It’s easy to predict an SEC team will play for the BCS Championship in 2013.
If you stick in the SEC West and go with Alabama, LSU, Arkansas or even Auburn and you won’t get many arguments.
Other easy picks are Oklahoma or West Virginia out of the Big 12, and even Louisville out of the Big East.
While they typical big dogs make the BCS Bowl Games every year (e.g., Oregon, USC, and so on), every once in awhile we have a shocker like Connecticut in 2011.
So who are this year’s potential darlings? Here are 10 programs that appear unlikely to make a BCS Bowl but could shock us in January.
10. Ohio Bobcats
The Bobcats are favored to win the Mid-American Conference and it’s pretty far-fetched to believe a team from this low-level league could crack a big game.
But Ohio could make a case if it goes undefeated. Wins over Penn State and Marshall would help a little, and both are actually winnable games.
Honestly, former Nebraska coach Frank Solich would prefer to just win a MAC championship — something that has eluded him and the Bobcats despite making the title game two of the past three years.
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks that most fans have never heard of, but they will know about him now. Ohio’s defense is also solid up front with three of the four linemen back.
9. North Carolina State Wolfpack
It would seem Florida State, Clemson and Virginia will battle it out for the ACC title. But don’t overlook North Carolina State to make a surprising run in the Atlantic Division.
The Wolfpack have a nice mix and look like a team that could challenge FSU and Clemson in the division. It starts with quarterback Mike Glennon, who had a breakout season in 2011. He finished with 31 touchdowns and 3,054 yards passing as the Wolfpack went 8-5.
Another reason you should take Tom O’Brien’s team serious is the strength in the defensive backfield, which could shut down the better passing attacks.
Will it be a huge jump to expect N.C. State to play in a BCS Bowl? Of course, but it’s the ACC and no one expects much any ways.
8. Washington Huskies
Washington lost four of its final five games last year, including a defensive meltdown against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
So why pick the Huskies now? Steve Sarkisian didn’t leave USC for Seattle to keep going 7-6. He has an offense that can score with the big dogs of the North Division, but Washington’s defense must develop.
The Huskies must get past Oregon and Stanford to have a serious shot at a BCS bowl, but with Heisman dark horse Keith Price leading the way I wouldn’t put a few upsets past Washington in 2012.
Of course, we’ll get an early indicator on Sept. 8 when Washington travels to LSU for a nice non-conference tilt.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
I’ve already told you why N.C. State could be the ACC pick, but Georgia Tech has an even easier route.
If the Yellow Jackets can hold off Virginia Tech and Virginia, a spot in the ACC title game will be theirs.
To be totally honest, I won’t be shocked at all if Paul Johnson’s team plays for conference championship since Tech has one key element that really makes the triple-option work — a veteran offensive line.
It also helps that Tevin Washington is back at quarterback, and he has two familiar backs to hand it to or pitch it to in David Sims and Orwin Smith.
6. TCU Horned Frogs
Fellow Big 12 newcomer West Virginia may be getting more preseason hype, but don’t overlook the Horned Frogs.
Gary Patterson is a master coach who will rally his team as they make the jump to a new conference. I know this isn’t the same type of TCU team that reached BCS Bowls in the past, but the key is the Horned Frogs have done this before.
The defense may be the weak spot, especially with the more challenging schedule, but TCU may be able to outscore its conference foes. The Horned Frogs also face a tough challenge from the ACC’s Virginia.
It will also be interesting to see how the Horned Frogs handle road games at WVU, Texas and Oklahoma State.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
As long as the Big East still gets an automatic invite to the BCS party, pretty much any team outside of Temple could be listed. But how ironic would it be the first year after Greg Schiano leaves the Scarlet Knights actually go out and win the Big East and get a BCS bowl?
I definitely like Rutgers chances this season better than Tampa Bay’s, where Schiano is coaching now in the NFL.
All Rutgers really has to do is win at South Florida, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and close with a win at home in the final game of the year with everyone’s Big East favorite Louisville.
If Rutgers can survive the first month of the season, which includes three roads … and one of those is at Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights also face experience issues at quarterback and on the offensive line.
But it’s the Big East and it’s wide open.
4. Utah Utes
Plenty of pundits loved to pick Utah to win the Pac-12 South last year, mainly because USC wasn’t eligible.
Well, the Utes learned a tough lesson that playing a BCS schedule every week is tough. Now Kyle Whittingham and the Utes are more prepared.
Utah closed 2011 with a bowl win and the Utes get quarterback Jordan Wynn back to pace an offense that could possibly keep up with the best in the Pac-12.
All the Utes may need is an upset of USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium and they could earn a surprise trip to the conference championship game. Of course, that will mean beating Stanford or Oregon, so this bid for the BCS will be a stretch.
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Similar to Utah, Nebraska was the darling of the Big Ten last season as the Cornhusker made their debut.
Nebraska went 9-4, but finished third in the Legends Division and was manhandled by South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
So why is this the year for Nebraska? The talent is still in place and now the novelty of playing in the Big Ten has worn off. It’s time for Taylor Martinez to truly take over the offense and become an Eric Crouch-type leader.
The defense has a few key components in place, but the unit has been too inconsistent.
I like this pick because Ohio State is ineligible and the other three leading contenders to win the Big Ten — Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin — are all vulnerable.
2. Boise State
Boise State may be without Kellen Moore at quarterback, but the Broncos will walk through the Mountain West and if they can defeat Michigan State in the season opener it will likely mean an undefeated campaign.
That’s nothing new for Chris Petersen. The guy is 73-6 in six seasons as the head coach at Boise.
There will be a lot of people who don’t feel the Broncos will deserve a BCS spot, but if they are really 12-0 it’s hard to believe they won’t get a seat at the table.
1. Pittsburgh Panthers
We all know the Big East will get someone, and with a coach like Paul Chryst you have to like Pitt’s chances of raising the level of its game.
The Panthers seem to be the biggest underachiever every year, but maybe this is the season they put it all together. If Chryst can help Tino Sunseri turn the corner as a quarterback then it could be a special season in 2012.
Back at running back is potential All-American Ray Graham, as well as a competent receiving corps. A big key will be eliminating injuries as Pitt lacks depth at many positions.
The defense took some major hits and will be challenged each week, but something tells me Chryst has a special touch that will work in Pittsburgh.
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