BCS Projections: Labeling Every Top 50 Team a Lock, Contender or Pretender

Carl Stine@@CFBAllDayCorrespondent IMay 27, 2011

BCS Projections: Labeling Every Top 50 Team a Lock, Contender or Pretender

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    This list is a compilation of your top 50 teams for next season, split into three categories:

    Locks, Contenders and Pretenders.

    At this point, it's very difficult to predict how the BCS pecking order will shake out.

    Even so, some teams seem to have that perfect blend of experience, talent and production that makes them close to a sure thing.

    Those teams are the locks on this list for a BCS game.

    The contenders have some great potential, and with a little luck, could break into the BCS as well, but don't have that same elite feel that the "locks" might have.

    The last category on this list, the pretenders, have absolutely next to no shot at making a BCS contest.

    Whether it be lack of talent, significant attrition or being USC, these teams just can't quite cut it.

50. USF Bulls

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 31:  B.J. Daniels #7 of the USF Bulls celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Dontavia Bogan #81 against the Clemson Tigers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 31, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The Bulls are not exactly BCS material.

    Even though they finished 2010 with an 8-5 record, and they have some solid running back transfers coming in, the Bulls have issues.

    Is quarterback B.J. Daniels consistent enough to actually win the Big East?

    Probably not.

    And who will replace Terrell McClain and the other departed seniors on the D-Line?


49. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  Detron Lewis #17 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders runs the ball against the Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Lubbock, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Tech has an exciting offense, but their defense is a mess.

    The Red Raiders allowed nine yards per completion against the upper echelon Big XII teams and with the departure of sack leader Brian Duncan.

    As for the offense, the Red Raiders hand Seth Doege the reigns of the offense and run with it.


48. Baylor Bears

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 8:  Quarterback Robert Griffin #10 of the Baylor Bears runs the ball during the game against the Texas Longhorns on November 8, 2008 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 45-21. (Photo by Brian Bahr/G
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    To be frank (not Caliendo), Robert Griffin III is one of the most exciting players in the college game.

    The problem is, that's as far as it goes for the Bears.

    After RGIII, Baylor has very little elite talent...

47. North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28:  The North Carolina State Wolfpack snap the ball during the Champs Sports Bowl against the West Virginia Mountineers at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The Wolfpack find themselves at somewhat of a fork in the road.

    Their top defensive player, LB Nate Irving, is gone to ply on Sundays, and star QB Russell Wilson is off playing baseball.

    That leaves a talented defensive squad, and an untested offensive backfield, with QB Mike Glennon and RB Mustafa Greene taking over.

    If the Wolfpack offense lives up to potential, they could challenge Florida State atop the ACC Atlantic Division.

46. Navy Midshipmen

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    Verdict: Pretender

    Navy has won at least eight games each of the last eight seasons.

    Unfortunately, the catalyst of the Midshipmen's recent success is now gone.

    Quarterback Ricky Dobbs is departed, and senior Kriss Proctor is slated to take over.

    The triple option will continue to cause nightmares for defenses, but the passing game is going to be extremely suspect.

45. UCF Knights

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    Verdict: Pretender

    Ronnie Weaver, Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey make the Knights backfield one of the deepest in the country.

    However, they have lost much of their talent on the defensive side of the ball, and replacing Bruce Miller and Derrick Hallman is going to be tough.

    The departure of Jah Reid leaves another hole on the O-Line, and while the Knights should enjoy a winning season once again, the BCS is out of the question.

44. Iowa Hawkeyes

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz (C) of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates with teammates after defeating the Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    With the solid run game the Hawkeyes will have in 2011, some of the pressure will be taken off of first year starting quarterback James Vandenberg.

    The Hawkeyes lost some receivers, but are capable of plugging guys in to fill those holes.

    The real problem starts along the defensive line.

    Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug are gone, and the Hawkeyes only return one starter from last season's dominant defensive front.

43. BYU Cougars

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    FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 16:  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall of the BYU Cougars heads his team against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  TCU beat BYU 31-3.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Bronco Mendenhall is a solid coach, but he can't get these guys to the BCS this season.

    In their first year as an independent, BYU might have the talent and experience to complete a great season.

    The problem is, they have few solid opponents.

    Texas, TCU and Utah should be tough matchups, but none of them has anybody shaking in their boots.

    Even if the Cougars finished undefeated, it might be tough to get into the BCS party.

42. SMU Mustangs

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    DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Quarterback Kyle Padron #2 of the SMU Mustangs celebrates a touchdown in the third quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on September 24, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    June Jones is a wizard with quarterbacks, and Kyle Padron has the talent to shake things up in the BCS.

    Couple that with the fact the 'Stang's offensive line is returning all five starters and leading rusher Zach Line, and you have an interesting development.

    The defense returns all of their key playmakers, and the Mustangs have a manageable schedule.

    While they are a long shot for the BCS, they certainly have the talent to make a run for it.

41. Tennessee Volunteers

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    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers watches on against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Im
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Tennessee is definitely on the track to getting back in the national picture, just not fast enough for this season.

    The offensive line that gave up TFL after TFL last season looks like they might have the ship righted, and senior RB Tauren Poole should take full advantage.

    Tyler Bray has the arm strength to make big plays, and if the offense can develop any kind of balance to its attack, they will be a tough team to stop.

40. Air Force Falcons

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    WASHINGTON - APRIL 18:  Fullback Jared Tew holds a football as U.S. President Barack Obama hosts the Air Force Academy football team at the Rose Garden April 18, 2011 at the White House in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the Air Force Academy footb
    Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The Falcons won the Commander-in-Chief's trophy in 2010 for the first time since 2002.

    However, against tougher competition like San Diego State, TCU and Utah, the Falcons had a tough time getting of the field on defense.

    Besides the defensive woes, the all-important fullback position in the triple option needs to be filled.

    Too many questions for any run at the BCS here.

39. Arizona Wildcats

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    TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 02:  Quarterback Nick Foles #8 of the Arizona Wildcats throws a pass against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on December 2, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Wildcat
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Simply put, the Wildcats just aren't there.

    They have all the tools on at the offensive "skill positions" with quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner, but the defense has holes you could drive a bus through.

    On top of that, the Wildcats have to break in a brand new offensive line, all five positions.

38. Utah Utes

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Shaky Smithson #1 of the Utah Utes runs for yardage against Derrell Acrey #52 of the Boise State Broncos during the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium December 22, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State Won 26-3.  (Phot
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The Utes are in for a brutal season.

    Quarterback Jordan Wynn is coming off a less than impressive performance when he did play last season, and the Utes are transitioning into the Pac-12.

    Even Norm Chow can't save this offense, especially since Wynn will just be coming back from a shoulder injury when the season starts.

    Utah's defensive weakness was the secondary in 2010, and unless that area is remedied, the Utes will be scorched repeatedly by the Pac-12's offenses.

37. Maryland Terrapins

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    Verdict: Contender

    Randy Edsall is a wizard, and the Terps have a gaggle of talent returning.

    Quarterback Danny O'Brien was efficient last season, and he will be joined by four returning starters on the offensive line and Davin Meggett, who was the Terps leading rusher last season.

    While Florida State does not present an easy in conference challenge, don't be surprised if Maryland sneaks up on everybody and makes the ACC championship game.

36. Miami (OH) RedHawks

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 04:  Zac Dysert #4 of the Miami University RedHawks attempts a pass while being pressured by Justin Trattou #94 of the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 4, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Gree
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The RedHawks are potent on offense.

    Zac Dysert and Austin Boucher (no relation to Bobby) are both quite capable quarterbacks, and the O-Line is returning four starters.

    That being said, Miami has to find a tailback that can produce on a consistent basis, but the defense returns every starter and significant backup in the front seven.

    Miami RedHawks 2011's BCS Buster?

35. Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

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    NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 04:  Quarterback G.J. Kinne #4 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes scrambles with the football against the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome on September 4, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.   The Hurricanes defeated the Green
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    G.J. Kinne and the offense are a dynamic, explosive bunch that can put points up in a hurry.

    All-purpose star Damaris Johnson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and the Golden Hurricanes developed an effective run game.

    All that being said, they have a new head coach and don't have enough defense to make it through the season undefeated, which it would take for them to make the BCS.

34. Northwestern Wildcats

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats encourages his team as they take on the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo b
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Check this out.

    The Wildcats get both Michigan schools and Penn State at home, don't play Wisconsin or Ohio State, and have a less than imposing non-con schedule.

    On top of that, the 'Cats dual threat quarterback, Dan Persa, is back with another year of experience.

    Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has things looking up for the perennial Big Ten doormat.

33. Miami Hurricanes

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    EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Jacory Harris #12 of the Miami Hurricanes throws against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Hyundai Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Miami is not back.

    Al Golden is just the man to bring them back, but they need another year or two.

    This season, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris will battle for the starting QB position, and the 'Canes have explosive ballplayers on both sides of the ball.

    However, until they demonstrate some level of consistency on the football field, all the hype is just that, hype.

32. Texas Longhorns

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert #8 rushes during the first half against Texas A&M at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    For the second straight year, Texas won't even sniff a BCS game.

    The 'Horns will be lucky to finish 7-5, especially if QB Garrett Gilbert and their defense make no significant progress before the season starts.

    Mack Brown might want to think about retiring and running for senator since Jim Tressel's rep is too tarnished at this point.

31. USC Trojans

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans signals during the game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  Notre Dame won 20-16.  (Photo by Stephe
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Verdict: Irrelevant

    With the NCAA's upholding USC appeals goes any chance of the Trojans making a bowl game—they are banned.

    That being said, Matt Barkley is a top five quarterback, and the Trojans have some serious athletic talent.

    Oh, and Lane Kiffin is everyone's new favorite guy in L.A.

    It's OK, Trojan fans, your team isn't winning yet. You can come back and pretend like you care next season.

30. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    STATE COLLEGE - NOVEMBER 22:  Joe Paterno head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions acknowledges the crowd prior to the game against the Michigan State Spartans on November 22, 2008 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent
    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    JoePa is old.

    The Lions have no reliable quarterback.

    It will be a long year in Happy Valley.

    While the secondary should be a solid unit, the Nittany Lions need some help in the front seven.

    No one has stepped up to this point in a big enough way to make us believe they will be dominant on defense to atone for a few deficiencies on offense.

29. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  The North Carolina Tar Heels huddle against the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The Tar Heels are a somewhat forgotten commodity in the ACC.

    Florida State and Va. Tech get all the press, but the Heels have the talent and experience to make a run at the conference crown.

    Defensive end Quinton Coples leads a unit that could be dominant.

    Bryn Renner is going to have some growing pains taking over the reigns of the offense from the departed T.J. Yates, but coach Butch Davis is the man to help him.

    Expect big things from these guys this season.

28. Michigan Wolverines

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 16:  Head football coach Brady Hoke talks with Denard Robinson #16 during the annual Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on April 16, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The Wolverines have five straight games in the comfort of the "Big House" before they venture on the road.

    Notre Dame might be a tough one, but the rest are easily manageable.

    The problem is, immediately following that stretch, the Wolverines must travel to Northwestern and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks.

    The Wildcats are no pushover, and the Spartans are flat out good.

    In Brady Hoke's first year, it will be obvious Michigan has made strides, but they will not quite win the conference.

27. San Diego State Aztecs

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Ryan Lindley #14 of the San Deigo State Aztecs throws a pass against the Utah Utes at Qualcomm Stadium on November 20, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Ryan Lindley is quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but he gets overshadowed by running back Ronnie Hillman.

    The Aztecs could be Nevada to Boise State this season, especially with the level of offensive talent they can throw on the field.

    San Diego State's unique 3-3-5 defense will gel this season under Rocky Long, and the Aztecs will be a threat to every team they face.

26. Pitt Panthers

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    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Tino Sunseri #12 of the Pittsburgh Panthers throws the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo by An
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    This is emphatic.

    The Panthers lost Dion Lewis, and Tino Sunseri is not the second coming of Dan Marino.

    Couple this with a new head coach and a tougher than average schedule, and the Panthers are in for a long season.

25. Florida Gators

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - APRIL 9:  Quarterback John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators runs from the pocket in front of coach Will Muschamp during the Orange and Blue spring football game April 9, 2011 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    John Brantley looked as lost in the new offense as he did in the old one.

    The loss of Janoris Jenkins was a blow, but Coach Muschamp did the right thing.

    The Gators should be slightly improved over the 2010 version, but not much.

    The offensive line, which has at times last season been compared to a sieve, has a year of experience under it's collective belt, but will still struggle at times.

    Muschamp is the right guy for the job, but give him a year.

24. Missouri Tigers

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    COLUMBIA, MO - NOVEMBER 13:  Michael Egnew #82  of the Missouri Tigers congratulates T.J.Moe #28 with a chest bump after Moe scored a touchdown during the game against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 13, 2010 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Colu
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The Tigers have enjoyed success in a six team division filled with powerhouses such as Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Colorado.

    Now the harsh reality of the new Big XII sets in.

    To win the conference, the Tigers must find a way to beat Oklahoma consistently, get past Oklahoma State and succeed against a rejuvenated Texas A&M program.

    While the Tigers have some talented experience returning, the level of competition just took a step up.

    Good luck.

23. Georgia Bulldogs

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Mark Richt and Hairy, mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs, celebrate their 42-34 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The Dawgs get Mississippi State and Auburn at home, as well as South Carolina, and avoid altogether LSU and Alabama.

    Florida's woes leave work to the Dawgs advantage, and if Georgia can get past rival South Carolina, the road looks pretty wide-open to the SEC championship game.

    That being said, the Dawgs are not exactly boasting an explosive offense, especially with A.J. Green gone, and it could be a long year if they don't have the answers, quickly.

22. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28: Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountineers warms up during the Champs Sports Bowl against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Ge
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    And not only because someone from the Big East has to make the BCS.

    New offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has the offense clicking on all cylinders, and quarterback Geno Smith may be a dark horse Heisman candidate.

    The defense was drained of playmakers last season, but the Mountaineers look more than capable of plugging the holes before the season starts.

    Losing RB Noel Devine is a blow, but if anyone can solve such problems, it's Holgorsen.

21. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Running back Vick Ballard #28 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs rushes against the Michigan Wolverines during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    In another conference, the Bulldogs might be considered contenders, but the SEC is too tough this season.

    Running back Vick Ballard and quarterback Chris Relf are two of the most dynamic rushers in the conference, but State lacks the talent on defense to hang with the superior offenses in the SEC.

    All three of the Bulldogs leading tacklers are gone, and it's going to be tough to replace that kind of productions.

    On top of that, State is trying to plug the hole left when tackle Derek Sherrod left for the NFL.

20. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 04:  (L-R) Gregory Smith #17, head coach Dennis Erickson, Vontaze Burfict #7 and Keelan Johnson #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils lead teammates out onto the field prior the college football game against the Portland State Vikings
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Quarterback Brock Osweiler will more than fill the shoes of the departed Steven Threet.

    He has a huge arm and surprising mobility.

    Dennis Erickson has the Sun Devils back into contention, finally.

    The defense is definitely the strongest unit, led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

    The man is a monster.

    If he can control his emotions, and the the Devils can get corner Omar Bolden back to form in time for conference play, they have a great shot at making the Pac-12 title game

19. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Bo Pelini (R) of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini lead their team against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners beat the Cornhusk
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    The picture says it all.

    While the Huskers are definitely a talented bunch, they did not exactly do much to inspire confidence at the end of last season.

    Besides that, the Huskers have a brutal conference schedule in the Big Ten, including trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan.

    The Huskers host Ohio State and Michigan State.

    Unless they develop some cohesiveness as an offensive unit, the Huskers will struggle with Big Ten defenses.

18. TCU Horned Frogs

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers is hit by linebacker Tank Carder #43 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Hey, the Horned Frogs accomplished great things last season.

    But that was last season.

    Casey Paschall is going to be a solid replacement for quarterback Andy Dalton, and Gary Paterson will have a receiver ready to take Jeremy Kerley's place.

    However, you don't just replace talent like Jake Kirkpatrick and Marcus Cannon on the offensive line.

    Granted, the Horned Frogs will be a good team yet again, as they prepare for the jump to the Big East, but their schedule is not conducive to consecutive BCS appearances, especially with a trip to Boise State in the offing.

17. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Frank Beamer of the Virginia Tech Hokies at Bank of America Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Quarterback Logan Thomas is an adequate replacement for the departed Tyrod Taylor, and David Wilson may be the most explosive RB in the ACC.

    Beyond that, the Hokies have a a solid defensive unit, and coach Frank  Beamer always has his special teams ready to go.

    While Thomas does not have the athletic ability out of the pocket that Taylor did, he has a better arm, and the Hokies should get off to a better start than last season.

    Expect an FSU vs. Va. Tech rematch in the ACC Championship.

16. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    ATLANTA - DECEMBER 4:  Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the 2010 SEC Championship against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty I
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The Gamecocks have a stellar offensive unit, loaded with playmakers such as WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Marcus Lattimore.

    Even with QB Stephen Garcia's suspension, SC will have a solid offensive unit.

    However, the big story is going to be the defense.

    The Gamecocks front seven dominated last season, but the secondary allowed anyone who could throw a forward pass to absolutely decimate them.

    The D-Line gets better with an impressive recruiting class, and the secondary should be better with more experience and a few tweaks.

15. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthe
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    You can say until you are blue in the face that the Buckeyes will pick up where they left off last season, but it just ain't so.

    You don't just "replace" an incredible athlete such as Terrelle Pryor for five games.

    While the schedule is manageable during the suspensions, one big contest looms.

    The Buckeyes face off against Michigan State in their last game before everyone returns from their five game suspensions.

    As if that one is not going to be tough enough, OSU then has to tangle with Big Ten newcomer Nebraska the following week.

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Knile Davis #7 of the Arkansas Razorbacks runs the ball in the second half against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ch
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Why?

    The defense is the best seen at Arkansas in a while.

    Bobby Petrino has one most talented group of receivers in the country, and Knile Davis leads a stable of punishing backs.

    The Hogs may have something special brewing in Fayetteville

13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Running back Cierre Wood #20 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes during the Hyundai Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Im
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    Look, we hear every year about how the Irish might be back, and every year it seems they find a way to lose.

    This year is different.

    Across the board, the Irish look to be an improved unit, especially after a great recruiting class.

    LB Manti Te'o leads a solid defense that will get a big boost from freshman DE Aaron Lynch.

    While the quarterback position is not exactly the most solid in the country, the Irish have two serviceable starting quarterbacks in Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist.

    The schedule is brutal, but the Irish have the talent to make it to the BCS.

12. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Verdict: Contender

    The Big Ten is going to be wide-open, and the Badgers are as good of a candidate to take the conference as the next guy.

    The Badgers' biggest hole is at quarterback, where Jon Budmayr will attempt to fill in for the departed Scott Tolzien.

    Montee Ball and James White are an incredibly explosive rushing combo and will be tough to stop.

    The Badgers also lost J.J. Watt to the draft, but get star linebacker Chris Borland back on the field after he missed most of last season with an injury.

    If the Badgers can somehow overcome back-to-back road games against Ohio State and Michigan State, they have a shot at the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive year.

11. Auburn Tigers

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers leads his team onto the field to face the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Will the Tigers have a winning season?

    Yes.

    Will they get back to the BCS?

    No.

    Losing four offensive linemen and two wide receivers is the biggest obstacle Auburn has to overcome.

    They seem to have the talent to fill the holes at linebacker and defensive tackle, but if they can't protect the quarterback, it won't matter.

10. Michigan State Spartans

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans walks to the sideline during a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions on November 27, 2010 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Spartans won 28
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    The Spartans have the potential to be better than last season.

    The offensive backfield is absolutely loaded, and the defensive unit is resplendent with great athletes and playmakers.

    The question for the Spartans is whether they can replace their leading tackler and vocal leader Greg Jones, and his sidekick Eric Gordon at linebacker.

    The Spartans special teams may be the best in the nation.

    On top of all that, they get Ohio State during their suspensions, and they get Wisconsin at home for the second year in a row.

9. Boise State Broncos

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    BOISE, ID - NOVEMBER 19:  Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos passes against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bronco Stadium on November 19, 2010 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)
    Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Honestly, it hurts to say this, but the Broncos have a shot this season.

    It's hard to see them losing, with the exception of a possible slip-up against Georgia.

    While their level of competition is a wee bit stronger than it has been, they are still not playing in a BCS conference, so they may have a hard time getting into the championship game, but it's not tough to imagine Kellen Moore leading the Broncos to a BCS at-large berth in a different contest.

    Doug Martin and Moore will power a very potent offense, and the defensive front seven is loaded, but the secondary may be an issues that has to be resolved quickly, before games against pass-happy Georgia and Tulsa.

8. Texas A&M Aggies

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  Mike Sherman, head coach of Texas A&M, joins players in a post-game singing of the Aggie War Hymn following Texas A&M's 24-17 win over the University of Texas at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Au
    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Any team with the backfield talent boasted by the Aggies is going to be a contender.

    Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray make up one of the top three backfield rushing duos in the country.

    If the offensive line can keep Ryan Tannehill upright, this offense will be tough to stop.

    With 18 starters returning, the Aggies seem poised to challenge the Big XII front runners for conference supremacy.

7. Stanford Cardinal

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he threw a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Virginai Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miam
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    Andrew Luck just might be the best quarterback in college football.

    That being said, the Cardinals have too many questions to be legit contenders for the BCS.

    From the loss of Owen Marecic and coach Harbaugh, to the fact that only two O-Linemen are returning and one D-lineman, there are more holes at Stanford than in Swiss cheese.

    The Cardinals have a favorable schedule, missing Arizona State, but Oregon is clearly the cream of the crop in their division of the Pac-12.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 20:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in action during the game against  the Kansas Jayhawks on November 20, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    The Cowboys seem to be making progress along the defensive side of the ball.

    They are still not a top five defensive unit, but even a serviceable defense is good enough to let this explosive offense win several games.

    The Cowboys must contend with the Sooners for Big XII supremacy, and an at-large bid or even Big XII championship is not out of the question.

    Besides, Justin Blackmon is a monster...

5. Oregon Ducks

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    CORVALLIS, OR - DECEMBER 4: An Oregon Ducks fan holds up a sign featuring head coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter of the game against the the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Corvallis, Oregon. The Ducks
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    This sign is so true.

    Chip Kelly is a genius.

    Even with the attrition the Ducks have suffered, their offense is set to become even more potent.

    Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler are great receivers who will help spread the field for LaMichael James to do work.

    While the Ducks may have a challenger in upstart Arizona State, they will have a pretty good handle on the new Pac-12

4. LSU Tigers

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers talks wthi his team during a timeout against the Texas A&M Aggies during the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on January 7, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Pretender

    For all the hype surrounding the new, improved Jordan Jefferson coming out of spring ball, he was nowhere to be found.

    To most people, he looked like the same old inconsistent, inaccurate Jefferson.

    No doubt, LSU will be a very solid team, but with the level of play in the SEC this season, it's tough to see them making the BCS.

    Now, if Jefferson comes out and is consistent, they will be tough to beat, but if they cannot score, they will have a tough time in an explosive offensive conference.

3. Florida State Seminoles

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Nigel Bradham #13 of the Florida State Seminoles against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    Let's settle this once for all.

    E.J. Manuel has had the experience while his starting quarterback was injured to be able to lead the 'Noles next season.

    On top of that, the defense seems to be gelling, and if they make progress from last season, this defensive unit could be elite.

    Even if FSU falls to the Sooners early in the season, they should have no problem coming out on top in a less than great ACC.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 13: Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide directs play against the Mississippi State Bulldogs November 13, 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Verdict: Contender

    Who cares about which guy plays quarterback?

    Whether Nick Saban starts A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims, the offense will hum along like a well oiled machine.

    The only reason the Tide is not a lock is the simple fact that the SEC is ridiculously deep this season.

    While 'Bamahas the talent and experience to get to the BCS, no SEC team is a lock, but the Tide might be the closest thing to it.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Ryan Broyles #85 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs after a catch against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Pet
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Verdict: Lock

    Yes, the Sooners are going to be good.

    Yes, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles are going to be exciting to watch.

    No, the Sooners will not have any trouble replacing DeMarco Murray.

    All that aside, the Sooners may have trouble when they travel to Florida to battle the Seminoles, but it won't stop them from winning the Big XII.

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