The best way to approach philosophy is start from the whole and then descend to the individual part. So the fictitious Count of Monte Cristo explained in Alexandre Dumas' classic novel of the same name. Big Ten Country will adhere to that same approach in its preseason football review. We'll start with a broad overview of the national scene today, before sinking into individual team previews in our home conference.
Big East: West Virginia is seen as a prohibitive favorite to win a third championship in four years, but I think this race is much more wide open. Rutgers is going to be a factor, and it wouldn't surprise me to see UConn jump up and steal the BCS bid. Dave Wannstedt looks to finally be the turning corner at Pitt after his shocking upset of WVA in last year's finale. But the team I like most is South Florida. Led by junior quarterback Matt Grothe, the Panters should score points aplenty and they have enough defense to win a watered-down conference.
ACC: Watered-down races are the theme up and down the East Coast. With Virginia Tech rebuilding and Miami & Florida State not back to their normal selves. the ACC can be had by an upstart. Wake Forest is good, but not quite ready to repeat their 2006 magic. Maryland went to the Orange Bowl back in 2001 and are a viable contender. But the team to watch is North Carolina. Butch Davis has been recruiting well, the team is experienced and they will be able to fly under the radar. I look for UNC to beat Maryland in the conference championship game in Jacksonville. Perhaps Dean Smith and Lefty Driesell can be flown in for the coin flip.
Big Ten: In our own conference, Ohio State's 20 returning starters mark them the odds-on favorite. Wisconsin and Penn State are each strong contenders for an at-large BCS bid.
SEC: Georgia is getting a lot of love from preseason magazines as a national title winner. But I'm not going anywhere near a team projecting four sophomores to start on the offensive line. The Bulldogs are good and may get another BCS bid, but not the top game. South Carolina could make a similar run at an at-large BCS slot. LSU is re-tooling this year, and the opportunity is there for Auburn and Alabama to claim the West. But the favorite here is Florida, as Tim Tebow tries to be the first player since Ohio State's Archie Griffin to win two straight Heismans.
Big 12: This is the conference to watch. It may not be the best, but it's got three heavyweights with legitimate national title aspirations. I think Oklahoma and Missouri are the best two teams in the country, and Texas will be right there. I'll take the Sooners to again damage Mizzou's title shot in the Big 12 championship game, and for the Tigers to again be robbed of a BCS bid as the Longhorns sneak in via the at-large route.
Pac-10: USC is young and ripe to be picked. But no one in the Pac-10 is ready to do the picking. Arizona State is a contender for an at-large BCS pick in a weak field, but not much more. The Trojans have won at least a piece of the conference trophy every year since 2002. That streak stays unbroken. It only comes down to whether they end the season in Pasadena or Miami.
Other: It's a cliche to say that Notre Dame will be improved, but a year away from again making noise on the national stage. It's a cliche because it's true. The Irish will return to a bowl game this year. And among the midmajors, BYU is the best chance at crashing the party. However, I do think the Cougars will come up short of a major bowl bid in a close battle with the Pac-10 runner-up.
This scenario gives us conference champions of South Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida, Oklahoma and USC. The four at-large BCS slots will be filled by Texas, Georgia, Arizona State and the Big Ten runner-up. Who will that runner-up be? And will Ohio State elevate from conference champion onto the national title game for a third straight year? That's what we'll discuss in the next three weeks, as Big Ten Country starts its team previews.