College Football Predictions 2011: Picking a First Loss for Every Top 25 Team
A regular season loss in college football weighs heavier than any other loss in all of the major sports combined.
Being saddled with that first defeat can turn Championship aspirations into an unfulfilled season in the blink of an eye.
Taking a gander at the 2011 college football season, the die-hard fans are already circling possible games where this first heartbreaking loss might occur.
Let’s sift through the schedules of the AP’s Top 25 final rankings and see where each of these teams might encounter their first hiccup of the new year.
No. 1 Auburn
First Loss Will Be: @ South Carolina (Oct. 01)
Auburn will lose three juniors (Cameron Newton, Nick Fairley, Darvin Adams) to the NFL Draft, each were key to their National Championship run.
South Carolina surprised many people by making it to the SEC Championship game last season and this year they may have the wherewithal to make it back. The return of Stephan Garcia and Marcus Lattimore could spell trouble for the reigning champs in this week five matchup.
No. 2 TCU
First Loss Will Be: vs. Boise State (TBD)
Predicting a first loss for TCU is slightly difficult considering they have yet to post a full schedule for 2011.
With Boise State on the docket this season in Mountain West play, that is a better place to start than any. The Broncos will undoubtedly be looking to knock off the king of the conference and they probably have the best chance within the MWC to do so.
No. 3 Oregon
First Loss Will Be: vs. LSU (Sept. 3)
Oregon opens their season in Texas Stadium against the always-rambunctious LSU Tigers.
This is an extremely tough game for both teams to start off the season and will definitely be one of the marquee games on opening day. Oregon should have their hands full and it would not be a shocker for them to snap their regular season winning streak in this one.
No. 4 Stanford
First Loss Will Be: @ USC (Oct. 29)
Stanford’s 2011 schedule is set up perfectly for the Cardinal to drive right into the first ever Pac-12 Championship game.
If any game is going to be their first hiccup of the season, it is going to be at USC. The Trojans have lost two straight to the Cardinal and snapping this streak will certainly be on the minds of the returning players.
No. 5 Ohio State
First Loss Will Be: @ Nebraska (Oct. 8)
Ohio State opens the 2011 season against fairly easy teams, with a few early tests at Miami (FL) and against Michigan State.
While they should be able to barely skirt by these games without the suspended players, the return of Terrelle Pryor and company against Nebraska in Lincoln could be a rude awakening. The Cornhuskers definitely have the talent to surprise Ohio State in their first ever Big Ten meeting.
No. 6 Oklahoma
First Loss Will Be: @ Oklahoma State (Nov. 26)
Although Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule has not been solidified, the Sooners conference schedule works in its favor with the teams that they get to play at home and have to play away.
Florida State in the third week could be a tough test, but if they can get past the Seminoles on the road, it could be clear sailing until the final game of the year against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma’s offense has proven to be legit, but will once again be matched by the Cowboys offense, in what will hopefully be another amazing shootout.
No. 7 Wisconsin
First Loss Will Be: @ Ohio State (Oct. 29)
Wisconsin certainly did a number on Ohio State last year, but don’t think the Buckeyes will be quick to forget the beating.
Although the Badgers will need to fight through some tough tests against Nebraska and at Michigan State to get to this game undefeated, the light at the end of the tunnel is still a little grim.
Look for Ohio State to enact their revenge on Wisconsin in front of a rabid audience at the Horseshoe.
No. 8 LSU
First Loss Will Be: @ Tennessee (Oct. 15)
Opening up the season with a win against Oregon should be difficult, but highly plausible. If they can get past the Ducks, the next interesting test that should draw concerns is against Tennessee in Knoxville.
LSU has only won twice in Neyland Stadium and after the heartbreaking loss that the Volunteers suffered last season, revenge should definitely be fresh in their minds.
No. 9 Boise State
First Loss Will Be: @ Georgia (Sept. 3)
Boise State opens their season with arguably their toughest game of they against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Taking a game from the Pac-10 and the ACC to start off the season are one thing, but going into SEC territory and hoping to come out victorious could be wishful thinking. The Broncos’ National Championship dreams end much earlier in 2011.
No. 10 Alabama
First Loss Will Be: @ Penn State (Sept. 10)
The depth of Alabama after the loss of Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones will seriously be tested in the second week of the season on the road against Penn State.
Although Bama handled the Nittany Lions last year, things could play out a little differently this season with a more matured Penn State squad. This will hardly be an easy game for the Tide and things could quickly go south in Beaver Stadium if they are not careful.
No. 11 Nevada
First Loss Will Be: @ Oregon (Sept. 10)
While Oregon brings back the core of their explosive offense, Nevada loses their main offensive weapon in Colin Kaepernick.
Nevada’s defense is improving and may be able to keep Oregon off of the scoreboard for a little bit, but it won’t take the Ducks that long to turn this game into a rout.
No. 12 Arkansas
First Loss Will Be: @ Alabama (Sept. 24)
Arkansas’ success in 2010 hinged on the success of Ryan Mallett, and even that could only get them so far.
With the departure of Mallett to the NFL Draft, expecting a win from the Razorbacks in Tuscaloosa might be slightly ludicrous. Alabama loses a great deal of their offense from last season as well, but they should be able to fill those holes and use the home crowd to come out on top in this matchup.
No. 13 Oklahoma State
First Loss Will Be: @ Texas A&M (Sept. 24)
Texas A&M is predicted to be in the AP’s Top 10 in several early bird rankings and Oklahoma State will be their first chance to prove their worth.
Although the Cowboys should also be ranked pretty high entering this game, they have lost their last three away games in September, which raises some concerns. This should be a high scoring battle where the home team gains the edge late.
No. 14 Michigan State
First Loss Will Be: @ Notre Dame (Sept. 17)
Notre Dame is getting a lot of love in early preseason polls and this might be the offseason to actually buy into the hype. The Irish return 19 starters that showed some late season promise and this invaluable experience could finally pay dividends in 2011.
Michigan State will put up an excellent fight in this game, but the Irish pull off a stunner in the end.
The Notre Dame bandwagon is filling up and this could be the perfect time to jump on.
No. 15 Mississippi State
First Loss Will Be: @ Auburn (Sept. 10)
Mississippi State has lost nine of the last 10 games against Auburn and this game should go along those same lines.
Although Auburn loses some of their spark thanks to the NFL Draft, the Tigers will dominate this game on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs do return some decent talent, but they still should be over-matched in this heated conference game.
No. 16 Virginia Tech
First Loss Will Be: vs. Miami (TBD)
Between Virginia Tech’s cupcake non-conference schedule and the blandness of their ACC slate this season, it is difficult finding a loss on the Hokies schedule.
Miami could be a team a team that catches Virginia Tech by surprise. Jacory Harris missed last year’s bout due to injury and his talent definitely changes the level of danger presented by Miami’s offense. He will need to be the key if the Hurricanes hope to blindside the Hokies at home.
No. 17 Florida State
First Loss Will Be: vs. Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
Oklahoma is being predicted to sit atop the rankings by four early bird polls and they should prove to be an extremely difficult early season task for the Seminoles.
Florida State has never beaten the Sooners in a non-bowl game. With Oklahoma’s explosive offense still intact, the Seminoles might not have a chance to reverse this trend.
No. 18 Missouri
First Loss Will Be: @ Arizona State (Sept. 10)
Arizona State returns every player on offense that showed rapid signs of life late last season.
Marching into the desert to play these maturing Sun Devils will not an easy for these Blaine Gabbert-less Missouri Tigers. This unexpected test could catch the Tigers off guard, causing an early stumble.
No. 19 Texas A&M
First Loss Will Be: at Oklahoma (Nov. 5)
Texas A&M was one of the hottest teams down the stretch last season and it would not be a surprise for this team to catch fire throughout the first few months of the 2011 season.
However, a trip to Norman in November should cool these Aggies down quite a bit. Texas A&M rides a six game losing streak at Oklahoma and it may take miracle for them to turn it around this year.
No. 20 Nebraska
First Loss Will Be: at Wisconsin (Oct. 10)
The Cornhuskers’ first Big Ten test comes against the Badgers in hostile territory and it could be quite the rude welcoming into a new conference.
Nebraska has not faced Wisconsin since 1974 and has only played the Badgers five times overall, with mixed results.
With this game being pretty evenly matched on paper, it should come down to home-field advantage, where the Badgers have not lost in two years.
No. 21 UCF
First Loss Will Be: @ BYU (Sept. 23)
UCF’s defense ranked 8th in points allowed last year, but they only return four starters from this stellar squad.
This turnover in talent could turn into a few growing pains for the Knights early, especially against the Cougars potentially talented offense in Provo. BYU brings back 10 players from an offense that scored 40 or more points in four of their last five games.
No. 22 South Carolina
First Loss Will Be: @ Georgia (Sept. 10)
The Gamecocks have had troubles winning in Athens the past decade, losing four of their last five at Georgia.
South Carolina definitely has the talent to win this game, but the road has not exactly been best friends with the “Old Ball Coach”. The Bulldogs take the first SEC tilt of the season in a tightly contested battle.
No. 23 Maryland
First Loss Will Be: @ Florida State (TBD)
Maryland’s success in 2010 was a bit of a surprise and it would be even more astonishing if they were able to beat the best team in the ACC in 2011.
Since the ACC has yet to hammer down an exact schedule for this season, it is hard to tell where the Terps will play the Seminoles. Either way, Maryland should go ahead and mark it up as a loss.
No. 24 Tulsa
First Loss Will Be: vs. Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)
Tulsa should be well over-matched in this early bout against Oklahoma State.
Although the Golden Hurricane’s offense returns 10 players, they should still have troubles keeping up with the persistent power that the Cowboys will unleash.
No. 25 North Carolina State
First Loss Will Be: @ Florida State (TBD)
With the ACC lagging on their 2011 schedule, we will (once again) go with Florida State as a team that will definitely beat North Carolina State sometime this season.
The Wolf Pack is slated to play the Seminoles on the road this season, which doesn’t bode well. Depending on how early these two team meet, it could be one of several losses that NC State has entering this game.