College Football 2011: LSU Tigers and 10 Other Teams Ready For Spotlight
At this point in the college football season there are 120 schools who think they have a chance at a BCS championship.
Optimism fills every locker room as new recruits sign during National Signing Day and players look forward to spring practices.
Obviously not all of these schools have a realistic chance at a national championship. But that does not mean that teams can not surprise people and rise to the top of the rankings.
Some of these teams, such as LSU, were on the cusp of greatness and are ready for the next step. Other teams could make a surprise push into the top twenty-five.
Without further delay here are ten college football programs that are ready for the big time spotlight in 2011.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
For the first time in a long time Notre Dame's national championship chances may not actually be wishful thinking by an Irish faithful.
New coach Brian Kelly had South Bend buzzing as 2010 ended, and it is widely believed he has the Irish heading in the right direction. This is evidenced by a four game winning streak, including a bowl win over the Miami Hurricanes, to finish the season.
As if that was not enough he also brought in one of the top recruiting classes so far this season. Most notably Notre Dame recruits Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams could play immediate dividends on the defensive line.
The Irish also were pleasantly surprised to learn that leading wide receiver Michael Floyd would return for another season. In 2010 Floyd caught 79 passes and twelve touchdowns.
The Irish hope that with Dayne Crist for a full season these numbers can progress even further. The Irish will also return nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
Do not be surprised to see Notre Dame take a big step up the rankings in 2011.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina started the year strong in 2010, but they certainly did not finish it the same way. After consecutive losses to end the year the Gamecocks are looking to right the ship in 2011.
If nothing else this team should be able to score with just about anybody in the country next year. Steve Spurrier and company will bring back their two most explosive players in running back Marcus Lattimore, and receiver Alshon Jeffery.
There is definitely some question marks surrounding the quarterback position. While Spurrier may not be sold on current quarterback Stephen Garcia, but he does know what to expect from him if all else fails during an attempted switch.
8. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU is fresh off a Rose Bowl victory and return many of their defensive starters for a run at a BCS National Championship in 2011.
Head coach Gary Patterson has made a name for himself by getting the most out of his defensive players. He does not always have the biggest or fastest athletes but his scheme has caused opponents nightmares.
Next season the Horned Frogs gain another year of experience on defense and should be evens stronger.
Concern falls on the offensive side of the ball where Casey Pachall will be asked to replace Andy Dalton. Dalton made a name for himself last season and is looking to move on to the NFL. If all goes well Pachall could take a similar path.
TCU also still has their leading rusher and most productive offensive player, Ed Wesley, returning for another year.
7. Stanford Cardinals
The fact that Andrew Luck surprisingly decided to return for his senior season is the sole reason the Cardinals find themselves on this list.
Obviously the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL is a major loss for the Cardinals and it could possibly result in a set back from the 12-1 record in 2010.
But the Cardinals also will have to replace seven defensive starters on defense. As if that wasn't enough they will also have to replace over half of their offensive line.
That is a tall task for any team, especially one that is also trying to transition to a new coach.
If Luck can put Stanford in position to make the next step toward winning a National Title then it will likely be an extraordinary statistical season.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
If there is ever year for the Cowboys to take a major step toward a BCS National Championship then it is 2011.
The main reason the Cowboys find themselves on this list is offensive stability. Coach Mike Gundy is glad to welcome back all-world wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The only major hole offensively comes from the departure of Kendall Hunter at running back. Conveniently Oklahoma State's top recruit is running back Herschel Sims.
The Cowboys will need to improve on the defensive side of the ball if they want to compete with Oklahoma in the Big 12.
That being said they should have no problem being one of the highest scoring teams in the country.
5. Florida State Seminoles
New Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is well on his way to rebuilding the Seminoles to national prominence since taking over for the legendary Bobby Bowden.
Last season Florida state finished the season ranked seventeenth after going 10-4.
In 2011 the Seminoles return nine starters on each side of the ball. They also currently hold the nations number one recruiting class, although that could change based on the decision of Jadeveon Clowney.
Much of their success will depend on whether E.J. Manuel can sufficiently take over as the signal caller for the departed Christian Ponder.
Florida State will have an early season test when they face off with powerhouse Oklahoma in September.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Admittedly this is not a move to the spotlight as much as it is a return to the spotlight.
After all Nick Saban and company are just a season away from a BCS National Championship. But, last season they did fail to reach a BCS Bowl and fell short of their pre-season expectations.
Alabama will also lose some major pieces in Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones, and quarterback Greg McElroy.
For most teams this would be too much to overcome, but with the Tide's depth anything seems possible.
First of all Trent Richardson has been playing second fiddle to Ingram for the past two seasons but appears more than ready to take over the role as the feature back.
McElroy may also seem like a big loss due to his record as an Alabama quarterback. However, in reality Alabama relies on their quarterback very little as a play-maker.
This biggest question could be how well Marquis Maze and the new set of recruits are capable of replacing Julio Jones.
Defensively the Tide lost very little and with another year experience, and addition of big time recruits such as Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, they should be even stronger.
3. LSU Tigers
LSU had a relatively successful season last year finishing 11-2 and beating Texas A&M to secure the Tigers first Cotton Bowl victory in 45 years.
However, they could be ready to take another step forward in 2011. Les Miles' team returns ten starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
LSU may also upgrade at quarterback if junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger is able to grasp the offensive system and phase out incumbent Jordan Jefferson.
The biggest question marks will come on the defensive side of the ball where the loss of cornerback Patrick Peterson could become apparent.
The additions of recruits Anthony Johnson on the defensive line, and David Jenkins in the secondary could help cover up some flaws.
2. Boise State Broncos
Needless to say last season was a major letdown for Chris Petersen and the rest of the Broncos. After starting the season with ten straight wins missed field goals resulted in a lost opportunity for a national championship.
However, the Broncos will be making the switch to the Mountain West Conference in 2011 which will provide them with more opportunities to strengthen their resumes.
Most importantly the Broncos return perennial Heisman Trophy candidate Kellen Moore. The Broncos quarterback threw 35 touchdowns last season to just six interceptions, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Boise State will also return their underrated running back, Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,231 yards and twelve touchdowns a season ago.
There are some question marks about the Broncos' wide receivers after their top two options, Titus Young and Austin Pettis, graduated. However, with Moore under center it should be a relatively smooth transition to a new crop of receivers.
Defensively the Broncos will also lose some key starters but they have some solid recruits coming in. Most notably inside linebacker Blake Renaud and defensive end Sam Ukwwuachu could make an immediate impact.
If all goes well in 2011 then the Broncos could finally break through to a BCS National Championship.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Some would argue that Oklahoma is already in the spotlight after going 12-2 and finishing the season as one of the top ranked teams in the country. The Sooners also appear destined to be the number one ranked team heading into 2011.
However, this season Oklahoma is more ready for this big time position because they are ready to return to the BCS National Championship.
The Sooners offense could be the most explosive in the country with the return of quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Ryan Broyles.
They will have to replace leading rusher DeMarco Murray, but recruit Brandon Williams could prove up to the task.
If the defense is able to avoid injury and get Landy Jones back on the field then Bob Stoops and the Sooners could quickly find themselves back on top.