BOISE STATE BRONCOS
BSU returns 7 starters to a unit that was #2 in scoring offense last year. QB and Heisman contender Kellen Moore leads them. Moore threw 35 TDs last year and has RB Doug Martin supporting him. Martin ran for 1,260 yards, averaging 6.0 per carry. The line returns 3 starters, but WR depth could be problematic.
The Broncos were also #2 in scoring defense and also return 7 starters on that side of the ball, 3 of which are on the D-line. They were 1st in the nation in sacks last year, and 2nd in tackles for a loss. They'll have to be strong up front because their secondary is a bit shaky.
They're overrated, frankly. The receivers and the secondary are weaknesses. Their special teams will be a liability with punting, kicking, and coverage problems. But their schedule is weak enough to win lots of games, and win some by large margins.
9/3 vs. Georgia (in Atlanta)
11/12 vs. TCU
11-1, MWC Champions, no BCS bid
TCU HORNED FROGS
TCU are 27-1 in their last 28 games, and although they bid farewell to lots of talent, they'll still be a legitimate team in 2011. The defense won't be as dominant as it was last year, but both LBs return (they use a 4-2-5 scheme), the line should be okay, but the secondary is untested.
They'll be vulnerable on offense. RB Ed Westley rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 TDs as a sophomore. But the QB position will be a battle between sophomore Casey Pachal and freshman Matt Brown. The offensive line was a tremendous strength last year (only allowing 9 sacks), but only returns 1 starter.
The Frogs won't contend for a BCS berth, but they also won't lose many games. Their schedule isn't too imposing, and they only play 4 games outside of Texas.
10/28 vs. BYU (in Arlington)
11/12 @ Boise State
10-2, 2nd in MWC
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
When a team goes 8-5, then returns 8 starters on each side of the ball, it normally generates some optimism. Add the name "Notre Dame" to the mix and it generates BCS buzz. But I've never been one to look at Notre Dame through green glasses.
There'll be a QB battle between Dayne Crist and Tommy Reese. There are question marks at RB and WR. On the plus side, the O-line returns almost completely intact.
The defense improves throughout 2010, which isn't saying much because they started the year allowing nearly 400 yards per game. There are two standouts in safety Harrison Smith, who picked off 7 passes last year, and linebacker Manti Te'o, who was part of 133 tackles.
The Irish are overrated by some. They're a Top 25 team, certainly, but aren't in the same league as most of the teams ahead of them. Thanks to a relatively easy schedule, though, they'll likely rise in the rankings.
9/17 vs. Michigan State
10/22 vs. USC
11/26 @ Stanford
9-3, no BCS bid