Non-AQs on the rise

With Utah and TCU leaving the ranks of the non-AQs, only Boise State and Hawaii will remain as teams outside the AQ conferences that made it into a BCS game.

So of all the non-AQ teams remaining, which is poised to step up and become a real challenger to get into a BCS game? Here is a look at a few potential candidates:

BYU. Now that the Cougars are independent, they control their schedule and have more of an opportunity to be in the national spotlight. If they were to go undefeated, there would be a high probability they would bust into the BCS. But there is no guaranteed spot; they would have to be taken as an at-large selection. Still, this program has the resources, talent and coaching to forge ahead and make a push in the next three seasons.

Fresno State. The Bulldogs were nearly one of the original BCS busters when David Carr was the quarterback in 2001. They moved up to No. 8 before Boise State upset them and knocked them out of the running. Well, look who is under center now. Carr's younger brother, Derek. Coach Pat Hill believes Derek Carr could be even better than his brother. Two things could hurt Fresno State: (1) a difficult nonconference schedule, and (2) an inability to beat Boise State. Fresno State beat Boise State just once in the 10 years they were members of the WAC.

San Diego State. The thought among many coaches is that this program should always be good because of its location. San Diego is one of the nicest cities in the country, and California is one of the most talent-rich states in the nation when it comes to pumping out talent. So perhaps last season is what the Aztecs needed to jump start them on the path to the BCS. They made a bowl game for the first time since 1998 and won it. Now they have to keep that momentum going under new coach Rocky Long.

"We had a really good year last year and I think we have potential as a program," Long said. "We’re going in the right direction. There’s going to be times where things don’t go right and we take a step back and we have to prove we belong. The potential is there and it is our belief in the next couple, three years we are going to be one of those teams."

Nevada. The Wolf Pack certainly made a statement last season with their impressive win over Boise State and 13-1 finish. But can they keep up the momentum? The senior class was special last season, with Colin Kaepernick, Dontay Moch and Vai Taua leading the way. It is crucial for the Wolf Pack to maintain what they started, or they will fall back into the pack.

SMU. The Mustangs have engineered quite the turnaround under coach June Jones, who turned around the Hawaii program and took the Warriors to a BCS game in the 2007 season. SMU has made it to two straight bowl games after a 25-year absence, and played for the Conference USA championship last season. The Mustangs still need depth and beef up front, but Jones absolutely believes his program is on track to follow what TCU has done. This is what he said back in February:

"With adding these kids, and when we add another class next year, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make a run like we did in Hawaii or like TCU has done. We’ve built a really good foundation, and we’re in pretty good shape to do some neat things."