Early non-AQ predictions

Boise State is expected to be the top non-AQ team once again this season, so it comes as no surprise that Phil Steele has chosen the Broncos to win the Mountain West.

But what is surprising is where he has the Broncos ranked in his 2011 College Football Preview, which just came out this week. Steele has Boise State at No. 3 in his preseason rankings. Here is what he has to say: "They rank in my top individual units in seven of the eight categories with the only question being wide receiver. Of all the teams that are in the Top 10 of the power poll, Boise has the easiest path to an unbeaten season and might just break through to the title game if things fall their way."

There is no arguing Boise State has an easier path than the rest of the Top 10 (No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Virginia Tech, No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 7 LSU, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 9 Georgia, No. 10 Florida State). But I am not so sure Boise State goes undefeated this season. I think last year's team had more talent and an easier schedule. I am going to have a video series soon on five teams that could potentially beat Boise State, so stay tuned for that.

Steele has TCU at No. 11, writing, "Many will call for a big drop for the Frogs as they have just eight returning starters and lose their fine quarterback Andy Dalton. Keep in mind that Dalton replaced Jeff Ballard, who won 90.5 percent of his starts. ... The D has been No. 1 in the FBS for three straight years and even with just five starters back could make it four in a row. Even though they open with a couple of tough road tests, the only game in which I have the Frogs as an underdog this year is on the blue turf."

Excellent points from Steele. I truly believe the defense is going to be just as good for TCU. The question is how Casey Pachall plays at quarterback.

There are two other non-AQ teams in his preseason Top 25: No. 20 Southern Miss and No. 21 Houston. I am not surprised with either selection. I previously have mentioned both as potential BCS busters because of the talent returning, excellent senior leadership at quarterback and very manageable schedules. Four of Steele's nine sets of power rankings call for Southern Miss to go 12-0.

BYU is ranked No. 29. Steele also agrees with me on one point about the Cougars -- they have a shot at double digit wins in their first year as an independent.

Air Force is No. 30. Steele believes this is another team capable of reaching double-digit wins, and the Falcons should be favored in nine games this season.

Tulsa is No. 35, San Diego State is No. 44, SMU is No. 45, UCF is No. 47, Troy is No. 50, Nevada is No. 51 and Toledo is No. 52.

Here are his non-AQ conference champs:

MWC: Boise State

C-USA: Houston, West; Southern Miss, East

WAC: Nevada

MAC: Toledo, West; Ohio, East

Sun Belt: Troy