College Football 2011: Bold Predictions for Top 25 Teams Next Fall
The 2011 college football season may be 217 days away, but it's never too early to start prognosticating, especially after an extremely entertaining 2010 season. So we will be counting down an early attempt at a Top 25 for 2011.
Is Oklahoma really No. 1? How far will Auburn be dropping after losing Heisman winner Cam Newton and super NFL prospect Nick Fairley? What about the non-AQ schools Boise State and TCU? Are they Top 10 again this year?
To find out the answers to these and many other questions, read on and be sure to let us know what you think.
Notre Dame has a loaded roster coming into 2011. Tommy Rees is a sophomore and he has experience going into spring practice. Michael Floyd is back in school for his senior year.
The only thing that could hold the Irish back is their defense. But they do have the vary talented Manti Teo to lead the defense.
They have a fairly soft schedule and I could realistically see them going 10-2.
If they do go 10-2 they will make their first BCS bowl since 2007.
Georgia is losing super-talented A.J. Green to the NFL draft but they still have young quarterback Aaron Murray and a roster full of blue-chippers. However, the Bulldogs had a rough 2010 season where they finished 6-7.
The Bulldogs' 2011 schedule is pretty brutal and I could see them catching fire and winning between 8-10 games or I could see them struggling and winning 6 or fewer. Ultimately I think they will struggle to win six games and head coach Mark Richt will be sent packing.
Arizona State returns 20 starters to a team that finished with six wins in 2010 and came within a petition of playing in a bowl game. The Sun Devils defense is among the Pac-12's best and their offense is really improving.
Their schedule is not too tough despite the fact that they have road games at Utah, at Oregon, and at UCLA (where they typically don't play well). However, the Sun Devils get a whopping seven games at home in 2011.
At the end of the season we are going to be surprised at where Arizona State ends up. I don't see them making a bowl and I think the Sun Devils go through a major facelift in the offseason.
Utah gets the chance to play its first season as an automatic qualifying school in 2011, so we will really get a chance to see how they stack up with the big boys. The Utes also get offensive coordinator Norm Chow from UCLA. However, I think Chow is over the hill and he won't help the Utes as much as they are hoping.
The Utes' first Pac-12 schedule isn't that bad, but playing at USC, at BYU, and at Pittsburgh all look like really tough games.
Utah has been a very highly regarded non-AQ school over the past few years but I think they struggle with the week-in and week-out games against major-conference schools.
The Mountaineers will likely get a boost on offense with the arrival of Dana Holgorsen, who is spending 2011 as the offensive coordinator before moving into the head coaching role in 2012.
Quarterback Geno Smith must be licking his lips at the prospects of working with the same coach who led Oklahoma State to a great offensive season in 2010.
Games against Maryland and at LSU make the Mountaineers' 2011 tough to handle. However, the Big East is not that strong and West Virginia looks like the class of the conference, especially with a revamped offense.
After signing stud recruiting class after stud recruiting class, I find it hard to believe that the Longhorns will have back-to-back bad seasons. Garrett Gilbert will be a junior and in his second full year as starting QB, and the defense is still filled with talent.
However, I am not convinced that Gilbert is their guy. I think the leash is going to be much shorter with him this year and he will find himself on the bench after a slow start.
Texas does have a tough schedule in 2011, though. They play at UCLA, which has owned Texas the last three times they played. Then they also have Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, which will all be tough matchups.
In 2010, Mississippi State made a leap forward. Head coach Dan Mullen has shown that he is one of the best young coaches in college football and he has a lot of talent back on his roster.
The Bulldogs skip Florida in 2011 but they still have tough games at home against LSU and South Carolina. They also travel to Auburn, Georgia and Alabama.
Despite the tough schedule, Mullen has the Bulldogs on the rise and when all is said and done they take a step forward next year and improve to double-digit wins.
The Razorbacks had a tough ending to their great 2010 season. They lost a tough BCS game to Ohio State then they lost starting quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL. However, the defense is actually pretty good and Tyler Wilson is ready to take over for Mallett.
In fact, Wilson is a highly thought-of quarterback that played great filling in for Mallett in 2010 when the future draft pick suffered a concussion.
Arkansas' 2011 schedule is tough but that's the life you live by playing in the SEC.
Auburn is coming off an incredible 2010 season that saw them win a BCS championship behind a Heisman-winning quarterback and a Lombardi-winning defensive tackle. Things couldn't have been better for the Tigers in 2010, but things are likely on the way down in 2011.
The 2011 schedule for the Tigers is as tough as any SEC team and I could see them struggling.
In fact, there will be such a drop-off in 2011 for the Tigers that they will drop out of the rankings when all is said and done in 2011.
Out with Blaine Gabbert and in with James Franklin. Despite the fact that Gabbert is a very highly thought-of quarterback, Franklin should step in smoothly for a Missouri team that could be a dark horse in the Big 12.
Because of the departure of Colorado and Nebraska from the Big 12, the Tigers now have to play everyone in the conference. So that means games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M.
Despite losing Gabbert and facing a tough Big 12 schedule, Missouri will catch fire and finish second in the conference and get some BCS mention.
In 2010, the Horned Frogs became the first non-AQ school to win the Rose Bowl. However, TCU is losing Andy Dalton to the NFL, which means there is a chance for a big drop-off on offense. The good news is TCU still has a fantastic defense and could have a good replacement for Dalton in Casey Pachell.
TCU's 2011 football schedule is still up in the air, but they play their last season in the Mountain West this year and that means plenty of wins for the Horned Frogs.
However, TCU has to face Boise State this year and will finish the season with enough losses to drop out of the rankings.
Michigan State had a great 2010 season that saw them in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten. However, the Spartans laid an egg against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. The good news is a ton of starters are back and the Spartans have a shot to get back into a major bowl in 2011.
The schedule is tougher this year due to conference expansion but the Spartans have as good a shot as any other team to win in 2011.
After a tough loss to finish the season I think the Spartans are ready to make up for the Alabama game. The will win the new Big Ten and head to the Rose Bowl.
The Cornhuskers had an up-and-down 2010 season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez had some nice moments before rumors came out of a possible transfer. However, in 2011 he is headed back to Lincoln in hopes of leading Nebraska to the top of the new Big Ten.
The schedule for Nebraska is hard to project because I am unsure of how Nebraska stacks up against the rest of the Big Ten.
After head coach Bo Pelini verbally assaulted Martinez on the sidelines in 2010, it was looking like the star quarterback was on his way out. Apparently Martinez has been a little bit of a problem child at Nebraska, and I think he will be asked to leave the team by the end of the season.
South Carolina had some nice moments in 2010 but they dropped their last two of the season. However, they have super freshman Marcus Lattimore coming back for his sophomore season and stud receiver Alshon Jeffery coming back.
The schedule is tough for the Gamecocks but they do miss Alabama, so that should help in 2011. They also have the weaker of the two SEC divisions. I think they run away with the SEC East crown.
Wisconsin has quite a bit to vanquish in 2011. The loss of their top two offensive linemen, their starting quarterback and their best defensive player provide substantial burdens to overcome. The good news is they get back a bulk of their running game.
The schedule in 2011 is tougher than in 2010. They have the expanded Big Ten roster and have to play Nebraska at home and travel to Ohio State.
At the end of the season Wisconsin is going to be wishing they had a few of the guys from their 2010 Rose Bowl team.
Florida State returns a ton of talent from a team that nearly went to a BCS bowl. They do lose quarterback Christian Ponder, but E.J. Manuel is ready to step in and be the full-time starter after being an injury replacement in 2009 and 2010.
The Seminoles do have to play against Oklahoma and Florida, but aside from that they should be favored in an easy ACC schedule. In fact, the Seminoles have no other team that will be able to touch them in the ACC conference.
The Noles may lose in the non-conference schedule, but in the ACC they could go undefeated.
The Aggies really started to figure it out towards the tail end of 2010. Ryan Tannehill is a good young quarterback and he will be the full-time starter in 2011. Yes, A&M loses Von Miller but they should still have a good defense to compete in the Big 12.
The 2011 schedule is tough for A&M. Not only do they battle the best of the Big 12 but they also have to take on Arkansas in the non-conference.
Because of their tough Big 12 schedule, Texas A&M will end up taking a step back in 2011. They will win fewer than the nine games they did in 2010.
Ohio State will be struggling to cope with the loss of quite a few starters to begin 2011, including quarterback Terrell Pryor. However, they are still skilled enough to compete in the revamped Big Ten. Expect the Buckeyes to rely heavily on the running game until Pryor is back.
The schedule for the Buckeyes is tough because of the new Big Ten schedule. They play at Nebraska, at Florida and at Michigan, with Wisconsin and Michigan State both coming into the Horseshoe.
With Brady Hoke taking over in Ann Arbor, I think Michigan will finally knock off Ohio State in 2011.
Oklahoma State is lucky to get back starting quarterback Brandon Weeden and Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys look like they have one of the best offenses in college football in 2010.
The schedule isn't easy in 2011, but they do get Oklahoma at home this year. However, despite the tough schedule I think the fact that Weeden and Blackmon are back gives the Cowboys the edge in the Big 12.
In 2011, we will finally get to see just how good Kellen Moore is. He is playing the 2011 season without star receivers Titus Young or Austin Pettis, but Moore is still a great college quarterback and I expect Boise State to contend for a BCS berth in 2011.
The schedule isn't terrible for Boise. However, they do play Georgia and have their first season in the Mountain West. A matchup against TCU is tough, but even if they beat the Horned Frogs, someone will knock them off, just like in 2010.
The Stanford Cardinals got a huge lift when Andrew Luck decided to come back for his junior season. However, they will be facing a season without Jim Harbaugh at the helm. I don't think the Cardinals have much of a drop-off this year, but they will feel it soon.
The schedule isn't terrible but they do have to face Oregon at home and a road trip to USC. I think the Cardinal actually match with they did in 2010.
LSU should be improved in 2011. They return 16 starters from a team that won the Cotton Bowl against a talented Texas A&M team. The offense has struggled at times this year, but they will be better in the coming year.
However, the defense is going to be the unit that lets down the Tigers in 2011. Patrick Peterson is gone, as is Drake Nevis. That will hurt them next season.
The schedule is also going to keep the Tigers from winning the national title, but they will be battling Alabama as the best team in the SEC.
Alabama might be losing their starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver, as well as some really skilled players on defense, but they still have one of the most talented rosters in college football. The Crimson Tide will shake off a disappointing 2010 season with a strong 2011.
The schedule is tough, but the Tide are too talented to count out. In fact, the Tide will be so hungry to make up for their 2010 season that they will play like the No. 1 team in the country from day one next season.
The Oregon Ducks nearly made it to the top of the mountain in 2010. However, a BCS title game loss to Auburn seems to have knocked them out of the national consciousness. People seem to forget that the Ducks return a ton of their roster, including LaMichael James and Darron Thomas.
The only thing standing in Oregon's way on their schedule is Stanford. Other than the Cardinal, I think Oregon has a great chance to go undefeated.
If the Ducks can get past Stanford, I think they will play in the BCS Championship again in 2011, and this time I think they have a good chance to win it.
Oklahoma got a huge shot in the arm when receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis decided to come back for 2011. That just adds to a ton of talent that the Sooners already were expecting this season.
The schedule is tough in the Big 12 but Oklahoma looks like they have a skilled-enough roster to be favorites for next season.
Ultimately, I think Oklahoma struggles with consistency in 2011 and it ends up hurting the Sooners.