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Sunday, August 25, 2013
The American Athletic Conference is in no rush to say goodbye to the BCS.
The Bowl Championship Series goes away after this season, but for now the American remains one of six conferences with automatic entry into college football's biggest games.
The conference ravaged by realignment remains a conference in flux.
Louisville and Rutgers are saying their goodbyes.
Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston are saying hello, moving in from Conference USA.
Holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida are making the best of being left out of the realignment shuffle. And Temple is just happy to be out of the Mid-American Conference.
The Cardinals, heading to the ACC in 2014, won the league last year and are favored to do it again. Louisville, with a manageable schedule and legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, has the potential to give the American some nice parting gifts on its way out.
Tulsa and East Carolina get one more chance to win another Conference USA title before moving to a new league.
Or maybe a newcomer like Louisiana Tech or Middle Tennessee can get started with a championship in C-USA, which still has plenty of teams coming and going.
The Bulldogs and Blue Raiders are among six new teams this season in Conference USA, those additions more than offsetting the four that left. Tulane joins Tulsa and East Carolina as schools in their final season in the league - and that trio will be fully replaced over the next two years.
Defending C-USA champion Tulsa lost eight starters from the league's top defense but is still the West Division favorite. The Golden Hurricane also won the league's first championship game in 2005. East Carolina, which has also won two titles in that span, returns eight starters on both offense and defense and is favored in the East on its way out.
When Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane head to the American Athletic Conference, there will be seven former C-USA teams next season in the league that used to be the Big East.
Although the Sun Belt Conference is in flux right now, all four of the league's bowl teams from last season are back.
Two of them are co-favorites to win the league - according to a preseason coaches' poll - and happen to be in-state rivals: Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. The other two are two-time defending league champion Arkansas State and Western Kentucky, which became the landing spot for Bobby Petrino's coaching comeback after the former Arkansas coach spent a season away from football
This should be Petrino's only season in the Sun Belt because WKU jumps to Conference USA next season. He hopes to have the Hilltoppers on top of the league and in a second-straight bowl, but the former Louisville and Atlanta Falcons coach doesn't expect it to be easy, and noted how far the once-fledgling mid-major league has come in its 13 years.
Here's the good news for the Mountain West Conference: Boise State stayed in the league.
And here's the bad news: Boise State stayed in the league.
All set to bolt for the Big East before this season, the Broncos had a change of plans and opted to remain in the conference. That only boosts the conference's profile, since the Broncos are a perennial top-25 team. That also means more headaches for everyone in the league, given that coach Chris Petersen's squads are tough to contain. Petersen is 84-8 since taking over the Broncos in 2006, winning at least 10 games each season.
This season, the conference will break into two divisions and hold its inaugural title game on Dec. 7. Naturally, Boise State was selected to win the Mountain Division in a recent media poll. On the other side, Fresno State was picked to capture the West Division.
This is far from a two-team race, though, especially with Utah State and San Jose State joining the league this season. Both teams went 11-2 last season in the WAC, won bowl games and finished in the final AP poll. Utah State's Chuckie Keeton and San Jose State's David Fales are among the top QBs in the country.
By every measure, Urban Meyer's first season at Ohio State was a smashing success. The Buckeyes won all 12 games, and Braxton Miller developed into a superstar quarterback along the way.
That's all gone now, practically ancient history in football-mad Columbus. The pressure is on for a blockbuster sequel, even if Meyer himself is preoccupied with the opening scenes.
While Miller and Ohio State begin the year as the Big Ten favorite, there are plenty of potential challengers.
Dynamic quarterback Devin Gardner thinks he's ready to lead Michigan back to the top of the conference. Taylor Martinez wants to put together another great year in his final season at Nebraska. Then there's Wisconsin, coming off a Rose Bowl trip and looking to make a smooth transition to new coach Gary Andersen, and Michigan State and more.
In the last year, the Mid-American Conference has had a team in the Orange Bowl and a player picked No. 1 in the NFL draft.
Now, for an encore - how about a Heisman Trophy?
That may seem far-fetched, but Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch finished seventh in the voting last season, and he's back to try to lead the Huskies to another banner year.
Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, and although the Huskies were beaten soundly, the MAC was celebrating again a short while later when Central Michigan offensive lineman Eric Fisher was the first pick in the draft.
Northern Illinois has a new coach - Rod Carey led the Huskies in their bowl because predecessor Dave Doeren had taken the North Carolina State job. And since the Huskies lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl by three touchdowns, the MAC champion might need an unbeaten record to repeat Northern Illinois' feat of reaching a BCS bowl.
Oregon and Stanford both return fresh off BCS bowl victories last season, with the Ducks taking the Fiesta Bowl and the Cardinal winning the Rose Bowl. While the Ducks are under new coach Mark Helfrich, not much has really changed in Eugene, apart from their new Taj Mahal of a training center.
The Cardinal host Oregon at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 7. Stanford beat Oregon 17-14 last season in overtime, but the West Coast powers realize their meeting is just one step in a season-long test to see if either team is capable of challenging the SEC for a national title.
The Pac-12 features its usual bumper crop of exceptional offensive talent. USC receiver Marqise Lee is back for his junior season with the Biletnikoff Award already on his shelf, while do-everything star De'Anthony Thomas should cause another year of misery for any defense facing Oregon - even if a new coach is orchestrating the plan.
While the seven-time defending national champion SEC and the Pac-12, among other leagues, have expanded during all the shuffling of conference affiliations the past few summers, the Big 12 has settled into a 10-team league.
There is no league championship game in early December to determine the Big 12 champion. Instead, every team plays the other nine league schools in a round-robin schedule that stretches over three full months - from West Virginia going to Oklahoma on Sept. 7, until two final regular-season games Dec. 7.
The title is seemingly up for grabs in the league that has lost four teams and added two since 2010.
Oklahoma State is the media's choice to win the league this time around. Kansas State and Oklahoma shared the title last year, with the Wildcats getting the league's automatic BCS berth because of their head-to-head victory over the Sooners.
The players are providing the star power in the Southeastern Conference's drive for an eighth-straight national title not those millionaire coaches.
Hop in the backseat, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier, and enjoy the ride.
There's plenty of headliners on the field, starting at quarterback with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Alabama's AJ McCarron and Georgia's Aaron Murray, plus a bounty of dangerous receivers. Tailbacks Georgia's Todd Gurley and 'Bama's T.J. Yeldon are superb sophomore runners.
Defensively, South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney and Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley lead the way.
That bounty of talent gives the SEC ample hope that the league can maintain its seven-year grip on the BCS title.
Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith's take on the SEC: Crystal balls don't win crystal trophies.
"There's no telling which team is going to come from where with the amount of talent," Smith said. "Nobody can predict the future."
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