Preview 2013 - The Race For The BCS
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Which teams have the best shot of getting to the big money games?
The BCS Race, The Top Ten
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The 2012 Race For The BCS
- The 2013 Race For The BCS -
The Other Ten
While the FBS has swelled to 125 programs, only a small fraction of that crowd will begin 2013 with a realistic shot of playing for a national championship.
Sure, everyone is technically in the running, and a school or two is bound to emerge in October as an improbable, albeit fleeting, contender. But, the population of legitimate threats to appear in the Jan. 6 finale, the BCS's parting shot, is around a dozen programs; maybe 15 or 16 if the umbrella of possibilities gets expanded just a little wider.
So, who has the best odds of appearing in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game? For this debate, teams are ranked by their likelihood of reaching Pasadena, so schedules have been factored into the analysis. In other words, the order of teams is not solely a strict review of talent on its own.
They've got a shot because … head coach Will Muschamp has changed the culture in Gainesville after just two seasons. The Gators darn near played for a national championship in 2012, fueled by one of America's best defenses. That D is going to be stout and quick to the backfield again this fall.
They'll fall short because … the offense remains a question mark after ranking 103rd nationally a season ago. Still-evolving QB Jeff Driskel is surrounded by a so-so supporting cast of skill players. And incomplete teams will struggle to survive a schedule that includes games with Miami, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.
They've got a shot because … they're LSU. In order words, the personnel, both on the field and on the sidelines, is gifted enough to overcome turnover on the two-deep. As usual, there'll be no shortage of athleticism on either side of the ball, and the offense should get a lift now that second-year QB Zach Mettenberger is being mentored by coordinator Cam Cameron.
They'll fall short because … Even by their standard, the Tigers lost an unusual number of players to graduation and early entry to the NFL Draft. The return of just three starters will make the defense a little easier to navigate than in the past. With trips to Georgia and Alabama, and visits from Florida and Texas A&M, LSU will struggle to win the SEC West.
They've got a shot because … the Tajh Boyd-led offense is among the most prolific in college football, and the D figures to keep improving under second-year coordinator Brent Venables. Clemson faces just three landmines all year, two of which, Georgia and Florida State, will visit Death Valley.
They'll fall short because … Steve Spurrier owns Dabo Swinney. Clemson has lost four straight to in-state rival South Carolina, and must travel to Columbia in the Nov. 30 regular-season finale. The Gamecocks, specifically Jadeveon Clowney, are in the Tigers' heads. And a loss this late in the year cannot be overcome by a championship contender.
7. South Carolina
They've got a shot because … Steve Spurrier has overcome a slow start in Columbia to turn the Gamecocks into a perennial power. South Carolina has one elite defender, Jadeveon Clowney, two capable quarterbacks and just three scary games on the schedule. The slate is very manageable by SEC standards, including getting Florida and Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium.
They'll fall short because … the offense is just middling enough to force the team into a bunch of cliffhangers, a couple of which it won't survive. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are steady distributors, but who makes things happen now that RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Ace Sanders are gone?
6. Texas A&M
They've got a shot because … as long as Johnny Manziel is an amateur, the offense is as potent and high-scoring as any in the game. Along with the reigning Heisman winner, A&M also has 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans and a Ben Malena-led backfield that's added Brandon Williams from Oklahoma and Tra Carson from Oregon. The Ags get Bama in College Station, while missing the SEC East's three best teams, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
They'll fall short because … the defense will labor to successfully insert seven new starters into the lineup. As good as the offense is, problems on D and special teams will haunt the Aggies as they attempt to capture college football's toughest league. At some point, Johnny Football mania is bound to create the kind of distraction that costs this team on the field.
They've got a shot because … the offense gives them a shot of winning every game on the schedule. The backfield boasts a sensational balance of Aaron Murray's passing and the running of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. While the schedule is unforgiving, most of the rugged games occur early enough to give the Dawgs a chance to get on a roll when voters are paying closest attention.
They'll fall short because … it's a particularly challenging year to be breaking in eight new defensive starters. No school opens with a tougher first month than Georgia, which gets Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in just the first four games. The Dawgs' recent problems with the Gamecocks could shift them into the slow lane to Pasadena just two weeks into 2013.
4. Ohio State
They've got a shot because … they're the clear-cut class of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes harbor the league's best offensive and defensive player, QB Braxton Miller and LB Ryan Shazier, respectively, to go along with a solid supporting cast. It's Year 2 for Urban Meyer, who went 34-4 combined in his second seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. It's possible that Ohio State won't be an underdog in a 2013 game.
They'll fall short because … the defense lost a lot of leadership and playmakers from 2012. The Buckeyes also have fewer margins for error than other contenders, because their schedule lacks much bite. They don't face a preseason top 15 opponent, making a perfect season kind of a prerequisite for playing in Pasadena on Jan. 6.
They've got a shot because … the offense will be as flashy and as a tough to contain as ever. The attack averaged almost 50 points a game in 2012, when Marcus Mariota was a rookie. What's next now that the quarterback has a full season in the vault? Whatever kinks exist on the two-deep can be worked out against an early schedule tailor-made for a 5-0 start.
They'll fall short because … you don't get better by losing a coach of Chip Kelly's caliber. Yeah, the Ducks should roll like usual, but at some important juncture of the season, Kelly's in-game adjustments will be missed. Nov. 7, for instance, at Stanford, the team that ended Oregon's BCS National Championship dreams in Eugene last year.
They've got a shot because … they're now a winning machine. Coaches and quarterbacks have changed, yet the defending Pac-12 champ has now been to three straight BCS bowl games. The Cardinal's formula for success of a sturdy defense and an assertive O-line will be in full bloom once again in 2013. Most of Stanford's crucial games, such as Oregon, Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Cal and Notre Dame, will take place on the Farm.
They'll fall short because … the second-half schedule will wear them down. Stanford's final six games are downright nasty, a series of successive challenges that might break any contender on this list. The Cardinal will need to remain healthy and focused in order to navigate a slate that concludes with UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, USC, rival Cal and Notre Dame.
They've got a shot because … the roster is littered with players who know what's required to win a championship. The Tide has won back-to-back national titles, and the coach-quarterback of Nick Saban and AJ McCarron, respectively, is the hands-down best in America. The starters change, but the talent in Tuscaloosa remains among the most elite in college football. By SEC standards, the schedule is tailor-made for a historic three-peat.
They'll fall short because … the Week 2 mega-showdown with Texas A&M will take place in College Station. 'Bama does not rebuild, but both lines are getting makeovers, and the opener with Virginia Tech might not provide enough reps for the new starters to get acclimated. A loss at Kyle Field could have the Tide playing catch-up in the SEC West all year.
- The 2013 Race For The BCS -
The Other Ten