We're four 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.
Busing the BCS has become both more likely and less likely at the same time after last week's slate of games. Fresno State, last week's leader, has moved up in the rankings all the way to no. 25, and continue to be ahead of the other non-AQ schools in the latest simulated BCS rankings. Beyond the Bulldogs, there's Northern Illinois (no. 30) and Navy (no. 39). Again, busting the BCS seems more likely as a result of the top teams moving up, but the other contending schools from last week are pretty much gone from the running.
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 (3-0) (1-0) (Last: 1): The Bulldogs' Friday night win over Boise State was incredibly messy, but they got the job done and as a result, are now in the driver's seat for the Mountain West title. By default, that also puts them in line for a BCS bid if they can just continue winning. It shouldn't be incredibly difficult given the slate they have left (Wyoming and San Jose State are the only real challenges remaining), but there are also no guarantees. For now, though, they have the leg up in the rankings against their competition, which should help the perception piece of the BCS puzzle, too.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies, MAC (3-0) (0-0) (Last: 2): Proven commodity (see last year's BCS bid) and an entirely winnable stretch the rest of the way means that NIU may be the most likely team to be unbeaten come the end of the year. Considering the fact that they've played no one thus far and are still in the projected BCS top 30 already doesn't bode well for the Bulldogs' chances with one-loss. Plus, since the Huskies play an additional game with Fresno's matchup with Colorado pretty much off the table, they'll have the inside track if they're the only undefeated non-AQ.
3. Wyoming Cowboys, MWC (3-1) (1-0) (Last: NR): Are the Cowboys the best team in the Mountain Division? Probably not, though for the time being they're its only one-loss team, giving them an inside track to be next up in the BCS conversation. Matchups with Boise State, Utah State, San Jose State and Fresno State should help determine just how good this Cowboys squad is as the season wears on. And if they're able to run through that group (unlikely, but stay with us), an 11-1 Cowboys team with just a three-point road loss to Nebraska on the resume would surely be in the running for a BCS bid.
4. East Carolina Pirates, C-USA (2-1) (1-0) (Last: 5): ECU's here by virtue of being the best team in Conference USA and by having the top potential resume in the league as well. Tulsa and Marshall are both on the slate as quality league opponents, plus they also have three ACC teams in Virginia Tech (already lost by five), North Carolina and NC State. Like last week, they're not the most likely team to run the rest of the table in this bunch, but the schedule would certainly give them some nice leverage over the other contenders, even with one loss.
5. Navy Midshipmen, Independent (2-0) (Last: NR): Navy's the only other unbeaten non-AQ besides Fresno and NIU, and are also the only other team in the projected BCS rankings. So by those factors alone, they pretty much have to get a mention. As discussed in the comments last week, the Midshipmen's schedule leaves a whole lot to be desired, though an undefeated record with wins over Pitt, Notre Dame, Duke and San Jose State should be significant enough to push them through if they manage to go undefeated.
Any other teams you'd like to see here? Present their case for inclusion in the comments below.