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February 4, 2010
Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, most of the teams that have won national championships have shared certain common denominators. All have come from "Big Six" conferences, the past six champions posted at least nine victories the previous season and all but one had a winning record in post-October regular-season games. In addition, 11 of the 12 teams to win the BCS title entered their championship season with a quarterback who was a junior or senior and had at least some starting experience. Finally, 11 of 12 champions returned at least six full-time starters from a defensive unit that ranked in nation's top 20 in scoring defense the previous season.
Of course, there are other factors involved in fielding a championship team. The majority of champions had junior- and senior-dominated offensive lines, but it's difficult to project line starters seven months before the season begins.
Avoiding injuries also is vital, but how well a team manages that won't be known until after the 2010 regular season is completed.
Fitting the profile obviously won't guarantee a championship: None of the six teams that fit the '09 profile won the national championship. But Texas did play in the BCS national championship game, while Florida and Iowa played in BCS bowls. And Ole Miss, West Virginia and Virginia Tech posted at least nine wins.
This past season, Alabama, which went on to win the national championship, fit five of the six characteristics. They did not have a quarterback who previously had started.
When Alabama defeated Texas in the BCS national championship game, Greg McElroy joined Tennessee's Tee Martin (1998) as the only title-winning quarterbacks in the BCS era without previous starting experience.
So, while profiling shouldn't inspire fans to make reservations for Glendale, Ariz., the site of the 2010 championship game, it at least provides encouragement and a reason to start saving up.
But which fans should start saving? That question is answered in the following profile.
1. Be in a "Big Six" conference: Unbeaten Utah in 2004 and '08, Hawaii in '07, Boise State in '06 and '09 and TCU in '09 were not given a shot at playing for the national championship. Once might be a fluke, twice could be a coincidence and three times is a trend. But six times in six years? That's exclusion. The BCS system consistently has shown that teams outside the six power conferences won't have a legitimate shot at the national title.
2. Post at least nine victories the previous season: Nine of the 12 BCS champions (75 percent) posted at least nine victories in the season preceding their national championship run. Four of the past six champions posted double-digit victory totals the previous year; only Florida (9-3 in '06 and 9-4 in '08) did not.
3. Posted a winning record in post-October regular-season games: Playing well in November often is the key to winning championships. That also provides a clue as to what programs are improving and could be a factor the next season. Every BCS national champion with the exception of LSU in 2002 posted a winning record in post-October regular-season games the previous year. Seven teams were unbeaten in that span the season preceding their championship.
4. Return a junior or senior quarterback with starting experience: Again, McElroy and Martin are the only quarterbacks without any previous starting experience to lead BCS championship teams.
5. Return at least six starters from a defensive unit that ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense: We'll define returning starters as players who had no fewer than five starts, which represents at least a third of the games. Nine of the past 10 BCS champs ranked at least 20th in scoring defense the previous season. Tennessee is the only champion in the BCS era that returned fewer than six defensive starters.
No doubt, fans of the Buckeyes, Hokies and Huskers already are counting the days to what could be an epic season.
But Alabama fans surely are, too. They're well-aware a team doesn't have to completely meet the profile to raise the crystal trophy. Oregon, Texas, Miami, Wisconsin, Iowa and several others can glean encouragement from that, too.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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