UCLA, the home of over 100 national championships in multiple sports, just won their first College World Series for their first national championship in baseball. I imagine that served as the inspiration for a great question on the college football sub Reddit which asked which program will be the next to win their next college football national championship.
To come up with my top five choices to answer this question I used the information from College Football Data Warehouse, which lists the recognized national champion on a yearly basis dating back to 1869. Most people today go by the first Associated Press champion, which was Minnesota in 1936. Because I am going by the CFDW list I do not include a program like Stanford, who is recognized as the 1926 national champion.One thing to keep in mind here as well is the idea that this upcoming season will be the final year under the current BCS format. Starting in 2014 the College Football Playoff will kick off with a four-team playoff format, which will offer more opportunity for a couple of teams to make a realistic and viable championship run.
So, which schools do I think are most likely to win their first national championship first? The first program on my list may be the easiest answer.
This seems like the most obvious choice, and for good reason. What I once considered to be a bit of a flash in the pan when it comes to gimmicky uniforms and up-tempo offenses, Oregon has proven to me that they are a top-notch program in college football. Oregon is not going anywhere either with plenty of funding available to support the program through the courtesy of Nike. The Ducks have built a top-flight program in Eugene and will continue to move on as one of the top threats in the Pac 12 for years to come.
Oregon has played for the national championship before, of course, but came up short against Cam Newton and Auburn in the BCS Championship Game to end the 2010 season. Though Chip Kelly has changed his feathers and is now in the NFL, Oregon may not take much of a step back. After avoiding any crippling NCAA sanctions last week, Oregon could very well make a BCS run this season.
Perhaps I am being sucked in by the recent success of Louisville’s entire athletic department over the last year, but I am throwing the Cardinals pretty high on my list. For me it all comes own to leadership at the top, and Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich is excelling in his position and ensuring Louisville is in the best position possible moving forward. The Cardinals are a year away from joining the ACC and if the program continues to build as they have been I suspect they will be a competitive force on the football field for years to come in their new conference home.
I do not want to get carried away by one season by the Cardinals, but there is a lot to like about the program moving forward. Funding and an emphasis on football appears to be unrivaled to any time in program history. Charlie Strong and Jurich have reshaped the look of Louisville football. The program is moving in to a better conference where wins against Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami are certainly a realistic possibility.
3. West Virginia
West Virginia had a rough go-around in their first year in the Big 12 in 2012, there is no debating that. However, I believe West Virginia will find a way to be more competitive in the Big 12 on a more regular basis compared to the years when they will be down. That may not be the case this upcoming season but I see West Virginia being competitive in the Big 12 in years to come. If the Mountaineers can get back to playing decent defense and continue to thrive on offense, then it should not be long before we start seeing West Virginia contending for a Big 12 title. As long as the Big 12 sticks with ten members, it becomes easier, in theory, for a school like West Virginia to make a run for a championship bid.
Under a four-team playoff format, the Big 12 champion will figure to be in the mix on a somewhat regular basis, I think. So for West Virginia, all that will be needed is a good run through the Big 12 to gain a spot in the four-team dance. If the offense is clicking and the match-up falls just right for West Virginia, then they could be one giant step closer to the first national championship in school history.
4. South Carolina
Under Steve Spurrier the Gamecocks have defied all odds to build a program worthy of being in the preseason BCS title talk. Right now they continue to be one of the programs that has been very good but is still searching for a conference title. As illustrated above, a four team playoff could be beneficial to an SEC runner-up as the four-team playoff model opens the door for a couple more teams. Perhaps South Carolina could use that to their advantage?
My main concern regarding South Carolina is what happens with the program when the time comes for Steve Spurrier to step aside. It is a program that has never experienced this sort of success until Spurrier arrived. Has the program been changed enough to sustain this new level of play in the years and decades to come? Or will South Carolina return to the middle of the pack in the SEC East at best once Spurrier does move on?
Wisconsin is an interesting name to discuss. The Badgers actually have a claim to one national championship in 1942, but that is not the recognized title according to the College Football Data Warehouse. Wisconsin may have been given a slightly easier road for a future title shot thanks to recent Big Ten division shuffling. Starting in 2014 the Badgers will be moved out of the same division as Ohio State and Penn State and in to the Big Ten West Division, with Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and no Michigan or Michigan State. This is not to automatically send Wisconsin to Indianapolis every season, but the challenge to get there on a regular basis may be slightly less hazardous than if they had stayed in the Big Ten East.
Wisconsin has proven they can be a viable Big Ten contender, although they have lacked the appeal of a legitimate BCS championship contender. But here’s the thing. If Wisconsin can string together an undefeated run through the Big Ten (they have a favorable schedule in some years thanks to Big Ten realignment and scheduling changes), and can win a conference championship game, Wisconsin could play in to the playoff model in all likelihood. It all comes down to whether or not Wisconsin can beat a non-conference opponent in that kind of setting.
Full List of Programs Without a Recognized* FBS National Championship, by Conference
Future conference members in parentheses.
ACC: Boston College, Duke, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech (Louisville)
American: Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, SMU, South Florida, Temple (East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa, Navy)
Big 12: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big Ten: Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin
Conference USA: East Carolina, FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP, UTSA (Charlotte, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky)
MAC: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, UMass, Western Michigan
Mountain West Conference: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming
Pac 12: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington State
SEC: Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Sun Belt: Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, Western Kentucky (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho, New Mexico State)
Independents: Idaho, Navy, New Mexico State
* = Recognized according to College Football Data Warehouse
Images via Getty Images.