The Road to Glendale Top 25....
I don't even think the purest college football enthusiasts could have pictured Glendale, Arizona as the host city for what will be the "biggest" game in college football history. Tempe was once an little known bowl city in Arizona until January 2, 1987. That night it hosted the biggest and most hyped national title game at the time, Penn State vs. Miami.
So why I am I calling this year's national title game, with unknown participants, the "biggest" game in college football history. Well, for the first time the national championship game will not be hosted by a traditional "bowl" game and it will be hosted in the most modern football stadium in the world. Of course this is still not a playoff, but it is a start in the right direction.
The road to Glendale will be easier for some teams than others, it is all about scheduling. Last year I pegged Texas as the 12th best team to make it to Pasadena. I ranked them 12th because the Longhorns had the toughest non-conference road game in the country last year, at Ohio State, had not beaten Oklahoma in Dallas the last five years, and I expected Texas A&M to have a great year and the Aggies hosted the Longhorns. I was wrong. Vince Young worked his magic to pull out the win in Columbus. Oklahoma was still trying to find its stride in early October, and Texas stomped the Sooners. A&M just sucked, as did my picks, for not having faith in the all-mighty Vince Young and Texas.
This year's road to a national title is wide open. Last season, USC was everybody's No. 1 team and rightfully so. The 2003 and 2004 national champions fulfilled its destiny by earning a bid to last year's Rose Bowl but fell just a short of its quest for a three-peat. Who has the easiest road to Glendale? This poll ranks the best teams, with the best shot (meaning talent vs. schedule), to make into the national title game.
- Auburn- I believe the Tigers are a top 3 team talent wise, couple that with a favorable schedule and Auburn has the easiest road, in my opinion, to reach Glendale. It helps that the Tigers were snubbed by the BCS two years ago. Added motivation and a little love from voters is always nice to have in your corner.
- Louisville- The Cards are borderline top 15 team in terms of talent, but their toughest games (Miami and West Virginia) are both in Papa John's Stadium. Louisville was unstoppable at home last year and this year's offense will compensate for the defensive short falls. The Cards had its troubles on the road last year and Kansas State and Pitt could be tricky road games. Auburn can afford one loss, but Louisville does not have that luxury, it must run the table to make it to Glendale.
- Southern Cal- The Trojans are reloading and although the schedule has some big games (at Arkansas, Nebraska, Cal and Notre Dame), USC should be favored in all its games. The first four games (at Arkansas, Nebraska, at Arizona and at Washington State) are tough but USC can afford an early season loss and still make it to Glendale.
- Texas- Despite losing Young, the Longhorns are still loaded. Ohio State has to come to Austin and the Oklahoma monkey is off their back. There is, however, two very tough road games back-to-back in October, at Nebraska and at Texas Tech.
- West Virginia- The Mountaineers are loaded, but can they run the table. No Big East team will make it to Glendale with one loss. Especially when you consider UWV's two toughest games are at the end of the year, at Louisville and at Pitt.
- Iowa- QB Drew Tate had an off year last year, but is still one of the top playmakers in the nation. The Hawkeyes host Ohio State and have only one really tough road game, at Michigan.
- Oklahoma- The Sooners have a manageable slate, but I am still not convinced the offense will able to move the ball with ease as the 2000-2004 teams. Games at Oregon and at Texas A&M will be tough for this squad and we will see October 7 if the Texas magic was just a one year wonder.
- Notre Dame- The defense is awful per se, but the offense will score points in bunches. The first five games (at Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, at Michigan State and Purdue) is the toughest September schedule in the nation. And there is the season ending battle at USC. I can't see Notre Dame playing in Glendale if it loses its last game.
- Miami- If Miami can shake last year's Peach Bowl embarrassment and the new assistant coaches can make an impact, and then watch out for the 'Canes. The talent level is top five worthy and schedule is very favorable, but what about the mental makeup of this team? Florida State and Virginia Tech have to come to the Orange Bowl this year and although Louisville is tough road game, that game is winnable.
- Florida State- The offense has a chance to return to the glory days of Mark Richt's offensive schemes. The defense loses a bunch of talented starters but the schedule is "bookend". At Miami to start the year is tough, as is Florida at home to close the year, but everything in between is "easy".
- Ohio State- The Buckeyes are a top 5 team in terms of talent, but how I underestimated Texas last year, I might be underestimating Ohio State this year. There is no denying Troy Smith and the offense, but the defense loses nine starters. Texas and Iowa on the road is no easy task, even for one of the top teams in the country.
- LSU- The Tigers get no favors this year in their SEC schedule. If LSU had Auburn's schedule and vise versa, LSU would be my No. 1 team in this poll. The Tigers are loaded but road games at Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee will be too much for the Bayou Bengals to overcome. One loss maybe, but two losses means your road to Glendale is closed.
- Florida- Urban Meyer's second year has been magical at each of his previous coaching jobs. However, Bowling Green and Utah did not have to face the schedule the Gators will be facing this year: at Tennessee, at Auburn, vs. Georgia and at Florida State. Florida is a top 10 team, but could easily lose three to five games this year.
- California- The Bears road to Glendale has two major stops, one in Knoxville and the other in Los Angeles. They should be able to beat Tennessee early, but expecting a win at USC is a bit too much. The Pac 10 is very underrated, road games against Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona can not be taken lightly.
- Michigan- Last year I thought Michigan could be this year's favorite to win the national title, but two things have changed this thought. One, Michigan collapsed last year and lost five games, two, road games against Notre Dame and Ohio State fall into the un-winnable category this year.
- Georgia- The Dawgs have some key spots to fill, especially at quarterback, but still have the best running back unit in the nation. The schedule is also very manageable. Only two games can be considered difficult, vs. Florida and at Auburn. The World Largest Cocktail Party is a neutral site contest, and luckily for UGA the away team has always has success in the South's Oldest Rivalry, just ask Auburn about last year.
- Nebraska- The Cornhuskers are back. This team should win 10 games and if it can find away to beat Texas and win the Big 12 Championship game, Glendale is a possibility even with an early season loss at USC.
- Tennessee- The Volunteers are coming off their first losing season since 1988. David Cutcliff is back to run the offense and expectations are high on Rocky Top. Hosting Cal in the opener is not a good way for a 5-6 team to start the season. Win or lose, Tennessee should be able to take care of the rest of the home slate. The road games are not too bad, at Georgia is the biggie.
- Pittsburgh- The Panthers had an awful year last season. Tyler Palko is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and I expect coach Dave Wannstedt to turn around the program this year. Pitt is a borderline top 25-30 team in terms of talent but it should be big favorites in all its road games. If Heinz Field becomes a legitimate home field advantage this year then Virginia, Michigan State, West Virginia and Louisville could all fall victims to a surprise Panther team.
- Virginia Tech- The Hokie defense will keep this team in every game until the offense rolls around. The only real difficult games are at Boston College and at Miami.
- Boston College- The Eagles will surprise many this year. This is a top 20 team but must travel to Miami and Florida State. I can not see Boston College doing any better than 10-2.
- Utah- The Utes ran the table in 2004 and were the first non-BCS school to crash the party. They have the talent to run the table this year and the schedule is a laugher. More importantly, Utah could start the season in the top 25, which is the most important element for a non-BCS school in search of a BCS bid. If no one else is unbeaten, Utah could be the first non-BCS school to play for the national title.
- Michigan State- If the Spartans can find a way to beat Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, then watch out.
- Boise State- The Broncos play a very weak schedule. There is no reason they should not go 12-0. But the once mighty Boise State offense is a step slower than it was with Ryan Dinwiddie running the show. Jared Zabransky has to stop turning the ball over if the Broncos expect to win at Utah and beat Fresno State and Oregon State on the blue turf. Even then, BSU has a snowball chance in hell to play in Glendale, unless it is the Fiesta Bowl.
- Kansas- The Jayhawks have the easiest schedule of any BCS conference school, including the Big East. The talent level is low compared to the rest of the Big 12's top teams but Kansas misses Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the Big 12 South and Nebraska will probably be the only game against a top 25 team. Mark Mangino has had success in Lawrence. The defense is a mess but by mid season this team should be good enough to win at least 8 games.
Navy is the sentimental pick. Games against Tulsa and at Stanford are challenging, but if the Middies can beat Notre Dame in Baltimore, how can you keep a 12-0 Navy team out of the national championship game in a time of war?