Heading into the 2011 college football season, there are sure to be some surprise teams that crack the Top 25 once again. But, at the same time, expect many of the regulars to return to the polls.
In 2010, we saw upstart teams such as Mississippi State and Nevada achieve greatness and finish the college football season ranked. At the same time, many of the traditional powers faltered last season, ending the 2010 campaign unranked.
Here are 10 unranked schools that will join the Top 25 in 2011.
Heading into the Champs Sports Bowl against North Carolina State, West Virginia was ranked No. 22 with a chance at a 10-win season. But after a 23-7 loss to the Wolfpack, the Mountaineers finished the season 9-4 and unranked.
Behind quarterback Geno Smith—under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting, Dana Holgorsen—look for West Virginia to be back in the Top 25, making a push at a conference championship in the very weak Big East.
Despite its recent struggles, Michigan has been ranked at some point during each of the past three seasons.
With defensive-minded head coach Brady Hoke taking over, and quarterback Denard Robinson leading the offense, the Wolverines are perfectly capable of winning eight or nine games and reclaiming their spot in the polls.
Despite the move to the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah is primed to return to the Top 25.
With quarterback Jordan Wynn coming back to lead the Utes, Utah will be a surprise performer in the new conference. Nine wins is a definite possibility, and now that they’re in a BCS conference, nine wins will get the Utes ranked.
After a 7-2 start in 2010, the Iowa Hawkeyes lost their last three regular season games before beating the Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl.
Iowa will be relying heavily on running back Marcus Coker, who takes over for the recently dismissed Adam Robinson.
Coach Kirk Ferentz knows how to get his team ready to play, so expect Iowa to once again challenge for the Big Ten Championship.
Miami began 2010 as a ranked team, but the Hurricanes finished the season with a measly 7-6 record.
Under new coach Al Golden, Miami looks to once again regain its swagger.
Quarterback Jacory Harris needs to step his game up in 2011. If he can, the Hurricanes will challenge for a BCS berth.
The Fighting Irish finished 2010 strongly, winning their final four games after a 4-5 start.
With quarterback Dayne Crist returning and highly recruited running back Cierre Wood finding his stride, Notre Dame is poised to take another step forward during coach Brian Kelly’s second season in South Bend.
With NCAA sanctions preventing them from going to a bowl game, the USC Trojans played lackluster football in 2010, finishing the season 8-5.
Despite another year with a postseason ban, the Trojans have too much talent to not finish the 2011 season in the AP Top 25.
Even with a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, the Gators finished 2010 with an 8-5 record.
With quarterback John Brantley returning to Gainesville, along with cornerback Janoris Jenkins, Florida will be in the hunt for yet another SEC Championship in 2011.
2010 was a season to forget for the Texas Longhorns. A year removed from a berth in the BCS Championship Game, the Longhorns went 5-7 and finished last in the Big 12 South.
Texas has a plethora of talent, and if quarterback Garrett Gilbert can eliminate some of his mistakes in 2011, the Longhorns will bounce back nicely.
The Dawgs finished 2010 with a 6-7 record and a loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl.
In 2011, Quarterback Aaron Murray returns for his sophomore season, and new recruits Isaiah Crowell and Johnathan Jenkins will have a big impact in their first season in Athens.
The Bulldogs will have a 10-win season and represent the SEC East in the conference championship game.