1. Has Florida already won the National Championship?
They return Tim Tebow, and despite all the gushing done by Thom Brenneman and the Fox crew at the BCS Title game last season, the guy can flat out play the position and can run the ball extremely well along with being smart about it. More importantly, they return every single starter on defense and eighteen of the twenty-two starters total. That is downright scary if you think about it. They play only one really tough team out of conference, Florida State, but it's a home game.
They also play in the SEC with road games at LSU and South Carolina along with the usual Jacksonville party against Georgia. If they survive those three, they are in pretty good shape. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt comes calling to Gainesville this year. If they play Alabama, it will be in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
Seriously, it is very hard to find two losses here on the schedule and unless they drop the SEC Title game, it would be very hard to imagine a one-loss Florida team not playing in Pasadena for the BCS Championship come January.
2. If not Florida then...
One of the big advantages that Florida has is that there are two first half games for other title contenders that will make the loser needing to run the table to have any hope of reaching the big one. USC visits Ohio State for a prime time battle in Columbus on September 12th. While the experts seem to be favoring Penn State over Ohio State in the Big Ten, counting the Buckeyes out is silly against USC. Southern Cal, if it would be upset, would have to sweep Cal, Notre Dame, and Oregon all on the road. For the record, Ohio State is on the road for Penn State and Michigan, who will not be a pushover.
The other big early test for the title berth comes during the Texas State Fair and the annual clash between Texas and Oklahoma in Dallas. A Longhorn loss would be nasty as the next two games are on the road at Missouri and Oklahoma State, with a date at home against Kansas looming in late November. Thanksgiving night also sees the Longhorns at College Station to play Texas A&M. Ideally, they need three of those to be wins and maybe all four as they would need a win at the Big 12 Championship to go to Pasadena.
Oklahoma's road may be easier but not by much. The open with BYU, who maybe the top Non-BCS team in the land, and the week before the Texas game, they visit Miami at whatevertheycallit Stadium in Miami on October 3rd. Not only that, but the Sooners also visit Kansas and Nebraska later in the season. Fortunately, Oklahoma does have Oklahoma State in Norman this year.
Penn State plays only four on the road, Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, and the finale at Michigan State. They play a cupcake out of conference schedule at home, Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois. Ohio State comes calling November 7th and that could be Penn State's chance to earn their first trip to the National Championship game.
We will look at some other story lines next week as this column will appear every Thursday giving my take on the game. On a personal note, some may remember me from ITB's infancy, being on the podcasts and the blog. It is a thrill to be back and want to congratulate Brian on five years of covering the game. Incredible.