Ever since Utah kicked down the door to college football's VIP room six years ago, the non-automatic qualifiers (né mid-majors) have been steadily building toward the ultimate playing-field leveler: a spot in the national title game.
Boise State staged a legendary upset over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Utah topped former No. 1 Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Last season, two non-AQ teams lifted the velvet ropes, as Boise met TCU in the Fiesta. The matchup was a landmark moment for the "little guy."
It also set the stage for what could be an even bigger 2010 season for the Broncos, who return the core of the team that left Glendale with a perfect record in tow.
The Broncos gained considerable respect by producing two undefeated seasons in three years. With 21 returning starters, including Heisman-contending QB
But don't expect rankings or hype to become a topic of conversation in the Broncos locker room. Former defensive coordinator
But this experienced lineup faces a more immediate concern: replacing corner/punt returner
Kelly arrived in South Bend saying all the right things. Upon taking over an Irish program that had gone 16-21 over the past three seasons, he boasted "we don't have a five-year plan, we have a five-minute plan and we'll start to work on it immediately."
Job No. 1 for the offensive-minded Kelly is getting
The Irish are extremely thin at QB behind Crist, with early enrollee
It won't matter how well Crist and Co. pick up the new offense, though, if the defense can't improve on last season. The Irish ranked 86th in total defense and gave up 425 yards per game during a season-ending four-game losing streak. On the plus side, they return eight starters, including a budding star in freshman all-America linebacker
Kelly was known for working wonders with overlooked talent at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. At Notre Dame, he'll inherit the remnants of two top 10 recruiting classes and a schedule that puts six or seven wins easily in reach. Getting bowl eligible won't stir any echoes, but it's a good place to start.
Hall took all but 34 of the Cougars' 1,416 snaps over the past three seasons. So while
Vying for the job this spring:
Mendenhall had hoped to select a starter by the end of spring, but a lack of depth on the offensive line
The delay may benefit Heaps, who will have more time to digest the offense. That said, Mendenhall rarely plays youngsters, regardless of the hype. His first QB,
While a surprise team will surely emerge, the list of potential BCS busters hasn't changed much from last season.
There's Boise, of course. There's also TCU, which returns nine offensive starters, including underrated QB
Houston won't have any trouble burning up the scoreboard thanks to the return of
Utah, with a more experienced
Who's next? Good question. Northern Illinois'