This is the fourth in a series of seven 2009 college football story lines. Next week, columnist Chris Dufresne begins a daily countdown of his preseason top 25.
Today's question: Is it possible to schedule yourself into, or out of, national title contention?
Answer: Can future U.S. congressman Lou Holtz talk?
Scheduling as it relates to the Bowl Championship Series is one of the trickiest components to making a run at the title.
Schedule too easy and watch your undefeated season get picked over and scrutinized by the voting pundits and computer indexes.
Auburn finished unscathed in 2004 but ended up behind USC and Oklahoma in part because of a weak nonconference schedule. (Spare us your "we had to play Citadel because Bowling Green dropped off" spiel; tell it to the Marines.)
Or go easy and take a chance you can pull one over on the BCS standings. Kansas State, with a nonconference lineup of Indiana State, Northern Illinois and Louisiana Monroe, came within one play in 1998 from advancing to the first BCS title game.
Schedule too hard, as Fresno State has discovered, and watch your BCS dreams need triage by early October.
What if multiple schools go undefeated?
Here are contending teams most deserving of the top BCS spots if they run their schedules. (Washington's ridiculously brutal schedule doesn't count because the Huskies are only contenders for the Apple Cup.)
1. Georgia. At Oklahoma State, at Arkansas, home to Arizona State, Louisiana State, Florida in Jacksonville and the Southeastern Conference title game against . . . Alabama? That's enough to give Uga heartburn.
2. Oklahoma State. Undefeated for the Cowboys would mean a season-opening win against Georgia and conference victories against Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri plus the Big 12 title game against . . . Nebraska?
3. Oregon. Highly respected prognosticator Phil Steele doesn't have Oregon in his preseason top 50 (say what?). But if Oregon goes undefeated against a schedule that opens with Boise State, Purdue, Utah and California, with USC down the road, how do you leave the Ducks on the pond?
Honorable mention: Arkansas, USC and Oklahoma. The Razorbacks are at Alabama, at Florida and at LSU.
Potential undefeated contenders that would be less worthy of BCS standings consideration:
1. Penn State. It wouldn't be the first time Joe Paterno lost a national title because of scheduling. The Nittany Lions play three gingerbread cookies in nonconference (Akron, Syracuse, Temple) and get Ohio State at home in a Big Ten Conference that went 1-6 in bowls last year.
2. Boise State. Sorry, a home-opening win over Oregon won't be enough to overcome also beating UC Davis and winning a second-tier Western Athletic Conference. Utah went undefeated last year with a tougher schedule and that didn't get a BCS sniff.
3. Florida. ("Flak jacket securely fastened?" Check.) This won't be Auburn/2004 all over again because the Gators will start the season ranked No. 1 (Auburn had to climb from preseason No. 17). But seriously, Florida plays Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International in nonconference. Georgia is at a neutral site, making Oct. 10 at LSU the only true road test.
Dishonorable mention: Alabama. Try Florida International, North Texas, Chattanooga, LSU at home . . . wouldn't play Florida until the SEC title game.