BCS Bart Simpsons

Bear Bryant saw it coming. Florida fans have heard for years that the Alabama legend believed there was a sleeping giant in Gainesville. Steve Spurrier's arrival as coach finally got the Gator football program to the level fans had dreamed about. Underachieving wasn't confined to Florida by a long shot, though.

Despite incredible built in advantages, Texas was somehow a .500 or worse football team six times between 1986 and '97. Mack Brown's hiring made them a team that wins 80 percent of the time. Southern Cal had Paul Hackett lead them to a 19-18 mark for the three seasons before Pete Carroll arrived to restore the Trojans luster. So which programs that have recently been underachievers look like they might finally have figured things out in 2008? Here's the best prospect for each BCS conference.

ACC - North Carolina - The Butch Davis rebuilding project is in year two, with quite a bit of distance to cover to get UNC back to the level it was a decade ago. There still should be enough progress this season to get them back into a bowl for the first time in four years. Davis has upgraded the athletic ability on the Tar Heels, and a close look at the 2007 results shows only two of their eight losses were by more than a touchdown. Their schedule avoids what many anticipate will be the Atlantic division's three best teams in Clemson, Wake Forest and FSU. No one in the ACC is really turning heads right now, but the Tar Heels continued growth will be worth watching as the year goes on.

Big East - Pittsburgh - The Panthers were the Big East's BCS representative for the 2004 season, prior to the arrival of Dave Wannstedt as their coach. His three years have defined mediocrity, with a total record of 16-19. That 16th win, a 13-9 shocker over West Virginia in Morgantown, should be the one that indicated Pittsburgh was finally reemerging as a competent program and a steady bowl team. The Panthers have quality skill position talent, particularly star tailback LeSean McCoy, and an experienced defense. Anything less than a winning season and a bowl trip should be the end of Wannstedt's head coaching tenure, but with home games against a pair of MAC teams and a troubled Iowa squad to begin the season Pittsburgh should get off to a good start and ride the momentum on to the postseason.

Big Ten - Michigan State - The perpetual tease, Michigan State always seems to have potential and never quite follows through on it. Under Mark Dantonio, things may finally be different. He got the Spartans back to the postseason after three consecutive losing seasons that meant the end of John L. Smith's run as coach. Previous MSU teams dealing with adversity tended to fold, but the 2007 version snapped a three game losing streak with a road win against Purdue and followed it up by beating Penn State to reach the Champs Sports Bowl. With coaching transitions underway at Michigan, Purdue and potentially Penn State as well as Iowa struggling with off field issues, this is a great opportunity for Michigan State to move up the conference food chain. Quality skill players and an accommodating early schedule should allow that to occur.

Big Twelve - Colorado - Dan Hawkins did get Colorado to a bowl game last season, but a 6-7 mark didn't qualify them as truly being relevant again. This season, the progress should continue. Second year quarterback Cody Hawkins will be aided by the arrival of touted tailback Darrell Scott. Dan Hawkins is known as an offensive wizard but his style is totally different from former coach Gary Barnett's. Now that he has personnel to run the system, things should be better in Boulder. One potential drawback for this year's CU squad is their early schedule. Out of conference games with West Virginia and FSU being followed by two of the Big Twelve's best in Texas and Kansas could overwhelm a young team.

Pac-10 - none - Odds are good a year from now we'll be talking about UCLA here, but this year's squad has been devastated by quarterback injuries. With UCLA's huge selling points and the coaching combination of Rick Neuheisel, offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, things will get better in Westwood soon. Washington and Arizona are classic examples of underachieving programs, but neither looks likely to make a big move this year. The once great Huskies haven't been to a bowl since 2002, and a non-conference schedule of BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame should keep things that way this year. It's been ten years since Arizona saw postseason, and heading into year five as coach Mike Stoops has given little reason to believe he knows how to get them there.

SEC - South Carolina - Steve Spurrier's squad was at 6-1 and No. 6 in the BCS before five consecutive losses cost them even a bowl trip last year. South Carolina appears to have significantly upgraded their coaching staff with the additions of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski. Johnson has a good amount of returning talent to work with and should be able to improve the defense, which failed down the stretch in 2007 as a result of injuries to key players like Jasper Brinkley and Captain Munnerlyn as well as an ineffective scheme against the run. A back-loaded schedule will give South Carolina an excellent chance to get off to a strong start again, and they'll have a chance to heal with a bye week after game eight rather than playing 11 in a row as they did in 2007. Spurrier's guys still need to establish a quarterback and won't win a loaded SEC East, but they'll be a factor in determining who does and will get back to a bowl game.


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