A strong schedule, a weak schedule, even playing in a conference perceived to be "weaker," all can be major roadblocks on the path to the BCS National Championship, and even more so for teams with "championship contender" plates. For the Mountain West, Conference-USA, MAC, Sun Belt and WAC teams, the glittering trophy is only a mirage the BCS will bring their journeys to an abrupt dead-end. Teams in the six BCS conferences all can make the journey (at least in theory), but the road will not be smoothly paved and these ten teams in particular will have to get past some serious roadblocks if they wish to park in Pasadena on January 7, 2010. Lisa Horne
Florida 12122009 101917 550458
Their schedule isn't that tough (five road games and no Ole Miss), but there's that giant bull's-eye on their backs. The Gators will be 4-0 before they are truly tested at LSU, a team that is still stinging over their 51-21 spanking by the Gators last year. Even if Florida beats the Tigers, the Gators will have a good chance of facing them again in the SEC Championship Game, considering Ole Miss is no longer a novelty and Alabama folds like a cheap tent in late-season games. Nobody wants to play the same team twice in one year. Nobody.
USC 12122009 101917 545747
The Trojans will have had to replace eight defensive starters and settle in a new quarterback by the time they get their first big test against Ohio State on September 12. Their road games also are a glaring caution sign: at Ohio State, at Cal, at Notre Dame, at Oregon and at Arizona State. Except for Oregon State, all their toughest games are on the road, all against probable top 25 teams. Their biggest roadblock, however, is the NCAA the Trojans could be fishing for a few years during postseason play.
Oregon 12122009 101917 540785
Their first four games are enough to enforce the mercy rule and close down Duck-hunting season at Boise State (watching them play on the Smurf Turf should come with medical warnings) and then consecutive games against Purdue, Utah and Cal. To put their schedule in perspective, there's a great likelihood that 8 of their 12 opponents will be ranked in the preseason top 40, with 6 in the top 25. Who knew Ducks could be such gluttons for punishment?
The Nittany Lions may have a very good team this year, but we'll never know how good because of a horrific schedule. It's an array of cupcakes sprinkled with Temple, Syracuse, Akron, Eastern Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois and a rebuilding Michigan. Ohio State is the only game that's got serious meat in it, and therein lies the problem. Even if the Nittany Lions go 12-0 which seems probable odds are the BCS pollsters will forgo another SEC vs. Big Ten debacle and ensure an SEC vs. Big 12 Championship game instead. There are just too many sweets and not enough red meat in Happy Valley.
Their overall schedule doesn't have the same bite as Georgia's or Oklahoma's, but it's good enough if they make a strong midseason run. They open at Memphis, take a bye, then host Southeastern Louisiana. After Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn, the Rebels play a second FCS team Northern Arizona and close out their season with Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State. Although their conference schedule has teeth, what's the deal with two FCS teams on their non-conference schedule? Good rule of thumb for teams who want to be National Champions: Avoid scheduling schools with directional names.
Texas 12122009 101917 524123
Their schedule shapes up nicely for a championship run, but the back half is a traveling nightmare. Sure, they play Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming in the first two games, but Mike Leach's Red Raiders follow. The Horns' nightmare (with no byes) starts October 17: Oklahoma (at Dallas), at Missouri, at Oklahoma State, Central Florida, at Baylor, Kansas and at Texas A&M. Five of the last seven games all on the road and that controversial tie-breaker rule probably will bend their horns out of shape again.
The Hokies picked a heckuva time to schedule Nebraska, Alabama (in Atlanta) and at East Carolina for non-conference games each of the three teams is expected to be in serious contention to win its respective conference's division. With only two real gimme conference games (against Duke and North Carolina State) in a much more competitive ACC, parity in the conference could be a roadblock for the Hokies whereas a nasty non-conference schedule could be a Championship Game berth killer.
The Beanie-less Buckeyes have only two big tests this year: USC and Penn State. But if they don't win them both, they will be dropped from the top 10 rankings. The Buckeyes also have a trap game (Iowa) between road trips to Penn State and Michigan. When your non-conference schedule includes games against Navy, Toledo and New Mexico State, anything less than an 11-1 year gets you removed from National Championship talk, especially after three straight previous BCS Bowl losses. Heck, would 12-0 even cut it?
Georgia 12122009 101918 602392
Last season the Bulldogs ended up in the Capital One Bowl, and that was with QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno running the offense. Those two are now gone, but the remaining Dawgs will get tested immediately at Oklahoma State, then play at Arkansas before hosting Arizona State and a severely underrated LSU. Their final five games including Florida and two teams they split last year (Auburn and Georgia Tech) could have them looking for someone to put in the doghouse if they aren't BCS bowling.
Oklahoma 12122009 101918 771405
The Sooners arguably have one of the more brutal schedules in the nation. Besides games against Texas (at Dallas), at Kansas, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the Sooners also have non-conference games against Tulsa, at Miami (Fla.) and an alarming wake-up call with a season opener against BYU in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners playing at home for only five games is scary, but their five straight BCS Bowl losses is even scarier. And getting real old. Lisa Horne chatted with fans about these predictions and more. You can replay the whole chat here to find out why she thinks LSU will be a top contender and more!