We're only three weeks into the college football season, but the course of the postseason is already taking shape. The power schools will continue to jockey for position atop the polls, but there's another extremely valuable spot up for grabs: this season's potential "BCS buster."
As we know, the current BCS system only has six automatic qualifiers (AAC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), plus four at-large bids (limit: two total berths per conference). The other four at-large bids are filled out by the bowl committees, selecting from the top 14 teams in the season's final BCS standings. There are two caveats here that provide an entry point for a Mountain West team or any other non-AQ school: Finishing in the top 12 or finishing in the top 16 AND ahead of one of the AQ champs.
As of right now, "busting" the BCS isn't seeming all that likely for any school -- though again, it is very, very early. The current simulated BCS standings are devoid of non-AQ schools until Fresno State at no. 30. The Bulldogs are followed by Northern Illinois (32), Boise State (36), BYU (37), Utah State (39), Navy (43) and San Jose State (44), respectively. These aren't the only schools who can crack the top 16 come the end of the year, but they're the most likely at this moment. Also keep in mind that of the eight teams that have been selected for a BCS game since 2004, last year's Northern Illinois team is the only one to have a loss on their resume. So if you're nominating schools, being undefeated is likely to be the first criteria, along with noted past success. With those factors (and others) in mind, here are our early BCS buster nominees, in order of likelihood:
1. Fresno State Bulldogs, MWC (2-0) (0-0): Fresno has a leg up on the competition for now, being undefeated and currently having the highest ranking. They also face off with two of the three best teams besides themselves in the Mountain West, Boise State and San Jose State at some point this season. Where they could get dinged, even if undefeated, is in their lack of a full slate, however. If the cancelled Colorado game is not rescheduled, that takes a big chunk out of their resume (despite the Buffaloes' ineptitude).
2. Northern Illinios Huskies, MAC (2-0) (0-0): NIU is undefeated, right behind Fresno in the BCS rankings and still has a major conference opponent on its schedule in Purdue. They also get the benefit of last year's success and an exciting player in Jordan Lynch with which national viewers can identify. Don't underestimate the importance of last year's team to this year's. Even if Fresno State is a better squad in 2013, they could be jumped by a Huskies squad with the same exact record, simply due to familiarity. Welcome to college football.
3. BYU Cougars, Independent (1-1): As always, BYU presents an interesting case. Their independence has actually yielded some pretty competitive schedules -- especially this season -- and if they can get through it with just one loss, that's sure to be BCS-worthy. Despite the inexplicable early loss to Virginia, an 11-1 BYU team (potentially) would possess victories over Boise State, Utah State, Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. Of course, that schedule's the same reason they're unlikely to go 11-1. But let's wait and see...
4. Boise State Broncos, MWC (2-1) (1-0): Funny to see Boise this far down the list, isn't it? But after getting throttled by Washington to start the year, the Broncos are in a pretty tough spot and will be forced to win out if they want a final BCS bid (their third would make them the best "buster" of all time). Obviously Washington winning can only help, and lucky for them, they also face their main competition for the bid: Fresno State, BYU, Utah State. They're not dead yet, and if anything, could stand the best chance of pulling themselves up in the rankings.
5. East Carolina Pirates, C-USA (2-1) (1-0): Beyond the loss already on the resume, ECU's facing an uphill battle with what may be the weakest schedule of these teams and the least BCS-level success in recent years. But at the same time, that may be a huge boost. Their only loss is a close five-point defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech and what may be the country's best defense. The Pirates' offense is probably one of the top 30 or 40 in the country. If they can win out, they'd claim victories over North Carolina, NC State, Tulsa and Marshall, plus a potential second victory over Tulsa in the Conference USA title game. Maybe not BCS-worthy, but if they're the only one-loss team, that might be enough.
Any other teams you'd like to see here? Present their case for inclusion in the comments below.