Analyzing the easiest paths to the BCS

By Zac Jackson
Fox Sports Ohio
August 24, 2010

Let’s talk college football.

I just love the sound of that. I’m honestly smiling and repeating it aloud.

I’ve been intrigued by the fact that national analysts are already arguing whether or not Boise State is worthy of playing in the national title game even though no team starts its season for nine more days (not that I’ve been counting). I love that people here (and elsewhere) are already discussing Michigan’s next coach and Ohio State’s national championship opponent. I love every argument, every year, and can’t wait for it to play itself out — or at least ’til the arguments get really heated.

Yep. We’re stuck with a terribly flawed BCS system for now and (at least) the immediate future. But this system does create an environment in which every regular-season game means everything. And one in which every team except USC is currently alive in the race for that crystal trophy.

Again, smiling.

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I’ve scanned the schedules and the returning rosters and picked five teams that I believe have the easiest paths to making the BCS — not necessarily the title game (though that’s clearly the goal), but one of the five BCS games. I’m not surprised I ended up with two Big Ten teams and two teams that play in non-BCS conferences, though I went in only knowing one of my four selections and keeping the others totally open. I’m not surprised I picked no one from the SEC.

It looks like it might be a down year by recent SEC standards, but there’s still no easy path for anyone. Not with Georgia owing Florida some major payback, not with Alabama being the team everyone is chasing, not with better-than-most-think talent in the SEC West and not with a conference title game that could throw the whole thing out of whack in the first week of December. Do I think an SEC team will again be playing in the Big Game? Yes. Do I think its win streak will continue? I’m not so sure.

There’s a reason they play the games — all of them — and let the players decide it. Sort of, anyway. But before that begins, here are five teams I see as being in prime position to make a BCS game come January.

Ohio State (Preseason AP rank #2; odds to win Nat’l Title: 5/1)

A team you may be familiar with is again the class of the Big Ten. If the defense stays healthy it should dominate, and Terrelle Pryor will be a Heisman finalist if Ohio State holds serve on a schedule that isn’t a total cakewalk but is certainly manageable. Getting a dangerous but young Miami team at home in Week 2 is a plus as the Buckeyes follow that with visits from Ohio U and Eastern Michigan. Having to travel to both Iowa and Wisconsin isn’t ideal, but Pryor has plenty of time to develop a rapport with his receivers by the time the Wisconsin game comes Oct. 16. There’s reason to wonder how the offensive line and secondary will hold up against the better teams on the schedule, but there’s also a ton of still-developing talent on the roster and a defensive front seven that might actually outscore a couple opponents along the way. That whole “SEC” thing looms, but there’s really no reason the Buckeyes shouldn’t get to the Big Game and have a chance to tackle it.

Boise State  (Preseason AP rank #3; odds to win Nat’l Title: 10/1)

The team every college football fan in America is talking about plays its home games on blue turf in Idaho. How did this happen? A few years back this scrappy, well-coached group beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and used that platform to start being able to recruit some blue-chip guys to add to the mix of solid but overlooked football players already on the roster. The Broncos are 4-1 against BCS schools since that Oklahoma game, dominated TCU in their return to the Fiesta Bowl last January and are now prepping for their biggest stage yet: Labor Day evening, in the Redskins’ home stadium, against #10 Virginia Tech. That’s a monster road game by any program’s standards, and besides a late-September visit from Oregon State and a night-after-Thanksgiving trip to Nevada, it’s the biggest obstacle to this team BCS-busting again. One slip may push the Broncos out of the BCS picture, but that comes with the territory. Based on recent history, this team deserves the hype it’s currently getting and gets a chance to prove it in less than two weeks.

Wisconsin (Preseason AP rank #12; odds to win Nat’l Title: 40/1)

The Badgers bring back a bunch of players from a team that blew Miami’s doors off in one of those Tuesday night bowl games last year and seem primed to carry that momentum forward. There’s depth at the skill positions, a senior quarterback calling the shots and a solid O-line. A young defense should have time to grow up as the only non-conference road game is the opener at UNLV. Three home games with San Jose State, Arizona State and Austin Peay follow. Road games at Michigan State and (especially) Iowa won’t be easy but are winnable, and Wisconsin has played Ohio State as tough as anyone in the Big Ten the last couple years. This year they get the Buckeyes at home at night. Whether it’s good enough to beat OSU or not, I like Wisconsin to land a BCS spot over Iowa even though Iowa was undefeated when Ricky Stanzi played last year because the 2010 Hawkeyes finish with three of four on the road — and the one home game is Ohio State. Iowa also faces tricky early-season road games at Arizona and Michigan.

Texas (Preseason AP rank #5; odds to win Nat’l Title: 15/1)

The Longhorns are just better — much better, in most cases — than everyone they play except Oklahoma. That rivalry has gone their way the last few years, and though Colt McCoy is gone, plenty of talent (especially on the defensive side) is back. The non-conference schedule is weak, and the ‘Horns have just two true Big 12 road games. There are potential pitfalls; one of those is Nebraska, the regular-season finale with Texas A&M could turn out to be a huge game and the Big 12 title game, assuming Texas gets there, is always dangerous. But there’s no reason Texas shouldn’t win in Nebraska or survive A&M at home, making the Oklahoma game the one that could push Texas to the Really Big One. It seems to be a down year for the Big 12 and if new QB Garrett Gilbert plays well, Texas should really benefit.

TCU  (Preseason AP rank #6; odds to win Nat’l Title: 15/1)

I tried to look elsewhere for a fifth team and avoid a second “BCS-buster,” but TCU is the best fit. The Horned Frogs have quietly been stockpiling loads of talent and should benefit in the long term from the beating they took on the really big stage from Boise last year. They return to it with a nationally-televised opener in Cowboys Stadium against Oregon State, but that’s essentially a home game against a team breaking in a new QB. Three of TCU’s four biggest Mountain West games are at home, QB Andy Dalton and lots of other players return from the nation’s fifth-highest scoring offense and there’s a winning mentality — plus no Texas or Oklahoma on the regular-season schedule like in recent years. It should be no surprise to see the guys in purple remaining around the top of the AP poll and getting a chance at BCS redemption a little less than five months from now.

Coming tomorrow: The five toughest paths to the BCS

Follow Zac Jackson on Twitter @FSOhioZJackson