Following a quick evaluation of the Associated Press' Top 25, which was announced today, there don't appear to be any real surprises.
Alabama's on top, followed by Ohio State, Boise State, Florida and Texas. Boise has earned its way into a Top 5 ranking, so it's not a shock. But what would shock many college football folks is if a team from the back of the pack worked its way up and reached the BCS Championship Game in January.
Teams outside of the Top 10 have a tough road to reach the title game as many things need to break their way. But if everything aligns just right, here are five teams that could be playing in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10.
No. 22 Auburn
Since an SEC team has won the last four championship games it seems like a good bet to start with a longshot from that conference. The Tigers may be another year or two away from serious championship consideration, but they have the talent to ask "What if?"
The biggest "What if?" is new QB Cam Newton. The former Florida Gator was impressive last spring and he's a dual-threat who could be a nightmare for defenses. Don't forget that Newton would probably be the starter in Gainesville right now if not for his off-the-field issues and he probably has the second strongest arm in the conference behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.
Auburn has moved Mario Fannin back to running back, but he's had trouble holding onto the ball in the past. Fannin can still be a major threat and should take pressure off of Newton.
There is a lot of experience on The Plains and Gene Chizik and his staff have done a great job recruiting. The Tigers had some ups and downs last year, but that close loss to Alabama was a confidence boost and this team believes it can beat anyone.
No. 17 Arkansas
The Razorbacks have been a Cinderella pick for a lot of prognosticators and bloggers, and for good reason.
Arkansas may just have the best player in the country in QB Ryan Mallett. The huge, strong-armed Mallett will likely surpass his gaudy numbers of 2009, which included 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns. Mallett is fortunate to have three big-time receivers (Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright) at his disposal.
But the SEC is a defensive conference and Arkansas will lean heavily on a unit that returns seven players. DE Jake Bequette leads a strong line, but the defense needs to cut down on the big plays it allowed last season.
The Razorbacks will find out early if they are legitimate contenders, though. After two easy games to begin the season, Arkansas travels to Georgia and then hosts defending champs Alabama. If they lose just one, Arkansas could survive. But if the Hogs open 0-2 in the SEC and it will be a huge disappointment.
No. 15 Pittsburgh
Dave Wannstedt's team? A Big East team? Really, Pitt?
It may be a long shot, but the Panthers are loaded with size, speed and athleticism. Pitt has been so close to winning the Big East the past two years, but the Panthers have folded down the stretch. That won't happen this year.
It starts with RB Dion Lewis, who rushed for almost 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns last season as he earned the conference's Offensive Player of the Year honor. Pitt also has one of the nation's best receivers in Jonathan Baldwin.
Pitt's downfall will come on either or both the offensive and defensive lines. There is talent their, but both units are inexperienced. The best player on either side is DE Greg Romeus, who is a big-time NFL prospect.
The schedule doesn't help much either. The Panthers open the season at Utah on Sept. 2, host No. 13 Miami on Sept. 23 and travel to Notre Dame on Oct. 9. The biggest challenges from within the Big East will be at Connecticut (Nov. 11), vs. West Virginia (Nov. 26) and at Cincinnati (Dec. 4).
Pitt is probably the biggest stretch, but if it navigates the schedule and is sitting at 12-0 on Dec. 5 it may be hard to keep them out of the title game.
No. 12 Wisconsin
Before the Badgers can be considered serious contenders they must figure out a way to beat Ohio State. Wisconsin gets the Buckeyes at Camp Randall in mid-October and both teams could be undefeated (do I hear Kirk Herbstreit and Gameday in Madison?).
So how does Wisconsin pull this off? It starts on offense where Bret Bielema will continue to play a balanced, ball-control approach that helped the Badgers go 10-3 last season. Wisconsin dropped its biggest challenges of 2009 until it took down a ranked Miami Hurricanes squad in the Champ Sports Bowl. What Wisconsin needs is some of that confidence and swagger to carry over to 2010.
The Badgers will rely heavily on RB John Clay, who was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2009. But he's not alone. QB Scott Tolzien gained outstanding experience last year and he has a stable of receivers to throw to--most notably Nick Toon, the son of former NFL receiver Al Toon.
Wisconsin will need to stay healthy and the defensive line, which is young, will need to step up big if the Badgers are going to win their first Big Ten crown since 1999. But the schedule is manageable, especially with Ohio State at home and not having to play Penn State. The two tough road games will be at Michigan State on Oct. 2 and at Iowa on Oct. 23.
If the Badgers reach the championship game it shouldn't be a huge surprise, but many around the nation will dread having a Big Ten team in this game.
No. 11 Oregon
If QB Jeremiah Masoli had not gone through a complete meltdown during the offseason and forced Chip Kelly to boot him from the team, the Ducks would be a Top 5 team.
Instead, Masoli has since transferred to Ole Miss and the Ducks are trying to settle the quarterback battle between senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas. Once Kelly makes a decision it's important for the quarterback to get settled in and work with the talent that is in place. The early season schedule provides some cushion for the new quarterback as well. Oregon should be 4-0 after playing New Mexico, at Tennessee, Portland State and at Arizona State.
The confidence should kick in for Costa or Thomas, and it doesn't hurt that one of them (or both) will be handing off to Heisman candidate LaMichael James. The entire offensive line and receiving corps also returns for Oregon, which means the Ducks could have one of the nation's most explosive units.
Don't overlook the defense either. Oregon is extremely athletic on this side of the ball and is considered the fastest in the Pac-10. The unit is led by senior DE Kenny Rowe and LBs Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.
There's a lot of talent in Eugene and if Kelly can get consistent play from his quarterback, Oregon should win the Pac-10 and could make the leap from No. 11 into the title game.