The first thing that needs to be discussed is who are the SEC candidates. Who from the SEC is potentially national championship worthy?
South Carolina: Guys like Marcus Lattimore do not grow on tree's and this would figure to be the junior's last season. If healthy, every game is winnable. Road trips to LSU, UF, and Clemson are the case against.
Other BCS Conferences
Big 10: Ohio State is not bowl eligible. Penn State is a mess. Wisconsin's program seems to get stronger every year and the Badger's are knocking on the door. The Badger's could conceivably be favored in every game if the Huskers slip up early in the season. Michigan has Denard Robinson which gives them a chance against anyone. The problem is the schedule. The Wolverines go to South Bend, Columbus, and Lincoln. They also kick off the season with defending national champion Alabama.
Thoughts: This would not seem to be the year that the Big 10 gets a team into the title game. Could be a great conference race with three teams on each side vying for berths in the conference championship game. While OSU is not bowl eligible.......they can still stick losses on teams.
ACC: Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are the candidates here. Almost everything is in place at FSU for a title run. Veteran quarterback, plus defense, depth, talent. A relatively easy schedule does not hurt. The Noles have to beat Clemson in September and get a healthy season from E.J. Manuel.
How do the Tiger's respond from the meltdown in the Orange Bowl? We will know immediately as they open the season with Auburn in Atlanta. The schedule was navigable last year and it is again this year. The road trip to Tallahassee looms large early and the finale with South Carolina could mean a lot. Clemson has lost that game recently. This team has a chance to be better than last year if some pieces fall into place.
VT will once again field a team that can beat anyone on a given day. A tougher schedule than normal will likely be their undoing. The Hokie's open with Georgia Tech (history of not starting particularly fast) and have two Big East teams on the non-conference slate: at Pitt and Cincinnati. UNC, Miami, and Clemson are all on the road.
Pac 12: USC is clearly a national title contender. The return of Matt Barkley was huge. There is plenty of talent from the starting line-up. The Trojan's get the Fighting Irish and Ducks at home and their road schedule features several re-building teams. Pencil them in as the favorite to play for the title.
About all we can say with certainty about Oregon is that they will score a ton of points. The one schedule hurdle is back to back road trips to Cal and USC. Hard to win them both.
Summary: USC has a legit shot at a title. They will need to stay relatively injury free to make it happen. Oregon is really the only other team with a chance at winning them all.
Big 12: As usual the Big Two in this conference have a chance: Oklahoma and........you are expecting to hear "Texas"..........but the answer in 2012 is West Virginia. Yes, the Moutaineer's are in the Big 12 and yes they should compete for a conference title. The drilling of Clemson showed what happens when they are 'on'. The offensive pieces just get better.
Landry Jones return is a bonus. Yes he struggled, but any time you return a guy with his overall numbers and experience, you are better off for it. Plenty of talent on this roster. OU goes to Morgantown in November, we expect that game to be for the conference title.
The Longhorns will likely be better than 2011, but not good enough to compete at the top level. Kansas State makes the game ugly enough that they are a bit of a wildcard. That formula won them four games more than they should have.....if that trend continue's this could be an 11 win team.
Oklahoma State would seemingly be re-loading for the 2013 season.
Summary: It is hard to know how West Virginia will adjust to the new league. This league is tilted towards the offense so they should fit right in. Traditionally not the biggest team and that could hurt them against some of the bruisers in the league.
The story does make some sense from the OU perspective. Coach Stoops is due to make a run.
It would be surprising if anyone else truly entered the national championship picture.....but we are within five years of KU and MU playing as top three teams.
Big East: No teams are worthy of playing for a national title......and the second problem is that there is very little disparity in talent in this league. Thus, '5-2' type conference seasons have won it. Most people could not name the 'new' 8th team. It is Temple.
The Real Contenders
3. Florida State