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September 15, 2009
Now is the time of year for optimism in Boise, Provo and other college football hotbeds that don't have the luxury of major conference affiliation.
Soon enough, the teams from the Big Six conferences will steal away all the attention as they get into the heart of their league schedules. Now's the time when an upstart can pull an early season upset and start dreaming of earning a BCS invitation.
Boise State got things started by whipping Oregon on the opening night of the season. BYU followed with its stunner over Oklahoma two nights later. Houston became the talk of college football last weekend by surprising an Oklahoma State team that had beaten Georgia a week earlier.
Maybe one of those teams will become this season's version of Utah, a Mountain West Conference program that parlayed its season-opening victory at Michigan last year into an undefeated season. The Utes capped their perfect season with a Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.
East Carolina opened the 2008 season with upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia, but the Pirates later endured a three-game losing streak before rebounding to win the Conference USA title after they had faded from the national spotlight. Tulsa won its first eight games and Ball State won its first 12 games last season, but neither team even won its conference championship.
Here's a rundown of the five programs most likely to emerge as "BCS busters" this season, listed alphabetically.