Teams to watch from outside 5 major conferences
The BCS may be a thing of the past, but there’s still room in the new system for a variation of the traditional “BCS buster.”
College football’s new postseason format guarantees one team from the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference or Sun Belt a spot in the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton bowls, assuming one of those teams doesn’t end up in a national semifinal.
Here’s a look at six contenders to earn that coveted invitation.
BOISE STATE: The most famous BCS buster of all now will try to have similar postseason fortune in the post-BCS world. Boise State went 8-5 last fall - matching its combined loss total from the previous five seasons - and watched former coach Chris Petersen leave for Washington after the season. But the Broncos still should compete with Utah State for the Mountain West title. If the Broncos upset Ole Miss in Atlanta on Aug. 28, they ought to be favored in the rest of their games.
BOWLING GREEN: Quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene return after helping the Falcons go 10-4 and win a Mid-American Conference title last season. Bowling Green has enough talent to at least match that success this year under new coach Dino Babers, who took over after Wake Forest hired away Dave Clawson. Bowling Green will be a heavy underdog Sept. 20 at Wisconsin and also has a tricky road game Nov. 19 at Toledo.
UCF: The reigning Fiesta Bowl champions will try to defend their American Athletic Conference title without quarterback Blake Bortles, selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the third overall pick in the draft. But the Knights return most of last year’s defense, making a third straight season of at least 10 wins a distinct possibility. The toughest part of the schedule is early, as four of the first five games are home matchups with Penn State and BYU plus visits to Missouri and Houston.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats have won at least 10 games five of the last seven years and were picked to win the American Athletic Conference by the league’s media. Cincinnati returns 16 starters from last year’s 9-4 team and also welcomes Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel at quarterback. Cincinnati’s tough nonconference schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami. Cincinnati and UCF - the likely top two teams in the American - don’t face each other.
MARSHALL: The combination of a star quarterback (Rakeem Cato) and a favorable schedule have Marshall fans dreaming of the type of season they haven’t enjoyed since the Chad Pennington or Byron Leftwich years. Cato led Marshall to a 10-4 record and a Military Bowl victory last season. Marshall realistically should be favored in every game it plays this season. Marshall’s road schedule includes Football Bowl Subdivision newcomer Old Dominion and five teams - Akron, Miami (Ohio), Florida International, Southern Mississippi and UAB - that went a combined 9-51 last season.
UTAH STATE: The Aggies’ hopes could hinge on whether star quarterback Chuckie Keeton returns to peak form after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament last October. Utah State went 9-5 and won the Poinsettia Bowl last season even though the injury limited Keeton to just six games. The Aggies were 11-2 in 2012 when Keeton played a full season. The bad news for Utah State is that Keeton will be working behind a line that has only one returning starter. Utah State’s season opener at Tennessee gives the Aggies a chance to get some national attention early.