The SEC is in prime position to capture its seventh straight BCS title. However, a new challenger with championship pedigree looks to claim its former throne.
If you came here looking for conference-by-conference analysis and predictions about what teams will face off in those useless December bowl games then this story isn’t for you.
This story is about the big boys. This is about what teams have a legitimate shot to win it all on Jan. 7, 2013. This story also sets the record straight on what teams are fooling their fans. Let’s start.
OK, let’s be honest, if you’re from the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big East, you’re out. Those conferences are atrocious. Don’t give me any garbage about Florida State or Virginia Tech. The Seminoles haven’t had a dangerous team since the early Bowl Championship Series days. Quarterback E.J. Manuel isn’t that good, don’t believe whatever ESPN analysts tell you about him. And unless Michael Vick suits up for the Hokies, they’re going nowhere. The Big East has no good teams whatsoever to speak of and the fact that this conference gets an automatic BCS bid is comical.
Now that that mess is cleaned up, let’s move on to South Bend, Indiana. Since football isn’t played in leather helmets anymore, Notre Dame is once again eliminated from national championship contention. If any Irish fans need proof, look at the preseason rankings, around No. 25 spot in most polls. Seems right. If they start hot they’ll move up, but not enough to bother for the top two spots. If not, oh, well, same old Notre Dame.
The Southeastern Conference can thump its chest all it wants. The last time the champ didn’t come from the SEC was the 2005 season when Vince Young led Texas in the Rose Bowl. Two SEC teams played each other in the BCS title game last season. This season, five schools are ranked in the preseason top 10 (Louisiana St., Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas). With juggernauts such as Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Wofford, Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, North Texas, Towson, Western Kentucky and Western Carolina on these SEC teams’ schedules, they’ll be sure keep their records nice and padded. Those five schools will eventually have to lose games as they play each other. There are two tremendously talented teams in this bunch. Here’s a hint: they played in the title game in January.
Associated Press Top 25 (this is the most recent poll released; first-place votes in parentheses)
1 USC (25)
2 Alabama (17)
3 LSU (16)
4 Oklahoma (1)
7 Florida State
8 Michigan (1)
9 South Carolina
11 West Virginia
13 Michigan State
16 Virginia Tech
18 Ohio State
19 Oklahoma State
22 Kansas State
24 Boise State
No More BCS Busters
Perennial darlings Texas Christian and Boise State probably won’t crack the championship game. TCU stepped up to the Big 12, where competition is much more ferocious with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and the other newcomer, West Virginia. The Horned Frogs are no longer a BCS buster as they’re in a conference with an automatic bid. Will this tougher schedule get to them?
Boise State will have to replace quarterback Kellen Moore, who graduated and should suit up for the Detroit Lions on Sundays. With that uncertainty at QB, the Broncos should do just fine, but going undefeated with an untested guy under center is unlikely.
The Big 12 is due for a big year with Oklahoma and Texas leading the charge. The Sooners were ranked No. 1 last season before a crushing upset against Texas Tech. Hopes are high for Oklahoma as it still managed to win 10 games last year and senior quarterback Landry Jones will be on everybody’s Heisman list.
A gigantic question mark for that conference is Texas. What will the Longhorns bring this year? Coach Mack Brown had always been tremendously successful. In a nine-year stretch between 2001 and 2009, Texas notched at least 10 victories. But the Longhorns stumbled hard in 2010, sputtering to five wins. They picked it up some last season, winning eight, which was far from championship-caliber play. Will Texas take the next step?
The Great Midwest Hope
One team that’s guaranteed to not take a step forward is Ohio St. The Buckeyes are banned from postseason play, which is convenient for Coach Urban Meyer. He can ease the transition with a one-season mulligan. Ohio State was a dismal 6-7 last season so if Meyer tanks this year, that’s fine, blame it on the bowl ban. Season two under Meyer will have gigantic expectations.
With the Buckeyes out of the picture, it’s up to Michigan to lead the way for the Big 10. Wisconsin lost quarterback Russell Wilson. Penn State is ruined possibly forever. Nebraska and Michigan State have great programs, however, they don’t have what the Wolverines do: star quarterback Denard Robinson. Heisman eyes will be on No. 16, who is so dynamic, he’ll be a regular on ESPN highlights. Unless he gets hurt. Robinson is a threat running and passing, but since he takes off so much, there’s always that fear of injury. If Michigan wins the Big 10, expect Robinson to be at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Only Two Left Coasters
Finally, we get to the Pacific 12 Conference, where two teams will square off twice to try to dethrone the SEC’s championship reign. USC and Oregon are the class of the Pac 12. The Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, the Ducks fifth. Heisman favorite Matt Barkley leads a loaded USC offense while Oregon Coach Chip Kelly is the mastermind behind the Ducks’ spread offense that’s always in no-huddle mode. After a two-year bowl ban, USC has emerged as the team to beat not just in the Pac 12, but the entire nation. The only question mark is the Trojans’ defensive line and depth. If USC wins the title, it will have earned it since that means the Trojans will have knocked off the Ducks twice in one season. They get the Ducks at home this year and could host them again in the Pac 12 championship game. Beating the Ducks is no small task as the Trojans proved last season when it won at Autzen Stadium. Oregon constantly puts pressure thanks to its efficient offense. They have playmakers (maybe not household names like the Trojans) that can get six points after one missed tackle.
Who Takes The Crystal Trophy?
The Pac 12 champ will definitely get one of the two BCS title game spots if that team is undefeated. The likely opponent? The survivor of LSU and Alabama. Yes, LSU kicked stud defensive back Tyrann Mathieu off the team and yes, the Tigers had a tough time completing a forward pass. But their defense is still a force. The Crimson Tide will be tough as well. However, they lost Heisman finalist Trent Richardson along with Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower to the NFL. The latter four players contributed to the top defensive squad in college football last season (only 183.6 yards per game).
It could be another one of those ugly 9-6 final scores when these teams play on Nov. 3, the same day the Trojans and Ducks square off. Despite losing Mathieu, LSU should have enough left to fend off the Tide. But what about the BCS title game?
The Trojans will be tested in Florida. They will not see a Pac 12 defense as strong and fast as the Tigers. USC will get punched in the mouth. Unfortunately for LSU, you have to score points to win games. The Tigers don’t have nearly enough firepower to keep the Trojans down. Barkley has too many weapons with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Penn State transfer Silas Redd will split the tailback load with Curtis McNeal. Even with Mathieu it would be tough to slow USC down. You’re fooling yourself if any team has enough to stop those future NFL players.