Preview 2012 - Race For The BCS, Top Ten
Which teams have the best shot of getting to the big money games?
The BCS Race, The Top Ten
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- The Race For The BCS -
The Other 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
10 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.
The Bulldogs are the favorite to win the SEC East. Aaron Murray is one of the country's premier quarterbacks, the defense ought to be fantastic and Alabama, LSU and Arkansas are off the schedule for a second straight year. The Oct. 6 trip to Columbia to face South Carolina might dictate whether or not Georgia will make a return engagement in the SEC Championship Game. While the Dawgs figure to be in the BCS discussion all year, nothing really matters unless they can survive a date in Atlanta with the Crimson Tide, Tigers or Razorbacks on Dec. 1. If, like last December, Georgia is no match for the SEC West winner, the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl could be the postseason destination.
9. Virginia Tech
With a Labor Day win over Georgia Tech, the Hokies will already be halfway to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and a Dec. 1 date with the Atlantic Division champ. Yup, the Coastal Division of the ACC is really that scrawny this season. Virginia Tech is pretty talented as well. With QB Logan Thomas set to blossom into a mega-star, and Bud Foster's defense as feisty as ever, the Gobblers have their sights fixed on a sixth Atlantic Coast Conference championship since joining the league in 2004. Unless this team completely flops during the regular season, it could be staring at a one-game bid versus either Florida State or Clemson to earn an automatic BCS bowl berth.
The Badgers are the Big Ten's version of Virginia Tech -- it's awfully hard not to pencil them into the Big Ten Championship Game, even this far out. Penn State and especially Ohio State are ineligible in the Leaders Division, meaning Wisconsin only has to trump Illinois, Purdue and Indiana to make a return engagement to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Heck, the schedule is so manageable that even a loss to the Legends Division winner might not completely eliminate Bret Bielema's team from at-large contention. RB Montee Ball will again be the horse, and the D is working to improve against the run. However, all eyes will be on transfer QB Danny O'Brien, who won't need to be Russell Wilson, but will need to keep defenses honest.
7. Florida State
The Seminoles possess the talent to win the ACC and earn a first BCS bowl bid since 2005, but skeptics have heard those suggestions many times before. Heck, wasn't last season supposed to be Florida State's long-awaited return to the glory years? Instead, it lost three straight games, and four in total, and wrapped up the year in the Champs Sports Bowl. Still, there's a lot to like about the 2012 edition. QB EJ Manuel is a senior, head coach Jimbo Fisher has planted roots and both sides of the ball are flush with returning starters. The ‘Noles host Clemson on Sept. 22 in a clash that'll go a long way to determining who represents the Atlantic Division in the conference championship game. FSU would be an attractive at-large contender, but only if it can avoid a third loss before invitations are dispersed.
Chip Kelly decided to stay in Eugene, putting off the NFL for now. Everything else can be figured out. Even with a retooled backfield, Kelly's run-based spread will hum behind the big-play ability of RB Kenjon Barner and do-everything De'Anthony Thomas. As an added bonus, the Ducks D and special teams will be among the best in the Pac-12, absorbing some of the pressure from the new quarterback. The Ducks have actually widened their margin in the North Division, and get Stanford and Washington at Autzen Stadium. However, a .500 UCLA squad won't be waiting for Oregon if it makes it back to the league title game. USC is back as the prohibitive favorite in the South Division, adding a bunch of new potholes in Oregon's journey back to Pasadena.
Despite losing a ton of talent, Nick Saban and Alabama are back in the national title discussion.
Just how good has the Crimson Tide become under Nick Saban?
The program was raided by the NFL in the offseason, yet still
remains on the short list of schools expected to contend for a
national championship. 'Bama is built these days to reload on the fly, courtesy of crackerjack recruiting and player development. As the defense gradually adapts to life with seven new starters, the AJ McCarron-led offense will assume a larger role than it had in 2011. The O-line might be the most assertive in the country, capable of turning Eddie Lacy or any number of the team's backs into a star. The schedule, though, is littered with landmines, like road trips to play Arkansas and LSU, which might keep the Tide out of the SEC Championship Game for a second straight year.
The Tigers lost just once in 2011, but it was a pivotal one to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. The program is determined to get back to the mountaintop this fall behind a predictably ferocious D, an ace special teams unit and a north-south running game that few opponents will slow down. The wild card in Baton Rouge will be new QB Zach Mettenberger, who appears to be an upgrade from Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. The schedule is prickly, but such is life as a member of the SEC West. LSU does get the rematch with the Crimson Tide in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 3, though road games at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas are capable of leaving permanent scars.
The Sooners will begin the year as the favorite in the Big 12, a conference whose voyage to an automatic BCS bowl does not include the added hurdle of a league title game. Oklahoma -- and QB Landry Jones -- will carry a chip on their shoulders all year, after stumbling down the stretch in 2011. The program has a lot to prove to critics who feel that this school has a knack for coming up small at least once or twice every season. While the Sooners are capable of roaring through the first two months of the season, they'll again be defined by how they finish, with season-ending games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU.
Matt Barkley and USC are at the top of the list of BCS bowl contenders.
The Trojans are emerging from the NCAA paddy wagon with arguably the most talented starting lineup this side of the SEC. And they won't have to face SEC competition on a week-to-week basis. Now, the Pac-12 has its speed bumps, but most occupy the North Division. Winning the South Division ought to be a breeze for USC, which returns QB Matt Barkley and a cadre of future high NFL Draft picks. If Troy can defeat Oregon, either in the Coliseum on Nov. 3 or in the league title game a month later, a triumphant return to the postseason will greet the program. Barring injuries that chip away at the program's already tenuous depth, it's hard to envision USC not BCS bowling in January.
1. Some Undeserving Big East Team
For two more years, no one will have a less complicated blueprint for a BCS berth than the members of the watered-down Big East conference. The league was virtually ignored by preseason polls, yet its winner will enjoy the spoils of participating in one of college football's five marquee postseason events. That's a shame, but that's also the reality until the system changes in 2014. So, everyone from Louisville and Cincinnati to Rutgers and South Florida will be treating 2012 as a uniquely attainable opportunity to make a national splash and an awful lot of cash. Boise State, among others, will be heading east in 2013, so now is the time to capitalize on a broken system that might end up rewarding a school that isn't even ranked at the end of the regular season.
And then there's the possibility that one team rises up among
the fray and dominates like 2009 Cincinnati, 2007 West Virginia
or 2006 Louisville did, with all three coming within a heartbeat
of playing for it all. Had West Virginia stuck around the Big
East for one more year instead of bolting for the Big 12, it
would've been front-and-center in the national title chase, but
if one current team can put together a special season, the
league will be there for the taking and a BCS title shot could
be in the discussion.
- The Race For The BCS -
The Other Ten