Here's a list of 'name' programs that have been down lately and whose conferences desperately need them to reemerge as national programs. The recent SEC-centric college football coverage is mostly attributable to a lack of traditionally strong programs in the other conferences carrying their water.
Whether fair or not, when Kansas is atop the Big12 instead of Nebraska 90% of the country thinks that the Big12 is down. So here's a list of 10 teams that have quality name value and could return to national prominence with the right circumstances and my quick thoughts on how far away they are from that goal.
Nebraska--why in the world did this team can Frank Solich? What was once the most consistent team in college football is now getting regularly shredded. I have no idea how Pelini will do as a head coach
Colorado--very close. As I posted a few days ago, this is a team that I think is on the brink of big success. They will be a very tough out when we visit Boulder in 2010.
A&M--Mike Sherman is Chan Gaily, the Sequel. They'll beat some good teams, but Sherman will not bring this team to the level of OU or Texas. Realistically, that's about the best that they've ever consistently been anyway.
UCLA--a program chasing Rick Neuheisel just doesn't get it. Whatever you think makes a solid program, one thing is always constant--consistency. Neuheisel will be gone within 5 years and UCLA will be no further as a program than they are today.
Washington--they were once the rugged northwestern power that played great defense and had great athletes behind big o-lines on offense. But that was a long while ago. Unfortunately, I don't think that UW will ever return to upper echelon status. Oregon is now the power in the northwest.
Penn State--everyone knows about the issues with Paterno, etc, but this program may be the proof that the Big10 really is a tough league. Penn State entered the league as a top 10 program and now they've been reduced to second tier status within the conference--at best.
Michigan State--like Colorado, I'm high on these guys. Someone has to step up in the Big10 besides Wiscy and Michigan so that Ohio State doesn't have the luxury of sacking up about 3 to 4 times a year and coasting through the rest of their schedule. If Dantonio can recruit like his predecessors, he'll make sure those guys win 8-9 games consistently with the occasional 10 win season thrown in.
Georgia Tech--Johnson will make them a top 20 team within 4 years. That man's brilliant.
Pitt--whether the Wannstache is the man to get them over the hump remains to be seen, but he has proven that they can recruit talent. They should be in BCS games once every three years with their conference set up, but I think they'll need a good hire after Wannstache is fired to do so, think Richt replacing Donnan.
Syracuse--unfortunately for them, I think it's a lost cause. Stick to the hardcourt.