Published Sep 2, 2009 5:52 PM EST
2009 College Football Preview: BCS Busters
Utah's done it twice. Boise State's efforts are unforgettable. Even Hawaii has given it a try.
So who will it be this season? What squad in a lesser-appreciated conference will defy the odds and earn the grand title of BCS Buster?
By now, the likely candidates are easy spot and the media starts talking about them each season before a BCS Champion is even crowned.
With the Mountain West Conference raising a fuss and trying to set a postseason with a playoff into motion, the term BCS Buster might soon become one of the past. Especially if the MWC continues to play at a higher level than some major conferences, mainly the Big East and ACC.
For now, we're left with the bowl system and all college football fans anxiously await for this year's version of the 2008 Utes or 2006 Broncos.
Who fills that void? Here's the contenders with my projection of their record in parenthesis:
BYU Cougars (10-2, 7-1)
Why they're a contender
QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga, TE Dennis Pitta and OT Matt Reynolds give BYU one of the best offenses in all of college football, regardless of conference affiliation. Hall would get Heisman hype in most seasons, but not when Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow are on everyone's minds. Still, BYU's signal caller is one of the best QBs in the nation, conducting a prolific offense. Because of Hall, Unga is often overlooked by the media and opponents. Unga could post 1,500 yards this season after putting up more than 1,100 as a junior and 1,200 as a sophomore. Pitta is Hall's top returning target and lines up all over the field. He caught for more than 1,000 yards in 2008. Reynolds makes all of this possible by keeping Hall off his backside.
How much of a threat is BYU?
No team carries the hopes of the non-BCS schools more than BYU. All attention will shift to Provo, Utah, if the Cougars somehow upset Oklahoma Saturday at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. BYU enters the season ranked 20th and open with the No. 3 Sooners. A win there and another two weeks later over Florida State takes BYU out of mere BCS Buster talks and places them into BCS Championship consideration. Seriously. Play this out in your mind. BYU sweeps through its schedule undefeated, beating four teams currently ranked in the Top 25 in the process. Oklahoma later beats Texas and both of those Big 12 contenders finish the season with one loss. BYU would garner a ranking above them both. If BYU and only one other team -- Florida, maybe Penn State or Virginia Tech -- is undefeated at the end of the season, the Cougars should be placed in the BCS Championship game. That's beyond busting the BCS. The situation could annihilate it.
TCU Horned Frogs (10-2, 7-1)
Why they're a contender
While BYU is built around its offense, the Horned Frogs elect to be more of a defensive squad. They sport highlight reel standouts on defense such as DE Jerry Hughes, who might be a first-round pick in next April's NFL Draft, and LB Darryl Washington. The Horned Frogs have consistently pulled off major upsets in this decade. They obliviated a Top 10 BYU squad last year, handing the Cougars their first loss, and also beat No. 9 Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. In 2007, TCU gave Texas fits for three quarters before the Longhorns pieced it together for a 21-point win. Texas fans will tell you that game was closer than the score would indicate, especially with the Horned Frogs leading 10-0 at halftime. In 2005, it was Oklahoma falling prey to TCU, 17-10. TCU has finished ranked in the Top 25 in six of the past nine seasons, including a No. 7 ranking last year.
How much of a threat is TCU?
The Horned Frogs are a legitimate contender in the race for BCS Buster status. Their potential impact isn't nearly what BYU's is, but neither is anyone else's. TCU plays two teams -- Virginia and Clemson -- from the ACC in its non-conference schedule. Both games are very winnable for the Frogs. Their biggest challenge still remains in getting out of the MWC, though, with BYU and Utah also fighting for buster status.
Utah Utes (8-4, 6-2)
Why they're a contender
Utah is getting a lot of love from many projectors based off of the success it had last season. There is still plenty to like, too. The Utes have a strong front seven on defense, centered around LB Stevenson Sylvester and DE Koa Misi. In fact, the trenches on both sides of the ball are a strength for Utah with OG Zane Taylor anchoring the OL. Any coach will tell you the old cliche, "Games are won and lost in the trenches." If that theory holds true, then Utah is still capable of winning a lot of games.
How much of a threat is Utah?
An undefeated or even 1-loss season could net the Utes another BCS berth. So far, Utah is 2-0 in those opportunities. It pulled off the upset of the bowl season with a 31-17 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, making the Utes the only undefeated team left in the entire country. Their success brought a mighty load of ire for the BCS and you can bet the organization would love for the Utes to never qualify for one of its prestigious bowl games again. Utah doesn't have the type of schedule BYU is playing, but an early season win over No. 16 Oregon would really bolster the Utes' hopes. Still, escaping unscathed from the MWC is a tall task. Don't be shocked if TCU, BYU and Utah all knock each other off during the season. Plus, Utah has to travel to Provo and Fort Worth this season. The game with Oregon is on the road as well. Nasty schedule.
Boise State (10-3, 6-2)
Why they're a contender
Our first taste of a potential BCS Buster comes Thursday when No. 16 Boise State takes on No. 14 Oregon. QB Kellen Moore is back to lead Boise St.'s high-octane offense as is Jeremy Avery at RB. Avery, who will always be one of the fastest players on the field, won't be splitting carries with the now departed Ian Johnson this year, either. He's a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Boise also has a solid secondary with playmaker Kyle Wilson featured at CB. Wilson complimented perfectly by safety Jeron Johnson. The Broncos have become one of the nation's favorite darlings. Their 43-42 win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl is one of the game's most unforgettable moments. It's almost safe to call Boise St. the original BCS Buster. While Utah's win over Pitt in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl was the first time a team from a non-major conference won a BCS game, the Utes were actually expected to defeat the Panthers. Boise wasn't supposed to have a chance against Oklahoma. That win has left a tender spot for the Broncos in the hearts of voters.
How big of a threat is Boise St.?
While a win over Oregon would propel them some, the Broncos have a relatively weak schedule after Week 1. The toughest games left would be a trip to Fresno State and a home game against Nevada. Don't be suprised if Boise doesn't even win the WAC title, either. The Broncos have to go undefeated, which isn't unfeasible, in order to qualify for a BCS bowl.
After the top four, it's hard to identify any other potential BCS Busters. Troy has a great chance of winning 10 games out of the Sun Belt, but it would take an upset of Florida in Week 2 to put the Trojans on the BCS map. That's not happening.
In the Mid-Atlantic Conference, both Central Michigan and Western Michigan have the talent to go undefeated based on their respective schedules.
While some opponents from some major conferences do exist on each list, it's hard to think a win over struggling Michigan or Indiana in WMU's case or Arizona and Michigan State for CMU would propel either into the BCS discussion.
Southern Miss, Eastern Carolina -- an early BCS candidate in 2008 with wins over Va. Tech and West Virginia -- and Houston could get some love out of Conference USA.
Houston and ECU each have multiple games against opponents from major conferences. ECU will have to beat West Virginia, North Carolina and Va. Tech this season. That's simply not as likely in 2009.
Houston could put itself on the map with a Week 2 win over Oklahoma State and cement itself with a win over Texas Tech in Week 3. It's hard to list the Cougars with the likes of BYU, TCU, Utah and Boise St. right now, though. Ask me again in three weeks.
So four teams make up the contingency.
Wait a minute. There is one more. How could I forget?
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3)
Why they're a contender
Hello?! It's Notre Dame. A 9-win season could easily vault the Irish into the BCS, which is desperate to get them back into a marquee bowl. Notre Dame will be improved in 2009. Ten wins is attainable based on a weak schedule. QB Jimmy Clausen finally looked ready to take the next step in the Irish win over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl last season. The OL is also solid with OT Sam Young, OGs Trevor Robinson and Eric Olsen, and center Dan Wenger. Defensively, LB Brian Smith and DT Ian Williams look ready to step to the forefront. The Irish are going to matter again on the national stage.
How much of a threat is Notre Dame?
A viable one. As long as the Irish are winning, major bowls will come calling. I know it's odd to put them as a BCS Buster, but based on recent records, having Notre Dame in the BCS would be a bit of a surprise. It probably will take 10 wins. It could be nine if one of those victories is over USC. Like it or not, the Irish are going to be mentioned with the BCS frequently all season long.