With the season quickly approaching, and the fact Block U is dedicated to a non-BCS team, I thought I would take the time to look at the top-10 non-BCS programs heading in 2007, along with Adam at Pitch Right. I won't lie, a lot of this will be based on what the team did last year, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise if this season we see a team rise higher than I thought. Where will Utah rank? Am I going to be bias, or level headed? Hm, maybe I'll piss on Utah just to look non-bias...or not even rank them at all, since they're coming off only an 8-win season. Blah, probably not.
So, with that out of the way, here's my list...
- TCU - They're the program every non-BCS team strives to be. Constantly successful and nearly always dominate, and that's been the Gary Patterson way since he took over the program 7 seasons ago. During those 7-seasons, Patterson has won 10 or more games 4 times (11 games 3 times) and has only had one losing season (2004). This year it's expected that the Horned Frogs will rise to the next level, as some are predicting they will crash the BCS. A daunting schedule, with road games against Texas and BYU and a home game against Utah though could trip them up in their quest for the school's first undefeated in _ years (eh, too lazy to look it up, probably happened Dutch fellow coached the team during the Roosevelt era).
- Boise State - How do you follow up a 13-0, Fiesta Bowl winning first season? Well that's exactly what Chris Petersen is facing with Boise State, and it's going to be tough to live up to that level of play. Luckily for the Broncos, they play in the WAC and have enough gimmie games to win 10 or more games again this season. Plus outside of Hawaii, they should roll and that might give them their billionth WAC title in a row.
- Hawaii - It's hard to believe there were talks of June Jones possibly being on the hot seat a few years ago. Of course winning 11 games makes it far easier to swallow the 5-7 season the Warriors had in 2005. Hawaii will also benefit from a very easy 2007 schedule. Their toughest game will be at home, against Boise State and their lone BCS opponent is Washington...not exactly Goliath.
- BYU - Coming off their best season in 6 years, the Cougars will look for back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since going 9-5 and 8-4 in 1998 and 1999. An easy schedule, especially with Utah and TCU at home, means the Cougars should win no less than 7 games. But they're also replacing John Beck and the leading rusher in school history, Curtis Brown. It might take a few weeks before their offense begins gelling enough to dominate like they did last year. That could pose a small problem for BYU, as they open up against Arizona (a team they lost to last year), and then play @ UCLA and @ Tulsa. They're going to have to rely on their defense early on, which returns 8 starters.
- Southern Miss - The Golden Eagles had a decent season last year and should be even better this season. They only return 6 players on offense, but 8 returning defensive players should help with yet another stellar defense. However a tough OOC schedule (with road games against Tennessee and Boise State), might doom them from any chance of competing for a BCS bowl bid.
- Utah - Hopefully the Utes aren't this far down the list this time next year. But after another mediocre campaign last season, I can't help but think Utah isn't ready to make the leap toward the top of the list, yet anyway. This year is going to be brutal for the Utes, as they have road games against Oregon State, Louisville, TCU and BYU and then have a home game against UCLA. All those games could be realistic losses and if that does happen, they will undoubtedly fall out of the top-10. However winning 3 of those games could go a long way at positioning them toward the top again. Utah does have the added benefit of returning most their offense, including quarterback Brian Johnson, who sat out the 2006 season.
- Navy - Coming off a 9-4 season, Paul Johnson's Midshipmen are looking for that program defining season. This could be that year, with a fairly easy schedule for Navy. Outside of Notre Dame and Rutgers, every game is winnable on their schedule. That could mean Navy's looking at an 11-win season when it's all said and done. If they can beat Notre Dame -- and that's a big if, since they haven't beaten them in 44 years -- or Rutgers, it could be a very special season.
- Houston - It took Art Briles 4 seasons to make an impact in Houston, but what an impact it was. The Cougars had their best season since John Jenkins roamed the sidelines in 1990. Going 10-4 and winning the Conference USA (their first since 1996), definitely took Briles off the hot seat, after some questioned whether he was going to turn Houston around. Now he's slowly building a top-level non-BCS program and the expectations are now matching that level.
- Tulsa - It will be interesting to see what Todd Graham does in his first season at Tulsa. He took over a pathetic Rice team and had them playing in their first bowl game in 45 years. However this isn't Rice he's taking over, and Tulsa has built itself up as a pretty decent mid-major team. Now he has to replace Steve Kragthorpe, who bolted for Louisville, but if he can mirror what he did at Rice there, the Golden Hurricanes should be right back at the top of the Conference USA.
- Troy - Clearly the class of the Sun Belt, now that North Texas has taken a tumble. Troy actually has done some amazing things over the past few years. Last season they dominated Rice in the New Orleans Bowl, came close to knocking off Florida State and in 2004 rolled Missouri. While being in the Sun Belt will always limit their record (bodybag games almost always guarantee 8 or less victories), they should cement themselves at the top of the conference. Though don't be surprised if Middle Tennessee State gives Troy a run for their money. It'll be interesting to see if Troy can maneuver their way into the Conference USA, which would help immensely.