There will technically be 124 teams competing for the BCS National Championship this year, but as we all know, there aren’t many that realistically have a chance to play for the trophy.Using process of elimination based on past BCS selections/results, conference affiliation, strength of schedule and future expectations, we’ve gone through every FBS team and dwindled down the list of teams that actually have a shot to play for the title.
To save time, we’ve already eliminated teams from the Sun Belt, WAC, Mid-American, Conference USA and Mountain West (sorry Boise State). No team from any of these conferences has ever been selected. All four independents (Army, Navy, BYU, Notre Dame) have also been omitted.
While Notre Dame has a difficult enough schedule to warrant inclusion, the odds that the Irish beat Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma and USC in one season are slim.
We’ve also eliminated all teams from the Big East, which no longer includes West Virginia and hasn’t had a team included since 2002 (Miami, now in the ACC). The 2009 Cincinnati Bearcats went 12-0 in the regular season while defeating three ranked teams and still didn’t make it.
The following is a list, by conference, of which 10 teams could possibly be playing January 7th, along with reasons why the rest simply don’t have a chance.
Clemson (1): The Tigers won the ACC in 2011 and look primed for another great run, provided its star players can stay out of trouble. Wideout Sammy Watkins is one of the most explosive players in America, scoring at least one touchdown in nine of the thirteen games played last season, while quarterback Tajh Boyd is already being mentioned as a 2012 Heisman candidate. Clemson's non-conference slate is difficult enough, with tough-but-winnable games against Auburn and South Carolina. If the Tigers can shore up a defence that gave up 70 points to West Virginia in last year's Orange Bowl, they could have a chance to run the table.
Why No Others?
It's no secret that any team selected for the BCS National Championship from the ACC will need to go undefeated. Due to the perceived inferiority of the ACC compared to its peers, a team coming out of the conference will also need to have beaten solid opponents in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The only other two teams with a chance to win the ACC are Florida State and Virginia Tech, and neither has a schedule that wows anyone. FSU has Murray State, Savannah State, South Florida and Florida (the exception), while Virginia Tech gets Austin Peay, Pitt, Bowling Green and Cincinnati. Also, someone wake us when either of those two ever lives up to expectations.
Oklahoma (2): Injuries derailed Oklahoma's 2011 campaign, but the Sooners return quarterback Landry Jones and wideout Kenny Stills for another run at the title. OU's offence scored over 30 points in 10 of thirteen games last season, but its defence gave up over 40 points in all three losses. While the Big 12 lost Texas A&M and Missouri, it replaced them with West Virginia and TCU, actually increasing the level of play in the conference. It's very possible that an 11-1 Oklahoma team reaches the championship, provided its lone loss doesn't come against a lower-tier member of the conference. Between the nine Big 12 games and the clash against Notre Dame, OU's schedule is BCS-worthy.
West Virginia (3): WVU's Big East reign may be ending (at least a share of the title in six of the last nine years), but the Mountaineers should have a smooth transition to life in the Big 12. Geno Smith is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, while Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are underrated wideouts that can score on any play. West Virginia opens the season with Marshall, James Madison, Maryland and an RG-III-less Baylor before travelling to Texas for its first-ever Big 12 road game. In the past, the Mountaineers would have needed to go 12-0 to have a shot at playing for the title, but in the Big 12, 11-1 could get it done.
Why No Others?
Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State are the only other realistic contenders in the conference. While Texas should boast a solid defence, the Longhorns' major concern is that they don't have an experienced quarterback on the roster. TCU's biggest issue will be the shift in competition level between the Mountain West and the new-and-improved Big 12. Oklahoma State lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and has named true-freshman Wes Lunt as his replacement.
Wisconsin (4): Last year's Badgers team reached its second straight Rose Bowl behind the quarterback play of transfer Russell Wilson. This year, Wisconsin welcomes another quarterback transfer into the mix -- Danny O'Brien from Maryland. O'Brien inherits a polific offence that, led by running back Montee Ball, scored over 47 points per game in 2011. While Wisconsin has a difficult schedule, most of the Badgers' tough games are at home (Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State). The bottom line is that every game on the schedule is winnable for this team, and the Big 10 Championship could be a play-in game for Wisco.
Why No Others?
As with the ACC, it's highly probable that any team included from the Big 10 needs to be undefeated. Michigan opens the season against Alabama, and a poor showing may virtually eliminate the Wolverines from contention. Ohio State is banned from postseason play due to the tattoos-for-autographs scandal, while Michigan State's schedule, which includes Boise State and Notre Dame on top of a rough Big 10 slate, may be too much to overcome.
Alabama (5): 'Bama will be playing for its third title in four years, and returns quarterback A.J. McCarron in its quest to repeat as BCS National Champions. While the Crimson Tide lost numerous star players to the NFL, they've once again re-upped with a loaded recruiting class. As we all saw last year, SEC teams with one loss (even to a team in its division) are never eliminated from contention, so 'Bama's extremely difficult schedule (Michigan, Arkansas, Mizzou, LSU, Auburn) may not prove to be fatal to its chances. The biggest question is whether the young Tide can learn the ropes quickly enough to compete in the uber-tough SEC West.
LSU (6): Save for one fateful day in January, the Tigers were the best team in the country last year. And LSU's 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship can't be sitting well with any of its returning players, so watch out in 2012. The Tigers biggest weakness last year was quarterback play, as neither Jordan Jefferson nor Jarrett Lee seemed to be the answer. So, LSU went out and got transfer Zach Mettenberger, the former Georgia standout booted off the team two years ago. The Tigers' schedule is also a little easier this year, with non-conference games against North Texas, Idaho, Washington and Towson.
Georgia (7): Not many teams lose two games to start and end the season yet reach double-digit wins, but that's what the Bulldogs did last year. As we explained a few months ago, the Dawgs SEC schedule lines up very nicely, as they avoid LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. If Georgia can win the SEC East and pull the upset to knock off the SEC West champ, it could find itself playing on January 7th. One potential problem for the Dawgs? Running back Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the team earlier this year and has transferred to Alabama State, meaning Georgia needs to find a new ball carrier.
South Carolina (8): Does anyone even realise that the Gamecocks won 11 games last year? Steve Spurrier has turned the other USC into a football powerhouse, one that may be playing for a national championship sooner rather than later. South Carolina had the nation's 11th ranked defence in 2011 and will be returning most of its starters. It also returns Heisman candidate running back Marcus Lattimore, who was lost early in the year to a devastating knee injury. Its schedule is brutal, with games at Florida, LSU and Clemson and home match-ups against Mizzou, Georgia and Arkansas.
Why No Others?
Realistically, any team that wins the SEC has a very good chance at playing for the national title. But the conference has been a bit top-heavy in recent years, with just a handful of teams dominating consistently. Arkansas finished last season ranked 5th, but unless it can beat both LSU and Alabama, it doesn't have a chance at the SEC Championship Game.
USC (9): Last year, the Trojans were banned from postseason play, but still went 10-2, losing to Arizona State and Stanford in triple-overtime. The ban has been lifted, and USC is once again a title favourite. The Trojans are led by senior quarterback Matt Barkley, one of the best signal callers in the country. Its schedule is challenging, with games against Stanford, Oregon, and Notre Dame, but the Trojans should still be favourites in each of those match-ups.
Oregon (10): The past few seasons, the Ducks have scheduled big-time non-conference opponents early in the season (Boise State, LSU). The one time it didn't? 2010, the year Oregon played Auburn in the BCS National Championship. This year, the Ducks get Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to open the season, and realistically don't have a tough game until November 3rd at USC. The Ducks may have lost LaMichael James, but at Speed-U, they always have a running-back-in-waiting. Kenjon Barner should see the ball plenty for an offence that's perennially ranked in the top 10. The USC/Oregon game and possible rematch in the PAC-12 Championship Game will be must-see-TV.
Why No Others?
Stanford and Washington should both have solid seasons, but it's clear that USC/Oregon are a step above the competition this year. The Cardinal lost Andrew Luck to the pros, and while QB-in-waiting Brett Nottingham is highly regarded, to think he'll produce the same results as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft would be foolish. As for Washington, have you seen its schedule? On top of a rough PAC-12 slate that includes Oregon, USC and Stanford, the Huskies have to travel to LSU the second week of the season. Yikes.
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