The 2010 college football season was full of surprises.
Nobody could have seen Auburn going undefeated, Florida being as bad as they were, or Nevada sideswiping Boise State's national title hopes.
No one could have imagined that Virginia Tech would lose to James Madison, that Florida State would thump the Gators so bad, or that Stanford will emerge as a serious national title contender.
That's the beauty of college football. Somebody can make a prediction, like "Boise State will steamroll every opponent on their schedule before losing the second-to-last game of their season" and suffer the hateful words of football fans all across the nation, but come fall, that's just the kind of mayhem that can happen.
2011 is going to be a great year.
Like this past season, it will be full of surprises, upsets and downright shocks.
Here's my take on what I think will happen. Twenty-one bold predictions for the kind of mayhem that the 2011 season holds.
Granted, 2010 saw plenty of damage done by running quarterbacks.
Taylor Martinez, as a freshman, got off to a hot start and actually garnered some Heisman support near the beginning of the season. He ended with 965 yards and 12 TDs on the ground.
Michigan's Denard Robinson was a human highlight reel and, as of January 5th, leads the nation in rushing yards.
And then there was Heisman winner Cam Newton, who rushed for an impressive 1,409 yards (pre-bowl game) and 20 touchdowns.
2011 will be huge for running QBs, though.
The coaches at Air Force swear that Tim Jefferson is as good as any quarterback to play for the Falcons, so he will undoubtedly top his 794 yards from 2010.
Georgia Tech finally moves on from Josh Nesbitt, and Tevin Washington was a beast on the ground in limited playing time last year, gaining 514 yards, most of which came during the Yellow Jackets' final five contests.
Toss in UCF's Jeffrey Godfrey, who should have no problem rushing for 1,000 with a full season to get the work in, and Nebraska's Martinez, who returns after a shaky end to the 2010 season, along with Illinois' stud freshman Nathan Scheelhaase (868 yards on the ground) and you've already got five players who could easily top 1,000 yards rushing.
That doesn't even count any of these running QBs: Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish (836 yards and seven TDs), Eastern Michigan's Alex Gillett (766 yards), Mississippi State's Chris Relf (683 yards), Army's Trent Steelman (694 yards and 11 TDs) and Darron Thomas (492 yards).
I love me some Randy Edsall, but I think that the Terps were one of the big over-achievers of the 2010 season. They had no business even competing for a shot at the ACC title, but there they were in November with an outside chance.
It won't happen again in 2011. Florida State is far and away the class of the ACC Atlantic Division and if any team gives them a run, it's going to be Clemson or Boston College, not the Terps.
They will take more than a season or two to adjust to Edsall's new style, which he perfected at UConn, taking the Huskies from Division I-AA status to I-A and turning them into a BCS team.
He turned UConn into an annual threat to win the Big East, but don't forget that it took him almost a decade to do it.
Don't look for any quick fix, Terps fans.
Check out Oklahoma's competition in the Big 12 next season.
Texas—Went 5-7 last year and returns the same mediocre squad with the same mediocre running game.
Nebraska—WAIT, just kidding. The Cornhuskers move to the Big Ten.
Missouri—Loses NFL first-rounder Blaine Gabbert, leaving the Tigers with a huge hole at the position.
Kansas State—On the rise, but still, they're coached by a guy almost as old as the university itself.
Iowa State—Save for a few upsets, a disaster of a season in 2010.
Colorado—New coach, new game plan, will definitely struggle in 2011.
Kansas—Was terrible under new coach Turner Gill, nowhere to go but up in 2011.
Texas Tech—Same old pass-happy Red Raiders, who still struggle to win big games.
Baylor—Great season (by Baylor standards), Robert Griffin III returns.
Texas A&M—Found their footing near the end of 2010, should be primed for a good year in 2011.
Oklahoma State—Returns QB Zach Weeden, but loses Kendall Hunter and most likely Justin Blackmon.
By my standards, that leaves Baylor (really?), Texas A&M and Oklahoma State as the only real threats to a cakewalk through the Big 12 schedule for the Sooners.
The Sooners, on the other hand, return a quarterback who threw for 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns, a talented freshman who rushed for close to 400 yards in very limited action and probable Biletnikoff winner Ryan Broyles, who caught a ridiculous 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 scores.
They should have no problem going undefeated in conference play.
Just about every single team in the ACC is going to take a step back next season.
And in the Coastal Division, things will be even more gloomy.
Virginia Tech loses Tyrod Taylor as well as running back Darren Evans, who declared for the 2011 NFL Draft yesterday.
Miami is just a mess and has to deal with a new coach and sloppy QB play for a program with huge aspirations.
Virginia is, well, Virginia.
North Carolina will inevitably lose a wealth of talent to the NFL draft and has to replace a QB who threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 19 TDs.
And Georgia Tech is a hit-or-miss team now that they're an option team.
If there were ever a year for a team to sneak up and steal a division title, this is the year. Yes, even you, Virginia!
I'm going out on a limb and proclaiming that team to be UNC.
Sometimes weird, unexplainable things just happen.
The Tar Heels lose most of their offensive production from 2010, but I believe in Butch Davis and I think this is the year that he puts forward his best overall team effort and it will result in an ACC title game berth for the squad.
Does anyone else find it remarkable that UCF was able to go 11-3, win their conference fairly easily and then shut down Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, all while riding the arm and legs of a freshman quarterback (Jeffrey Godfrey, 68.4 percent completion percentage, 546 rushing yards and 22 combined TDs) and two underclassmen running-backs (Ronnie Weaver, 890 yards and 11 scores; and Latavius Murray, 533 yards and 10 scores)?
It really makes you stop and take notice of the amazing job that George O'Leary has done in greater Orlando.
And the best part is that the Golden Knights return all that talent and have the potential to start off the 2011 season as a member of the preseason Top 25 for the first time in school history.
And that's not all. Their schedule is favorable and the conference easy enough for the Knights to win just about every game.
Their toughest games of the season will come at home against Boston College and on the road against BYU.
If they can win both of those, they have a legitimate shot at making a run at the BCS.
I think they'll manage to lose just one game all season and finish the year in the top 15.
The Fighting Irish faced the toughest schedule of any Division-I team in 2010.
It doesn't get a whole lot easier in 2011, with away games at Michigan, Pittsburgh and Stanford, each of whom have Top 25 preseason potential.
They also host Michigan State, Air Force, USC, Navy and Maryland, each of which should be a tough game.
If I had to run through their schedule right now, I would say that they beat these teams: USF, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Air Force, Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College.
That gives the Irish nine wins heading into their bowl game, which I think they'll win for the second year in a row, giving them 10 victories for the first time since 2006.
Maybe in 2012 they'll have an outside shot at a BCS bid.
...but that Cardinal won't be future number-one draft pick Andrew Luck.
Thanks to losing a good chunk of his receiving corps, Stanford will lean more on the run game, utilizing Luck's surprising speed and agility and the overall running ability of Stepfan Taylor, who will rush for somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,600 yards with 20-plus touchdowns.
Taylor, a soon-to-be junior, finished the 2010 season with 1,137 yards and 15 scores and gashed a talented Virginia Tech defense for 114 yards on only 13 carries in the Orange Bowl.
Taylor was also a receiving threat this season, catching 28 passes for 266 yards and a score, including a career-high eight catches for 68 yards (to go with 113 yards on the ground) in the Cardinal's one loss this season.
His looks in the passing game should increase with the departure of Ryan Whalen, Coby Fleener, Konrad Reuland and Doug Baldwin, making him an even greater threat to rack up yards and TDs.
He's definitely my dark-horse candidate for the Heisman and a shoe-in to be a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
The only drama surrounding the 2011 Pitt Panthers is going to be who will coach the team.
After letting go of Dave Wannstedt, and the hiring and firing of Mike Haywood, the Panthers are currently zeroing in on Penn State assistant coach/defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.
And if Bradley ends up getting the job, he's going to have an under-performing squad to light a fire under. Just about every player is capable of being better than he showed in 2010, and if they all come together in 2011, I'd say Pitt is the favorite to win the conference.
Dion Lewis is a stud, as he showed with his snowy finale effort that resulted in 261 yards and four TDs on 42 carries against Cincinnati, one year after rushing for 194 yards and three scores on 47 carries against the same Bearcats.
He should easily bounce back and top the 956 yards he gained. In fact, I could envision him challenging for the NCAA lead in rushing yards. He'll most certainly get the carries if his stretch run in 2010 was any indication.
And he'll have a competent, experienced signal-caller in the backfield with him in Tino Sunseri, who flashed both brilliance and ineptitude in 2010. He'll improve on his 15-8 TD-to-INT ratio and improve his ghastly QB rating.
And even though this team will lose arguably its best player in junior wideout Jon Baldwin, Sunseri still has a talented, young group of receivers returning, not to mention Lewis catching passes out of the backfield, an area in which he, too, has flashed brilliance.
For his first trick, Rich-Rod will sweep into Storrs, locking up a job that he is way beyond a sleeper for and returning to a conference he once dominated with a fury.
Then, in an encore, he'll led the Huskies, fresh off of their first-ever BCS appearance, to at least eight victories in a tougher-than-expected Big East.
Rich-Rod will have his pick of dual-threat QBs with Scott McCummings, Michael Box and 2011 signee Michael Nebrich.
Then he'll really get to work, turning UConn into the spread-option powerhouse he wasn't given the time to develop in Ann Arbor.
In two seasons at OU, quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for nearly 8,000 yards and 64 touchdowns. At this rate, he's on pace to shatter a truckload of Sooner career records.
And on the other end of a good chunk of his TD passes is Ryan Broyles, who put up video-game like numbers this past season: 131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 scores.
And everyone thought his 2009 season was pretty good (89 receptions, 1,120 yards, 15 TDs).
In 2011, the pair will be nearly unstoppable.
Jones will again top 4,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes, but will also cut down on his interception rate, possibly keeping his number under 10, while Broyles will catch 100-plus balls again, top 1,500 yards and score at least 15 TDs.
That, and an undefeated record for Oklahoma, will send both players packing for New York.
Boise State has seen a lot over the years.
They've had to deal with multiple styles of play in their own conference, from the passing blitzkrieg of Hawaii to the revolutionary pistol offense of Nevada.
Out of conference, they've gone toe-to-toe with Oregon's vaunted spread offense, as well as Tulsa's rapid-fire passing attack and Utah's more pass-happy spread.
One thing they have yet to witness firsthand, however, is the triple-option awesomeness of Air Force, Navy and Georgia Tech.
And I think the Broncos are in for quite the surprise. The 2011 squad loses many of their seasoned veteran defenders like Winston Venable, Brandyn Thompson and Jeron Johnson, players who might be capable of keeping up with the option.
Instead, they'll have a bevy of younger players filling those vital roles, players who don't have the experience or leadership to bring the Broncos D together as an option-stuffing unit.
Add in the fact that Broncos coordinators and assistants are being picked off left and right, and they could be in for quite a ride during their first year in the Mountain West.
Just about every year, it's a new team jumping into the fray in the SEC.
This past season, that team was Auburn, and while the Tigers should be very good in 2011, I think the team that will take the biggest step forward will be Arkansas.
Yes, the Razorbacks will lose Ryan Mallett, but given the way he threw away an easy victory in the Sugar Bowl, isn't that almost a good thing?
Their bigger concern should be losing pass-catching tight end D.J. Williams, who had a huge year in 2010.
Aside from Williams and Mallett, the Hogs don't lose too much.
Their three-headed running back committee returns, led by Knile Davis, who rushed for 1,322 yards last season.
And their receiving corps should be strong with their top four receivers returning, each of whom caught at least five TDs.
The real key to the season will be junior QB Tyler Wilson, who filled in quite admirably in Mallett's absence against Auburn. Wilson single-handedly kept the Hogs in the game for three quarters, making some pretty unbelievable throws.
With the offense all to himself, Petrino will work his magic and turn Wilson into an All-SEC passer.
The Razorbacks will sweep their non-conference schedule (4-0) and will finish the season with 11 wins and two losses, and a berth in the SEC title game.
Oregon is going to be just as good, if not better, in 2011 than they have been in 2010.
They return most of their offensive talent and have some younger players in the system who will finally get their chance to shine.
The Ducks will have no problem running the table in the Pac-12, especially with games against USC and Oregon State at home in Eugene.
USC, on the other hand, will be motivated like no other to run the table and reclaim the conference that they dominated for so long under Pete Carroll.
The Trojans' non-conference schedule doesn't feature any real threats (Syracuse, Utah and Minnesota) and they play host to Stanford and UCLA in conference play.
The only game I can see them losing is their November 19th matchup with Oregon, two weeks before the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.
I think Oregon will come out on top in the first game, and then both teams will meet for a rematch in the conference title game 14 days later.
E.J. Manuel has shown flashes of brilliance on the field for Florida State the past two seasons, but in 2011 he finally gets the reigns to the offense and the world gets to see how truly talented he is.
I envision him leading the Noles to wins in three of their non-con games (save for Oklahoma), and then losing only one, maybe two conference games to see the Noles finish the regular season with 10 wins and a spot in the ACC title game, where they will take home the trophy for the first time since 2005.
Manuel will be a huge part of that possible 11-win run.
He'll utilize the Noles' many weapons in the passing game and finish with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,800-3,200 passing yards and 28 TDs. He'll add another 400-plus yards on the ground and another seven scores.
He'll take home honors as ACC Offensive Player of the Year and with big performances late in the season, including a victory over Florida, he'll garner some late momentum for the Heisman.
The SEC had a bit of a down year in 2010, with teams like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama all regressing.
Expect the trend to continue in 2011.
Will Muschamp takes over a loaded Gators squad, but he's in the midst of installing a new offensive scheme which will take some time to work the kinks out of.
Alabama has to replace their starting quarterback, a Heisman-winning running back, a top-15 NFL talent wide receiver and multiple first- and second-round talent on defense.
Auburn loses the best one-year player in college football history in Cam Newton, and LSU will once again see their lack of commitment to a one-QB system hurt them.
In fact, the two best teams in the SEC in 2011 could very easily come from the West, but neither one of them will be named LSU, Alabama or Auburn.
Rather, Mississippi State and Arkansas have the most going for them and have stable programs compared to the other three teams.
Watching the SEC East struggle to spit out a winner will be painful, and it will be even more painful when that team ends up defeating the West champ to earn a BCS bid.
The inaugural Big Ten Championship Game will take place on December 3rd, 2011, in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
You heard it here first, the Ohio State Buckeyes will not be a part of that game.
The Bucks will be without several of their best players for the first five games of 2011 and, while the schedule actually favors the punishment, there's no way Tressel's squad will go 5-0 without Terrelle Pryor.
I think they'll take a tough loss to Michigan State and possibly even Miami if Al Golden can get his stuff together down in South Beach.
That would give the Buckeyes two losses before they even got into the heart of their Big Ten schedule.
They still have games at Nebraska, against Wisconsin and Penn State and then at Michigan.
Toss in one more loss and I think the Buckeyes will finish with three losses, which will be more than enough for the Wisconsin Badgers or Penn State Nittany Lions to overtake them in the ridiculously named Leaders Division.
Don't count me as one of those people who believe that Garrett Gilbert is the man to lead Texas back to respectability.
Nothing personal against the kid, but he has just pure awful decision-making ability.
Ten TDs and 17 picks! Really!
Even for a first-year starter, that's awful, and when you play at Texas that makes it even worse.
I don't think things are going to get a whole lot better for the Longhorns in 2011.
They have to play BYU and UCLA in the first three weeks of the season and I'm putting my money on the Longhorns losing both games to start the season 1-2. They'll suffer back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Weeks 6 and 7 and Gilbert will lose his job with the Longhorns at 2-4.
Mack Brown will be forced to turn to Case McCoy or 4-star 2010 recruit Connor Wood.
And thus ends the Garrett Gilbert era in Austin.
ACC: Florida State 34, North Carolina 16
Big 12: Oklahoma
Big Ten: Michigan State 27, Wisconsin 20
Big East: Pittsburgh
Conference USA: UCF 38, SMU 13
MAC: Northern Illinois 27, Miami-Ohio 7
MWC: Air Force
Pac-12: USC 38, Oregon 34
SEC: Florida 31, Arkansas 27
Sun Belt: Florida International
Miami (Florida) 27, Ohio State 17
Temple 17, Maryland 12
UCLA 37, Texas 27
San Diego State 24, Michigan 20
Air Force 44, Boise State 42
SMU 33, TCU 28
Notre Dame 21, Stanford 14
Mississippi State 26, Auburn 21
Florida 27, Arkansas 21 in SEC Championship Game
Navy 20, South Carolina 17
Bethune-Cookman 27, Miami (Florida) 23
- Oklahoma (13-0)
- USC (12-1)
- Oregon (12-1)
- Michigan State (11-2)
- Arkansas (11-2)
- Wisconsin (11-2)
- Pittsburgh (11-1)
- Air Force (11-1)
- Florida State (10-2)
- Oklahoma State (10-2)
Orange Bowl: Florida State 17, Pittsburgh 16
Sugar Bowl: Arkansas 38, Oklahoma State 21
Fiesta Bowl: Florida 23, Wisconsin 16
Rose Bowl: Michigan State 28, Air Force 22
BCS National Championship Game: Oklahoma 31, Oregon 30