It is never too early to speculate which teams will get the eight magic tickets to college football's ultimate party, the Bowl Championship Series. As you recall, the six big conferences get one automatic berth and there are two at-large ones. Really, only one if Notre Dame qualifies.
So, without further ado, here are my eight picks in order of ease of getting the slot, not on winning the title.
1. NOTRE DAME- The Irish must win nine and be highly ranked in order to qualify, but they will. They only have three games on their pre-season slate that may spell trouble, Penn State and Michigan at home, along with Southern Cal in Los Angeles. The Penn State game is big for both teams, if Notre Dame rolls, watch out, they are headed for a huge season.
I think USC trips them up and Michigan gives them a hard time, but that's it unless they struggle against a pass happy team that is more complete then Air Force.
2. TEXAS- The defending National Champions are poised to romp through the Big 12 again. While the Big 12 looks stronger on paper, Texas is still head and shoulders above anyone else. They also have the luxury of having their biggest game be out of conference, hosting Ohio State on September 9th. Remember, they only have to win their division to get to the Big 12 title game. Yes, Oklahoma and Nebraska are better, but not in Texas country yet. They travel to Lubbock for Texas Tech and host bitter rival Texas A&M.
Even if they lose the title game, that would be the only loss and a BCS wild card would be theirs.
3. USC- The Trojans road to the Rose Bowl is easier because of their conference. The adjustment from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart seemed to work okay, and as long as the offensive line holds strong, the new USC backfield will shine. Nebraska, Cal, Notre Dame come calling to Los Angeles this fall, and UCLA seems to be a bit intimidated by the Trojan mystique now. Arkansas is their toughest road date and of course that is non-conference. Even if the Bruins upset 'SC, that should be their only loss and gets hem a trip to Pasadena and potentially a rematch with the Longhorns in Glendale.
4. WEST VIRGINIA- They showed last January what happens when you take a Big East team for granted in a major bowl game by upsetting the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. The road to BCS glory seems to favor the Mountaineers again as they play no eye catching teams in non-conference leading to the potentially undrperforming in conference schedule. Louisville and Pitt are road games in November and a split here is essential. However, the jury is still out on this conference as a whole and while Louisville, UConn and Southern Florida are on the rise, they should not be at WVU's level yet. A good team in an emerging conference.
5. FLORIDA STATE- Picking an ACC champion is never an easy task, but for all the wrong reasons. In order to strengthen them selves as a national football powerhouse, they have weakened it instead. They have two trouble games, Miami to open and Florida to close. Florida is out of conference, so a loss to Miami and a run of the table assures them a spot in the ACC title game at the Gator Bowl, and while there are some pests in the ACC, no one else can sting on a consistent basis. FSU controls their own fate.
6. OHIO STATE- Picking a Big Ten champ is never easy, but OSU is the only realistic choice here. The conference now has a major disadvantage because it is a tough conference and it does not host a playoff game. As usual, Michigan plays the role of lead spoiler and Penn State is going upward with a yet to be determined 4th team to complete the package.
A loss to Texas does not matter, but they must beat Penn State and Michigan at home to win. Someone will beat the Buckeyes in conference and a two loss conference record with a loss to either the Nittnay Lions or the Wolverines gets them a trip to Orlando, not Pasadena.
7. FLORIDA- If you thought the Big 10 was hard, then the SEC is a nightmare. If anyone comes out of that pressure cooker unbeaten, then they have won the national title. It's not happening this year. The Gators, along with Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee are capable of winning the whole enchilada. Florida and Auburn were perhaps the two most underrated programs in the country last year, and in year two of Florida's Urban Renewal plan, they looked
much better to close then they opened.
All bets are off if they lose to Tennessee in Knoxville.
8. LSU- If Florida should falter in either Tennessee or in Atlanta to close the year, the LSU tigers are poised to grab the automatic SEC spot. No Katrina worries this year, just a road schedule from hell. SEC road dates with Auburn, Tennessee, and Florida. Auburn is a must win. The conference is just too good.
With a playoff in three conferences, getting to the BCS will be easier for Nebraska, Oklahoma, Georgia, Auburn, Boston College, and Miami. They are, however, less then locks.
In my opinion, two teams have the best shot of getting to the bowls undefeated, Texas and West Virginia. While I would not take WVU as the second best team in the country, a Sugar/Orange Bowl win would clearly justify their BCS +1 berth and set them up for a title shot.