Final Top 5
1. Florida State
4. Notre Dame
5. Texas A&M
The name EJ Manuel might not mean much today, but it will if he leads Florida State to a win in a megamatchup with No. 1 Oklahoma on Sept. 17. That night will either propel the Seminoles into the national-title discussion or cement Oklahoma as the clear-cut favorite. I'm taking FSU, which is at home.
The Seminoles should coast until the end of the season when they have to visit Florida on Nov. 26 the week before the ACC championship game. That's a difficult exacta, but they have an excellent defense, which will always keep them in the game, even in the hostile swamp.
I'll put Alabama in the title game because you can't have a BCS championship without an SEC team. If it's not a rule, it sure feels like it. Stanford will hang around all season because Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the nation and his strong offensive line will keep him clean. The new Pac-12 should be fun this year. Love the momentum Brian Kelly is building at Notre Dame, which enters the season on a four-game winning streak for the first time since the Lou Holtz era. And I'll go with Texas A&M as a slight darkhorse, even though I know better. The Aggies rarely come up big.
Final Top 5
5. Notre Dame
SEC teams have claimed the last five BCS national championships. Would anyone be shocked if they extended the streak to six? To me, the two most complete and talented teams in the country are Alabama and LSU. The Crimson Tide hosts the Tigers - and let's not forget LSU's recent off-the-field issues - on Nov. 5, so the call here is for the Tide to roll again, although it might be a stretch for any SEC team to run the table.
Oklahoma awaits the SEC's best for the BCS' crystal football, but don't go to sleep on Nebraska - which should run the Big Ten in its first year in the conference - and Notre Dame, whose rebuilding project under Brian Kelly appears to be ahead of schedule.
Final Top 5
1. Boise State
If not for a few freak plays in its game at Nevada and a missed gimme field goal (that I am still not sure was actually missed), the Broncos would have been unbeaten last year. They do not have their two NFL-ready wideouts, but they do have quarterback Kellen Moore and a system that wins. They have a very tough opener against Georgia and a very difficult conference game against TCU. If they win those, they should be unbeaten in 2011 going into the bowls.
Oklahoma will be able to score on anyone, but you do wonder about its defense.
Stanford still has quarterback Andrew Luck, who would have been the first pick in the last NFL draft.
Alabama is not going to dominate on offense, but its defense is going to cause serious trouble.
Wisconsin gets North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson who can really play and might go very well with the rest of the Badgers' attack.
Final Top 5
2. Boise State
4. Florida State
So, who was touting Auburn at this time a year ago? Or maybe even Oregon? That's the way it goes sometimes. Can an SEC team really win it all for the sixth consecutive year? Remember, the last two times the national-title game was played in New Orleans, LSU got the trophy. But the Tigers have the country's toughest schedule. Alabama might have the top defense. Oklahoma usually finds a way to slip up. If Boise can get past Georgia in the opener in Atlanta, it will go 12-0. Florida State hosts Oklahoma Sept. 17. Oregon's two toughest tests are away, and now there's a Pac-12 title game to deal with.
MIKE KERN'S FRAUD FIVE
Last year we had Texas and Florida. Remember, the key word is potential. And I have to admit the choices seem a lot more of a stretch this time.
Oklahoma: When you're No. 1, only way to go is south. And it's not like Bob Stoops hasn't let it get away from him before.
Stanford: New coach, Heisman favorite. How do you improve on 12-1? The Cardinal should get to 6-0, but closing stretch is treacherous.
Utah: OK, you're in a BCS conference now. Let's see what you got.
South Carolina: As much as I like the old ball coach, let's see how his guys handle some expectations.
Nebraska: New conference, lofty goals. When you seem poised for national-title run, it only takes one or two hiccups to sour a fan base.
Dishonorable Mention: O-lie-O State, just because. Still trying to figure out how those ineligible guys played in Sugar Bowl.