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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Early Season Competitors for Mid-Major Champs

Last year, CFBN introduced its annual Mid-Major National Championship (MMNC). This arose after Boise State and Hawaii were snubbed from the title game following perfect regular seasons, thus raising doubts about whether the BCS selection committee would ever pick a mid-major to compete in the championship game again.

Now, CFBN is looking ahead to the early season contenders for this award. Here are the top ten contenders as of right now:

1. BYU (3-0)
Quality Wins: Washington, UCLA
Roadblocks: TCU, Air Force, Utah
Predicted Record: 12-0
BYU has looked pretty amazing in the first three weeks. The Cougars have tamed two Pac-10 opponents, with Max Hall passing his way into the spotlight (making memories of John Beck fade from the minds of the Provo faithful). And the team has seemed to get better each week, with little more room for improvement after a 59-0 whopping of UCLA. Now, BYU must set its sights on its Mountain West Conference schedule. Considering how aptly BYU handled its toughest games upfront, CFBN currently predicts a perfect record and, therefore, has the Cougars as the frontrunner for the MMNC.

2. East Carolina (3-0)
Quality Wins: Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Roadblocks: N.C. State, Houston, Virginia, Central Florida
Predicted Record: 10-2
Skip Holtz has people taking notice of the oft-ignored directional school from the Carolina coastline. Patrick Pinkney has been fabulous, even if his stats keep him under the radar. The senior quarterback has led the Pirates past two ranked opponents -- both of which played in BCS Bowls last season. However, East Carolina will have to face a few more tough games down the road, including Tom O'Brien's N.C. State and Al Groh's Virginia. As the Pirates seemed flat against Tulane, it reasonable to predict that they finish the season with at least two mishaps.

3. Fresno State (2-1)
Quality Wins: Rutgers
Roadblocks: UCLA, Nevada, Boise State
Predicted Record: 10-2
Pat Hill's tenacious 'dawgs are the favorites in the WAC in 2008. However, they will have to face a vengeful UCLA team, following the BYU debacle from earlier today. I predict that Fresno State runs out their WAC conference schedule, but fall short of BCS gold at the hands ... err, paws ... of the Bruins.

4. Utah (3-0)
Quality Wins: Michigan
Roadblocks: Air Force, Oregon State, TCU, BYU
Predicted Record: 10-2
The Utes brought memories of Armanti Edwards and Appalachian State back to the Big House, this year as the Wolverines were upset in their second-straight home opener. Quarterback Brian Johnson has provided the necessary leadership for this team, but it is still short in a number of the remaining talent positions, and will likely stub its toes against Oregon State and BYU, as well as possibly against TCU. How the Utes miss Urban Meyer ...

5. TCU (3-0)
Quality Wins: Stanford
Roadblocks: Oklahoma, BYU, Utah, Air Force
Predicted Finish: 9-3
Most likely the third-best team in the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs will have their hands full in match-ups with Oklahoma and BYU, as well as with Utah. If TCU could take down the seemingly unstoppable Sam Bradford-driven Oklahoma Sooners, they would likely shoot to the top of this list, with BYU and TCU eying their mid-season match as the likely determinant of the coveted mid-major BCS bowl, as well as the MMNC. However, the game against Utah should be a better litmus test of where this team stands, as the two programs are fairly equally matched at the moment.

6. Boise State (2-0)
Quality Wins: none
Roadblocks: Oregon, Nevada, Fresno State
Predicted Record: 10-2
Chris Petersen's Broncos will have a lot to prove this season, facing their usual WAC opponents coupled with a very resourceful Oregon team. While Boise State will benefit from Oregon QB Justin Roper's overtime injury against Purdue, the Broncos will have a tough time outplaying this Pac-10 power. However, Boise State is quite accustomed to being the big fish among the mid-majors, and still have a very talented halfback in Ian Johnson. Fresno State will also likely prove a very difficult game.

7. Central Michigan (2-1)
Quality Wins: none
Roadblocks: Purdue, Western Michigan, Indiana, Ball State
Predicted Record: 9-3
Dan LeFevour and his expected MAC champions are in the running for the MMNC, despite an early season loss to then-AP-No. 1 Georgia. While the Chippewas are capable of running the table in conference play, they will have their hands full against Curtis Painter's Boilermakers -- a match that is all-too-familiar for Central Michigan (see Purdue's regular season and bowl game victories from last season). I would also expect a loss to the Hoosiers.

8. Tulsa (2-0)
Quality Wins: none
Roadblocks: Rice, Central Florida, Arkansas, Houston
Predicted Record: 9-3
The Golden Hurricanes have one of the easiest paths to the coveted BCS bowl game, having to only survive a very mediocre Arkansas team. However, Tulsa lost a lot of talent to last year's graduating class, and I would not expect them to be quite as successful as in 2007. Bobby Petrino will likely have Arkansas playing on a higher level come their late season match, and Tulsa will probably trip against one or two conference opponents.

9. Troy (2-0)
Quality Wins: none
Roadblocks: Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Florida Atlantic, LSU
Predicted Record: 8-4
The Troy Trojans have one of the most difficult schedules in the country, having to face both participants in last year's BCS Title Game. Next week, they will face a very peeved Buckeye squad, looking to redeem themselves after a 35-3 drubbing at the hands of the other NCAA Trojans. Then, at the back end of Troy's schedule, they will face Les Miles' Bayou Bengals and an almost certain November loss. In between, the Trojans will face Oklahoma State and a slew of good Sun Belt teams (which is no longer an oxymoron). Expect losses to all three BCS conference opponents, as well as a loss to either Florida Atlantic or Arkansas State.

10. Air Force (3-0)
Quality Wins: none
Roadblocks: Utah, BYU, TCU
Predicted Record: 9-3
While Air Force is clearly the strongest of the service academies, the Falcons will face three superior conference opponents in Utah, BYU and TCU. Unfortunately, this means that our Boys in Blue will have to settle for the Commander-in-Chief trophy and be a spectator in the race for the MMNC.

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