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June 4, 2008

Can a non-BCS conference team win it all?

Perfection isn't always good enough.

In fact, three times it wasn't.

During the 10-year span of the BCS system, three teams from outside the "Big Six" conferences have finished the regular season with a perfect record but were not given the chance to compete for the national championship.

That raises this question: Can a team outside the "Big Six" realistically hope to get a shot at the national title?

Some say yes. Others aren't so sure. Both sides agree it would require jumping through a series of hoops that include:

• Going undefeated.

•Conference brethren having strong seasons.

• Beating a couple of successful "Big Six" teams.

• No more than one "Big Six" team finishing unbeaten. Better yet, none do.

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson is optimistic a team from his league could play for a national championship.

"I think we could play for a national championship," Thompson said. "But it would take a couple of factors. We've had five teams in nine years go undefeated in conference play. That's the first absolute … you have to go undefeated. We've had only one team in nine years go undefeated in conference and non-conference – Utah in 2004.

"So, you've got to be 8-and-0 in conference, undefeated in non-conference and also dependent on playing good people like Texas A&M and North Carolina (which Utah did in '04) and some teams that could be ranked high. Lastly, you've got to have a little bit of luck. The year Utah was undefeated, so were Auburn and two others."

USC and Oklahoma played for the 2004 national title.

Perception is a huge obstacle facing the Mountain West and other conferences of that ilk. Their best teams are seen as big fish in small ponds and therefore, the perception goes, they don't endure the grind that "Big Six" teams do. That criticism seemed valid in 2005, when TCU opened with an upset of No. 7 Oklahoma, then lost to SMU the next week.

But the Mountain West last season at least appeared comparable to the Big East and ACC in non-conference games against "Big Six" opponents. MWC teams were 8-10 (a .444 winning percentage), identical numbers to those posted by the Big East. ACC teams were 13-16 (.448).

The MWC was 4-1 in bowls, while the ACC was 2-6 and the Big East was 3-2. Of course, the argument can be made that the ACC and Big East faced more difficult postseason competition.

Still, that should provide some encouragement to teams in the lower-profile conferences.

"This year, if there are a bunch of one-loss teams, a 12-0 (Mountain West) team would absolutely be in contention for the national championship," Thompson said.

A bowl official speaking on condition of anonymity isn't so sure.

"I think it's certainly possible, but I don't know how plausible it is in a sense that it's always about competition and who you played throughout the season," he said. "A non-BCS team obviously has the deck stacked against them.

"It boils down to the weight of the schedule. Unless the non-conference schedule is stacked with top-tier BCS-level teams, they're not going to get enough marquee wins to overcome their conference schedules."

In that case, the teams that seem most likely to crash the BCS party this season would be BYU of the Mountain West and Fresno State of the Western Athletic Conference, with the MWC's TCU and Utah and the WAC's Boise State also capable of making things interesting.

BYU has more cachet than perhaps any other non-Big Six team because it won a national championship in 1984 and has a history of knocking off respected programs, including UCLA and Oregon in bowl games the past two seasons. The Cougars haven't lost a conference game in two years, and this season face Washington and UCLA in non-conference play.

Fresno State - generally regarded as the WAC favorite this season - plays Rutgers, Wisconsin and UCLA in non-conference games, so it has a chance to put together a strong resume, too.

But even then that might not be enough.

TRIVIA QUESTION

Name the former college football star who was the highest player taken in Major League Baseball's June amateur draft but never signed a pro baseball contract. (Answer at the end of the column.)

QUICK HITTERS

•SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who has proposed a "plus-one" format for determining the national championship, said recent comments by Florida State president T.K. Wetherell favoring a playoff system were counterproductive. Wetherell said recently that a postseason playoff in Division I-A is inevitable.

Baylor freshman quarterback Robert Griffin, who enrolled in January, set an NCAA Midwest Regional meet record by clocking 49.53 in the 400-meter hurdles last weekend.

Colorado and Colorado State are discussing a three-year extension to their series, which currently is scheduled to continue through 2010. But Colorado is interested in moving the 2009 game from a neutral site (Denver) to Boulder to give it six home games that season. CU officials reportedly have offered to extend the series through 2013 if Colorado State agrees to play in Boulder in '09, with the remaining games in Denver. But if the '09 game is played in Boulder, Colorado State would have the option of playing the 2010 game in Fort Collins. Playing on campus requires paying the visitor a $650,000 guarantee. Both reportedly earn more revenue when the game is played in Denver.

Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams has been suspended from the team for academic issues and whether he'll return is uncertain. Last season Williams caught 60 passes for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn second-team All-Big East honors.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Condredge Holloway was selected fourth overall by the Montreal Expos in the 1971 draft but never signed. Instead, he followed his mother's wishes and went to Tennessee, where he led the Volunteers to three consecutive bowl appearances as a starting quarterback.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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