After taking a look at what all of the teams in the BCS Conferences look like heading into 2010 I think it is highly unlikely that any BCS Conference Champion will finish the season undefeated.
The end result could ultimately create the perfect storm for an undefeated Non-BCS Conference champion to slip into that elusive BCS Championship game.
That will be especially true for teams like Boise State and TCU that will start the season as Top 10 teams. How controversial would it be if those two teams faced off in a rematch of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl for all the marbles? It could happen.
I am going to take a slightly different approach with the Mountain West, WAC, CUSA, MAC, Sun Belt and Independents than I did with the BCS Conferences. Instead of hitting every team I will only be covering teams on the 2010 Notre Dame schedule and the teams that I see as potential BCS busters from those conferences.
Without further adieu…
The Mountain West
TCU- The Horned Frogs have posted 11+ wins in 4 of the last 5 seasons and made their first BCS appearance in a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. With that experience under their belts and 16 returning starters the Horned Frogs look to have their best team yet heading into 2010.
TCU has 9 returning starters on an offense that averaged 38.3 pts/gm last season to include QB Andy Dalton. Scoring points will not be an issue. The Horned Frogs also boast 7 returning starters on a defense that is one of the best in the country year in and year out. I expect they will continue to keep opponents in the 10 pts/gm range this fall.
There has been a lot of talk about Boise State having a one game season with Virginia Tech on the schedule but the Horned Frogs have an even easier road. They open with Oregon State at Jerrydome then round out September with Tennessee Tech, Baylor and @ SMU before jumping into conference play. Games against BYU, Air Force and @ Utah will provide the stiffest competition in conference play but TCU will be favored in all three games for good reason. I fully expect the Horned Frogs to be back in the BCS and potentially the BCS Championship Game in January.
Utah- The Utes will again have a solid football team this fall but will not be BCS caliber. Utah returns 8 starters on an offense that averaged 29.8 pts/gm but only 4 on a defense that allowed 20.2 pts/gm in 2009. Offensively the Utes should improve in 2010 but will be challenged to maintain the same performance on defense especially during the first half of the season.
Utah plays a challenging schedule with an opener against Pittsburgh followed by 6 winnable games before finishing with a tough 5 game slate that includes @ Air Force, TCU, @ Notre Dame, @ SDSU and BYU. As a result I see the Utes as an 8-9 win team this fall.
Boise State- Boise State has become the true media darling of the Non-BCS Conferences with good reason. The Broncos are very well coached and have posted Fiesta Bowl wins following undefeated seasons in both 2006 and 2009. With 10 returning starters back on both sides of the ball this fall the Broncos appear to be poised to do it again.
There is a lot of truth in the assertion that the Broncos have a one game season in their opener against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field. If Boise State can survive that engagement their next most dangerous game will be on 25 September when they host Oregon State. In conference play Fresno State and Nevada will provide the stiffest tests in back to back November games. I think the Broncos will come up a hair short against VT in the opener before ripping off 11 straight wins en-route to another BCS appearance.
Houston- The Cougars will continue to live and die by the shootout this fall but will have enough offensive firepower to get away with it. They return 8 starters on offense to include Heisman Candidate QB Case Keenum. Keenum puts up Playstation numbers on a weekly basis. The defense will continue to be porous but really only has to get off the field without giving up points 50% of the time to ensure a win. Non-conference trips to UCLA and Texas Tech will be interesting and I expect the Coogs will drop 1-2 barn burners with 100 total points on the board. If Kevin Sumlin and crew can dodge those bullets the Cougars could also find themselves in the BCS mix come December.
Tulsa- Todd Graham lost OC Gus Malzahn to Auburn in 2009 and the Golden Hurricane offense dropped their scoring totals by 20 pts/gm and sputtered to a 5-7 record. This off-season Graham dipped into the Texas HS ranks and grabbed accomplished HC Chad Morris to come in as Co-OC and QB Coach to try and right the ship.
With Morris on board and 9 returning starters on offense Tulsa should improve on the 29.3 pts/gm they posted in 2009 but the defense will likely remain suspect. Tulsa gave up 27.3 pt/gm last season and has 5 returning starters. Tulsa will be get back to a bowl game but I don’t expect them to finish very far above .500.
Western Michigan- The Broncos were a mediocre MAC team in 2009 and it looks like 2010 will be more of the same. They return 7 starters on offense and 6 on defense but lost QB Tim Hiller, RB Brandon West and their top two tacklers. They only splash the Broncos might make in 2010 is ending the sellout streak at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Sun Belt
No Sun Belt teams are scheduled to play Notre Dame, or appear to have any kind of a shot at sneaking into the BCS, but if you get a chance check out Middle Tennessee State QB Dwight Dasher. Dasher is fun to watch and will likely lead the Blue Raiders to Sun Belt title and a return trip to the New Orleans Bowl where they will be a lock em’ up pick.
Army- Rich Ellerson enters his second year at the helm in West Point and the Black Knights return 8 starters on both sides of the ball. With their newly implemented triple option offense Army improved in 2009 and should make positive strides again in 2010. Bowl game for the Black Knights? Possibly, but they will need to post 6 wins in their first 10 games to do it. The Black Knights will close out the season with a game against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium and their annual meeting with Navy. Both games will draw plenty of attention due to the history and tradition but I don’t anticipate Army pulling upsets in either case.
Navy- The Mids return 8 starters on offense to include QB Ricky Dobbs who can run the option in his sleep. The Navy offense will continue to be one of the more effective units in the country. Navy only returns 5 starters on defense and will have difficulty holding opponents below 20 pts/gm as they did in 2009. The Mids have been much improved defensively in the last two seasons but graduated some key tackling machines in Ross Pospisil and Ram Vela. Regardless Navy will continue to eat clock, move the chains and compete with every team on their schedule.
Also don't forget to check out our own Rocket 89's Two Part Notre Dame Preview if you haven't already.
Now that we have taken a look around the country we will focus on the goings on in South Bend as the Fighting Irish gear up for fall camp. In the coming weeks we will take an in depth look at the Notre Dame roster and further discuss the outlook for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish heading into the 2010 Season.