and Top 10 Surprise Teams

August 22, 2008
By Todd Helmick

For the past few seasons here at NationalChamps.net, it has become a tradition the week before Labor Day to pick the two teams that will play for the BCS National Championship Game.

For 2008, the picks are a little more difficult. Especially taking into account that last season is still etched into the minds of many a college football fan. The zaniness that was 2007, when the No. 1 ranked team got knocked off their perch an astounding six different times, when a team with two losses wound up winning the national championship and parity (even at the Appalachian State level) appears to be more of a factor than at anytime in the history of the sport.

With all this said, it's time for NationalChamps.net to make a call. Who plays for the BCS National Championship Game in 2008?

OK, so it seems we may have gone out on a limb to some degree with Mizzou, even though they are currently ranked 6th in the recently released AP Preseason Poll. Here are the ‘Why's’ and the ‘Why Not’s’ concerning the championship race.

WHY: Chase Daniel, Defense and Schedule

The term "spread offense" is dominating the landscape and for good reason, given the offensive numbers being produced by every team currently running some form of the spread. No conference is doing it better than the Big 12. And Daniel may be the best and most experienced at operating this offense. The significant stat that goes unnoticed (aside from his 4,306 yards passing, 68% completion rate and his underrated ability to run with the pigskin - 253 yards rushing) is his ability to hit nine different receivers as he did versus then-undefeated Kansas in the final regular season game of last year. This kid is a special college QB.

When people think about the Big 12, they think offense. So in retrospect, the team that can field the best defense has to have a shot. With nine starters back on this side the Tigers are primed to be one of the better defenses prepared to slow down other conference foes. DE Stryker Sulak, LB Sean Weatherspoon and CB William Moore are all capable of earning All-American status by season's end.

How important is this? Missouri gets Illinois in the opener, which is a tough task given the skills of Illini QB Juice Williams. Get by that game and the Tigers should run the table heading into Austin on October 18. Also of note, South Division power hitters Oklahoma and Texas Tech are not on their regular season schedule.

August 30 - vs. Illinois @St. Louis, MO
October 18 - at Texas
November 29 - vs. Kansas @Kansas City, MO
December 6 - Big 12 Championship Game


WHY: Talent, Experience and Beanie Wells

TALENT: There is no question coach Jim Tressel has stocked his cupboard. Two national championship appearances the past two years tell us just as much.

DESIRE: No team in the country has as much to prove in terms of getting over the hump to win a national championship after the previous two BCS debacles. But understand this - Ohio State should have been pointing to 2008 as the year they got back to the title game…not 2007. Last year put them in this bonus position based on two aspects. One, the zaniness of college football…the Buckeyes lost in November at home to Illinois and still backed into the title game. Two, the schedule was fairly light. The non-conference opponents were appalling and the Big Ten was, well...not so strong.

EXPERIENCE: Back in the fold will be 18 starters, the most of any team in the current top 10 by a good margin. If the thought of OSU playing in the title game makes you cringe, our recommendation is that you skip ahead to 2009.

BEANIE WELLS: RB Chris "Beanie" Wells is flat out the best running back in college football. He is our favorite to be the only RB invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation. If you have seen him play or practice, no more explanation would be needed. Only a junior, this physical specimen should be performing for the last time this year at the collegiate level.

September 13 - at Southern California
September 27 - at Wisconsin
October 25 - Penn State
November 15 - at Illinois
November 22 - Michigan



WHY NOT: The schedule is absolutely brutal (NationalChamps.net No. 1 ranked schedule in all of the FBS). The Bulldogs are not accustomed to being in this situation...entering the season as a No. 1 ranked team. Injuries and dismissals have already started to hamper their cause. The offensive line is full of fresh faces and is not quite set to handle some of the better SEC front lines. Don't write the Dawgs off, though; there is a reason they come in as the top team. But that schedule thing again…ugh-a!

September 20 - at Arizona State
September 27 - Alabama
October 11 - Tennessee
October 25 - at Louisiana State
November 1 - vs. Florida @Jacksonville, FL
November 15 - at Auburn
December 6 - SEC Championship Game


WHY NOT: Bringing back only four full-time starters on the offense is not a concern considering the recruiting classes Pete Carroll has lined up. With a new QB and rebuilt OL, the task of lining up against Ohio State the second game of the season - in what is surely going to be tabbed "The 2008 Game Of The Century" - is a tall one. Granted, the Pac Ten is considered the worst BCS conference according to our numbers, and no one else on the schedule currently represents a legitimate top 15 team. So the schedule, as well as the time given to overcome an early loss, will be in their favor. But it also could hamper the Trojans in the end when it comes down to deciding between teams with identical records.

September 13 - Ohio State
October 4 - Oregon
October 11 - Arizona State


WHY NOT: Finding a “why not” reason on paper for OU is almost impossible. Bob Stoops' team is stacked with household names. If Missouri can't get there, Oklahoma likely will. The sting of losing the past two BCS bowl games still haunts the Sooner program. A good many freshmen and sophomores will be stepping in on defense (to provide depth and starting roles at some positions), which is not the formula needed for slowing down the Big 12 conference’s offensive juggernauts.

October 11 - vs. Texas @Dallas, TX
October 18 - Kansas
November 22 - Texas Tech
December 6 - Big 12 Championship Game


WHY NOT: Defense, plain and simple. Everyone knows about the offense under the direction of Heisman Winner Tim Tebow and the wealth of talent and experience surrounding him. But the defensive line and secondary have as many question marks as they did last season. Watching the stale Michigan offense drive up and down the field in last season's Capital One Bowl cannot be forgotten. The SEC foes won't make life any easier.

September 20 - at Tennessee
October 11 - Louisiana State
November 1 - vs. Georgia @Jacksonville, FL
SEC Championship Game


WHY NOT: Quarterback, plain and simple. The defending national champs lost incumbent Ryan Perrilloux, and now the reigns have been handed over to two guys that have a combined two pass attempts at this level. Coach Les Miles is certainly capable of reloading, which is what he will have to do defensively. The great secondary lost all but one starter and maybe even more important...D-coordinator Bo Pelini has left for Nebraska.

September 20 - at Auburn
October 11 - at Florida
October 25 - Georgia
November 8 - Alabama
December 6 - SEC Championship Game


WHY NOT: While Pat White continues to rack up the rushing yards and becomes the all-time NCAA record holder for rushing by a QB this fall, his defense loses a good many people. With only four starters back on this side of the ball, the task of outscoring opponents may prove too overwhelming. The ability to throw the ball has to become more of a factor in tight games down the stretch, and we have yet to see this element effectively employed in three years with White as the starter.

October 23 - Auburn
December 6 - South Florida


WHY NOT: The ACC won't produce a national champion anytime soon. While Clemson is certainly the most worthy team capable of getting in, they have not proven over the Tommy Bowden any ability to play consistently week-in and week-out. The one area that holds Clemson back is ostensibly the offensive line. If they could secure this unit, one where only two proven starters return, they may not be far off. But if games are won up front, scratch these Tigers.

August 30 - vs. Alabama @Atlanta, GA
October 9 - at Wake Forest
December 6 - ACC Championship Game

THE TOP TEN SURPRISE TEAMS FOR 2008 (Not from a national championship perspective)

1. Texas Tech - Defense outplayed the offense in the spring. We know the Red Raiders score points and put up phenomenal statistics offensively. That won't change. Defense is the missing key annually, and this group is capable of getting Tech over that hump.

2. Florida Atlantic - Six of the seven Sunshine State schools participating at the FBS level are, to us, worthy of top 50 bowl status. Watch out for Howard Schnellenberger's team as they continue the trends of success recently set by South Florida and UCF.

3. Ball State - The MAC is back. After somewhat of a drop-off the past few years, teams like Ball State and Central Michigan are putting this conference back on the map, with neither being an opponent that can be take lightly. Ball State has legitimately six players worthy of making a team roster at the next level.

4. Connecticut - No one remembers the fact that UConn shared the 2007 Big East crown. The Huskies held 10 of 13 opponents under the 20-point barrier and returns eight of those starters on defense.

5. Fresno State - How did coach Pat Hill's squad earn a top 25 preseason spot in the Coaches (USA Today) Poll? The Bulldog’s nine-win season of 2007 has most of its parts back, and the Bulldogs can beat everyone on their schedule...which includes Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA

6. Arizona State - The Pac Ten has become well known for producing great passers. QB Rudy Carpenter is the best of the conference. Georgia makes a trip to Tempe in September and the Dawgs had better beware.

7. Cincinnati - Another 10-win season is not impossible. The Bearcats have the best senior cornerback tandem in American with Smith and Mickens, while DT Terrill Byrd is a high first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft. UC is capable of making games with Oklahoma and WVU closer than most think.

8. Rutgers - Gone is Ray Rice. But unsung senior Mike Teel is the best passer in the Big East and he is primed to put up sizeable numbers with superstar receivers Britt and Underwood at his disposal.

9. Michigan State - With the Big Ten wide open after Ohio State, the Spartans may be in line for one of those tie-ins with the Capital One or Outback Bowls. Seniors Brian Hoyer and Javon Ringer at QB and RB, respectively, are as good as any backfield duo in the conference. Coach Mark Dantonio is already building bigger expectations in just his second season.

10. Buffalo - Don't laugh...this is the best team in the school’s history. Eighteen starters are back from a team that won a share of the MAC East Division. Rising young coach Turner Gill (who also built this offense as coordinator) has become one of the nation’s hottest coaches by guiding QB Drew Willy to most of the school's passing records. RB James Starks also became the first rusher to go for over 1,000 yards since the Bulls joined Division I-A.