If you love SEC football then the past four seasons have been magical.
Starting with Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators in 2006, the chant of S-E-C has been heard at the conclusion of the past four BCS Championship Games. Last year, it was Alabama handing Texas a 37-21 decision for the Tide’s first championship since 1992.
Of course, the Gators won in 2008 and LSU in 2007. The last time a non-SEC team won the championship was in 2005 when Vince Young led Texas to a 41-38 upset of USC.
So as we get ready for 2010, most analysts aren’t betting against the SEC. But the run has to end soon, right? Well, if it’s going to it’s going to take a special team.
Here’s a look at 10 teams who could pull off the feat.
Conference: Big East
Last national championship: 1976
The Panthers were a lot closer to being undefeated last year than many realize. Dave Wannstedt didn’t hit the ground running when he returned to his alma mater, but he’s been recruiting well almost every year.
Those recruits are starting to pay dividends. Pitt is not a clear-cut favorite to win the Big East, but the Panthers are probably the closest thing the conference has to a legitimate national title contender (as slim as that is). As close as the Panthers have been the past two seasons at winning the conference, it’s now time for Wannstedt’s team to deliver.
Why Pitt will win it all? After an early season slip at North Carolina State, Pitt was playing as well as anyone in the country until the final two weeks of the season. Close losses to West Virginia (19-16) and Cincinnati (45-44) kept Pitt out of a BCS bowl. However, the Panthers rebounded with a 19-17 victory over a tough North Carolina team. While the Tar Heels are not an SEC team, their defense is as good as any in that conference.
Leading the way is sophomore running back Dion Lewis and junior receiver Jonathan Baldwin—both are All-American candidates. The Panthers are also incredibly athletic on the defensive side of the ball and they can create havoc on any SEC offense (even Florida).
Why Pitt won’t win it all? If the Panthers lose just one game they are probably out of the hunt, even if they win the Big East. Pitt opens the season at Utah and then three weeks later plays Miami, Fla., at Heinz Field.
Pitt is also breaking in a new quarterback (Tino Sunseri) and must replace most of an offensive line that opened huge holes for Lewis last season.
Conference: Western Athletic
Last national championship: 1980 (Division I-AA)
The Broncos continue to be one of the feel-good stories in college football. Boise’s fans are a loyal and patient group, but if the Broncos go undefeated again this season and don’t get to play for a national championship the uproar will begin in Idaho and probably won’t stop until it hits Washington, D.C.
Boise has proven it can win big games. The Broncos downed Oregon from the Pac-10 in back-to-back seasons, and Boise has won its only two BCS bowl games.
Why Boise State will win it all? It’s simple: Chris Petersen. Give Urban Meyer and Nick Saban all the credit you want, but no coach has done a better job over the past four seasons and gotten more out of his players than Petersen. He’s 49-4 and his Broncos have claimed two BCS bowl victories.
Boise also returns 18 players from a team that went 13-0 last year, including one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks (Kellen Moore). He also has a talented group of receivers led by seniors Austin Pettis and Titus Young.
Why Boise State won’t win it all? The only way a non-BCS team will play for a national championship is by going undefeated. OK, Boise has done that two years in a row during the regular season, but to do it again in 2010 the Broncos will have to get past Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., in the season-opener on Sept. 6. That’s practically a home game for the Hokies and Frank Beamer will have his team ready to play.
The Broncos also host a good Oregon State team a few weeks later so there’s a good chance Boise will lose one, if not both, of those games. Also working against Boise is the poll voters. If there are three undefeated teams or even one undefeated team and a one-loss SEC team it is very likely Boise will be playing in another BCS Bowl.
Last national championship: None
We’ll actually get a chance to see if North Carolina can handle an elite SEC team right away when the Tar Heels face LSU in the opener in Atlanta on Sept. 4. That game should tell us a lot about both squads and what direction each one is going.
T.J. Yates remains the starter at quarterback, but Bryn Renner could take over early in the season if Yates plays with the same inconsistency that has followed him throughout his career.
Why North Carolina will win it all? The Tar Heels arguably have the nation’s best defense, which includes at least six players who should be drafted in the first three rounds next year. This defensive unit forces turnovers and loves to put up points of its own. North Carolina is also due for positive break. If it can avoid another rash of injuries this season Butch Davis is a special coach who knows what it takes to win it all and hang tough with the best of the SEC.
Why North Carolina won’t win it all? North Carolina must survive one of the toughest schedules, including that tough opener with LSU. The Tar Heels also play Georgia Tech (Sept. 18), at Rutgers (Sept. 25), Clemson (Oct. 9), at Miami (Oct. 23), at Florida State (Nov. 6) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 13).
Let’s not forget their anemic offense that just hasn’t found a way to score many points since Davis arrived in 2007. This year the offensive line is the weak spot.
Conference: Big Ten
Last national championship: 1958
Following a 9-0 start to the 2009 season, many analysts were debating the merits if Iowa and if the Hawkeyes should be considered for the championship game. Back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Ohio State ended the debate, but Iowa re-established itself as a national program.
If Iowa isn’t playing for a national championship there is a good chance it could be in a New Year’s Day bowl, or even representing the conference as a second team in a BCS game.
Why Iowa will win it all? Defense is the name of the game and Iowa has plenty to go around. It starts with the line, which includes all-everything defensive end Adrian Clayborn. If there’s a weak spot it’s at linebacker, but the unit is good enough to go up against any of the elite programs in the country.
The schedule is also favorable with most of Iowa’s big games at Kinnick Stadium, including Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State (that’s a great season-ticket package).
Why Iowa won’t win it all? The Hawkeyes are not likely to topple Ohio State from the top spot in the Big Ten just yet. Despite the favorable home schedule, Iowa will need a few too many breaks to go undefeated, which is probably the only way it makes the title contest. Offensively the Hawkeyes have some talented players, but they don’t put up enough points (ranked 86th in the nation last year at 23.2 points per game) to pull off a huge BCS championship game win. Also the line is inexperienced and that is bound to be an issue at some point.
Conference: Big 12
Last national championship: 1997
The Cornhuskers believe they are back from college football purgatory that they found themselves after four years of Bill Callahan. The defense has made monumental strides the past two seasons and expectations are even higher despite the loss of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the NFL.
That pressure-filled, athletic defensive approach is very SEC-like and would help Nebraska match up well. Give a great defensive unit just one game to win it all and anything is possible. Heck, the Cornhuskers nearly pulled the upset of No. 2 Texas in last year’s Big 12 championship.
Why Nebraska will win it all? The schedule is set up in a way that Nebraska could find itself in the Big 12 title game undefeated if it wins at Washington, at Oklahoma State and home with Texas. That is a possibility. The Cornhuskers would love nothing more than to win the league title before it bolts for the Big Ten.
It also helps that Coach Bo Pelini has revitalized the defense and he knows exactly what it would take to get past an SEC power. He gained valuable experience at LSU when it won the championship in 2007.
Why Nebraska won’t win it all? The offense, which may not have a quarterback tabbed as the starter until the season begins, was improved in 2009 but the unit still remains the Cornhuskers’ weak spot. They scored 15 at Virginia Tech, 10 against Texas Tech and Oklahoma and seven in a loss to Iowa State.
The Cornhuskers are likely to face either Oklahoma or Texas in the Big 12 championship and Nebraska would be an underdog.
Last national championship: None
There are experienced players all over the offensive side for Virginia Tech, led by senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor and sophomore running back Ryan Williams. The Hokies also return Darren Evans at running back, giving them an electrifying 1-2 punch.
The defense is young, but Bud Foster is considered one of the nation’s best coordinators and he’s working with an athletic, if inexperienced group.
Why Virginia Tech will win it all? The Hokies are one of the more talented and consistent teams in the nation to never win a championship. At some point they have to get the right mix of talent and luck, right?
That offense is going to score points in bunches, which means Virginia Tech could win a shootout with any SEC team. There’s also this thing called Beamer Ball. You’ve heard of it, right? We’ll, it seems the Hokies like to score on special teams through blocked punts and field goals.
Why Virginia Tech won’t win it all? If the Hokies lose the opener against Boise State any hope of playing for a national title are gone, even if they run the table and win the ACC. Even that won’t be easy. See there’s this small problem in November when Virginia Tech plays Georgia Tech, at North Carolina and at Miami in three consecutive weeks.
The defensive unit is young and Foster has his work cut out for him. Depth could also prove to be a problem if injuries start to mount on the defensive side. Special teams are usually a calling card of Virginia Tech, but starting the season with a new kicker means confidence won’t be high at first.
Conference: Big 12
Last national championship: 2005
There are a number of new players cracking the starting lineup in Austin, so we may have to get out the media guide to learn a little more about some of these guys. But make no mistake; many of these players will become household names before the 2010 season ends.
Defensive end Sam Acho will lead a defensive unit that will no doubt be coached up big time by coordinator Will Muschamp. If Texas can stay healthy and mature quickly it could be another special season for the Longhorns.
Why Texas will win it all? It would almost seem fitting that the year after four-year starter and golden boy Colt McCoy graduates to the NFL that the Longhorns find the magic to win the championship. Mack Brown has won a championship and lost one now, so he knows what it takes and how to prepare a team for the big game.
Don’t overlook the fact that year-in and year-out, Texas brings in some of the best football talent in the nation, so one a given night the Longhorns can play with the best.
Why Texas won’t win it all? Leaning on a first-year starter, even a talented one like Garrett Gilbert, with average receiver talent is not a good recipe for winning championships. Unless the running game is dominant, it would put a lot of pressure on the offensive line against a potential top level rushing defense.
The Longhorns were outclassed in last year’s championship with Alabama, and if anything, the Crimson Tide have gotten better while Texas has slipped a little in talent over last year.
Conference: Mountain West
Last national championship: 1938
After what TCU and Utah have done over the past few years, not to mention the talent at BYU and Air Force, it’s hard to argue against the Mountain West not being in the BCS mix. But TCU doesn’t have that luxury in 2010. If the Horned Frogs want to play in the BCS title game they’ll need to go 12-0 and have a little luck (something it didn’t get last year).
The offense ranked fifth in the nation with 38.3 points per game, and the defense was sixth with 12.8 points a game. Those are the kinds of numbers that make any SEC opponent take notice.
Why TCU will win it all? Known for having tough defenses under coach Gary Patterson, but the offense should be as formidable this year as last. Senior quarterback Andy Dalton is the leader and he returns all of his receivers (Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young and Antoine Hicks). That group can score on any team.
The Horned Frogs should start the season ranked high enough to get into the Top 2 if they go undefeated, and this team seems to have a confidence that it can play with the big boys. TCU just may get its shot.
Why TCU won’t win it all? The Horned Frogs had a chance to make a statement last year against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, but instead TCU fell flat. That performance does not help its cause, even if TCU goes undefeated again this year.
The defense probably won’t be as dominant as last year with the loss of defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington. It’s also plausible to see as many as three losses for the Horned Frogs this season. TCU opens against Oregon State in Arlington, Texas, then hosts Baylor and travels to Utah.
Conference: Big 12
Last national championship: 2000
There aren’t many programs that can’t wait to get 2010 underway more than Oklahoma. Last year was such a disappointment that the Sooners and their fans have to believe a return to form is in order in 2010.
Despite the subpar season, Oklahoma didn’t quit and finished the season with a regular-season pasting of rival Oklahoma State (27-0). It’s also nice that both sides of the ball have All-America candidates.
Why Oklahoma will win it all? Bob Stoops is one of the best coaches in college football and last season can’t sit well with him. Certainly he’s pulling the right strings to get the Sooners back on the national championship track.
It helps that Landry Jones gained some experience at quarterback during the lost year of Sam Bradford, and he should get plenty of support from running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles.
Why Oklahoma won’t win it all? The Sooners had national title aspirations last season, and instead finished 8-5 with a season-ending 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl. So expectations and talent don’t always translate into great seasons. Of course, injuries played a huge role.
You can’t overlook that schedule either. The Sooners host Florida State, Air Force and Texas Tech, go on the road to Cincinnati, Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, while playing Texas in Dallas. Getting through that unscathed will not be easy.
Conference: Big Ten
Last national championship: 2002
Terrelle Pryor’s performance in last year’s Rose Bowl gave many of the Bucknuts a reason to believe 2010 would be their year. Pryor is the key. If he develops and delivers there’s no reason to think Ohio State can’t run the table and erase the misery of its last two championship appearances.
Before the Buckeyes even begin to think about a national championship, though, their focus is on winning a sixth consecutive Big Ten title and a seventh straight victory over rival Michigan.
Why Ohio State will win it all? OSU gets a bad rap. The Buckeyes weren’t impressive in their past two BCS title games, but Ohio State attracts as many of the nation’s top players as anyone else.
Don’t overlook Ohio State’s defense either. While Pryor gets most of the headlines, the Buckeyes defense is one of the best in the nation and they are talented enough to stymie any SEC team.
Why Ohio State won’t win it all? If the Buckeyes have to play an SEC team … well we know how that’s worked out lately. Ohio State hasn’t matched up well with the quicker lineman of its SEC opponents. The Buckeyes also play a tough schedule that includes Miami, Fla., and road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa. So going undefeated or even 11-1 is not a guarantee.
Jim Tressel is a tremendous coach, but his conservative style has frustrated the most loyal of Buckeyes and it doesn’t translate well against the more wide-open and athletic SEC teams.