College football entered a whole new world when the BCS field expanded to ten teams and five games once the BCS Championship game was added for the 2005-2006 bowl season, and now it will be almost impossible for there not to be a team from a non-BCS conference in the big show every year thanks to the rules of the selection process.
If a champion of Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West, the Sun Belt, or the WAC is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or if it's in the top 16 and is higher than a champion from a BCS conference, it's in. No more than one team gets an automatic bid, but as last year showed, a second team can get the call with an at-large selection. Go undefeated and you're in the hunt thanks to the better conferences getting teams picked off left and right with the tougher schedules to deal with. It's not easy for BCS leagues to get two teams in.
If the current system was in place from the start, Tulane would have received a bid in 1998, Marshall in 1999, TCU in 2000, Boise State in 2004, TCU in 2005, and Boise State made it in 2006, Hawaii in 2007, Utah in 2004 and 2008, and, of course, TCU and Boise State played each other last year.
The BCS hasn't really been busted, there hasn't been a true change in how the world views non-BCS teams in the national title hunt, but there have been some invites to the party and things might be about to change in a big way. With a 3-1 record (not including last year when two non-BCS teams played each other), the results haven't been that bad for the non-BCSers in the spotlight, but as last year showed, it's hard to get too much respect.
TCU was in a position to play for the national title if Texas had lost to Nebraska, but Cincinnati slipped one notch up in the final BCS rankings and would've gone to Pasadena. The Longhorn win saved the world from a sports screamfest from Fort Worth that would still be going on today, while Boise State wouldn't have been in the BCS at all if the Huskers had won the Big 12 Championship or if Oklahoma State had beaten Oklahoma.
No, the BCS is past the busted point, it is what it is and it'll always take a perfect storm to get more than one non-BCS team in, but it's still a big deal when at least one gets the call considering the Pac 10, ACC, and Big East are having a tough time putting in a second team. And, of course, every time a Boise State beats an Oklahoma or a Utah beats an Alabama, fans start to realize that there's more to college football life than the rich programs.
The money brought in means everything to the non-BCS schools and conferences. BCS game money goes in the tip jar at a place like Texas, but it can make an athletic budget at Hawaii. Last year, because TCU got in, the Mountain West got $9.8 million, while the Sun Belt got $1.5 million. Showing why the system isn't fair and why it's worthy of getting a look-see from Washington, D.C., the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Pac 10, who each had one team in the BCS, just like the Mountain West and WAC, got $17.7 million each while the Big Ten and SEC, who each got two teams in the BCS, got $22.2 million each.
It comes down to money and exposure. The non-BCS conferences want and need both and the BCS leagues don't want to give either away, so while the teams below might not necessarily be busters in the current format, at least one of them will likely get in and take bread off the table of a BCS conference. It all comes down to two key parts: the team that's returning and the schedule. A little luck doesn't hurt, either.
7. Nevada The nation's most devastating rushing attack should be at it again with QB Colin Kaepernick leading an offense that averaged 345 yards per game on the ground (almost 50 yards per game more than the nation's No. 2 running game, Georgia Tech's). It'll be a major disappointment if the Pack doesn't average 300 yards or more on the ground, and unlike last year, there should be a real, live defense that could finally be a help with most of the front line returning.
The problem for Nevada has been games against the decent teams with the offense falling dead-flat in the last two bowl games. The best win last year was a 52-14 thumping of Fresno State ... whoop-dee-doo. To get into the BCS, Nevada will almost certainly have to go undefeated, or it can go 11-1 with one of the wins coming against a highly ranked Boise State with wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State on the resume. The game against the Broncos is in Reno, as is the toughest non-conference game against California. A trip to BYU will be the most dangerous road game by far, but going to Fresno State isn't going to be easy, either, after what happened last year.
Any team worthy of even thinking about the BCS gets eight wins against this slate without a problem, and then flips a coin against Cal, BYU, Fresno State and Boise State hoping to pull off upsets in three of those games.
BCS BUSTER? No. The Pack will finish second in the WAC behind Boise State and won't beat both Cal and BYU.
6. Navy Navy wouldn't be a BCS buster considering it's an independent and the powers-that-be would bend over backwards at the great publicity a service academy would bring to the big bowls, but it would still be a huge story if a team without the less talent than about 90 other programs was able to put together a magical year.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's Navy, the team that lost to Temple and Hawaii last season, but this year's version is the real deal. 2009 was supposed to be the rebuilding season, and all the Midshipmen did was win ten games, beat Notre Dame, and embarrass a good Missouri team in the Texas Bowl. This year's team is has the firepower to come up with the best season yet since the current resurgence began.
Ricky Dobbs set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27, and he even missed a game and was limited in another. Now he's a legitimate Heisman candidate and should make national headlines week after week. The defense has to make some big replacements at linebacker, but almost everyone else of note is back while the offense is packed with veterans who know the offense and should run it more efficiently and effectively.
The schedule should be a little bit of an issue with Maryland at a neutral site in Baltimore, Notre Dame at a neutral site in the New Meadowlands in New Jersey, and with road trips to Wake Forest, East Carolina, and Air Force. But it's not like Navy has to play Ohio State (like it did last year), and none of the five toughest foes will be as good as the Missouri team from the bowl win.
BCS BUSTER? Close, but no. The Midshipmen will win two of the three big games against Maryland, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest, but will likely blow it in at least one easy game and won't be a lock to beat both Air Force and East Carolina.
5. Houston Houston's 2009 BCS bowl run should've been on its way after wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, but Donald Buckram and UTEP had other ideas in a 58-41 Miner win. This year, the high-octane Cougar offense gets back QB Case Keenum, who threw for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns last season, almost all the key skill players, and head coach Kevin Sumlin, who's destined for a bigger job in the near future.
While the offense should lead the nation in yards, passing, and scoring yet again, the defense isn't expected to be night-and-day better after a disastrous year against the run. Tackling-machine LB Marcus McGraw returns, and six starters are back overall. All the D will have to do is not be miserable and the offense will do the rest.
The team will have a chance against everyone because of the firepower, but the schedule will make a perfect season tough with road games to UCLA and Texas Tech (who'll be ticked off after last year's 29-28 loss) and a home date with Mississippi State. The Conference USA slate has some interesting games at SMU and Southern Miss, and a home date against UCF, but those aren't anything the Cougars shouldn't be able to handle.
BCS BUSTER? No. The regular season ender at Texas Tech will almost certainly end any dreams of greatness, and the defense will be just mediocre enough to ensure a big bump along the way against someone else to end the fun before the trip to Lubbock.
4. BYU If the team's biggest problem is deciding on a quarterback between a mature, mobile junior in Riley Nelson, a talented sophomore in James Lark, who's a bit rusty after a Church mission, and super-recruit Jake Heaps, who might be the best pure pro-style passer the program has had in years, then everything is just fine.
The good: almost everyone is back on the offensive line. The bad: the defensive front seven will have to undergo almost a wholesale change. The secondary should be among the best in the Mountain West and there's great talent returning all across the board (fortified, as always, with the return of mature players coming off missions). Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has created something special and the players are there to reload instantly.
Talent won't be a problem, but the schedule will. Facing Washington, at Air Force and at Florida State by mid-September is bad enough, and dealing with the Nevada running game isn't going to be a walk in the park. Even if the Cougars are unbeaten after six games, they still have to go to Fort Worth to face TCU and to Salt Lake City to deal with the rivalry game against Utah.
BCS BUSTER? No, but don't be surprised if the Cougars are unbeaten before facing the Horned Frogs. There's just enough turnover on both sides of the ball to be a problem, and the road dates against the two biggest Mountain West foes will almost certainly end a shot for the program to finally break though and get into the show.
3. Utah Look at it this way; last year's team had some major reloading and rebuilding to do and it still went 9-3 with a bowl win over California. The three losses were at Oregon by seven, at TCU, and in overtime at BYU, meaning there two losses to BCS-bound teams and to a Cougar squad that manhandled Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Fine, so Utah didn't beat anyone with a pulse before the Poinsettia Bowl, but it was still a great year of experience and grooming.
This year's team has a matured Jordan Wynn under center and seven returning starters in all with a slew of dangerous playmakers around him. Helping the cause was the slightly unexpected sixth year of eligibility granted to bruising running back Matt Asiata to help take the heat off the passing game.
The defense has some huge holes to fill, especially at linebacker, but they're nothing that can't be repaired compared to the changes made last season when the defense finished 19th in the nation overall. The defensive front could be the best the team has had some years despite losing pass rusher, Koa Misi.
The schedule has just enough splash to make a little national noise with Pitt, who might be the best team in the Big East, coming to Salt Lake City for the opener, and with trips to Iowa State and Notre Dame to keep the profile high. The Utes will be better than the Cyclones and Irish and should be dead-even with the Panthers, but the real bonus is the conference slate getting TCU and BYU at home. There's a trip to Air Force to kick off a run of three road games in four weeks, and it comes in the middle of a stretch of five road trips in seven games, but the slate isn't that bad.
BCS BUSTER? It depends on the TCU game. The Utes should make a statement against Pitt and should beat Iowa State, Notre Dame, Air Force at Air Force and BYU at home, but the showdown against the Horned Frogs is a toss-up with the winner likely to get into the fun.
2. TCU TCU has become a factory, so there isn't a whole bunch of concern despite losing two great defenders in Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. The program that has won 53 games in the last five years and 11 or more in four of those seasons is loaded on offense and should simply be too explosive for about eight teams on the slate.
The Fiesta Bowl performance in the loss to Boise State might have been a dud, but the attack that finished the year fifth in the nation in scoring and seventh in yards gets all the key parts back. QB Andy Dalton is a fantastic veteran, and he gets all his weapons to work with including two good backs in Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker, the best receiving corps in the Mountain West, and has four returning starters up front to work behind.
But, of course, TCU has made its big name under head coach Gary Patterson on defense. Seven starters are back led by LB Tank Carder, but both starting corners, Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest, are gone with a passing team in Oregon State to start off the season.
The schedule is hardly a breeze, but it's manageable. If TCU is a BCS-worthy team, it has to beat Oregon State in Arlington, Texas, and it has to beat Baylor at home. BYU is going to be good, but that's a home game, and getting Air Force in Fort Worth is a bigger bonus than it might appear. If the team has its head screwed on straight, it should win 11 games by double digits in each, and it should be able to squeak by a war at Utah.
BCS BUSTER? Yup. Make it a second straight 12-0 regular season and a seventh double-digit win season in the last nine years.
1. Boise State The spotlight is on.
Partly because Boise State has been so good for so long that the brand name is there, partly because there's a general sense that it's time the program gets an honest shot, and partly because of two BCS wins in the last four years, the world is waking up and smelling the production.
120-20 in the last 11 seasons with nine double-digit campaigns during that span. Two regular season losses in the last four years and none in the last two seasons. 40 points or more scored in ten of 14 games last season and in 15 of the last 20. The Broncos are on a 56-game home winning streak (not including bowl games in Boise) with the last blip a 41-20 loss to a Washington State team that ended up going to the Rose Bowl. That was in 2001. The rise and run of Butler in the recent NCAA men's basketball tournament helped the Boise State cause only because it got people talking about the little guy getting its shot at the whole ball of wax, but more than anything else, the team is getting noticed because just about everyone is back from last year's 14-0 squad. It also helps that there isn't a true killer out there without any noticeable warts (like last year's Florida team, at least as it appeared before the season started).
The Broncos get back just about everyone who matters on both sides of the ball with the only irreplaceable loss at corner, where Kyle Wilson is finally off to the NFL. So can the team handle the hype and the pressure? There's no excuse not to have yet another double-digit win season and make another run to a BCS bowl. At least that'll be what's expected now.
But for all the fun and for all the excitement, it could all come crashing down right away at FedEx Field in Washington against Virginia Tech in the nationally televised season opener. No one's beating the Broncos in Boise, including Oregon State and Fresno State, and the only concern on the road will be at Nevada in late November. In other words, the BCS bid will probably be decided on September 6th against the Hokies.
BCS BUSTER? Nope. Virginia Tech has a veteran team, too, and it'll have a devastating running game and a home crowd to boot. It won't matter what happens the rest of the way if the Broncos lose the opener, but if they win, and win decisively, it's game on for a possible trip to Glendale in January for something other than the Fiesta Bowl.