It has become more apparent in the past few years that teams from outside the glamour conferences can in fact become gatecrashers to the BCS party and do some damage when they get there. This week's Top 10 -- Best Shots to be a BCS Buster:
Boise State: The Broncos have a chance to get the buzz rolling early when they host Oregon. Last season, an incredibly young BSU team went to Autzen Stadium and knocked off the Ducks. Almost the entire Broncos team is back and the returning players all figure to be better, especially sophomore QB Kellen Moore. If BSU gets by Oregon, it's all way downhill from there. They go to Fresno State (BSU has won seven of eight games against the Bulldogs by an average of 24 ppg). The next-toughest hurdles would be at Tulsa and at Louisiana Tech and a home game with Nevada. That schedule is good IF Boise beats Oregon. If not, the Broncos could win the rest, going 11-1, and still not be a top-15 team.
BYU: There is a lot to like about this year's Cougars. Start with experienced QB Max Hall, a physical running game led by Harvey Unga, some big-play potential now that speedy WR McKay Jacobsen is back, a salty defense led by DE Jan Jorgensen (the MWC's all-time sacks leader) and their two toughest conference games, against TCU and Utah, are both at home. The bad news: They have to play mighty Oklahoma in their opener in Arlington, Texas. They also have to face FSU. I think the Cougars can beat the Noles, but I don't like their chances against the Sooners. Still, going 11-1 against this schedule, which should include four top-25 opponents, is more than respectable. And, if they upset the Sooners, then run the table while OU goes on to win the Big 12, BYU would have a legit shot at playing for the BCS title. That's a lot of pressure on a suspect O-line, especially since OU might have the country's top D-line.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles are back and have a bunch of players who would be starting in the SEC. If phenom WR DeAndre Brown is back to 100 percent by midsummer as Larry Fedora expects, USM will have a dynamic offense. Sophomore QB Austin Davis has a bunch of playmakers around him and the O-line is all back. Defensively, Fedora has his entire D-line back and it gets a big infusion of size and athleticism in DLs Willie Packer and Joel Ross and DE/OLB Scottie Williams. The road schedule won't be easy, though, with games at Kansas, Louisville, Houston and ECU. Still, USM might have more talent than any of them. But that's four road games against solid competition. Maybe USM can afford one slip and still get to a BCS game.
Houston: Kevin Sumlin is a rising star in the coaching business and his team should be dangerous this season. QB Case Keenum is an underrated gem with wonderful pocket presence and is just one of those undersized, Texas-bred quarterbacks who light up the scoreboard all season. He has a lot of speed around him and UH imported some talented juco O-linemen. The D does have a lot of holes to fill but UH is going to win a lot of shootouts. The game at Oklahoma State could be a 70-55 kind of affair. Then, UH gets a week off before hosting Texas Tech; Mike Leach protégé UH offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen gets to try to take down his mentor. The Cougs have the talent to keep both games very interesting. Road trips to Tulsa and UTEP also will be worth watching. Ten wins might seem like a lot but I think it's very realistic and would get them into the top 25.
TCU: This might be Gary Patterson's fastest team. Once again, TCU should be nasty on defense and junior QB Andy Dalton has some capable weapons to work with. The middle of the D is new, but Patterson says it's going to be more athletic than it was last year. The Horned Frogs have to go to Virginia, Clemson and BYU and get Utah at home. Going 10-2 might not be good enough for a BCS spot, but they might have enough speed to get to 11 wins.
ECU: After making a big early-season splash last season the Pirates fizzled. QB Patrick Pinkney is back again and will need to be much more consistent. He does have his entire O-line back and RB Dominique Lindsay is also back after missing 2008 with a knee injury. On D, five of the team's top six tacklers are back. But it's hard to be too optimistic when you see what awaits them in the nonconference schedule: at WVU and at UNC in consecutive weeks and later in the season they host a Virginia Tech team that might be in the top five.
Utah: I expect the Utes to take a step back this season. Bruising RB Matt Asiata is back, but not that much of the offense from last season joins him. The D again should be tough. I do wonder how much the Utes will miss star specialist Louie Sakoda, though. They also have three rough road games: at Oregon, at TCU and at BYU. I'd be stunned if they win two of those three.
Central Michigan: The Chips have a borderline Heisman hopeful in Dan LeFevour and they have a lot of experience around him. They can also make some noise with road wins at Arizona and Michigan State to open the season. I don't think it's out of the question to expect that, given both of those teams are breaking in new QBs and LeFevour & Co. have a lot of seasoning from playing in some hostile places. Another hurdle will be playing at BC, but the Eagles too have to establish a new QB and they lost a ton of talent on D. Having said all of that it's so hard for any MAC team to crash a BCS bowl. These guys can't afford anything less than an unbeaten season.
FAU: The Sun Belt doesn't get much respect, but the league's talent level is improving every year and its schools generally schedule some real heavyweights out of conference. I think Troy has the best chance to win this league, but the Trojans have to go to Florida and that's too steep for them. FAU, which returns a proven winner in QB Rusty Smith and his top seven receivers, is capable of winning the league and putting up a lot of points on anyone on its schedule. The Owls two toughest nonconference games are at Nebraska and at South Carolina. I think they'd be very fortunate to win one of those two especially since the Owls have to replace their top six tackles from 2008. Still, they have a much better shot taking down the Huskers and Cocks than Troy does winning at UF. Troy also has to go play an improving Arkansas team on the road as well.
Nevada: The Pack are a long, long shot but they are a fun team to watch. Lanky QB Colin Kaepernick is a little like a cross between Robert Griffin and Terrelle Pryor. He's also got a few quality RBs to balance out the offense some. Their D-line's also pretty good. In terms of the schedule, the Pack would need a lot of help. They open at Notre Dame, which I think is going to be improved. The problem is if Nevada upsets the Irish in the opener. Chances are no one will put any stock in the Irish again the rest of the season and that would devalue the win quite a bit. The Pack host Mizzou, which figures to be down. If they win those games and come into the final game at Boise with both teams somehow unbeaten and pull the upset, that would get Nevada into a BCS bowl, but I think that's highly unlikely. Going 10-2 is still probably on the north side of optimistic.
• There was some juicy stuff that came from Auburn's "Big Cat Weekend," in which the Tigers hosted a bunch of blue-chip prospects on unofficial visits. A lot of recruits, especially Texas RB Lache Seastrunk, left Auburn raving, Charles Goldberg writes.
There's also some video of the weekend festivities floating around the Web and at one point Seastrunk looks into the camera and gives Nick Saban a shout-out, saying, "What's up, Nick Saban? Wait 'til we get here."To read more on the Auburn vs. Alabama drama, please become an ESPN Insider.
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