Andrew Luck Returns To Stanford: Are Luck and Cardinal 2011 Preseason No. 1?
A bombshell was dropped in the college football world today when Andrew Luck declared that he would return for his junior year at Stanford. Does this mean that Jim Harbaugh will stay at Stanford, or is Andrew Luck that focused on winning a Heisman and/or a National Championship? Or, perhaps, he just did not want to play for Carolina at all?
Whatever for the reason for returning may be, the fact now is that the consensus number one draft choice is no longer entering the draft. While we know what this means for the draft (all the experts have to completely re-do their mock drafts), what does this mean for Stanford and the projected top schools next year?
The following is a likely top 10 now that Luck's returning.
10. Texas A&M
I wasn't sure about putting the Aggies in here, but after seeing that they're bringing back virtually everybody, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, particularly if they can go toe-to-toe with LSU. Cyrus Gray could be next year's breakout star.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina should easily be able to win their SEC division next year with Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore returning. Most projections have them around No. 15-18, but with not too many losses, they could jump in the ranks, particularly if other major rivals have a lot of players declaring.
While they are losing some help on the offensive line, their core will remain intact as they'll likely join the Big Ten as the second best team. Taylor Martinez should continue to improve, and most of the defense should remain strong enough to keep Nebraska in games if he does struggle.
Even if Cam Newton declares, Auburn should have enough offensive talent left in Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb, and Darvin Adams to stay competitive. The defense, however, I'm worried about. Potentially over half their starters will be gone on a defense that wasn't that good to begin with. Unless someone takes over for Nick Fairley and becomes the defensive leader fast, it could be a tough year.
Yes, J.J. Watt will likely declare for the draft, and Scott Tolzien and Gabe Carimi are gone. That being said, John Clay, James White, and Montee Ball will all be back.That kind of rushing attack is an automatic top 10, as far as I'm concerned. Many defensive stars other than Watt are returning, so that helps as well.
Alabama's a controversial team to rank no matter where you put them. After all, if Mark Ingram and company all decide to return to school, then there's a case for a No. 1 despite the fact that this team lost three games. If Ingram, Dareus, and Jones all declare, as they presumably will, then Alabama is deep enough to remain in the top 10, but the SEC is tough enough that there's no guaranteeing they'll stay here.
Andrew Luck's return guarantees a top five placement for the Cardinal in 2011. The only weakness Stanford will have going into next year is, aside from possibly losing coach Jim Harbaugh, the offensive line. Three starters are graduating, and they'll have to reload, but Luck should be alright with a younger line in front of him.
Most people seem to have LSU as a top 3-5 team in 2011, and I'm inclined to agree with them. A few stars are leaving, with Drake Nevis and Joseph Barksdale graduating, and Patrick Peterson declaring. Besides them, pretty much everyone else will be returning.
Will they continue to have good luck in games next year, will they be dominant in their own right, or will they not be as good as it seems? A lot of that depends on Jordan Jefferson and Stevan Ridley on the offense and if they can compete with the other SEC offenses.
This year's cream of the Big 12 crop looks to be at the top again next year. Losing DeMarco Murray and his heavy workload will hurt, as will linebacker Travis Lewis, who I think will declare.
Many stars should be returning for the Sooners though. Ryan Broyles will almost certainly stay, and Landry Jones is my Heisman dark horse candidate next year; that combo will be great. Most starters will be returning, and even in a conference that's still tough sans Nebraska and Colorado, Oklahoma should be king.
This might be a controversial top choice, since they're losing more starters than most in the top five, but I fully think this could happen. Most of their graduating players are on the defensive end, but star Cliff Harris will be returning and can lead the defense.
The offense should be just as good as always. LaMichael James could easily be a Heisman frontrunner, and Darron Thomas should continue to improve his game in 2011. If they win the championship game against Auburn, it'll be all the more reason to put them at the top.