2010-11 College Football Preview: Big 12/Pac 10/SEC
Big 12 (projected order of finish and records)
Texas Longhorns (10-2): The pressure is off, but the talent is still there for the Longhorns. The departure of Colt McCoy makes Garrett Gilbert his successor, a young quarterback whose career began when McCoy suffered an injury in last year's title game. The keys to the offense are now firmly in his hands, a situation that may not be ideal for Texas mostly due to the fact that they got by last year with glaring problems on offense. The defense is as good as ever, the main reason that Texas will win the Big 12 and earn a BCS bowl bid.
Oklahoma Sooners (9-3): No conference took more of a tumble coming into season than the Big 12, and no team within it took more of one than Oklahoma. They lost their best player on both sides of the ball in Bradford and McCoy, and as much as they lost, their program is perennially strong enough to win nine or 10 games regardless. Their nightmarish and injury-riddled 2009 won't be easy to shake off, but as long as they remain healthy and stay motivated with many new players, they can sneak up on everyone and be as dominant as ever.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4): A longtime power whose seasons had been rather enigmatic lately, Nebraska finds itself back on top of their half of the Big 12. They were just inches away from being Big 12 champions last year, but Nebraska believes it has all the tools to return to glory. Turnovers were Nebraska's downfall in 2009, especially the nine INTs in four losses. The Cornhusker defense will surely be a bit weaker without Suh, but as much as that unit got worse, their offense is strides better than it was last season.
Missouri Tigers (7-5): Just two years ago, Missouri found itself in the top five in the nation and in contention for a BCS berth. They hoped to build on that success last year, but came up a bit short due to their ineptitude late in games, blowing double-digit leads in home games against Nebraska and lowly Baylor. They may not be top dog in the Big 12, or even in their half of it this season, but they find themselves in the same class as Nebraska and Texas A&M, hoping to win their division and return to the Big 12 title game.
Texas A&M Aggies (7-5)
Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)
Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-6)
Colorado Buffaloes (5-7)
Kansas Jayhawks (5-7)
Kansas State Wildcats (5-7)
Baylor Bears (4-8)
Iowa State Cyclones (4-8)
Pac 10 (projected order of finish and records)
Oregon State Beavers (10-2): The landscape of the Pac 10 has shifted dramatically over the past few years, and Oregon State may now find themselves and the favorite to win the conference. Looking at the numbers, only USC has more wins in the conference than Oregon State since 2006, and though the Beavers don't have a conference title to show for it, they came close before falling to Oregon last year. Led by superb running back Jacquizz Rodgers, this Beaver team should have serious designs of winning a Pac 10 championship.
Washington Huskies (9-3): A program that has been relatively dormant for the better part of a decade, the Huskies usually sneak out a few wins that few forecast. If they can parlay their flashes of success into more consistent victory, they can make themselves a factor in what is a wide-open Pac 10 title race. They are led by the consensus No. 1 pick in next year's NFL Draft, quarterback Jake Locker, and an improved defense that squandered many leads last year should have much more success this time around for Sarkisian.
Stanford Cardinal (8-4): The surprises continue in this soon to be revamped west coast conference, as this cellar-dweller for years has risen to the top half, if not the top few in the Pac 10. They caught eyes with a blowout win over USC last year, and come into this season led by NFL prospect quarterback Andrew Luck. The Cardinal find themselves as the subject of more hype than they have in years, and if they plan to live up to it, they must make improvements on defense. Stanford could be in for their best campaign in a long time.
Oregon Ducks (7-5): What could've been for the 2010 Oregon Ducks is securely in the rear-view mirror. Due to losses to the NFL and off the field turmoil, an Oregon team that was a lock to win the Pac 10 is now just a bystander in the league, along with a perennial conference leader in USC. A great first season under Chip Kelly where Masoli and Blount led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl, won't be the same this time around in terms of gamebreaking ability, outside of LaMichael James. Question marks loom after a tumultuous twelve months.
USC Trojans (7-5)
Arizona Wildcats (7-5)
California Golden Bears (7-5)
Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6)
UCLA Bruins (5-7)
Washington State Cougars (3-9)
SEC (projected order of finish and records)
Georgia Bulldogs (10-2): It was a tough call between veteran Georgia and revamped Florida atop the SEC East, but coach Mark Richt gave the Bulldogs a much-needed defensive makeover after the unit surrendered nearly 30 points a game last season. Not much change is necessary on offense where eight starters return, most prominently the best receiver in the nation, A.J. Green. Essentially, last year's slide, and the losses of Stafford and Moreno kept Georgia from being themselves, as turnaround is sure thing in the 2010 version of the SEC.
Florida Gators (9-3): A mass exodus of Gators to the NFL leave Urban Meyer without Tim Tebow and with a whole new cast of characters. It will be a significant challenge to reclaim the SEC crown with the likes of Georgia and Alabama ahead of them, but the cupboard certainly isn't bare with the batch of recruits that SEC schools like Florida acquire each year. Untested and unproven, Florida will undoubtedly take a step back this season, but good coaching and winning tradition is good enough for a few wins on its own for Florida.
South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6)
Tennessee Volunteers (6-6)
Kentucky Wildcats (4-8)
Vanderbilt Commodores (4-8)
Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0): The defending champs come into the season as an absolute juggernaut with one of the best college football teams of the past decade, with a good of chance to repeat as any champion has in a long time. Their best player, running back and Heisman winner, Mark Ingram is merely a junior, and one of only a few explosive weapons on what will be an unstoppable offensive. Saban's defense will eat opposing offenses alive, and even after losing some experience, the losses will be accounted for by an influx of new talent.
Arkansas Razorbacks (9-3): Another up and down SEC program is hitting another peak in coach Bobby Petrino's third year. They have become a trendy pick to do big things in the SEC, and though they won't be able to touch Alabama, they may have a better quarterback in Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett. Loaded with talent at the skill positions, offense won't be a problem, but defense and special teams will undoubtedly be the difference between winning six or seven games and challenging Alabama for the top of the SEC West crown.
LSU Tigers (8-4)
Auburn Tigers (7-5)
Mississippi Rebels (7-5)
Mississippi State Rebels (5-7)
Other Notables (projected order of finish and records)
Boise State Broncos (11-1): The traditional "mid-major" is now an absolute power after another perfect season at 14-0. They return twenty starters including star quarterback Kellen Moore, making it more likely that this is the year they sneak into the BCS title game. After the tremendous opening week matchup against Virginia Tech, the Broncos play absolutely no one the rest of the way; therefore the likelihood of Boise State getting an opportunity to win a national championship is increased. Expect more of the same on the blue turf.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4): The most popular story every offseason got extra attention this year due to the hiring of new head coach, Brian Kelly; a move that was well-received among most. Ranked fifth in the nation in passing yards, they lose Jimmy Clausen to the NFL, but their offense isn't expected to skip a beat. Problems came on the defensive side of the ball, where they only came up with twenty sacks. By no means are they a national power with expectations to get into the BCS, but as always, people will have their eyes on the Irish.
Houston Cougars (8-4): If you're looking for a non-traditional mid-major to make some noise and surprise in the national picture, consider the Houston Cougars. Coach Kevin Sumlin has propelled Houston to an 18-9 mark in his first two years, and two wins against Big 12 teams early last season allowed the Cougars to be ranked as high as 12th in the nation. Keep an eye on star quarterback Case Keenum, who comes into this season as a Heisman favorite, coming off of a year where he threw a whopping 47 touchdown passes.
Big 12's Top 10 Players
1. Von Miller, DE - Texas A&M, Sr.
2. Travis Lewis, LB - Oklahoma, Sr.
3. Jeremy Beal, DE - Oklahoma, Sr.
4. Jeff Fuller, WR - Texas A&M, Jr.
5. Prince Anukamara, CB - Nebraska, Sr.
6. Ryan Broyles, WR - Oklahoma, Jr.
7. Aldon Smith, DE - Missouri, So.
8. Brian Duncan, DE - Texas Tech, Sr.
9. Keenan Robinson, LB - Texas, Jr.
10. Alexander Robinson, RB - Iowa State, Sr.
Pac 10's Top 10 Players
1. Jake Locker, QB - Washington, Sr.
2. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB - Oregon State, Jr.
3. Andrew Luck, QB - Stanford, So.
4. LaMichael James, RB - Oregon, So.
5. Stephen Paea, DT - Oregon State, Sr.
6. Jurrell Casey, DT - USC, Jr.
7. Rahim Moore, S - UCLA, Jr.
8. Shane Vereen, RB - California, Jr.
9. Akeem Ayers, LB - UCLA, Jr.
10. Shareece Wright, CB - USC, Sr.
SEC's Top 10 Players
1. Mark Ingram, RB - Alabama, Jr.
2. A.J. Green, WR - Georgia, Jr.
3. Ryan Mallett, QB - Arkansas, Jr.
4. Julio Jones, WR - Alabama, Jr.
5. Patrick Peterson, CB - LSU, Jr.
6. Jerrell Powe, DT - Mississippi, Sr.
7. Justin Houston, LB - Georgia, Jr.
8. Darvin Adams, WR - Auburn, Jr.
9. Chris Marve, LB - Vanderbilt, Jr.
10. K.J. Wright, LB - Mississippi State, Jr.
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