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After the most dramatic offseason in recent memory, the college football season returns. Just like every year, most teams have high aspirations, though only two will ultimately have the honor of playing for the top spot. As we survey the landscape of new conference line-ups, resurgences of old powers, and look for the needle in the haystack that is this year’s dark horse, I present to you a list of teams with many differences but one thing in common – something to prove. For each team on this list, I want them to show me something, and prove once and for all they really belong in the upper echelon of college football.
Florida State – Show me you’re back. Show me that an ACC team is finally ready to step into the national spotlight and night freeze up. Second year coach Jimbo Fisher has a squad that many feel has been his since he took the coach-in-waiting title three years ago. This is his team, and their time is now. How can you show me? Start by taking revenge on Oklahoma at home and follow that with a 3-0 road record for your first three conference games. Then we’ll talk.
Virginia Tech – Show me you’re ready to take that next step, finally. After starting each of the past two seasons with high profile losses (Alabama ’09, Boise St ’10), the Hokies have wised up and scheduled Appalachian State to open the season. If they can avoid a Michigan-like collapse at home, the Hokies have a very manageable season in a down ACC. Though it may seem doubtful to expect a birth in the BCS National Championship Game, you can show me by owning the ACC, as you have done in three out of the last four years – and win a BCS game.
South Florida – Show me you’re ready to live up to your potential. Teams from Florida have a history of conference championships – Florida, Florida State, Miami. Even in the fourth best program in the state, there is enough talent to dominate the Big East. Skip Holtz is in year two, and looking for that sophomore bump to that next level. Start by derailing Notre Dame’s BCS train on the road, and finish off September undefeated.
Syracuse – Show me that 2010 is a sign of things to come, not a flash in the pan. After having a mere nine wins from ’07-’09, the Orange went on a tear, notching eight wins and their first bowl win in recent memory. With four offensive linemen returning, and a favorable road schedule, this could be a dark horse for a BCS game. Start by going on the road to the Coliseum in week 3. Knock off a down USC team, and then we’ll talk.
Michigan State – Show me last year’s Capital One Bowl was an aberration and there is a Rose Bowl birth in your future. Due to Big Ten tiebreaker rules, the Spartans, one of three 11-1 teams, was denied BCS access, and instead were thrashed 49-7, while their BCS brethren went 1-1 (officially 0-2 after Ohio State vacated its win). This year, Sparty aims to take advantage of the inaugural year of divisional play to take the Big Ten title outright. To do that, they must travel to get their much-needed wins. Show me by returning home from Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa with wins.
Nebraska – Show me you’re ready to break out of the shadow of other powers, and make one of your own. In the Big Twelve, the Huskers were consistently held at arms length by Texas and Oklahoma. Though the Big Ten has more than two teams to contend with, Nebraska has the defense to run with any of them. Any journey starts with the first step, so show me by traveling to Wisconsin for your first conference game and coming home with a win.
Texas A&M – Show me you’re ready for relevance. After a decade of third at best in their own division, the Aggies had a staggering run towards the end of the season that included wins over Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Now, as they are likely playing their swan song, they no doubt want to go out on a better note than their northern neighbors last year. They want to win the conference and go out as champions. Show me by avenging last year’s losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas in Weeks 3 and 4.
Oklahoma – Show me you’re ready for the big time again. “Big Game” Bob Stoops earned the name by winning a national title in just his second season in Norman. Following that win was an 0-5 record in BCS games, including three losses against SEC competition in the national championship. Last year, the jinx was dispelled, but to an 8-5 UConn team. Show me by taking care of business and winning a BCS game at the end of the year against a quality opponent, perhaps even against one of those vaunted SEC teams.
Oregon – Show me you can avoid the hangover of losing key personnel after losing in the national championship game. It would be easy to set the Ducks aside as a 9 or 10-win team this year. Three O-line starters are gone, and starting cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended, and they start the year off with a huge game against LSU. Show me by taking advantage of a weakened Tiger team in Dallas.
Utah – Show me you belong in a BCS conference. Sure, many teams in the Big Six conferences don’t pull their weight, but the Utes carry the banner for all the redheaded stepchildren of college football (we’re looking at you, Boise State and TCU). Averaging 11 wins a season, including a Sugar Bowl thrashing of Alabama in ’08, there’s nothing to indicate they won’t live up to their billing. Going undefeated is a tall order for any team, but show me by winning the South division, and staying competitive with your foe from the North in the inaugural PAC-12 Championship Game.
Arkansas – After making their first appearance in a BCS bowl game – albeit a loss – the Razorbacks enter the season with expectations normally reserved for division rivals Alabama and LSU. They return what could be the nation’s best receiving corps, and potentially the best quarterback in the conference without a start. Even with running back Knile Davis out for the season, Petrino’s offense figures to keep rolling, this time with a more seasoned defense to keep the games more manageable. Show me by finishing September with a road win in Tuscaloosa.
South Carolina – Show me your personnel improvements lead to an improvement in the record. The Gamecocks made their first ever trip to the SEC Championship Game last year, and return their quarterback as well as arguably the best receiver and running back in the league. Add to that Jadeveon Clowney, the top rated recruit in the nation making waves on the D-line, and you have the makings for a potentially dominant team. Skirting LSU and Alabama in the regular season makes for a very manageable schedule. Show me by winning three in a row on the road, at Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and then we’ll take you seriously.
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