College Football 2011: The Most Glaring Weaknesses of Every Top 25 Program
With the BCS National Championship and Super Bowl behind us it would seem to many that America's obsession for football would die down and lay dormant through the Spring and Summer time. But, that would be a complete falsehood as many football fans realize that between Spring games, the NFL Draft, and training camps; the football season is a year round affair.
So looking ahead to next season with an eager eye is common place as the top team's want to stay above reproach and countless teams want to become the "big dogs" playing in a BCS game before the entire country.
But, even the best team's in the country each have glaring holes and weaknesses that obstruct and give warning signs to fans going into next season. I have used ESPN's Mark Schlabach's "Early 2011 Top 25" as my guide at seeing what could be the downfall for these hyped schools.
There are surely other teams that are going to make runs into the Top 25. Even some of them might even be going to a BCS bowl game, but for now let's look at the teams that have gotten the hype.
25. West Virginia Mountaineers
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The defending Co-Conference champions of the Big East; West Virginia will again be looked at as a top team in a not so hot conference.
Though they were unable to land the spot in the treasured BCS game as UCONN was. West Virginia did make it to the Champs Sports Bowl before being trounced by the Wolfpack of N.C. State. It seemed like yesterday when Rich Rodriguez landed the Youtube sensation Noel Devine as a recruit. Devine is gone now, and so is most the Mountaineers defense.
The defense is certainly going to have to answer a lot of questions going into the season. But, another huge question is how Bill Stewart's already pre-determined last season will be played out. Dana Holgorsen has already been tagged as the next man in as coach, and this awkward situation could go either way based on how the players respond.
The schedule next season is going to be another factor that could put the Mountaineers in a heap of trouble. In back to back weeks they travel to Maryland to play the Terps' and then the LSU Tigers come to WVU. And, the final six games of the season will be close in-conference games including "The Backyard Brawl" with Pittsburgh which will be Bill Stewart's last home game as head coach.
24. Mississippi State Bulldogs
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In what was as competitive of a conference and division as could ever be in college football; Mississippi State was one five teams in the SEC West that finished in the Top 15 in the country. With new coach Dan Mullen the Bulldogs had an impressive year knocking off Florida in "The Swamp" and destroying Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
One of the inherent problems that the Bulldogs are forced to deal with is the level of competition that they have to face throughout the season. If you want a lot of cake-walks through the season then the SEC is not for you. The Bulldogs will have play the usual suspects that find themselves in National Title games every year (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn).
The Bulldogs will have to replace some key pieces on defense including and especially at linebacker. They did not lose alot of the starters overall, but they did lose some good players on the offensive and defensive lines going into next year.
23. Florida Gators
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The Urban Meyer Era has come to an end in Gainesville. Bring on the days of Will Muschamp as the Gators will try to rebound from what is a putrid year for them at 8-5.
The main issue with the Gators next season is the uncertainty of what to expect from both the coaches and players. The offense will most defintely be different with Charlie Weis coming aboard. This will call into question of who will be taking the majoriity of snaps next season at quarterback? Though the situation feels like the 2006 Gators with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow; which led to a National Championship, that is where the comparisons end.
If the Gators can regain the swagger at home; which made "The Swamp" the most hostile environment from 2005-2009 then it could be a great season. If the LSU's and Auburn's of the world are able to coast by the Gators it could be a rough start for Muschamp.
22. Texas Longhorns
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It certainly has been a strange year and change for the Texas Longhorns football team. Since Colt McCoy was knocked out of the National Championship against Alabama it has seemed like the Horns have not been able to recover.
Last season was an utterly shocking collapse of what has been one of the best football programs in America over the last ten years. With a meager 5-7 record with no bowl appearance and key home losses to teams like Iowa State and in-state rivals A&M and Baylor it was the lowest Texas football has been in some time.
But, there is optimism for some sense of improvement next season. Several new coaches have been hired under Mack Brown to try to revitalize the team as they embark on a new season. The key name will be Garrett Gilbert next season. He reminded many fans of Chris Simms more than Colt McCoy last season; not a good thing. No one is talking National Championship, but perhaps the Longhorns can become a feared opponent again in 2011.
21. Arizona State Sun Devils
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Yes, the days of Jake "The Snake" Plummer and the legendary Pat Tillman dominating the desert are long ago, but this coming season will feature a Sun Devils team that very well could make their own mark in Tempe and the Pac-12.
Ranking among the top teams in the country in returning starters, and playing a tough schedule last season may be exactly what Arizona State needed last season. They lost alot of close games last season. Much like the 2008 Iowa Hawkeyes who lost 4 games all season by a combined 12 points, Arizona State played teams tough throughout. The 2009 Hawkeyes would go onto a Orange Bowl victory the next season with similar returning starter numbers as ASU; so the precedent has been set.
The Sun Devils should not be an after thought in conference this year, but it will be hard for them to be taken seriously if they don't win a statement game (I'm looking at Oregon). They will have to get better quarterback play in 2011 if they want any shot of making noise and finishing in the Top 25.
20. Virginia Tech Hokies
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One of the most unwritten and unheralded feats of the 2010 college football season was the rebound of the Virginia Tech Hokies season. After losing to Boise State and the shocking lose to James Madison, Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer responded by marching through the ACC all the way to the title game; where they beat Florida State.
One of the glaring weaknesses that can be recognized right off the bat is the departure of Tyrod Taylor who played so brilliantly after week 2 of the season. Taylor most certainly will be missed along with two of the three big-time play-making running backs for the Hokes' last year. The Hokies will have to find leadership from the skill positions somewhere, and are hoping to find it sooner than they did last year.
But, with key lineman returning and a schedule that doesn't look as imposing as last season; the Hokies could be a contender for another BCS appearance.
19. Nebraska Cornhuskers
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The 2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers are boldly going where no Cornhusker team has gone before. Yes, NU will be embarking on their inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference next year and it should change the landscape of football as we know it in the Midwest.
After a season that looked like it was heading for greener pastures in the first couple of months; things turned sour at season's end with bad loses including a upset by Washington in the bowl game. The key for the Huskers in 2011 will be restoring the relationship with "T-Magic" Taylor Martinez and the coach Bo Pelini. That and replace one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Prince Amukamara will be of highest priority.
Most analysts have the Cornhuskers being the team to beat in the "Legends" division next season, but they will have to go through the big names of the conference including Ohio State, Wisconsin and finish with Iowa in what has been labeled as "Farmageddon".
18. TCU Horned Frogs
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Like Nebraska, TCU is gonna try to "take the trophy and run" approach this coming season. In what will be the final season in the Mountain West Conference for the Horned Frogs before departing to the Big East; they will try to do what the Huskers could not do, and that is jet to another conference with the title.
It is not going to be easy for TCU to have the magical season that they had last year. Going undefeated and ending with a thrilling victory in the Rose Bowl may be a once in a lifetime happening for Texas Christian. Gary Patterson has consistently turned down other offers at big time established power schools, so he must believe that his program can stay atop the pantheon of college football.
The Horned Frogs lost their leader in Andy Dalton and some defensive starters as well. They are going to have to do alot to re-capture the magic next season.
17. Auburn Tigers
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The defending champions are ranked at #17 I assume simply based on the fact that they are in fact--- National Champs.
This coming season the Tigers will have more holes to fill than any other team to grace this Top 25. The biggest holes obviously will be Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and projected #1 overall draft selection defensive tackle Nick Fairley. The Tigers also have other defensive areas that need to be filled. And, the SEC is not the best conference to expect to win when you are "rebuilding".
But, Auburn does have several offensive linemen that will be coming back with big-game experience and they also cleaned up in recruiting. So basically expect the Tigers to be back in a big way in 2012 or 2013.
16. Missouri Tigers
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Many college football fans have the lasting image of Missouri knocking off #1 Oklahoma at home in a frenzied atmosphere that won't soon be forgotten. But, for those who looked just a bit closer they also saw a Mizzou team that more or less collapsed in the latter part of the season.
From a team that some expected to be playing in the Fiesta Bowl, to playing in the Fiesta Bowls little brother the Insight Bowl (and losing) the Tigers season did not end like Gary Pinkel could have wanted it too. The most glaring lose will be Blaine Gabbert who left school early, as well as Aldon Smith on defense. Mizzou is not depleted at quarterback with a bevy of young talented guys in waiting, but they lack the experience of Gabbert; which is priceless.
With Nebraska out of the conference it leaves a spot for someone to step up and take out Oklahoma as the big dog, and Missouri could be that team next season.
15. Michigan State Spartans
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If you want to talk about the most overrated teams in college football last season; Michigan State would have to be at the front of the list.
It is a hard statement to make for a team that won a share of the Big Ten title last year, but when they lost they absolutely looked terrible. Not to mention the bowl game trouncing by Alabama which was but a piece of the Big Ten misery on that New Year's Day. But, in 2011 the Spartans will have a chance to show they are "here to stay".
They will lose the key players from what was a dominant linebacking unit over several seasons, but skill players on offense including young running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker will be back. The Spartans will be the last to face the suspension-based depleted Buckeyes in a game that could spell the fate of both teams in the "Leaders" division.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Every season the Fighting Irish are going to return to glory. That is what we hear from Lou Holtz, NBC, and your neighborhood Notre Dame fan.
And, for the first time in over a decade, in 2011 I might actually agree with them.
In what will be Brian Kelly's second season as leader of the Irish they are only going to be losing a couple starters overall on both sides of the ball. The pivotal moment was Michael Floyd's decision to stay in school for one more season. The Irish should be able to score points, and will have a stout defense returning. If a running back emerges to the forefront then the Irish could win 10 or 11 games. If not, a brutal schedule will get the Irish in the status quo of the last six or seven seasons.
13. Texas A&M Aggies
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Not enough credit is given to Mike Sherman for the job that he has done thus far in his career at Texas A&M. Not only did they beat the "Big Boys" of the conference last season (Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma) they also established that playing in College Station is as hard as it gets.
With Von Miller being the only departure of note from a team that will have an amazing number of starters returning it could be a special season in 2011 for the Aggies. Von Miller's absense no doubt will be felt as he was the heart and soul of the A&M defense all season last year. If someone steps up in his place there is no reason the Aggies can't make a run at a conference title.
12. Wisconsin Badgers
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The Badgers are losing a plethora of players that helped them knock off Ohio State last season, and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since Ron Dayne struck the pose. But, players like Scott Tolzien, J.J Watt and John Moffitt were not expected to have the year's that they did last year, so why can't the next guy in do it?
Plain and simple the Badgers were swamped with key players departures from early exits and graduation. Not only are quick-risers like Watt leaving, but well-known players like John Clay and Gabe Carimi are going to play on Sundays. The Badgers will not be as intimidating next season, but they do have players like Nick Toon and several running backs to take Clay's place.
With the suspension of Ohio State players possibly costing the Buckeyes a game or two, it could be Wisconsin who sneaks into the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.
11. South Carolina Gamecocks
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Sleeper for 2011?
No, I believe the secret is out that the Gamecocks could be a team to reckon with next season after taking home the SEC East last season. Coach Spurrier will have some of the best offensive talents at his disposal and should be able to score points at will. Of course, quarterback will be the key to the success of the Cocks as Stephen Garcia will have to play a complete season in what seems like an eternity as starter for South Carolina.
If they can stay healthy and Marcus Lattimore doesn't fall victim to the pressure surrounding his Heisman hype then this could be a team that could challenge the SEC West winner next season; which is equal to being a National Title contender these days.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
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What's the glaring weakness for the Buckeyes. Hmm.
Could it be their best player, best tailback, best wide receiver, best offensive lineman, and a key defensive player will not be playing the first five games of the season?
Yes, the Buckeyes will have to weather the storm early on if they want any kind of chance to win the first Big Ten Championship Game or even reach it. When they are all on the field they are the best team on paper next season with not many departures on offense. Defensively, the lose of Ross Homan and Cameron Heyward will be felt, but with the Buckeyes they always have a 5-star blue chip waiting in the wings.
The Buckeyes key hurdle was averted already as none of the suspended players decided to go to the Draft, the next key hurdle will be the Miami Hurricanes without these players.
9. Stanford Cardinal
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Jim Harbaugh built a program that some feel has reached it's ceiling in terms of what it can accomplish on the field. Harbaugh is now gone; after becoming the head coach of the 49ers, and now in is David Shaw who looks to keep the hard-nosed toughness that has been implanted in the Cardinal as of late.
The Cardinal lost some key lineman on the offensive side of the football and that could become trouble for Andrew Luck who passed up the chance to be the 1st overall draft pick in the NFL Draft. Memories of Sam Bradford come to mind in his return season. But, the Cardinal should be solid as a majority of their difficult games will be at home next season.
8. Arkansas Razorbacks
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But, what are the Hogs' going to do without Ryan Mallett behind center?
Yes, the rocket-cannon armed quarterbacks presence will be missed greatly, but Bobby Petrino has done a fine job since taking over in Fayetteville. Love him or hate him he seems to know the college game very well, and has put the 2011 Razorbacks in a position to win the SEC West if everything comes together.
Much hype has been put around Mallett's heir to the QB throne, Tyler Wilson. It is unknown if he can overcome the pressure to live up to his predecessor who won several games on his own last season. The Hogs' have alot of talent coming back at skill positions and on defense. They also need to stay healthy next season to be a factor.
7. Florida State Seminoles
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The Seminoles are going to be a very difficult team to beat coming in 2011. After making it to the ACC Title Game and winning the bowl game; some feel Jimbo Fisher's team would be content. Not quite.
The Noles' lose starting quarterback Christian Ponder, but other than that the majority of the team will be coming back in the Fall. EJ Manuel lacks the leadership and natural quarterback attributes of Ponder, but his athleticism will be overwhelming for some teams.
If Florida State can get it done against Oklahoma after the spanking they received last season in Norman, it could be a great year for Jimbo and the boys.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
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In a season where the Pokes of Oklahoma State put up offensive numbers that reminded some of the Texas Tech teams of the past; it will be interesting to see how they follow it up in 2011.
The biggest weakness will be to see how they replace a runner like Kendall Hunter in the backfield. His ability to get yards many times opened up the dynamic passing attack that this Cowboys team was so known for. The defense will also need an overhaul as well, but they should be solid enough to beat most of the Big 12 teams.
The return of Justin Blackmon shocked some and if he can avoid the lackluster and disappointing final season in Stillwater that Dez Bryant had; it could be a big year for the Pokes.
5. Boise State Broncos
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Like many gamblers, Boise State came to Reno hoping to cash in a big ticket with a win. And, like many gamblers who go to Reno they left depressed, rejected, with nothing to show for their great season.
But, a new year and new chapter under Chris Peterson begins as the Broncos join the Mountain West Conference after leaving the WAC. The biggest void to fill is going to be two wide receivers. Kellen Moore's favorite targets are gone now, and someone will need to fill in and make those yards after catches count.
4. LSU Tigers
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This is a career-defining year for Les Miles at LSU. Some people still do not put the former National Championship coach in the upper echelon of the coaches because of his coaching style and persona.
Either way though this season is going to say alot about what kind of coach Miles is, and what kind of program that he has been able to build. The weakness of the Tigers will be in replacing All-American Patrick Peterson and Drake Nevis as they move on to bigger and better things. Jordan Jefferson is going to have to do his best JaMarcus Russell impression this season (from his LSU days) and become an elite college quarterback.
This is a team that could easily win the SEC in 2011 if they win against Oregon and can survive the dog eat dog West.
3. Oregon Ducks
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Unlike their BCS National Championship counterparts; the Oregon Ducks are going to be a team that can compete for a National title in 2011.
Chip Kelly's Ducks are losing quite a bit though on the offensive line. If the new players can fill in, and keep the high-powered offense churning than it could be a long year for the other teams in the PAC-12. Derron Thomas also needs to mature as a quarterback more. Though he did a fine job last season at times; he needs to become the leader of the offense or they will hit roadblocks with the inexperience they will have.
LaMichael James will also need to overcome being a target with every team that he plays as he will be a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy next season.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
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Nick Saban or "The Nicktator" may have some people fooled that the Crimson Tide are down going into next season after a medicore defense of the National Title, but not me.
Alabama has been building a bevy of dominant recruiting classes over the past couple of seasons, and they are soon going to be released onto the college football world. The Tide are going to have to replace the key players that got them the title in Greg McElroy, Julio Jones, and Heisman winner Mark Ingram.
But, after destroying Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl it would appear that was the Alabama team that will be seen come next September.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
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"Big Game Bob" Stoops is gearing up for what many people want and expect to be a run at another National Championship.
The Sooners are going to be returning an alarming amount of players that have seen game experience on both sides of the football. The only loss to look at is DeMarco Murray, and who will fill his shoes at running back. Other than that it could come down to the visits to Tallahasee and Stillwater to determine if this Sooner team is good enough to be the best in the land.