As college football enters the home stretch of the regular season, it's only natural to begin looking at potential BCS National Championship Game matchups.
One thing even a casual observer will note is the plethora of new names—both teams and coaches—poised to make a run at their first BCS title at the end of the 2011 season.
So, who are these coaches, and what are their chances of capturing their first championship this season?
If there's one coach that has a résumé as impressive as Chris Petersen and still lacks a national championship, you'll be hard-pressed to find him.
The Boise State Broncos are an unbelievable 68-5 under Petersen, which includes two undefeated seasons and three one-loss seasons to go along with two BCS bowl berths (both wins) and a 3-2 overall bowl record.
Boise State has also won four conference titles in Petersen's five completed seasons, and has never lost a home game.
The Broncos have finished four of the last five seasons ranked in the final AP Top 25 with an average finish of No. 7 in those four years.
There's always the argument against putting Boise State in the BCS title game: The Broncos lack the body of work that some SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC teams claim. However, at the end of the day, Boise State defeats all comers and is a perfect 2-0 in BCS bowl games.
With a little help this year from the polls, however, it's certainly possible Petersen finds himself in another big BCS game—this time, the biggest of them all.
Mike “I'm a Man!” Gundy's tenure as Oklahoma State has been anything but boring.
Long considered the ugly cousin of Oklahoma football, the Cowboys have come onto the national scene in their own right under Gundy, who took over in 2005.
Under Gundy, the Pokes have matched or improved upon their previous season's record every year, and so far in 2011, they're a perfect 7-0 and find themselves in the No. 3 spot in the latest BCS rankings.
The season isn't a foregone conclusion yet, however, as Oklahoma State still has a number of tough games on its schedule. But with Oklahoma's loss to Texas Tech last week, Oklahoma State has suddenly found itself to be the odds-on favorite in the Big 12.
Gundy's 54-29 overall record (29-23 in the Big 12) is about to get a big shot in the arm as his team closes in on the BCS this season. After last year's 11-2 Oklahoma State team missed out on the BCS, the Cowboys are hungry for some big-time success, and Mike Gundy appears to be the right man at the right time to lead the Cowboys to national prominence.
When the 2011 season began, there weren't too many people picking Clemson for a BCS bowl, much less the BCS National Championship Game.
How times have changed!
Rather than the ACC being a two-team race between Florida State and Virginia Tech, it now appears that Clemson is everyone's pick to win the conference and earn the automatic BCS bid. Perhaps the only question now is to which BCS game will the Tigers be invited.
After Tommy Bowden resigned in the midst of the 2008 season, Dabo Swinney stepped in and has posted a 27-15 record since, which includes a 17-8 ACC mark and the 2009 ACC-Atlantic Division title.
After last year's disappointing 6-7 finish, Clemson wasn't garnering much preseason attention, even in its own part of the country. Much of the media buzz surrounded defending SEC-East champs South Carolina and ACC-favorite Florida State.
However, after guiding his team to an 8-0 start—the program's best since 2000—Swinney's Tigers are the darlings of the south Atlantic region. Continued winning could also make Clemson the darlings of the BCS, especially with three wins over ranked teams already to its credit, with the regular-season finale against South Carolina looming.
If the Tigers benefit from another week or two of BCS shake-ups and can continue their winning ways, don't be surprised if Clemson is right in the midst of national championship talk.
It's not often you get to talk about a first-year head coach making a run for his first BCS championship, but that's exactly the case of David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal.
After taking over for Jim Harbaugh after the Cardinal's run to the Orange Bowl last season, Shaw has definitely benefited from an impressive team already stocked with a talented roster. There are certainly causes for concern with Stanford, not the least of which is the fact the Cardinal haven't been challenged yet with their most impressive win coming in their only game against a then-ranked opponent (last week at home versus then-No. 22 Washington).
This week, Stanford travels to USC and will welcome Oregon on Nov. 12.
It's probably safe to say we'll know much more about Shaw's Cardinal by Nov. 13 when Stanford's BCS National Championship hopes may be alive and well or completely demolished.
Another surprise success story this season is Kansas State.
The Wildcats are 7-0 for the first time since the 1999 season, when KSU finished 11-1. The reward for the Wildcats is a No. 8 ranking in the BCS.
As much success as the Wildcats have enjoyed thus far, the schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher, as the Oklahoma Sooners come to visit Manhattan this weekend. KSU follows that up with a trip to Stillwater to take on No. 3 Oklahoma State before finishing the season against Texas A&M, Texas and Iowa State.
While all five games are conceivable losses for the Wildcats, the solid schemes developed by Bill Snyder, now in his second stint at K-State and 20th season over all for the Wildcats, has an overall record of 156-80-1 and has guided the Wildcats to 12 bowl games in his 19 previous seasons in Manhattan, including the 2004 Fiesta Bowl as Big 12 champions.
Snyder was responsible for one great turnaround at Kansas State, and it appears he's well on his way to reestablishing the program yet again.
While there's a lot of work to be done in the regular season, no one should discount the Wildcats—especially if KSU ends up with a 9-0 record.
One of the more successful coaches of the past decade who has not won a BCS championship has to be Arkansas' Bobby Petrino.
After posting a 41-9 record as the head coach of Louisville, which included two conference titles and a BCS bowl berth (2007 Orange Bowl), Petrino left college ball for the fortunes of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.
After a 3-10 mark in Atlanta, Petrino left to accept the head coaching gig at Arkansas, which was desperate for a renaissance in its football program. After a slow 5-7 start in 2008, Petrino appears to have the Hogs back on track to success in the SEC, and last season's 10-2 regular-season finish was good enough to earn the Razorbacks an at-large berth in the BCS's 2011 Sugar Bowl.
The Hogs are 6-1 so far, with their only loss coming to No. 2 Alabama, and are ranked No. 10 in the BCS. With a season finale against No. 1 LSU looming, and LSU still to play Alabama, it's not inconceivable that Arkansas could find itself playing for an SEC Championship if the Razorbacks win out.
With all of the success Petrino has been able to engineer at two different college programs, it may just be a matter of time before he adds “BCS champion” to his résumé. With continued winning, a little help and a touch of luck, that title could come a lot sooner than many SEC fans think.
Fans in East Lansing have gotten used to quick starts by the Spartans. What those fans aren't used to is the lasting success Michigan State has displayed as the season progresses.
Since Mark Dantonio took over the MSU program in 2007, the Spartans have won four of their first five games four times. Under Dantonio's predecessor, John L. Smith, MSU was prone to massive collapses as the season wore on. It was clear that any lasting success for the Spartans would need to be preceeded by shedding the specter of being a team that folds under pressure.
Last season's Big Ten Championship (shared with Wisconsin, which the Spartans defeated) and 11-2 record combined with this season's 6-1 start (which already includes wins over Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State) have proven that Michigan State under Dantonio is a legitimate Big Ten contender, and opponents take the Spartans lightly at their own peril.
The strike against Dantonio is that his Spartans are 0-4 in bowl games, and he's yet to taste the BCS either at MSU or at Cincinnati, where he preceded Brian Kelly. This season may be his best opportunity, as the Spartans are undefeated in Big Ten play and are in the driver's seat in the Big Ten Legends Division.
Winning the Big Ten Championship earns the conference's automatic berth in the Rose Bowl, and with the way things have been going this season, the No. 11 Spartans aren't completely out of the BCS National Championship picture yet, either.