Preview 2012 - Race For The BCS, The Other 10
Which teams have the best shot of getting to the big money games?
Teams In The BCS Race
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- The Race For The BCS - The Top Ten
The major preseason polls have spoken, as have
everyone else with a voice as the start of the 2012 season lurks just around the corner. There's a general acceptance that some combination of USC, LSU and Alabama represent college football's best programs, with any number of teams from across the country lining up behind them. But who among the contenders has the best chance of playing in one of the game's five major bowl games, occupying one of those
ten coveted spots in the postseason?
When it comes to the BCS, talent and production will only get you so far—just ask the 2011 Arkansas squad, which finished the regular season ranked No. 6, yet still topped out in the Cotton Bowl. When sizing up the most dangerous contenders to be on the grandest stages in January, it's important to tally the number of hurdles to the Promised Land. Obviously, personnel matters, but so does the level of competition, surroundings and overall reputation for when at-large bids get doled out.
20. Notre Dame
Any Irish team capable of winning nine or 10 games has to be considered a threat for a BCS bowl invitation. Like it or not, no program on the planet makes bowl officials giddier than Notre Dame. Such is the lure of the Irish. The Domers boast a pretty good squad entering 2012, especially if the quarterback situation can be sorted out. But, oh, that schedule has more thorns than the Rose Parade inventory. Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and USC are all on the docket. In other words, ND can lose a couple, yet remain firmly in the BCS bowl hunt.
The Cardinal is headed south in the year after Andrew Luck, but just how far will the team slip? Stanford has appeared in back-to-back BCS bowl, beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and falling in overtime to Oklahoma State a year ago. Hope for a three-peat mandates that recently-named starter Josh Nunes adequately supplants Luck, and the line endures without All-Americans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. The linebacker-led D and ground game ought to be up to snuff, and the defining, Nov. 17 trip to Eugene occurs late enough to give the new hurler time to develop. Stanford must beat at least the Ducks or USC on Sept. 15 to have a shot at appearing a marquee game.
18. Boise State
Based on this year's crop of potential BCS busters, there's a very good chance that no AQ programs will be represented in one of the five majors. Still, you never want to doubt Boise State or venerable head coach Chris Petersen, who's lost six times in six years. Obviously, the Broncos have lost a ton of talent from last season's 12-1 squad, most notably record-setting QB Kellen Moore. New starters are being broken in everywhere, with Joe Southwick pegged as Moore's heir apparent. Boise State will know right away if it's a contender in 2012. Beat Michigan State in East Lansing next Friday, and the BCS is in play. Lose, and a Mountain West title becomes the new ceiling.
17. West Virginia
If you're going to take a step up in weight class, it helps to do it with an elite quarterback, a high-scoring offense and a head coach with recent experience in the new league. The Mountaineers begin life in the Big 12 with a full head of steam and visions of a second straight BCS bowl berth under Dana Holgorsen. The offense is tailor-made for the conference, with QB Geno Smith set to make a significant national splash. The D, on the other hand, is a work-in-progress. Unlike in the days of the Big East, West Virginia is going to get tested on a week-in, week-out basis now that it's competing in a far deeper league.
16. Michigan State
Admittedly, it's a big hole, but if the Spartans can fill hole left by Kirk Cousins, they might be as close to a Big Ten title as anyone in the Legends Division. The D is as nasty as any in the conference, with all-star playmakers roaming each level. The ground game is now in the able mitts of junior Le'Veon Bell, a breakout candidate who'll navigate from behind a veteran line. It all comes down to the new quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, who has attempted 51 career passes. The toughest stretch of a rugged schedule begins with an Oct. 20 trip to Ann Arbor, and continues with successive games against Wisconsin and Nebraska.
15. South Carolina
The Gamecocks achieved numerous milestones in last year's 11-win campaign, but are still looking for their first-ever BCS bowl appearance. Might this be the year Steve Spurrier guides the program to a new threshold? Star RB Marcus Lattimore is making a triumphant return from a knee injury, and a tenacious D-line will help gloss over question marks in the back seven. Even more will be asked of junior QB Connor Shaw as he enters his second full season as the starter. South Carolina's biggest roadblock, particularly compared to SEC East rival Georgia, will be a slate of games with few breathers. From the Sept. 22 visit from Mizzou to the Nov. 24 trip to Clemson, the ‘Cocks will face seven teams with Top 25 aspirations, including back-to-back road games at LSU and Florida.
After piloting the Wolverines to the Sugar Bowl in his debut on the sidelines, Brady Hoke is determined to make BCS bowl games the norm around Ann Arbor. In QB Denard Robinson, the coach will once again be spearheaded by one of the most electrifying playmakers in the country. While No. 16 is a proven commodity, particularly with his legs, Michigan needs holdovers to step up for some of last year's key cogs, such as WR Junior Hemingway and D-linemen Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin. The Legends Division is the tougher viaduct to the Big Ten title game, and could be decided in back-to-back tilts with Michigan State on Oct. 20 and Nebraska on Oct. 27.
The Tigers are pining for a BCS do-over after getting shellacked by West Virginia in last year's Orange Bowl. The offense will once again rock behind the trio of QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington and WR Sammy Watkins, but the growth of the D will determine this program's upper limits. The new man in charge at coordinator will be Brant Venables, who was lured away from Oklahoma to help make Clemson a more complete team. The Tigers are co-favorites along with Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division, but must trek south to Tallahassee in Week 4 for the league's undisputed game of the year.
Just like so many schools around the country, the Longhorns' reach will be directly related to the play of the quarterbacks. David Ash and Case McCoy are both expected to play in the opener versus Wyoming, which might be code for neither having wowed the coaching staff. Texas has a championship-caliber D for coordinator Manny Diaz, but if the offense is unable to find the fuse, it'll be difficult to capture a Big 12 typically governed by high-scoring programs. Long before Halloween, everyone is going to know just how far this program might ascend in 2012. In a bellwether three-game stretch that begins on Sept. 29, UT will travel to Stillwater, host West Virginia and square off with Oklahoma in Dallas. The ‘Horns are better, but are they BCS-better for the first since the 2009 BCS National Game?
If the Hogs resided just about anywhere else, they'd be sitting pretty as far as the BCS race is concerned. However home is the SEC West, which is also where powerhouses Alabama and LSU are located. The good news? Both the Tide and the Tigers must travel to Fayetteville this fall. Provided RB Knile Davis can shed a season's worth of rust, Arkansas is poised to raise the bar on offense after leading the conference a year ago. The defense has its work cut out for it, and it remains to be seen how much this program is going to miss Bobby Petrino's sideline aura. The Hogs have a shot to author a memorable campaign if it can finish no lower than second in college football's plushest division.
- The Race For The BCS - The Top Ten