Commentary

Six teams vying for BCS title game

Updated: May 15, 2009, 11:41 AM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

You didn't like your team's position in the third version of our way-too-early preseason Top 25?

An early look at college football's best teams reveals about a half-dozen that seem to have a legitimate chance at playing for the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7 in Pasadena, Calif.

Among them is defending national champion Florida, which will be trying for its third BCS title in the last four seasons.

Another 11 or so teams should be in contention for one of the eight spots in the four lucrative BCS bowl games, and another eight teams in the preseason Top 25 will be trying for New Year's Day bowl games.

Here's the breakdown:

BCS National Championship contenders

1. Florida Gators
How they get to Pasadena: Keep doing what they're doing. This Florida team looks a lot like the 2006 team that won the BCS national title in coach Urban Meyer's second season. The Gators have a veteran quarterback and a menacing defense. The only things missing are proven playmakers on the perimeter, but tight end Aaron Hernandez looks like a weapon and receivers Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson showed promise during the spring.

Biggest roadblock: at LSU, Oct. 10

2. Texas Longhorns
How they get to Pasadena: Find a running game other than quarterback Colt McCoy. With McCoy and receivers Jordan Shipley and Malcolm Williams coming back, the Longhorns should have one of the country's best passing offenses. But Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whitaker or incoming freshman Chris Whaley has to emerge as a dependable running back.

Biggest roadblock: vs. Oklahoma (Dallas), Oct. 17

3. Oklahoma Sooners
How they get to Pasadena: Keep reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford standing upright. The Sooners return plenty of offensive weapons, including Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham. But the offensive line lost four starters, so pass protection will be a big area of concern heading into the season.

Biggest roadblock: vs. Texas (Dallas), Oct. 17

4. USC Trojans
How they get to Pasadena: It will be a very short bus ride -- if quarterback Aaron Corp can manage the offense as well as Mark Sanchez did. Corp is the starter headed into preseason camp, but he'll have to hold off ultra-talented freshman Matt Barkley. The Trojans have tailbacks stacked like cord wood and receiver Damian Williams might emerge as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The defense might not be as good with so many stars leaving for the NFL, so the Trojans will have to make up for it on offense.

Biggest roadblock: at Ohio State, Sept. 12

5. Virginia Tech Hokies
How they get to Pasadena: Throw the football better than they did the last two seasons. The Hokies will be able to run the football as well as anyone, with tailback Darren Evans running behind an improved offensive line. But quarterback Tyrod Taylor has to throw the football better, after largely relying on his legs last season.

Biggest roadblock: at Georgia Tech, Oct. 17

6. Ohio State Buckeyes
How they get to Pasadena: Find a running back to replace Chris "Beanie" Wells. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor should be better in his second season as a starter, but he'll have to carry a bigger load without Wells lining up behind him. The Buckeyes will probably go with a tailback tandem of Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine.

Biggest roadblock: at Penn State, Nov. 7

BCS Bowl Game contenders

7. Mississippi Rebels
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Find someone to protect quarterback Jevan Snead's blind side. The Rebels don't have too many concerns heading into the season, but replacing mammoth left tackle Michael Oher is the top priority. Converted tight end Bradley Sowell is the top candidate to fill Oher's very large shoes.

Biggest roadblock: at South Carolina, Sept. 24

8. Alabama Crimson Tide
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Rebuild the offensive line. The Crimson Tide were able to control the line of scrimmage as well as any team in the country last season, but they lost Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith, center Antoine Caldwell and right guard Marlon Davis. With Greg McElroy taking over at quarterback, pass protection can't be a deficiency.

Biggest roadblock: at Ole Miss, Oct. 10

9. Penn State Nittany Lions
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Find some receivers. The Nittany Lions lost the trio of Deon Butler, Justin Norwood and Derrick Williams, who combined to catch 132 passes for 1,932 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. With three new starters on the offensive line, quarterback Daryll Clark might not have as much time to throw.

Biggest roadblock: at Illinois, Oct. 3

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Play some defense. With quarterback Zac Robinson, tailback Kendall Hunter and receiver Dez Bryant coming back, the Cowboys can score as many points as any team in the country. But the Cowboys have to play at least a little bit of defense, which they struggled to do at times last season. The pass rush and pass coverage have to be better.

Biggest roadblock: at Oklahoma, Nov. 28

11. Oregon Ducks
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Survive the first four games. Give the Ducks a ton of credit for their aggressive nonconference schedule. Oregon opens the season Sept. 3 at Boise State and then plays home games against Purdue, Utah and California. New coach Chip Kelly's honeymoon will be brief, but a 3-1 start would put the Ducks in position for a BCS bowl game or even better.

Biggest roadblock: at Boise State, Sept. 3

12. LSU Tigers
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Get more consistent play at quarterback. The Tigers struggled mightily throwing the football last year, as Jarrett Lee was plagued by too many interceptions. Sophomore Jordan Jefferson played well down the stretch, leading the Tigers to a 38-3 rout over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Jefferson has to avoid the mistakes that plagued LSU's other quarterbacks last season.

Biggest roadblock: at Ole Miss, Nov. 21

13. California Golden Bears
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Find a quarterback. The Bears will be able to run the football very well with Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen coming back. But Cal's quarterbacks have been inept the last couple of seasons, which you don't expect from a Jeff Tedford-coached team. Kevin Riley is the favorite heading into camp, but he'll have to hold off Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney.

Biggest roadblock: at Oregon, Sept. 26

14. Boise State Broncos
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Win the opener. Boise State's Sept. 3 opener against Oregon is one of the most anticipated games in school history. If Boise State can beat the Ducks, it will be in good position to run the table again. Only road games at Fresno State and Tulsa appear to be potentially treacherous the rest of the way.

Biggest roadblock: at Tulsa, Oct. 14

15. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Throw the football better. Coach Paul Johnson proved last season that his triple-option spread offense can work in the ACC. He led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 record, including an upset of rival Georgia. But quarterback Josh Nesbitt has to become a more proficient passer, as opposing defenses might be better equipped to defend the option the second time around.

Biggest roadblock: at Florida State, Oct. 10

16. Georgia Bulldogs
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Run the football. The Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and record-setting tailback Knowshon Moreno, another NFL first-rounder. Georgia's coaches are confident that senior quarterback Joe Cox can manage the offense, but replacing Moreno might be more difficult. Sophomores Caleb King and Richard Samuel and freshman Carlton Thomas have to run the ball well.

Biggest roadblock: vs. Florida (Jacksonville), Oct. 31

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
How they get to a BCS bowl game: Run the football. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen showed in the Hawaii Bowl that he's capable of carrying the Fighting Irish, as long as he eliminates the mistakes that plagued him at times last season. But Notre Dame has to be more efficient running the football, which starts with the offensive line.

Biggest roadblock: at Michigan, Sept. 12

New Year's Day Bowl Contenders

18. TCU Horned Frogs
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Win road games. The Horned Frogs will have a chance to gain attention when they play road games against ACC foes Virginia on Sept. 12 and Clemson on Sept. 26. TCU also will have to survive MWC road games at Air Force on Oct. 10 and at BYU on Oct. 24.

Biggest roadblock: at BYU, Oct. 24

19. Iowa Hawkeyes
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Replace Shonn Greene. The Hawkeyes will have one of the best offensive lines in the country, so it won't be difficult for Jewel Hampton to find running holes. Hampton probably won't be able to replace Greene's vast production, so quarterback Ricky Stanzi will have to continue to improve.

Biggest roadblock: at Penn State, Sept. 26

20. Nebraska Cornhuskers
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Return to their roots. With quarterback Joe Ganz and top receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson departing, the Cornhuskers will have to run the football better than they did last season. Roy Helu Jr. looked like the team's best tailback at times last season, and new quarterback Zac Lee is more mobile than Ganz.

Biggest roadblock: at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19

21. North Carolina Tar Heels
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Replace the receivers. The Tar Heels lost a ton of talent on the perimeter, after Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster exhausted their eligibility and Hakeem Nicks left early for the NFL draft. Quarterback T.J. Yates is pretty good when he's healthy, but he'll have a bunch of new targets.

Biggest roadblock: at Virginia Tech, Oct. 29

22. Kansas Jayhawks
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Undergo a heart transplant. Departed linebackers James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera were more than three of the Jayhawks' leading tacklers. They were the heart and soul of a defense that struggled at times last season. Kansas plans on playing only two linebackers this season to improve its pass coverage.

Biggest roadblock: at Texas, Nov. 21

23. Utah Utes
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Settle on a quarterback. Duplicating last season's remarkable 13-0 finish won't be easy, especially after quarterback Brian Johnson departed. Corbin Louks is the quarterback to beat in preseason camp, but he'll have to hold off juco transfer Terrance Cain and freshman Jordan Wynn.

Biggest roadblock: at Oregon, Sept. 19

24. Brigham Young Cougars
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Enjoy the moment. The Cougars went into the 2008 season with the slogan, "Quest for Perfection." The Cougars seemed to buckle under the pressure, losing two of their last three games. BYU has some key pieces to replace on offense and won't have much time to gel before the Sept. 5 opener against Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas.

Biggest roadblock: vs. Oklahoma (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 5

25. Florida State Seminoles
How they get to a New Year's Day bowl game: Eliminate the distractions. The Seminoles made great strides last season, finishing 9-4 and beating Wisconsin 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl. But an NCAA investigation into academic cheating and other off-field problems stole the spotlight. The Seminoles are good enough to challenge for an ACC title, but they have to stay focused on their on-field issues.

Biggest roadblock: at Florida, Nov. 28

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

ALSO SEE