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Utah Utes: In their first year in an AQ-conference, the Utes will be bringing back seven on offense and five on defense. They skip Oregon in conference, but they have both Pitt and BYU on the road, out-of-conference.
More than anything else, I'm hesitant in overrating the Utes until seeing how they react to an AQ schedule. How they do react, for better or worse, in their first AQ season might say a great deal regarding non-AQ teams.
Auburn Tigers: It comes down to this: Is third-year coach Gene Chizik at a point where he can simply reload after losing seven on D, and six on O? This number includes a Heisman winner and two other All-Americans. Furthermore, can he do it in an SEC West that is going to be stacked in 2011?
If you think he can, then you believe Auburn should be ranked. I don't think he is there yet.
Wisconsin Badgers: The loss of QB Scott Tolzien will hurt the Badgers more than most think. The loss of DE J.J. Watt will hurt the Badgers as much as most think.
Couple all of that with the loss of Lance Kendricks and the losses on the line, and I am a bit doubtful where it concerns Bret Bielema's bunch. Competitive, yes, but I think there will be a number of losses in there.
West Virginia Mountaineers: The offense should still be strong. However, with only four starters returning from 2010's top-ranked Big East scoring defense, expect the Mountaineers to let up a lot more points.
Florida Gators: If Urban Meyer were coming back, I'd have them in the top 20. However, you just don't replace a coach of his caliber.
Moreover, the transition from Meyer's offense to a pro style could be bumpy.
Iowa Hawkeyes: There is a lot more talent on this team than many think. Moreover, the Hawks, for whatever reason, do better when not under the spotlight.
Nonetheless, after this season's letdown, Iowa will once again have to prove that they belong in the top 25.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: There is definitely plenty of talent returning on this team—10 on offense, nine on defense. However, there is one key element that will not be there, and that is coach Todd Graham.
On top of that, Tulsa has a murderous out-of-conference schedule, and will need to improve on a pass defense that was ranked dead last in the country.
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks: The cradle of college coaches will now look to bring up a new coach in former-MSU offensive coordinator, Don Treadwell.
With eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters returning, the pieces are in place for a solid run. I am just always hesitant where it concerns a new head coach.
The good news is that Don Treadwell's offense isn't that different from former coach Mike Haywood's.
Michigan State Spartans: In 2010, MSU went 11-2. However, they did it with an extremely soft schedule, a fair amount of lucky bounces, and two losses that went for a combined score of 13-86. Is Sparty for real? They will have to answer that question this year.
Moreover, they will have to do it without uber-linebacker Greg Jones and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell. They will also have to rebuild their O-line.
Northwestern Wildcats: With the Big Ten West something of an open race, the Cats have nine returning offensive players and seven returning on D.
The problem is NU has the tendency to win one game a year they shouldn't, and lose at least one game a year that they should win. If the Wildcats are to be contenders this year, they can't drop games to lesser opponents.
Furthermore, last season's seven-win Cats did so with the help of a very soft schedule. They won't get so lucky this season.
A first-week out-of-conference matchup at Boston College, as well as a very tough first month of Big Ten play, will test their mettle early.