dantonio.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 9 Texas A&M

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    In the “old” days of the Big 12, the only thing a team needed to do was win their division. After that task was accomplished, the road to the BCS was clear: win and you're in.

    Today, the process is a little less clear. Not only are there no divisions and no championship game, the conference championship picture is determined by more than just wins and losses. The Big 12's BCS berth may be decided by tie-breaking votes, subjective poll positions or some other as yet to be determined convoluted process.

    Texas A&M also has an uphill battle in the conference this season, as they'll need to face both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State—plus the rest of the conference.

    One benefit is that this year, every team will play every other team in the conference, and it should be easier for pollsters and pundits to determine who they think should represent the conference in the BCS.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 8 Florida State

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    To buy into the hype or not to buy into the hype.

    It's hard to ignore everything that's been said about the Seminoles thus far this offseason, but either way, Florida State is getting more than its fair share of press.

    Jimbo Fisher certainly has all of the weapons he needed to mount a run for the ACC championship this season. The Seminoles fell just short of the conference championship last season, losing to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, but FSU rebounded nicely with a Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina.

    In 2011, the goal right from the start will be the ACC title and a return to the BCS. Florida State is hoping to recapture some of their past glory, and if ever there was a season in which that was possible, 2011 is it.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 7 Oklahoma State

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    The Cowboys had one of the top offenses in the nation last season, and things don't look to be changing anytime soon at OSU.

    With 10 returning offensive starters, it doesn't take a football genius to figure out that Oklahoma State will be a powerful offensive team again in 2011. Their only weakness last season was their penchant for allowing almost as many points as they scored. If the six returning defensive starters from last year can keep the opponents back just a touch better this year than last, Oklahoma State fans could be in for something very special in Stillwater.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 6 Boise State

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    Boise State learned the hard way why you never want to put the game or the season on the foot of your kicker.

    Were it not for two missed field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime against Nevada last season, it looked as if the Boise State Broncos were again on their way to crash the BCS party.

    Instead, the Broncos had to settle for the meaningless Las Vegas Bowl.

    Don't expect the Broncos to be satisfied with another lackluster bowl bid in 2011. In fact, Boise State probably has one of their greatest opportunities to not only play in the BCS but possibly play for a national championship, as well.

    With Boise State's move to the Mountain West Conference and the fact that TCU won't be leaving the MWC for the Big East until 2012, Boise State has the opportunity to add some much needed strength-of-schedule points to their rankings formula before the season is out.

    If Heisman Trophy candidate Kellen Moore can find some new go-to receivers this season and guides the Broncos to an undefeated regular season, expect the BCS to finally reward Boise State with a top two BCS ranking in the final poll—giving Boise State a trip to New Orleans in the second week in January.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 5 Stanford

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    It has to be somebody, and this season, it's going to be Stanford.

    Every year, there is undoubtedly a team that begins the season very highly ranked, then runs into a few midseason bumps before falling precipitously in the polls. While the big news surrounding Stanford this offseason has been the fact that Andrew Luck is returning for another season, people seem to forget—or ignore—the fact that Luck will be one of only a small handful of returning players for the Cardinal in 2011.

    The new Pac-12 also has a divisional schedule with with to deal this season, and there are no fewer than two other legit contenders this season in Oregon and Arizona State.

    All said, Stanford has the unfortunately distrinction of being a top five team we are picking as a BCS bust this season.

    BCS or Bust: Bust

No. 4 Oregon

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    The aforementioned Oregon Ducks are the second Pac-12 team that begins the season ranked in the top five, and the Ducks are hoping for finish off some business left over from last season.

    The Ducks were nearly perfect in 2011, with their only loss coming in the BCS Championship Game to Auburn. The Ducks are also returning seven offensive starters from a squad that was seemingly unstoppable in 2010.

    LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist from last season, will be back anchoring the run game for Oregon in 2011. Clearly, it's not the Oregon offense that has Ducks fans worrying.

    The defensive front seven will need to be reconstructed after massive losses to graduation. Additionally, the Ducks have a Week 1 showdown with LSU—easily the biggest game of the opening week in college football.

    But Chip Kelly is a great coach, and Oregon should enter the Pac-12 schedule as the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champion and secure another trip to the BCS. But this time, it's likely to be the Rose Bowl, rather than a trip to the Big Easy.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 3 Louisiana State

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    Moving right along to LSU, the Tigers have truly been blessed with loads of talent and a few consecutive great recruiting years under Les Miles. All of those recruiting wins over the past few seasons are about to pay off.

    Last season, LSU's biggest problem wasn't their lack of talent or their inability to make plays when it matter, or any other normal game facet. Rather, the injury bug hit the Tigers and hit them hard.

    This season, as hard as it may be to believe, Louisiana State may be even more talented than they were a year ago. They also have one of the best, and at times most unorthodox coaches in the nation.

    If the Tigers can stay healthy, the SEC will come down to the November 5 game at Alabama.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 2 Alabama

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    Speaking of the Crimson Tide, they are sitting pretty at our preseason No. 2 spot.

    Last season was certainly a disappointment for Tide fans, as the preseason No. 1 and defending BCS champions stubbed their collective toe a few times before finishing the season with a loss at South Carolina and at LSU before an epic collapse and implosion against Auburn.

    Still, the Tide rebounded nicely with a blowout win against Big Ten co-champion Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.

    Although the Tide finished No. 16 in the BCS, they were No. 11 in the final coaches poll and just inside the top 10 at No. 10 in the AP.

    Expectations are again high for Alabama, and one glance at their depth chart for this upcoming season will show you that there's good reason to be high on Alabama's chances.

    Not only are the Tide returning 17 combined starters from 2010, but the replacements for the missing five starters from last season are all players that have seen more than their fair share of playing time.

    Alabama should be favored in every game they play this season, and their fairly weak non-conference schedule means that they only need to take care of business in their home conference to earn a trip to the BCS this season.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

No. 1 Oklahoma

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    It seems like we've been here before. Oklahoma is starting the 2011 season as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, and there are a plethora of reasons behind the choice.

    At the end of the day, Bob Stoops has easily one of the best teams in the nation at his command, and the Big 12 conference doesn't show too many danger signs for the Sooners.

    Last season, OU went a long way towards dispelling the BCS Jinx or BCS Curse or whatever one chooses to call it, with this impressive win over Big East champion Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

    This season, Oklahoma is hoping to build on that BCS win and ride the momentum all the way to New Orleans and the BCS Championship Game.

    In order to do that, they'll need only to get past a trip to Florida State on September 17 and a trip to Stillwater to face in-state foe Oklahoma State to wrap up the season on November 26. Beyond those two games, there shouldn't be any problems on the Sooners' schedule.

    Operative words there are “shouldn't be.” We all know that any team—particularly Oklahoma—is susceptible to mid-season upsets that no one sees coming that rearrange the entire postseason outlook.

    If Sooners fans are correct, and the BCS Curse has been exorcised from Norman, then the Sooners should be just fine in 2011, and we should expect to see them booking a trip to New Orleans for the second week in January.

    BCS or Bust: BCS

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