Looking ahead to the 2011 football season, many questions arise. Will Auburn be able to maintain their excellence with the loss of Cam Newton? Is Oregon poised to make another BCS title run under Chip Kelly? But the question that counts for all the teams in the smaller, “non-powerhouse” conferences is, which non-AQ team will be playing in a BCS bowl game at the end of this season.
If tradition holds true, one lucky squad from a non-BCS conference will get a chance to shine in the spotlight at either the Fiesta, Sugar, Rose, or Orange Bowls. And if the past has any indication of the future, they’ve got a really good shot at winning one of those bowls.
Since 2005, five non-AQ schools have made it as far as a BCS bowl game, with Hawaii’s 41-10 loss to Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl being the only blemish (and TCU’s loss to BSU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl). These sub-conference teams have found a knack to not only make it to the big games, but win them in stunning fashion as well.
Utah was the first team to start this trend with their victory over Pittsburg in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Since then Boise State has beaten Oklahoma and TCU, the Utes defeated Alabama as well, and last year TCU was able to outlast Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
While Utah, TCU, and BSU seem to be the biggest BCS party crashers, several other teams this season are looking to join them as “BCS Busters”.
1. Boise State (11-1, Defeated Utah 26-3 in Las Vegas Bowl) With the return of Heisman hopeful Kellen Moore at quarterback, the Broncos appear to be the earlier favorite for the non-AQ’s. The loss of Titus Young and Austin Pettis will impact Boise State’s ability to stretch the field, but senior workhorse Doug Martin will hopefully be able to make up some of the slack out of the Bronco’s backfield.
2. Texas Christian University (12-0, Defeated Wisconsin 21-19 in Rose Bowl) The Horned Frogs lost a lot with quarterback Andy Dalton moving on to the NFL. But with their depth on the defensive side of the ball, and linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock returning, the Frogs might not need to put up a lot of points on offense.
3. Brigham Young University (6-6, Defeated UTEP 52-24 in New Mexico Bowl) Many had written off the Cougars mid-way through last season, losing five of their first seven games. But a four game win streak along with the pounding they put on UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, has many experts thinking BYU is ready to make their presence felt on the national stage once again.
4. University of Tulsa (9-3, Defeated Hawai’i 62-35 in Hawai’i Bowl) Tulsa will have the talents of Quarterback G.J. Kinne returning to lead an offense that averaged 41.4 points per game last season. The Golden Hurricanes will need to put up points in a hurry, starting their season at Oklahoma, and then having to travel to Boise to face the Broncos in week four.
5. Houston (5-7) Houston’s success this season will be predicated upon how well sixth year quarterback Case Keenum can return from last year’s season ending knee injury. Keenum was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, and will attempt to become the all-time leader in NCAA passing yards this season.
6. San Diego State University (8-4, Defeated Navy 35-14 in Poinsettia Bowl) The Aztecs return one of the top young running backs in the nation in Ronnie Hillman. As a freshman last season Hillman was able to top 1,500 yards while scoring 17 touchdowns on the ground.
7. Air Force (8-4, Defeated Georgia Tech 14-7 in Independence Bowl) After spending the majority of last season floating in and out of the top 25, the Falcons are setting up for another big year in the Mountain West. Dual threat, senior quarterback Tim Jefferson will once again be wielding the reigns of Air Force’s triple option offense.
8. University of Central Florida (10-3, Defeated Georgia 10-6 in Liberty Bowl) UCF will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Conference USA’s eastern division. With a potent defense and a fairly light schedule the Knights could be looking at a good record and an even better bowl game come December
9. Nevada (12-1, Defeated Boston College 20-13 in Fight Hunger Bowl) Everyone knows what the Wolf Pack were able to accomplish last season, in defeating BSU and earning a co-WAC championship. But the real test for Nevada this season will be their ability to plug in a new quarterback in to their pistol offense, with the loss of playmaker Colin Kaepernick to the NFL.
10. Northern Illinois (10-3, Defeated Fresno State 40-17 in Humanitarian Bowl) Northern Illinois seemed to be flying under everyone’s radar last year, until they put together a nine game winning streak, dominating the MAC. Look for the Huskies to continue to improve this season, with their 14th overall defense.