This is the final season of the BCS, which means it's the final season a team can be a "BCS buster."
This season, as usual, there has been preseason mention of Boise State as a "buster." The Broncos were ranked 19th in the preseason coaches' poll. But the Broncos aren't a lock to win the Mountain West, much less go unbeaten. Fresno State, led by stud quarterback Derek Carr, has an easier schedule than Boise, and plays host to the Broncos on Sept. 20.
Northern Illinois, which won the MAC and went to the Orange Bowl last season, could win the MAC again, but another BCS appearance might be too much to ask. The Huskies are led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished seventh in the Heisman voting last season. If NIU can beat the two Big Ten teams on its schedule (Iowa and Purdue), an unbeaten season is a possibility.
Conference USA and the Sun Belt don't appear to have teams equipped to go unbeaten. Still, there is some intrigue in the Sun Belt because of the arrival of the presumably chagrined Bobby Petrino, who now coaches Western Kentucky. Western should be in the thick of the league race.
Finally, among the independents, Notre Dame and BYU will go into the season harboring BCS hopes. If the Irish win 10 games, they basically are a lock to nab another BCS bid, but this season's team doesn't appear to be as good as last season's. BYU plays a tough schedule, and a 12-0 finish certainly would get attention; an 11-1 record likely would get attention, too.
Here are the five best regular-season games in the aforementioned leagues, as well as a short list of the best games among the independents.
5. East Carolina at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 5, time/network TBD -- This is the first C-USA home game for the Blue Raiders, who could be a dark-horse in the East Division race. They have to win this game, of course, to be a dark-horse. ECU will be coming off a game at North Carolina.
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4. Marshall at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. ET/Fox Sports 1 -- While East Carolina is the favorite in the MAC East, the winner of this one could be the favorite to finish second (if MTSU hasn't already beaten ECU). This will be the first time these teams have played as FBS programs.
3. Rice at Tulsa, Oct. 5, 3:30 p.m. ET/CBS Sports Network -- This should determine the West Division title. Tulsa has won six in a row in this series.
2. Tulsa at East Carolina, Nov. 9, time/network TBD -- A preview of the C-USA title game? That's a distinct possibility. ECU has won three in a row in the series. This is ECU's homecoming.
1. East Carolina at Marshall, Nov. 29, noon ET/CBS Sports Network -- The final regular-season game for both could determine the East Division titlist. The home team has won six of the past seven in the annual series. Last season's game was epic: East Carolina won 65-59 in two overtimes.
5. Kent State at Ohio, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. ET/ESPN2 or ESPNU -- This is the last regular-season game for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes could be playing for at least a part of the MAC East title. The same goes for Ohio, which has one game after this. Kent State has won three of the past four in the series.
4. Toledo at Ball State, Sept. 28, 3 p.m. ET/network TBD -- Northern Illinois is the prohibitive favorite in the MAC West, and the outcome in this one could determine who finishes second in the division. Ball State snapped a three-game losing streak in the series last season.
3. Bowling Green at Kent State, Sept. 7, 12 p.m. ET/ESPN3 -- A big early-season game in the MAC East, as the winner becomes the team to beat in the division. Bowling Green is the favorite to wear the crown. Kent State has won three in a row in the series.
2. Ohio at Bowling Green, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET/ESPNU -- This likely will determine the MAC East title. The visiting team has won six of the past seven meetings. Bowling Green could be in position to win its first division championship.
1. Northern Illinois at Toledo, Nov. 20, 8 p.m. ET/ESPN2 -- NIU closes with its toughest three MAC West games; this is the second of the three. NIU has won each of the past three division titles, while Toledo hasn't won the crown since 2004. NIU also has won the past three in the series, rolling up 159 points in the three contests.
5. San Diego State at San Jose State, Nov. 9, 10:30 p.m. ET/CBS Sports Network -- The West Division race has a lot more intrigue than the Mountain race -- come on, Utah State is going to finish ahead of Boise State? -- and these are two of the three teams that should be in the hunt. Two of the league's better players will be on display in SJSU quarterback David Fales and San Diego State tailback Adam Muema.
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4. Fresno State at San Jose State, Nov. 29, 3:30 p.m. ET/CBS Sports Network -- Fresno is the favorite to win the West Division, and the Bulldogs could lock it up in this regular-season finale. Then again, maybe it will be the Spartans who are doing the locking. Fresno State has won 16 of the past 18 in the series.
3. Fresno State at San Diego State, Oct. 26, time/network TBD -- This is the first of the three West Division "showdown" games. The winner obviously takes a big step toward winning the division crown. This will be only their third meeting since 2002.
2. Boise State at San Diego State, Nov. 23, 10:30 p.m. ET/CBS Sports Network -- Boise's quest for an unbeaten season will be an important storyline all season, and this is the Broncos' final tough test of the season. Say this for Boise: each of its six road games is at least quasi-tough.
1. Boise State at Fresno State, Sept. 20, 9 p.m. ET/ESPN -- This might be the toughest test for Boise all season; this also might be the first meeting of the season between the teams, as they could meet again in the league's first championship game. Boise has won seven in a row in the series, and last time was the first time in five seasons the Broncos didn't put at least 50 on the scoreboard.
5. Arkansas State at Louisiana-Monroe, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. ET/network TBD -- The Sun Belt looks to be a four-team race, and these are two of the four (the others are Louisiana-Lafayette and Bobby Petrino-coached Western Kentucky). Arkansas State's new coach is Bryan Harsin, the former offensive coordinator at Boise State and Texas. Arkansas State has won three in a row in the series.
4. Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas State, Oct. 22, 8 p.m. ET/ESPN2 -- This comes a week after ULL will have played at Western Kentucky, and if the Ragin' Cajuns can win both, they'll be in great shape to win the league. Conversely, Arkansas State can make things interesting in the league race if it wins.
3. Western Kentucky at Louisiana-Monroe, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET/ESPNU -- ULM won in OT last season, one of the Warhawks' four overtime games (they went 3-1). Western won in 2011 in OT. This is the conference opener for ULM and the first real conference test for Petrino and Western.
2. Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky, Oct. 15, 8 p.m. ET/ESPN2 -- This is the biggest home game of the season for Western, and it comes on a Tuesday night. ULL plays the next Tuesday, too. This is the first Sun Belt game of the season for the Ragin' Cajuns, who are favored to win the conference.
1. Louisiana-Monroe at Louisiana-Lafayette, Nov. 30, 7 p.m. ET/ESPN3 -- Start icing down the Abita and getting the boudin ready. This will be the 49th meeting in the series, and it very well could determine the Sun Belt champ. ULL has won five in a row in the series. Cool but ultimately meaningless fact: ULL's Cajun Field is the only stadium in the FBS that is below sea level.
2. Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia, Dec. 14, 3 p.m. ET/CBS -- The best rivalry of them all? It's certainly the most majestic -- in all of sports. But it hasn't been much of a rivalry of late: Navy owns Army, having won 11 in a row by an average margin of 22 points.
1. BYU at Notre Dame, Nov. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC -- The Irish squeaked out a 17-14 win in Provo last season. This will be BYU's second trip to the Midwest in three weeks; the Cougars play at Wisconsin in an intriguing matchup Nov. 9.