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Senior College Football Columnist

Tuesday Top 10: Sizing up the early 2013 BCS odds


After spending a lot of time watching the NCAA hoops tournament and hearing about sleepers and favorites, I couldn't help but think a time or two about how the 2013 BCS title race shapes up. After checking the latest 2013 BCS championship odds (via betvega.com), this week's Top 10 list: the most intriguing team lines at this point of the off-season based on personnel, schedule and other minutia.

1-Georgia, 14-1: There is a lot to like about the Dawgs in 2012: Aaron Murray is back for a third season as the starting QB; they are deeper at RB and almost everyone from a nasty defense returns. Another huge factor of why I'm thinking of boarding this bandwagon is the schedule: You realistically cannot get a much more manageable route as an SEC team that what Georgia has this fall: They avoid Bama, LSU and Arkansas, the league's three most talented teams; they traded Boise State for Buffalo in the non-conference; they get Ga. Tech in Athens. And Florida and Tennessee are still sorting out rebuilding issues. The one snag is an October trip to South Carolina. Oh, and they have the SEC juice of six BCS titles in a row. I still think Bama and LSU have better shots to win it all, but at 14-1, the Dawgs would be a tempting pick.


2-Michigan, 22-1: The Wolverines had a great first season under Brady Hoke, capping it off by finally beating Ohio State and winning a BCS bowl. This team still is explosive with Denard Robinson back. Word is, Shoelace has shown "marked improvement" according to OC Al Borges in terms of the dual-threat guy's understanding of the offense and improved footwork. RB Fitz Toussaint really emerged last year to take some pressure of Robinson and the physical runner is back. Michigan does have to replace the anchor of the O-line in center David Molk, but converted LG Ricky Barnum has ability. Defensively, DC Greg Mattison worked wonders last year. Now, he has to replace his best D-lineman, Mike Martin and continue to bolster a young D. We'll see if Craig Roh and Jibreel Black can take a big step forward. We'll find out how tough this defense is right away when they face the defending BCS champs Alabama who return the nucleus of its O-line and prides itself on out-muscling opponents. Pull the upset in Week 1 and Michigan is officially all the way back and a national title contender. They also have three other challenging games away from the Big House: at ND, at Nebraska and at Ohio State.

3-WVU, 30-1:
It's Year 2 for Dana Holgorsen in Morgantown, and Year 2 for QB Geno Smith and a stacked crew of skill guys in this system. Look out, because they closed out last year in grand fashion, blowing out Clemson in the Orange Bowl. And now they've got added reps to hone the timing of the system even more.

But it's also only Year 1 for WVU in the tougher Big 12. Expect even more fireworks from the offense. Defensively, they have issues, though. Former DC Jeff Casteel took his 3-3-5 with him to Arizona. An overhauled D staff now will run a 3-4 as they also have to have new leaders and play-makers emerge. So it's realistic to expect a lot of shootouts in the Shootout Conference. Oklahoma figures to be the league's favorite, but at least WVU gets the Sooners to come to Morgantown. TCU has to come up north as well. Same for K-State. Those three teams combined for 31 wins last year and all three return their star QBs.

4-FSU, 12-1:
On paper, the Noles look and sound really good. QB E.J. Manuel is back and healthy. The young crew of wideouts has startling talent. The O-line has more experience and, best of all, the D is downright nasty. But, they are the Noles, and they've been chronic underachievers the past decade. Something has always come up: lack of focus, injuries, discipline issues, etc. And it's that history, that messed-up mojo, that is spooking people from getting on this bandwagon, especially after all of the hype going into 2011.

But, here we are again. Seeing their personnel coupled with their 2012 schedule and you almost have to have them on this list. They have two potentially rough road trips: to Va. Tech and a Miami team still rebuilding. After that, everything else of note goes through Tallahassee (Clemson and UF).


5-Texas, 28-1:
Mack Brown's program has been a dud since Colt McCoy moved on after the 2009 season. Texas did make some strides last year after that dismal 2010, but there is a lot of young talent that seems close to being ready there in Austin. Sophomore QB David Ash is winning over people around the program. His arm strength or athleticism were never the issue last year, but now he seems to have a grasp of the offense. Is he up for consistently being The Guy to lead this offense though?

UT wants to be more physical, and the Horns can be. They have two young stud backs in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, and a third, Jonathan Gray arrives soon. The D, in its first season under DC Manny Diaz, was good and should be even better. They'll play faster. We'll know just how for real the Horns are based on a three-week stretch that starts at the end of September: at Oklahoma State then home for WVU and off to Dallas to face OU.

6-USC, 5-1:
It's hard to get too giddy over any 5-1 pick, but the Trojans merit a spot on this list: True, they are no long shot, with only LSU (19-4) more of a favorite, but I'm surprised USC isn't the favorite among oddsmakers. LSU, which finished the season with a thud, has sizable concerns at QB. USC has Matt Barkley, the top quarterback in the country, and he's got the nation's best collection of receivers to throw to and a deep, experienced O-line. The Trojans also don't play in the SEC West. They get Oregon at the Coliseum. Notre Dame, their toughest non-conference opponent, also has to come to California. The trickiest part of this is a possible rematch against the Ducks in the Pac-12 title, but Oregon still hasn't found out its fate from the Willie Lyles recruiting mess. It's no stretch to think that the Ducks might not even be able to play in the Pac-12 title game.

7-Arkansas, 20-1:
Tyler Wilson loses three talented wideouts, but gets back stud RB Knile Davis, who missed all of 2012 with an injury. Davis has wowed folks with his spring workouts. He will spark the nation's No. 81 rushing game. However, the Hogs still have to survive the beastly SEC West, but at least they get LSU and Alabama at home this year. Going to South Carolina also will be thorny. The bigger question is, can Bobby Petrino's team be tough enough on D to come out of the SEC? The Hogs were decent on defense in 2011 (33rd in scoring D) but they lost most of the top defenders.

8-TCU, 50-1:
Like WVU, the Horned Frogs enter the Big 12 loaded on offense and with a lot of momentum from the end of the 2011 season. However, with the drug mess that surfaced a month or so ago, the Horned Frogs have a lot more concerns now than they did in Jan. 1. Those were four key players that were booted, especially LB Tanner Brock, who Gary Patterson was counting on the leader of the D in 2012. Without Brock, and without Tank Carder, who is moving on to the NFL after a standout career at TCU, Patterson has issues. They are going to be really, really young at a key spot. At least they get OU at home, though. But going to Morgantown in November is not going to be fun, especially since that trip follows a visit to Stillwater.

9-Tennessee, 100-1:
A massive long shot that actually has legit firepower. Talented Tyler Bray is back for Year 3 as the Vols starting QB. He's got two gifted receivers in the spectacular Justin Hunter and DaRick Rogers, and big JC transfer Cordarrelle Patterson will only make the passing attack that much more explosive assuming he qualifies. The Vols O-line needs to be tougher and more physical. They struggled under their former O-line coach, and should be better under Sam Pittman. Defensively, UT brought in a lot of JC beef up front. If those new guys have the maturity and focus and can fit in, which are big questions, the new D should be respectable.

Perhaps an even bigger issue is, whether Derek Dooley can lead this team out of the muck?Dooley has never proven that he can win big games as a head coach. UT insiders have talked about micro-managing and an ultra heavy-handed approach that gets in the way. The talent is there though. They also have eight home games. Nine wins should be doable.

10-BYU, 125-1:
The Cougars are the longest of long shots, but they might be worth keeping an eye. Usually teams beyond 75-1 are laughable options. Gritty QB Riley Nelson and dangerous WR Cody Hoffman are back to lead a team that finished 10-3 after a 2-2 start. It is worth noting that injuries have rocked the team this spring (among them: gifted soph WR Ross Apo banged up his shoulder, but is expected to be OK by summer, while LB Brandon Ogletree is dealing with a broken foot).

I buy that this is a 10-win team and possibly better but the Cougars are further down this list for another reason: The schedule is problematic in that it has a handful of tricky games (back-to-back road games at Boise State and Utah and then a month later back-to-back road games at ND and Ga. Tech) yet doesn't have a true game or two where pollsters could point to at the end of the season to merit a BCS title game shot, meaning if BYU beats Boise State and/or ND, that alone would torpedo that opponent's merits unless, says, ND was 11-1 and beat USC.
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