This is the first in a series of five story lines entering the 2010 college football season. Chris Dufresne's daily countdown of top 25 teams kicks off Saturday.
For openers: Seven things you might not know:
1: Can't wait for the "Potato Float." Boise State might end up earning a Rose Bowl berth this season, and it could even be a consolation prize. Part of the Rose Bowl's new agreement with the Bowl Championship Series requires it to take the highest-ranked champion from a non-automatic qualifying conference the first year the Rose Bowl loses one of its anchors to the BCS title game and the top non-AQ champion finishes in the top 12.
Guess what? It could happen this year.
Let's say Big Ten champion Ohio State finishes first or second in the BCS standings and goes to the title game, to be staged Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
Let's say Boise State is undefeated and fighting for a national title berth late in the season but loses a heartbreaker at Nevada on Nov. 26. The Broncos end up 11-1 and the highest-ranked non-AQ champion in the top 12.
Boise State becomes a must-take for the Rose Bowl.
2: Don't adjust your TV sets. For the first time, the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl will be broadcast on cable television. In other words, if you don't have ESPN as part of your basic package, or a cable package at all, you can't get the game. This is the latest in the ongoing sea change of pay-per-view for major sporting events.
3: The football monopoly may be over in South L.A., but it's not in the South. The Southeastern Conference has won six of the 12 BCS title games played, has never lost one, and has won the last four. Four SEC schools have won BCS crowns: Florida (two), Louisiana State (two), Tennessee and Alabama. Only one Pac-10 school has appeared in a BCS title game — USC defeated Oklahoma in the 2004 game and lost to Texas the following season — but that '04 title is likely to be vacated because of recent NCAA sanctions.
4: Don't book a hotel just yet. Arizona remains the only school from the Pac-10 and Big Ten to have never played in the Rose Bowl game. Arizona would have played in the Rose Bowl following the 1998 season had UCLA not lost to Miami on the final weekend. A UCLA win would have sent the Bruins to the first BCS title game at the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, UCLA dropped to the Rose Bowl and knocked Arizona out. Note: Arizona, which finished second in the Pac-10 last year, could slip in the Rose Bowl back door if it finishes second behind USC, because the Trojans are banned from bowls this season as part of NCAA penalties.
5: Hurry-up hero worship: Alabama is already erecting a statue of Coach Nick Saban, to be displayed outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Like the real Saban, who led the Crimson Tide to last season's national title, the statue is expected to be mostly stone-faced and not particularly media-friendly.
Miami Dolphins fans note the statue will be different from the real Saban because it won't be able to move.
The monument to Nick was supposed to be ready for Alabama's Sept. 4 home opener against San Jose State, but completion has been set back because of likeness issues (reportedly hair and facial complications).
6: Calculate On! Neither poll used in the BCS formula this season — the USA Today coaches' or Harris Interactive — will be allowed to rank USC because of the NCAA probation. The six BCS computers, though, will still incorporate USC's results so as to not harm the integrity of their systems (insert your own joke here). For purposes of the BCS standings, however, USC's computer rankings will be eliminated with all schools behind the Trojans moving up one spot.
7. Man with vision: Joe Paterno, entering his 45th season as Penn State coach, had Lasik eye surgery in the off-season and needs only six victories to focus in on 400 in his remarkable career.
The best-case scenario for reaching the milestone would be at home, Oct. 9, against Illinois. But that requires a 5-0 start that would include road wins at Alabama and Iowa. The more likely scenario is Oct. 30, at home, against Michigan.