College football season is less than a month away and while a playoff system will arrive shortly, the BCS is not dead just yet. The preseason rankings for one major poll have already been released and the other is coming shortly. With the release of the polls and the speculation from the media, the teams in the top five or 10 are getting all of the early attention. But here is a look at some schools that few are talking about who could win its conference and earn a spot in a BCS bowl come January:
ACC Sleeper: N.C. State
The Wolfpack won their final three games in 2011 which included a blowout win over eventual ACC champion, Clemson. N.C. State returns quarterback Mike Glennon who passed for more than 3,000 yards with 31 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions in 2011. N.C. State also brings back leading rusher James Washington, who record more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage last season. On defense, All-American and the nation’s leader in interceptions a year ago, David Amerson returns for the Wolfpack. As far as the schedule is concerned, N.C. State will have to go to Clemson in November. The Wolfpack however, will get Florida State in Raleigh where the Wolfpack have defeated the Seminoles in four of the last seven meetings.
Big East Sleeper: Pittsburgh
The Big East is more wide open than ever before with West Virginia heading to the Big XII. While Cincinnati and Louisville are the early favorites, Pittsburgh has an excellent shot at winning the conference crown for the first time since 2004. Tino Sunseri returns for a third season as the Pittsburgh starting quarterback. Sunseri had a sub-par 2011, but if the running game led Ray Graham can keep the Panthers out of third and long, Sunseri has the ability to make plays with his legs as well as his arm. The Panthers should, as in years’ past, have one of the better defenses in the conference as they are led by All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Pittsburgh will be tested early as they travel to Cincinnati on the second Thursday of the regular season; the Panthers will also have to go to South Florida, but will get Louisville at home.
Big Ten Sleeper: Nebraska
Nebraska was the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten last season, but had a miserable finish dropping three of its final five games. The Cornhuskers have received little preseason attention due to the rise of Michigan, the Heisman hopes of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and the turmoil surrounding programs at Ohio State and Penn State. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, who combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards a year ago, each return for Nebraska. Martinez, a junior, will be in his third year as a starter, but has yet to fully mature as a passer. If Martinez can become more efficient in the passing game, Nebraska will be very dangerous. The Cornhuskers do lose some key pieces on the defensive side of the ball like Lavonte David and Jared Crick, but head coach Bo Pelini has always had a defensive mind and should find the right replacements. Nebraska will face a tough schedule, but will get both Wisconsin and Michigan in Lincoln.
Big XII Sleeper: Texas
Following the 2009 season, the Texas Longhorns were 13-0 and playing for a national championship. But over the last two years, Texas has compiled just a combined 13-12 record. Oklahoma received much acclaim in the offseason and with the addition of West Virginia and TCU to the Big XII, Texas has sort of gotten lost in the mix. Neither Case McCoy nor David Ash have secured the quarterback position for the Longhorns, but each have athleticism and potential. The Texas backfield has depth, but is young with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron each being sophomores. The Texas defense, which has been inconsistent over the past two years, is also very young, but loaded with talent from the past few recruiting classes. If the Longhorns can get serviceable quarterback play and the young defense can mature from a season ago, it would not be a stretch to see Texas compete for the Big XII crown once again.
Pac-12 Sleeper: Washington
USC and Oregon both begin the season in the top 5 and USC may have the most hyped quarterback in the entire country in Matt Barkley. Washington however, may have the most talented quarterback in the conference in junior Keith Price. Price passed for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011. In a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price out-shined Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III by throwing for 438 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for three more. Washington’s defense will once again be suspect, but Price and the Huskies can score enough points to keep things interesting. Washington does have to go to Oregon for a game it may need to win the Pac-12 North. The Huskies do get USC at home; under head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies are 2-1 against the Trojans.
SEC Sleeper: Florida
Looking back on the Urban Meyer era, it’s hard to believe that Florida is a sleeper to win the SEC. But much like Texas, Florida has drastically underachieved over the past two seasons. The Gators will be starting an inexperienced quarterback and lack a proven playmaker on offense. Running back Mike Gillislee and receiver Andre Debose have the talent to star for Florida, but Gillislee has had to wait his turn and Debose has underachieved. Even with Alabama and LSU, Florida may actually have the best defense in the SEC with the linebacking contingent of Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Ronald Powell. What the Gators also have going for them is that they play in the weaker division of the SEC, the East. Florida gets LSU, South Carolina and SEC newcomer Missouri at home while playing Georgia on a neutral field in Jacksonville.
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