Only five programs have been ranked in the Associated Press final top 15 in each of the last three seasons -- the Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oregon Ducks, Boise State Broncos and TCU Horned Frogs.
Boise and TCU have carried the torch for non-AQ programs lately, claiming three BCS bowl bids and losing a combined two games in the last two years (one of those losses, TCU's in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, came at the hands of the Broncos). And in the conference realignment shuffle last year, each positioned itself for even greater glory and an improved chance to play for a national championship at some point down the road.
This isn't meant to be a bold prediction for 2011. The Horned Frogs and Broncos have key personnel issues to deal with and our Football Outsiders projections won't be ready until the end of spring practices, so we'll hold off on labeling the two teams as national title contenders -- at least for now. But the biggest knock on TCU and Boise State in recent years has been addressed, at least incrementally, as both teams will be able to boast greater schedule strength going forward. This will have a positive impact on the two teams' standing with the poll voters, and with the BCS computer rankings.
However, the futures of the two schools figure to be quite different. Boise is joining the Mountain West starting with the 2011 season but will only face TCU in-conference for one season before the Horned Frogs set up shop in the Big East in 2012. These developments, along with other factors that we will explain in more detail, lead us to draw two conclusions: TCU will likely have a better chance of making it to BCS title games in years to come than Boise will, and the Broncos' best shot at making the national championship game might come this year.