College Football 2011: 10 Teams That Can Sneak Into The Top 25
Last year Auburn came into the season unranked and was thought to be a middle of the road SEC team. By the end of the year they won a BCS National Championship and quarterback Cam Newton was the hottest topic in all of college sports.
This just goes to show you that pre-season polls don’t mean everything. Just because a team is unranked to start the season, it does not mean they wont crack the top 25 by the end of it.
If the experts were always right, nobody would watch college football. What makes the game so great is that any team can win any given Saturday.
The following are unranked teams that have a chance to be ranked by the end of the season.
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
The Golden Hurricanes return most of their key players from an offense that averaged 505 yards per game last season (sixth best nationally). Quarterback G.J. Kinne threw for over 3,000 yards and Tulsa has a huge stable of running backs returning for 2011.
If Tulsa wants to be ranked this season, they are going to have to pull off an early upset or two. They will have many opportunities. Three of their first four games are against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. Each of those three schools are expected to have top 10 squads.
If Tulsa can pull off an the upset in one of these games, they will probably see their name in the top 25 polls at some point in the season.
Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada went 13-1 last season, their most notable win was an upset against Boise State. Nevada loses quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua, two superstars that will be very hard to replace.
Mike Ball looks like a solid candidate to be the starting running back for the Wolf Pack in 2010, and the quarterback will probably be senior Tyler Lantrip.
The Wolf Pack still have an opportunity to win a lot of game this season because the WAC is so weak. Key games they play are against Oregon, Texas Tech and Boise State. If the Wolf Pack can manage to win two of these games, they should be ranked most of the season.
South Florida Bulls
The success of South Florida’s season may be decided early when they play Notre Dame on Sept. 3. Notre Dame’s offense will provide a tough test for the stout USF defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, USF returns its quarterback B.J. Daniels and will look for running back Demetris Murray to get the majority of the team’s carries.
USF has not won less than eight games since 2005. I don’t expect this year to be any different. If they can beat Notre Dame they will probably be ranked most of the season. Additionally, they will have a good chance to compete for a Big East Championship.
Pitt is a lot like South Florida this season. They will be tested early when they take on Notre Dame and Utah just before Big East play begins.
New coach Tom Bradley will look to make a statement early with victories in these games. His team will be led by a stout defense.
Pitt will miss running back Dion Lewis, who opted to go pro early this season. But if their offense can be average, their defense is good enough to carry them to a lot of victories.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
North Carolina State quietly had a very good season last year. Quarterback Russell Wilson led his team to a 9-4 finish and is returning to battle for the ACC crown this season.
Tom O’Brien’s team was solid on both sides of ball last season, but was just one step below the ACC elite. Last season was the first time O’Brien coached NC State to a record above .500.
Is this the year NC State can finally step up and compete for the ACC crown? Fans expect progression, hopefully the Wolfpack can take their game to the next level.
The Hurricanes had high hopes in 2010 but they were shattered early when they lost to Ohio State in week two. In 2011 the expectations are a little less lofty, but new head coach Al Golden is setting the bar high. He expects great things out of this Miami team.
Miami’s success will mostly depend on the consistency of Jacory Harris. He has been brilliant at times and other times he has looked lost on the football field.
Like last season, a lot of pressure will be put on the game against Ohio State. If the Canes can win this game at home, we might see the glorious return of “The U.”
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech is one of the most well coached teams in the country every season. Paul Johnson has had a solid 26-14 record in his three seasons at Georgia Tech.
Most of the Yellow Jackets success this season will be decided on who can step up and play quarterback. The triple option relies so much on the quarterback position. Georgia Tech needs to come up with a strong candidate to take over for former quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who graduated last season. It appears the junior Tevin Washington, will be the front runner for the job.
The main reason I believe Georgia Tech has a chance to be ranked this season is because of their weak non-conference schedule. They start the season off against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Kansas. That equals a 3-0 starts for the Yellow Jackets.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech probably deserves to be a ranked team today, but many polls still fail to give them the respect they deserve. This is mostly because they lost their two biggest playmakers on offense in quarterback Taylor Potts and running back Baron Batch.
Another reason many pre-season polls don’t like them is because they play virtually no defense. Last season their defense placed 113th in the nation. That will need to improve if they plan on competing in the Big 12 this season.
I feel they have a chance to be ranked this season because they play a lot of quality opponents. The quickest way to find yourself in the polls is to upset a highly ranked team and the Red Raiders have plenty of chances to do so.
Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State came into the 2010 season expecting to challenge for the Pac-10 title, but injuries slowed them. They only went 5-7 last season, but Oregon State is better than what their record shows. They had very impressive wins against Arizona, Arizona State, USC and Cal.
The biggest obstacle for Mike Riley’s team this year is to live without running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who left for the NFL.
This season the Beavers offense will focus more on the passing game. Quarterback Ryan Katz showed a lot of promise last season and returns his two best receivers, James Rodgers and Marcus Wheaton.
Don’t be surprised if this team pulls off the upset at Wisconsin in week two. They have a lot of talent and might sneak their way into the top 25 with a win in Madison.
Baylor might be the biggest sleeper team in the country this season. For one reason: Robert Griffin III. People that have seen him play know that this kid is the truth. Last season Griffin threw for 3195 with 21 touchdowns and a passer rating of 144.2.
Baylor has an opportunity to make a statement in their opening game against TCU. I believe that Baylor will pull off the upset and prove that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12.
If Griffin can stay healthy, look for Baylor to surprise a lot of people next year. They have a potent offense just waiting to be unleashed.