BYU, Boise State mid-majors best positioned to bust the BCS
BYU's schedule could make it the most legitimate mid-major in the BCS' eyes
The spotlight is on Utah, but a new QB and two new coordinators will hurt
If Nevada upsets Notre Dame in Week 1, it could be this year's surprise team
Considering the "non-BCS" label continues to stigmatize teams outside the power six conferences, mid-majors sure earned their share of the spotlight this offseason for their plight. Congress and the Mountain West Conference may be crossing their fingers Utah rips off another perfect season to force the BCS' hand, but Utah's in-conference and in-state rival BYU actually stands a better chance. Here are the 10 teams best positioned to bust the BCS.
1. BYU Cougars
It would be fitting if BYU soothed the Mountain West's sorrows on the 25th anniversary of its improbable 1984 championship season. But with a schedule that includes matchups against four Top 25 opponents (Oklahoma in Arlington, Florida State, TCU, Utah), it won't be easy. BYU boasts an experienced offensive trio -- QB Max Hall, TE Dennis Pitta and RB Harvey Unga -- and a deep front seven on defense, but the Cougars lost four offensive linemen to graduation and are still searching for replacements in the secondary. BYU isn't the most talented mid-major, but its schedule provides a chance to separate itself from the pack. If BYU somehow beats Oklahoma in Week 1, a BCS berth will be the Cougars' to lose. But BYU can afford to fall to Oklahoma if it takes care of business when Florida State comes to town and runs the table in-conference -- a manageable task considering it hosts both TCU and Utah in Provo.
2. Boise State Broncos
Like BYU, Boise opens against a top-10 opponent (Oregon). Unlike BYU, Boise doesn't play anyone else of note after that. That alone earns BYU the top spot here. Boise's a faster, better team, but it has no room for error; blowing the Oregon game will dash all BCS hopes. That said, the Broncos stand a pretty good chance against the Ducks. Almost everyone's back from a 12-1 team -- with the notable exception of tailback and leader Ian Johnson. QB Kellen Moore impressed as a freshman and should be even better as a sophomore, and an already excellent defense headlined by senior corner Kyle Wilson should enter the season motivated to avenge a poor showing against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
3. TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs will look to ride the momentum from their bowl win over Boise into a tough September, which includes games at Virginia and Clemson. Coach Gary Patterson lost seven defensive starters, but claims this year's group will be as fast or faster and even more athletic. That's saying a lot, considering last year's unit ranked first nationally in total defense (217.8 ypg) and rushing defense (47.1 ypg). The middle of the D may be new, but All-America DE Jerry Hughes provides an enviable anchor. A run-first offense won't bowl anyone over, but should hold its own. Frosh QB Casey Pachall made some noise this spring as an early enrollee, but the job still belongs to three-year starter Andy Dalton.
4. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Stud receiver DeAndre Brown, who suffered a horrific broken leg last December, is practicing, but he's not participating in contact drills and is still wearing a protective boot off the field. Still, coach Larry Fedora remains optimistic his burner will be ready when the Golden Eagles open against Alcorn State. No need to rush, though, because Southern Miss boasts a slew of explosive playmakers, including QB Austin Davis and RB Damion Fletcher. Combine that with a veteran O-line, and the Golden Eagles field an offensive unit that could outshine most SEC squads. Winning Conference USA won't be a cakewalk, though, as Southern Miss has to face East Carolina and Houston on the road. Knocking off Kansas on Sept. 26 would pay huge dividends.
5. Utah Utes
After Congress and the Mountain West spent the offseason making a scene on C-Span, the spotlight rests fully on Utah. The Utes would love to throw another undefeated season in the critics' faces, but that will be difficult. For starters, the Utes lost three defenders, CBs Sean Smith and Brian McCain and DE Paul Kruger, to the NFL and standout kicker/punter Louie Sakoda. Utah has yet to pick a replace for Brian Johnson's at QB; junior Corbin Louks would seem to be the favorite, but coach Kyle Whittingham insists no decision has been made and true freshman Jordan Wynn impressed this spring as an early enrollee. In addition, Utah played fellow buster candidates BYU and TCU at home last season, but will face each on the road in 2009. On the bright side, the Utes will field another solid defense, led by an outstanding linebacking corps, and return versatile RB Matt Asiata, who should provide a spark.
6. Nevada Wolf Pack: If prolific passer Colin Kaepernick and the Pack upset Notre Dame in Week 1, wins over rebuilding Missouri and Boise could make them this year's dark-horse BCS buster.
7. Houston Cougars: The Cougars should once again field one of the nation's most potent offensive attacks behind dark-horse Heisman candidate QB Case Keenum and should run away with Conference USA's western division. Winning at Oklahoma State, however, will be a different matter.
8. East Carolina Pirates: The Pirates caught a break when the NCAA granted QB Patrick Pinkney a sixth year of eligibility, but they'll need many more breaks to topple Virginia Tech, a top five caliber team, for the second year in a row.
9. Central Michigan Chippewas: The Chippewas boast a record-setting QB in Dan LeFevour and a stout veteran defense, but they'll be hard-pressed to escape unscathed after facing Arizona, Michigan State and Boston College on the road.
10. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Tulsa will have to find a new identity now that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has gone to Auburn. It stands little chance against Oklahoma, but will have the opportunity to knock off many of the teams ahead of it on this list, including Boise, Houston, East Carolina and Southern Miss.
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