With the start of the 2011-2012 College Football Season a little more than a month away, let the speculation begin as to which team will come out on top when the smoke clears in early January, 2012. The SEC has had a strangle-hold on the National Championship over the last 10 years (claiming 6 in that span including the last 5 in a row) and they are poised to try and make it 6 in a row this season. The LSU Tigers are expected to be the dominant team in the conference but they will face plenty of obstacles from within the conference as well as outside of the conference. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will be a strong National title contender too and don’t count out the defending Champions, both SEC and National, the Auburn Tigers. This is just the western side of the SEC; don’t look past Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the east. This may be the best team he has fielded since he took over the helm in Columbia. So with all of this noted, the question begs, is there a serious threat from any other conference that can derail the SEC from claiming a sixth consecutive National Championship?
If you are going by conference, then the Big East does not have a team that can even threaten to win the SEC Championship. The closest they have may well be the Louisville Cardinals but Charlie Strong’s team is still short of being able to play for the big one; nonetheless they will be one of the favorites, if not the favorite to win the watered-down Big East and appear in a BCS Bowl.
The Pac-12 has just two teams with a shot… that would be last season’s runner-up, the Oregon Ducks and the Andrew Luck led Stanford Cardinals. The Ducks are still loaded on both sides of the ball and the offensive scheme is still unique to most defensive coordinators. But the Ducks are having some issues including the NCAA looking into the illegal / suspicious recruitment practices of several current players. For Stanford, the loss of their coach, Jim Harbaugh to the NFL and the graduation of three offensive linemen make a run at the NCAA title a chore but if they can knock off the Ducks and the Trojans, they will have a chance to play for the championship. USC would be a long shot to make a run as they just are down-trodden on the defensive side of the ball.
The Big Ten had at least three possible contenders to the thrown but with the mess up in Columbus that number is now down to two. The most serious threat out of the Big Ten could be Brett Bilema’s Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have a pair of running backs that can put up 100 rushing yds in the drop of a hat; they will run behind a bruising front line that is experienced. The defense is solid and they play smart. The other threat out of the conference would be the “new kids on the block”, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Bo Pelini’s Huskers have a defense that is rapidly getting the moniker back of “the Black-Shirt Defense” and if he can get the QB situation sorted out, and then the offense may be able to get in gear as well. The one thing that could hurt the Huskers is a schedule which does not necessarily favor them.
The ACC has been a conference that has been embattled as of late and much like the PAC 12, there really is only 2 teams that could halt the SEC’s run at 6th consecutive title, the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Florida State Seminoles. For the Hokies, they will have to break in a new QB for the departed Tyrod Taylor. They also lost a couple of RBs to early NFL Draft entrance but the Hokies have typically put their hat on their defense and special teams and both of those areas are solid. The offense may be the one thing standing in the way of the fans in Blacksburg getting that elusive National Title. The Noles will also have to break in somewhat of a new QB for the departed Christina Ponder. But Bert Emmanuel played in several games last season including leading his team to a Bowl victory. So he is poised and ready to make a splash as the full-time starter. The defense is fast and ferocious and the offense has plenty of weapons at the skilled positions. It is simply the mental lapses and the injuries that seem to always plague the Seminoles.
Last but not least, there is the now depleted Big 12 which will pin its hopes on the University of Oklahoma to bring home a National Championship. The Sooners will enter the season as No. 1 in most polls (LSU will undoubtedly get votes for the top spot as well) and this as well balanced of a team as you will find in all of college football this season. The only thing that seems to derail the Sooners is that always improbable and inexplicable loss to someone that they just didn’t seem prepared to play. Coach Stoops has to find a way to keep the focus and the hunger in his players each and every week. If he does that, the fans in Norman may be celebrating a return to its “glory days”. Texas will try to rebound after a disappointing campaign last season. Oklahoma St. could make a run but you just get the feeling they are still missing something. Texas A&M will be dangerous but they are National Champion material just yet.
The only other team left would be the Boise St. Broncos but as we saw last year, that road can be so difficult to climb year-after-year, especially when you are not a member of a BCS conference. Kellen Moore is back under center and the Broncos have some very good players on offense and defense. It still will come down to who loses in front of them and when they lose. A loss early in the season will still allow for a team in a BCS conference to still “leap-frog” the Broncos at the end. So the Broncos will always be the under-dog when trying to get to the title game.