The 20 Big Questions ... No.
With spring ball underway, it's time to start diving into the 2009
season ... no, it's not way too early. Here are the 20 Big Questions to
start off the offseason.
19. Who's Going To Be This Year's BCS Buster?
The non-BCS conference team that crashes the BCS party
needs to be 1) unbeaten, 2) have a signature win against a BCS team, and
3) a lot of luck. Boise State had the first two parts of the equation
last season but was unceremoniously blown past by a two-loss Ohio State
team on the way to the Fiesta Bowl.
The BCS bowls want the big names and the big
teams, and while Boise State, Utah, TCU and BYU are just a few of the
(don't use the term around fans of the non-BCS teams) "mid-majors" who
have more than earned their stripes, they still need every break in the
book to get one of the cherished ten spots. Remember, six of the ten
spots are automatically gone to the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac
10, and SEC champions, leaving four spots open. Outside of a complete
and utter disaster, the SEC and Big 12 are 99.9% certain to get a second
team in. The Big Ten, mainly because of great records in the suddenly
mediocre conference, is also almost certain of getting a second invite.
Realistically, that leaves two open spots available each season.
One of those spots has to go to a non-BCS team that finishes in one
finishes in the top 12 of the final BCS rankings, or if a team finishes
in the top 16 and is higher than a team that gets an automatic berth.
For example, if Boise State finishes 16th in the BCS rankings and
Virginia Tech 11th, but Florida State wins the ACC Championship and
finishes 18th in the BCS rankings, Boise State would automatically be in
along with FSU.
Why does this matter so much? As is, the little
guys (the non-BCS conferences) receive nine percent of the net revenues,
just under $10 million total, to divide up 51 ways as part of the
overall deal. Each team's share of the pie is tip money for a program
like Florida or Oklahoma. With Utah getting in last year, that meant an
additional nine percent (around $9.5 million) went to the Mountain West.
Meanwhile, each BCS league got $18 million to divide up among its teams
for having a team automatically in the show. When Ohio State got the
invite to the Fiesta Bowl over Boise State, that meant the non-BCS
leagues missed out on an extra $4.5 million that ended up going to the
Big Ten, not to mention the difference in dollars for Boise State and
the WAC for going to the Poinsettia Bowl instead of the Fiesta.
Got it? It's this simple. The non-BCS teams want to get in because they
need the money a whole bunch more than the big guys do. So it all comes
down to how good the teams are and the schedule's they play. With that
in mind, here are the five most likely BCS busters.
The Wolf Pack have a potential perfect storm of
things that could happen to be a BCS buster. First things first, there
has to be a win over Boise State and a WAC title. There can't be any
slip ups, and that's hardly going to be easy considering the nation's
worst pass defense of 2008 still has to improve and the receiving corps
needs major replacements. However, QB Colin Kaepernick, RB Vai Taua, and
the nation's third best running game returns all the key parts and
potentially gets another star, RB Luke Lippincott, back for a sixth year
of eligibility. And then there's the non-conference schedule. It's not a
stretch to think the Wolf Pack could get on the national map with an
opening day win at Notre Dame. Missouri, who has a ton of rebuilding to
do, has to come to Reno to give the Pack yet another high-profile game.
The respect is there after the unbeaten
season and the win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but it'll be tough to
repeat the feat with so many major losses on offense along with the
departure of star kicker Louie Sakoda. The Utes should increase their
14-game winning streak to 16 games, starting out the year against Utah
State and San Jose State, but the strong defense will be put to the test
with a trip to Oregon. There's also a date against Louisville and trips
to TCU and BYU. Utah will have to be unbeaten to get back in and if it's
on a 26-game winning streak, there will be more to discuss than a spot
in the Fiesta Bowl.
It would've been
an interesting late-season debate had TCU held on to beat Utah. Would an
11-1 TCU team, with the one loss coming at Oklahoma, gotten into the BCS
over an unbeaten Boise State? The Horned Frogs beat the Broncos in an
entertaining Poinsettia Bowl, and now they want to finally get over the
hump and get the national spotlight game. The defense is always strong,
but there's rebuilding to be done on the front seven around Jerry
Hughes. The offense should be just good enough to get by, and it'll need
to come up with a strong September with road trips to Virginia and
Clemson. It's one thing to lose to Oklahoma, and it's another to lose to
Clemson. TCU has to be unbeaten to get in.
The Cougars will be the most interesting major BCS buster contender
because of the non-conference schedule that could be both a good and a
bad thing. BYU might be able to survive a loss to Oklahoma to start the
season and still be in the BCS hunt, but it can't be a blowout. Of
course, an upset win would change the dynamic of the season and get the
national title talk going instead of just searching for a BCS spot. But
this year's BYU team has holes (mainly on the offensive line) that will
be exposed in the season opener. The Mountain West should be good enough
to give the Cougars the needed respect if they can get through it
unscathed, and a home win over Florida State would likely provide the
national attention needed to put an 11-1 team in.
The Broncos got hosed last year after being
passed over for Ohio State despite being ranked one spot higher (Boise
State was ninth, the Buckeyes tenth) in the final BCS standings. They
weren't even close to getting the automatic spot that Utah claimed by
finishing sixth. While the Poinsettia Bowl loss to TCU ended any valid
argument that the Fiesta made the wrong choice, Boise State still has
proven itself time and again worthy of the big stage. The WAC will be
better than it was last season, but Boise State will still be the class
of the league. The non-conference schedule had layups like home games
against Cal-Davis and Miami University, along with an interesting trip
to Toledo, but the make-or-break moments will be on September 5th when
Oregon comes to town and on October 3rd with a trip to Tulsa.
Realistically, if Boise State can beat the Ducks and the Golden
Hurricane, it'll take a major upset to prevent a second trip to the BCS
in four years.