Every year there are potential “BCS-busters” who fight for inclusion in the BCS bowls at the end of the season despite coming from a conference that doesn’t gain an automatic qualifier spot. Last year, a shock in the MAC Championship Game occurred, as Bowling Green denied Northern Illinois an unbeaten season and the possibility of a second straight BCS Bowl. NIU participated in the Orange Bowl in 2012, losing to Florida State 31-10 and adding their name to a list including the likes of Boise State and TCU. So which teams have the best chance in 2014?
Best non-AQ Conference Teams
Marshall Thundering Herd
All of the talk in Huntington, West Virginia is about quarterback Rakeem Cato, who last year reached just shy of 4,000 yards with 39 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He is being highly touted as a great prospect for the draft next year due to his accurate arm and impressive athleticism, but the scrutiny will be higher too. The defense will also be looking to improve again after conceding 20 points less per game on average in 2013 from 2012, especially with a lot of their best players returning, including Evan McKelvey at weakside linebacker.
Marshall has a very manageable schedule through Conference USA as they draw Rice and Southern Miss from the West, while the biggest tests out-of-conference come against MAC members Ohio and Akron.
Boise State Broncos
Even with Chris Peterson now coaching the Washington Huskies, his legacy remains as he leaves some very good recruiting classes behind as well as a strong veteran team. New head coach Bryan Harsin joins from Arkansas State after an up-and-down 8-5 season in the Sun Belt Conference. The offense made a leap forward last year through playmakers Jay Adayi in the backfield and the physical 6’3 receiver Matt Miller. It was the defense that struggled in key defeats to Fresno State and San Diego State. They should be better this year as they add more depth to their eight returning starters.
The schedule again is very kind to them with all of their road games against teams with losing records last year, so it’s hard to see anyone passing them in the Mountain West. Out-of-conference, a neutral site game with Ole Miss and a home game with BYU will be the main barriers to the Broncos matching their unbeaten season in 2009.
Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Last year saw the Ragin’ Cajuns blaze through eight straight wins after expected losses against Arkansas and Kansas State, but the season ended sourly with a loss to rival ULM. This year, they return 17 starters from that team which shared the Sun Belt Conference title and look primed to win their first outright title since 1970.
Quarterback Terrance Broadway should be even better with a year of starting experience under his belt, while the defense has just two new starters to find with some highly touted prospects transferring like Trey Granier at linebacker, who moved from LSU. The biggest challenges this year come early on the road against Ole Miss and Boise State.
Bowling Green Falcons
They are more of an outside shot to surprise people this year, but there is no doubt that Bowling Green is the most talented team in the MAC East. As the MAC Conference Game showed last year, where they upset NIU 47-27, you can’t count them out of winning the conference again. Quarterback Matt Johnson returns to lead the offense, but he will be even happier to see Travis Greene return to the backfield after a 1,667-yard season with 11 touchdowns.
The biggest roadblock is their schedule, as they draw Toledo and Ball State out of the West while they have to go on the road against their biggest rivals in the East, Ohio and Akron. A visit to Wisconsin virtually guarantees them a loss, but it will be intriguing to see if they can upset Indiana the week before.
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