The Washington Times - July 13, 2008, 10:20AM

The preseason AP football poll will be out in another month or so, and anyone who wants to see their team win a national title would be well-advised to look closely at the top 15.

After all, in the 10-year history of the BCS, only one team that started the season outside the top 15 even had a chance to play for the national title. (Check out, a fun little site with enough voting data to fill up a slow afternoon at work, for more info).


That was 2000 Oklahoma, which started at No. 19 and briefly fell to No. 20 early in the season before uncorking an unbeaten run to the championship. Those Sooners are also the only team to make a BCS title game appearance that not reach the top 12 for good by the first regular season poll.

In fact, in the last seven years, at least one team in the putative championship game spent the entire regular season in the top five (2001 Miami, 2002 Miami, 2003 Oklahoma, 2004 Southern California and Oklahoma, 2005 Texas and Southern California, 2006 Ohio State, 2007 Louisiana State).

As for the last team to earn at least a share of the title despite starting the season unranked? That would be 1990 Georgia Tech, which didn’t even crack the AP poll until the beginning of October and shared its title with Colorado.

It was a bizarre season, rivaling and quite possibly surpassing the insanity everyone witnessed last year.

To wit:

* Brigham Young’s Ty Detmer won the Heisman, for now the last player from a non-BCS conference to collect that hardware.

*Said Heisman winner’s team knocked off preseason No. 1 Miami in Provo on Sept. 8, derailing the Hurricanes’ bid to repeat as national champs. The Cougars would start 4-0, lose at an Oregon team en route to an 8-4 season, then win six more in a row before losing their last two games by a combined 124-42 score.

* Notre Dame took over the top spot for four weeks, only to lose at home to 5-6-bound Stanford. The Irish had another two-week stint at No. 1 later in the season, but lost at home —- again —- on a last-second field goal to Penn State.

* Michigan was the temporary beneficiary of the Irish’s first stumble, taking over as No. 1 for a week. But then the Wolverines lost 28-27 to Michigan State —- at home —- and followed it with a one-point loss to Iowa —- at home.

* This was, of course, the year Virginia spent three weeks at No. 1. That came to and with (what else?) a home loss to Georgia Tech, and the Cavaliers lost a couple weeks later at home to 5-5 Maryland —- sending the Terrapins to their only bowl appearance between 1986 and 2000.

That’s pretty wacky —- but no stranger than it would be to see a team come out of nowhere and play for a championship this season.

So study up on the top 15 in this year’s first poll. Your national champion will be coming from that group.