I was flipping through the channels earlier today and ESPN Classic was replaying the 1983 Sugar Bowl between Penn State and Georgia which is significant because it was the first national championship that Joe Paterno won.
It got me to thinking to which teams within the short term (10 years) are most likely to break through and win their first championship (counting the post-1936 era)....looking through this weeks AP top 25 there are a dozen teams (Cincinnati, Houston, Boise State Oregon, Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, South Florida and Stanford) without a Division 1-A championship to their name.
This is my countdown from 12 to 1 on the likeliness for these teams to break through and win a championship sometime within the next decade.
Houston has been an interesting team to say the least. This is the most success they've experienced since the late 80s/early 90s run and shoot era. They have good wins against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech but much of their success this year is on the arm of Case Keenum. Its made for some interesting football (i.e. a thrilling win over Tulsa that was relegated to CBS College Sports). The reality is it will tough to maintain this high level if they can't improve their defense and have a QB as good or better than Case Keenum once he graduates.
Iowa has always been one of those teams playing in the shadows of Ohio State/Penn State. They've been a program that can be penciled in for anywhere from 6-10 wins a year and be in and out of the Top 25. Iowa being in the top 5 going into this weekend seemed to be an aberration. In reality they were a few breaks away from having 3 or 4 losses already. I don't really see them breaking the ceiling.
In reality, Arizona and Stanford are interchangeable in these rankings. Arizona has been on the rise since Mike Stoops took over the program but they are still a ways away from breaking through to the elite tear.
They could go higher up the list depending on how far they progress under Jim Harbaugh. While Jim Harbaugh inherited a pretty bad team a few years ago, the seeds for Stanford breaking the Top 25 have been visible since their upset over USC a couple years ago. For Stanford it all depends on whether they plateau at a borderline top-25 school or whether they break through and can dethrone USC for a year or two.
South Florida has come along way, considering they didn't even have a football team until 1997. They have had some brushes with success even getting as high as #2 for one week in 2007. Still, they have yet to prove to hold up this caliber of play for an entire year. At this point, October seems to be their vice. Considering they play in a Big East conference that is more concerned with basketball, they could have a shot if they run the table one year and get enough breaks.
A classic example of a team that was able to break through from mediocre to above average but haven't experienced greatness. Barry Alvarez turned this program around and rescued them from mediocrity. The Badgers first break through came in 1993 when they won the Big Ten title and beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. They have won a few Rose Bowls since but we're 16 years down the road and they have yet to break through.
This year could be their best chance. That is not saying much considering they are in the Top 5 and a lot of unlikely things need to happen for them to break through. They pretty much need at least 3 teams out of Florida, Alabama, Texas and TCU to lose. One of Florida and Alabama will lose but Texas has a fairly clear path and TCU has a tough game against Utah as their major barrier.
Their chances looked much better earlier this year. They beat Georgia (when it meant something) got into the top 5 but slipped up against Houston a week later. Furthermore, they haven't been at full strength since Dez Bryant got suspended. Still, they have a couple things on their side. First, they play in a competitive Big 12 conference so they don't need to worry about strength of schedule concerns. Second, they have the money to breakthrough as their programs has received millions and a new stadium thanks to the donations of T.Boone Pickens. Obviously this year is a lost cause but with a higher profile and money on their side, they at have a fighting chance.
Utah has been trying to be the non-AQ trailblazer. They were the first to get into a BCS Bowl game. After losing Urban Meyer, they proved that this wasn't a fluke last year by getting to another BCS bowl (although they should of had a chance to play for the national title).
More of a hunch on this one. They got robbed of a shot in 2001 but I think Chip Kelly is the coach to take them over the top. While they took a step back after their loss to Stanford yesterday...it was impressive how they bounced back after their horrible loss to Boise State and made a season out of it when everyone they could have easily folded. My instinct is they get over the hump with Chip Kelly.
While V.Tech has been slightly disappointing this year, they are a team that is in the discussion for a title (for at least a little bit). They are a fairly established team, they are competitive year in and year out....its a matter of when not if for this program
I'm not sure what changes are in store for the next decade but at least one of the changes will help Boise State break the barrier. Boise State is college football's equivalent to Gonzaga in that their team profile is beyond the conference they play in. I could see anything from tweaks in the BCS......a playoff system (more of a pipe dream but come in it only works for every other sports organization) to Boise State moving up to a more competitive conference (either MWC or Pac-10)...that would silence the critics who point out to their weak strength of schedule.