Five Little Guy Programs to Watch

I’m going to begin my look at the 2009 college football season in the same place I started the 2008 previews last year – with the little guys.  The little guys are the teams outside of the 6 major conferences that operate by a different set of rules than the rest of Division I college football.  No Little Guy has ever competed in a BCS national championship game and it takes a monumental season, one where going undefeated might not even be enough, for them to even crack into the second tier BCS bowls.  However there are a handful of Little Guy teams every year who make a whole bunch of noise and give the nation hope that they’ll crash the BCS title game and start college football down the road to a playoff.

TCU

Jerry Hughes leads a TCU defense that will keep them in the mix of teams to watch week in and week out

Jerry Hughes leads a TCU defense that will keep them in the mix of teams to watch week in and week out

The first Little Guy school that every fan across the country should be keeping an eye on this year is TCU.  This selection, and quite honestly all five of these selections, comes as no surprise as the Horned Frogs were picked 17th in the preseason USA Today poll.  Their lofty (for a Little Guy school) ranking, however, is completely justified.  A stout defense that only yielded 11.3 points per game powered Garry Patterson’s bunch last season to an 11-2 record and wins over Little Guy powers BYU and Boise State.  With a very manageable non-conference schedule the only tests standing in the way of TCU and a date with the BCS is a road trip to take on BYU and a home date under the lights with last season’s darling, Utah.  Of all the Little Guy teams out there I like TCU the best to rise up and make some serious waves in 2009.

Boise State

Everybody remembers the Broncos for two things.  First, for their hideous blue turfed field.  Secondly, for pulling off one of the biggest upsets in bowl history by knocking off Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.  No Little Guy program has had as much success over the last decade as Boise State, who has averaged nearly 11 wins per season since 1999.  This year’s incarnation of the Broncos looks to capitalize on last year’s 12-0 campaign and break into the BCS yet again.  The schedule is on their side as their toughest non-conference opponent (Oregon) is played in the friendly confines of their aforementioned blue turfed field.  Once they hit conference play they’ll be taking on WAC teams which aren’t at the level of their western counterparts in the Mountain West.  Their conference is the only thing that makes them more likely to crash the BCS in 2009 than the likes of Utah and BYU.

Utah

Last year’s Sugar Bowl featured perhaps the most shocking result of the five BCS bowls.  Not only did the Utes knock off an SEC team, but they dominated a Crimson Tide team that was considered by many to be a shoe-in for the BCS Championship game before their loss to Florida in the SEC Championship game.  Utah this year faces the daunting challenge of replacing a lot of talent at the skill positions, particularly in the backfield.  Stiff in-conference road tests against TCU and BYU also stand in the way of last year’s Little Guy darling.  I’m not sure if the 2009 incarnation of the Utes has it in them to run the table, but they have what just about every other Little Guy team lacks – experience in big games.  And it is that experience that puts them on this list of teams that you should be keeping your eye on this fall.

BYU

Max Hall hope to lead BYU through a tricky MWC slate in 2009

Max Hall hope to lead BYU through a tricky MWC slate in 2009

Yeah, the Mountain West is every bit as stacked at the top as any conference this side of the SEC and Big 12.  The three teams from the MWC on this list aren’t here because of a lack of better option, but instead they are all very legit teams who happen to play in one of the non privileged conferences in America.  Unlike their MWC counterparts who crashed the Sugar Bowl party last year, BYU actually returns some of the more critical parts of their 2008 team – most notably Max Hall.  Hall found his way onto my Heisman list during the early part of last year and put up some very impressive numbers for a quarterback at any level.  His veteran leadership could lead BYU to very big things this season, and the Cougars’ schedule might be their only roadblock between them and a BCS berth.  They come right out of the gates with a trip to Jerryworld to take on consensus preseason top-5 Oklahoma, a game in which they are sure to be heavy underdogs.  However, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see Bob Stoops’ team come out flat and underestimate BYU and get themselves upset in this game.  But even if they manage to trip up the Sooners they still have to play Florida State and the other two heads of the MWC three-headed dog.  All three of those games are at home, though, so a big time run following their first game – win or lose – is certainly possible.

Nevada

Alright, the first four teams on this list were pretty much no-brainers.  The Big Three from the MWC and Bosie State are the Little Guy royalty in college football, but Nevada is a team that is capable of making some noise of their own in 2009.  In order for any Little Guy team to rise up to the next level, and maybe knock at the door of the BCS, they need that one playmaker who singlehandedly levels the playing field no matter who the opponent is.  Getting that one guy is what helps the big time teams return to glory and provides Little Guy teams the equalizer on the field.  For Nevada that man is Junior signalcaller Colin Kaepernick.  Last year Kapernick threw for nearly 3,000 yards and had a 3:1 TD:Int ratio.  However what really makes him special is his ability to move the ball on the ground, last year to the tune of 1,100 yards and 17 more touchdowns (and not a single fumble).  Kapernick is one of the most exciting playmakers in college football and anybody who likes offense would love Nevada’s Pistol offense .  They have a tough road test at Notre Dame and host a Missouri team who wiped the field with them last year, but Notre Dame really isn’t that great and Missouri 2009 is nothing like Missouri 2008.  I like Nevada to win at least one of those two games and it wouldn’t shock me to see them win both.  Can they continue a run through the WAC and eventually top Bosie State?  It’s not too likely with that matchup in Boise on Senior Day – but stranger things have happened.

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  1. […] Five Little Guy Programs to Watch […]

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