College Football: Who will crash BCS party in 2009?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009

By Caulton Tudor
Raleiogh News & Observer
Florida claimed The Bowl Championship Series national title with a 24-14 win over Oklahoma last Thursday night in Miami.
When the 2009 season title game is staged on Jan. 8, 2010, in Pasadena, Calif., no one will be surprised to see the top powers of this past season ó Florida, Oklahoma, Southern California, Texas, Ohio State and Penn State ó among the leading contenders again.
But if recent history holds, there will be a gate-crasher or two ó a Utah or Cincinnati. Consider these candidates (2008 record in parenthesis):
– Boise State (12-1)
OK, the Broncos, out of the Western Athletic Conference, are not among the BCS’ fully endowed big wheels.
OK, they lost 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl to TCU (11-2), which barely lost to Utah, which made Alabama look slow, confused and outdated in the Sugar Bowl.
OK, they were able to win at Oregon by a measly five or so points. But that was the Oregon team that waxed Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl.
Boise State may recruit Pac-10 and northern Big 12 leftovers, but don’t let the blue field and the funky uniforms fool you. The Broncs are good, and current freshman quarterback Kellen Moore (25 touchdown passes, 3,486 yards as rookie) is on the fast track to the NFL.
– California (9-4)Even if Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez goes pro, the Trojans will be prohibitive favorites in the Pacific-10. But Cal, with current sophomore running back Jahvid Best positioned to enter the Heisman conversation, should be good enough to make the league race interesting.
Outside the Pac-10, the Bears will face visiting Maryland (Sept. 5 opener) and Eastern Washington and go to Minnesota. At USC in ’08, the Trojans won 17-3. They’ll go to Berkeley on Oct. 3.
The big question facing Jeff Tedford’s staff is quarterback Kevin Riley, who was inconsistent and wound up sitting out the 24-17 Emerald Bowl win over Miami.
– Florida State (9-4)Although the Seminoles haven’t been in national-title contention since 2000, stability seems to be returning now that Jimbo Fisher’s offensive system is taking root.
Lots of questions have to be answered, including the outcome of an NCAA investigation into academic infractions dating to 2007. A handful of key players ó defensive star Pat Robinson and wide-out Preston Parker among others ó are mulling their NFL options.
But Fisher has found his quarterback ó Christian Ponder ó who played one of his best games in the easy Champs Bowl win over Wisconsin.
– Mississippi (9-4)
That 47-34 Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech was no fluke. The Rebels are right there on the front step, which should have been evident after their 31-13 win at LSU on Nov. 22, which was followed by a 45-0 win over Mississippi State leading into the Cotton Bowl.
But the key score may have been in a loss ó 24-20 at then-No. 2-ranked Alabama way back on Oct. 18. That outcome left Houston Nutt’s first Reb team 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. There may not have been a better team in the country afterward.
Both key offensive players ó quarterback Jevan Snead (26 TD passes) and 5-foot-8, 165-pound running back Dexter McCluster ó return.