A lot of things have to break your way to win an MNC. Ed Reed has to get a lucky bounce. Clint Stoerner has to put the ball on the ground. Michael Huff has to gamble on a 4th and 2.
For darkhorses, even more has to fall into place. If it does, here are 5 (technically 6) teams to watch:
Get this one out of the way early. Texas won't play anyone more talented, and in an era where LSU can lose twice as #1 and still win the MNC, one loss isn't quite the death sentence it used to be.
A win over OU will essentially guarantee an appearance in the title game, and if they can beat one of Kansas or Missouri in the regular season, then again in the championship game, how do you not vote for Texas, even with one loss? Assuming nobody makes it through unscathed (tOSU and USC are the only real threats to do that) a one loss Texas with wins over OU, Kansas/Missouri, and a title win would be a mighty fine resume.
The stretch here is assuming they can make it through OU, Kansas, and Missouri 2-1, and then win again in KC. It's possible, but they have to find a running game, and Muschamp has to make a difference immediately. If they keep the intensity from the Holiday Bowl then there isn't any reason they can't go 11-1. There are plenty of other reasons they can't, though.
Essentially the same as above, but they'll need Texas to beat OU, because neither team really matches up well with the Sooners. Whoever wins the game between the two will end up in the conference finals and if they face Texas, they have a chance to win. Again a resume with wins over Texas and the other squad will be hard to overlook.
Kansas has to play OU in the regular season, while Missouri doesn't. Missouri gets the advantage of only having two tough games instead of three, Kansas gets the potentially better strength of schedule argument. Either way, the always top heavy Big 12 seems primed to send somebody to the big show.
Who has a shot to beat USC this year? That's the question. Cal has an inconsistent QB, Arizona State has a shitty OL, Arizona has no talent, all the Washington schools have turned all of their football facilities over to the field hockey teams, and nobody plays defense. That leaves Oregon.
They have the second best defense in the conference, depending on which Arizona team decides to show up, and probably the best CB tandem in the conference.
Still, it'll all hinge on QB Nick Costa. Remember that name, because the guy can play. He spent all of last year injured but has already claimed the starting spot. Chip Kelly, who took Dennis Dixon from eye-raping awful to Heisman candidate, is jacked about Costa, so I have to be, too.
Their WRs are as good as you'll find. Jaison Williams is extremely talented, but inconsistent. He's an NFL guy if he can catch the damn ball more than once every two chances.
Kelly runs a clean, simple offense that shouldn't be too hard for the young Costa to pick up. If they are in any kind of groove by the USC game, they can win the Pac-10 in impressive fashion.
Plus, the media loves Mike Belloti, so Oregon will have the votes.
For years Lloyd Carr stifled this program with an offense designed for the late 80s. There is not a more noble coach in the land, but there sure are better ones, and Michigan took the step that Penn State and FSU are afraid to.
So how well can RichRod unlock the talent this season? There isn't a more statue friendly school than Michigan, so with Terrell Pryor's decision to go to Ohio State Savings and Loan, the Wolves are left with nobody at QB who can run. Can Rodriguez do anything with that kind of QB? He hasn't really had a chance to show anything since he arrived in 1-A.
The upside here is that the Big 10 is mostly awful and if Michigan can find any kind of effective offense, the talent on defense is more than enough to walk through the conference up to the tOSU game. There aren't any more stodgy, old school coaches here anymore. They'll be ushered into the 21st century and will be much better off for it, even if they replaced a genuinely good guy with a slimeball.
They are mostly a pick because of their competition. RichRod hasn't ever started well at a school, I guess because it's tough to adjust to his offense. The Michigan OL has good experience with zone blocking, but nobody has ever run a zone read before. That'll be a huge issue. Still, if your 2nd biggest game is fucking Illinois, you are a threat for that crystal football.
June Jones, baby. He makes bad players good, good players great, and great players Gods among men.
Unfortunately he also makes above average players cannon fodder for SEC teams, but that doesn't really count. Chuck 'n Duck 4 Life!