College Football 2011: 50 Burning Questions That Must Be Answered Before Kickoff
Football season is over, but speculations of 2011 are only beginning.
Which teams are going to be great this season? Which teams have the best prospects?
Which teams are being overrated, and which are being overlooked?
Here to whet your appetite for fall are 50 questions that have football fans hungry for kickoff.
1. Can Anyone Knock the SEC from Its Perch?
The short answer: yes.
There are several contenders who will be vying for that very opportunity in 2011. Among them are Alabama, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina.
The rest of the country will be rooting for Oklahoma, Ohio State, Oregon, Florida State and TCU. There's no limit to those ready to see the end of the SEC reign. '
Teams have enough talent to take the SEC's crown—but the real question is, will they?
2. Who Will Lead the Nation in Rushing?
LaMichael James led the nation in rushing in 2010, and there is no reason to believe he won’t repeat in 2011.
With the fast pace of the Oregon offense, James will get plenty of touches.
The incoming junior will also benefit from the number of weapons that Oregon possesses. This will make his touches more efficient than those from other running backs across the country.
3. Will Kellen Moore End Up the Winningest Quarterback of All Time?
The verdict: yes.
No doubt has Kellen Moore benefited from Boise State playing a less-than-stellar schedule every year. Now, Moore only needs eight wins to pass Colt McCoy as the all-time winningest quarterback.
Of course, the competition will be a little more difficult in the Mountain West conference than it was in the WAC. But the Broncos should easily get to eight wins in 2011.
4. Which Team Has the Biggest Shoes to Fill?
Losing the Heisman Trophy winner and your best defender is difficult. Even harder is the loss of your senior class and even more underclassmen.
That's what Auburn faces. They've got a great recruiting class, but these players will only be freshmen.
Auburn will have a tough time repeating their success from 2010.
5. Can Auburn Stay Off Probation?
I think this is a yes.
The NCAA already vouched for Auburn, reporting that the school did not violate any rules.
There may be more forthcoming investigations. But knowing the NCAA, they won’t be punishing the Tigers.
6. Which Recruiting Class Will Make the Biggest Impact?
Without a doubt—Florida State.
Not only did they bring in the No. 1 recruiting class, but their incoming players play key positions.
This is Jimbo Fisher’s first class all to his own—and these players are 100 percent sold on his program.
This class will be one that brings FSU back to national prominence.
7. Who's the Inaugural Favorite in the Legends/Leaders?
Newcomer Nebraska is the favorite to win the Legends division, edging slightly over Michigan State.
Despite the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor and four other players, Ohio State remains the favorite in the Leaders division.
The Buckeyes get the slight pass over the Wisconsin Badgers, which begin the 2011 season with a new quarterback.
8. Who Is the SEC's Next Dominant Defensive Tackle?
In 2011, watch for South Carolina's Melvin Ingram to take this title.
The senior amassed nine sacks last season, second to Nick Fairley in SEC defensive tackle sack leaders. Ingram was eighth in the country in 2010.
9. Is Jordan Jefferson the Answer at QB for LSU?
Jordan Jefferson is far from an elite quarterback. (Then again, if LSU had an alternative, they'd be using it.)
That said, Jefferson has done a solid job as the starting quarterback in Baton Rouge. He should keep the starting job without any problems in 2011.
10. Who's the Front-Runner in the SEC East?
That would be South Carolina—thanks to their win last year, and a lot of returning talent.
The improved skills of Florida and Georgia might give the Gamecocks a run for their money, though. And look for Tennessee to be a player in Derek Dooley’s second season.
11. How Many Big East Teams Are Top 25 Worthy?
It might sound harsh, but there is no reason why any Big East team should be ranked to start the season.
That might change as the season goes on, but the conference has to earn the respect of fans and pollsters alike before that happens.
12. Are the Notre Dame Fightin' Irish BCS Contenders or Pretenders?
Everyone knows how good of a coach Brian Kelly is—and he's working his magic in South Bend.
After rattling off four impressive wins to close last season, including a bowl blowout of Miami, Kelly signed a great recruiting class focused primarily on the Irish’s needs for defense.
The Irish look to contend for a BCS bowl game after 2010. A big win or two could send them back in 2011.
13. What's the Over/Under for Wins in Brady Hoke's First Michigan Season?
It’s easy to forget that Michigan was a bowl team this past year. They lost all their prominent games, and were demolished by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
However, the cupboard is not bare for Brady Hoke. With the talent he has, Hoke should be able to do some good things in his first season.
I expect Hoke to win at least six games, and go a bowl game in 2011.
14. How Many Games Does UCLA Have to Win for Neuheisel to Keep His Job?
Neuheisel’s job is hanging by a thread.
And if the Bruins come out of the gates poorly, he could be gone in 2011 by mid-season.
At the very least, they'll have to make a bowl game. But that might still be too little to keep his job, if the wins have no momentum.
My bet is on eight wins at UCLA for Neuheisel to keep his job.
15. Which Program Will Suffer the Worst Offseason Attrition?
Auburn has the potential to lose—big time.
Having already lost Cam Newton and Nick Fairley in addition to the expected senior class, they still face scrutiny from the NCAA for Newton's recruitment and the actions of Newton's father.
The 2011 season could be a rocky year for Auburn if the NCAA finds evidence off the field worth sanctioning. Their prospects on the field are not much better.
16. Will TCU Be Able to Replace Andy Dalton?
If replacing Dalton simply means having a quarterback under center, then the answer is yes.
But if TCU wants the kind of leadership and toughness Dalton represented, then his replacement might face many challenges.
In 2011, TCU doubters will see just how valuable Dalton was—and how much his absence affects the TCU program.
17. Can Iowa Shore Things Up Behind The Scenes?
Can Iowa get it together? For the Hawkeyes’ sake, I certainly hope so.
The hospitalization of 13 players after an offseason workout made an ugly headline for the program to carry in 2010. Neither the school nor its head coach Kirk Ferentz could muster much response to its fallout.
It will be interesting to see how the season goes for Iowa, especially early on.
18. Who Steps In for Scott Tolzien at Wisconsin?
Redshirt senior Nate Tice will likely get the first shot at replacing Tolzien, who was highly efficient as quarterback for the Badgers during his tenure.
If Tice doesn’t pan out, several younger quarterbacks on the roster will get their shot after him.
Tice transferred from UCF after the 2008 season and sat out in 2009.
19. How Much Will Michigan State Miss Greg Jones Defensively?
The answer? A lot.
By no means will the Spartans fall to pieces on defense, but it remains tough to replace a great player like Greg Jones.
Those stepping into the void left by Jones' departure will feel a drop-off in their ranks.
20. Who's Calling Plays at Oklahoma State?
Todd Monken comes to the Cowboys after being the quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s not clear what kind of offense he intends to run with the Cowboys—but you can bet that it will be high-powered and scary good.
With all the talent the Pokes have returning on offense, it doesn't matter a whole lot who was calling the plays.
21. Where Will Tate Forcier Land As a Transfer?
This one's already been answered. Tate Forcier will be going to Miami to join Al Golden and the Hurricanes.
Forcier had several schools on his list, but ended up in Miami after several visits to other schools.
22. Who Should Al Golden Use at QB in Miami?
Golden has a solid group to choose from in Jacory Harris, Stephen Morris and Tate Forcier. Yet, while all have shown flashes, none have performed consistently.
Morris has the least experience in the group, while Harris and Forcier have plenty of it.It’s a tough call between the two, but new blood in Forcier may be what this team needs.
Forcier might be able to jump start the offense that has suffered from Harris’ inconsistencies.
23. Will New Texas Staff Gel, Have Chemistry?
This is a toughie.
Texas experienced extreme upheaval on their staff this offseason. It’s odd to see a shakeup like that at Texas because, well, it’s Texas. It’s a great place to coach football and part of a historic program.
But I think new blood might be a good thing for the Longhorns. They’ll be back to their usual position as one of the country’s top teams in a few seasons.
24. Where Will ESPN GameDay Kick Off In 2011?
Everyone in the country has been saying, “If Boise State played in the SEC...”
Well, now they have a shot at an SEC team in Georgia, on a less-than-neutral field at the Georgia Dome.
Boise State played in Athens several years ago and was slaughtered there—but that was before they really turned the corner as a program.
Everyone wants to see how the Broncos fare against the Bulldogs. ESPN will be there on GameDay in order to show it.
25. Will There Be Any More Conference Realignment?
The only real question is: when will this new realignment take place and who will be participating?
The Big 12 remains unstable, despite what anyone from a Big 12 school says. The Pac-12 will look to expand once again. Larry Scott is too much of a go-getter not to gain 16 teams.
Realignment will come again. It's just a matter of when.
26. Can John Brantley Lock Down the QB Position at UF?
John Brantley should benefit from Charlie Weis' hiring to secure the QB position in Gainesville.
Trey Burton will still be used, much like Tim Tebow was during his freshman season. But Weis' history as a pro-style coordinator and Brantley's position as a pro-style quarterback gives him the job.
27. What Impact Will Charlie Weis Have on John Brantley?
Weis was an odd hire for offensive coordinator at Florida, but he could do great things for John Brantley.
Brantley is a pro-style quarterback. That’s exactly what Weis excels at.
Weis turned Jimmy Clausen into a great quarterback in college, and there is no reason to believe that he can’t do the same with Brantley. (Except for the fact that he was largely a terrible college coach.)
28. Is EJ Manuel Ready to Lead a BCS Championship Run at FSU?
EJ Manuel did a nice job of filling in for Christian Ponder in 2010, but he didn’t do it against great competition. And when he came in against South Carolina, FSU was already up and rolling.
Manual should get credit for playing well enough—but he has yet to prove he can be consistently solid.
He’ll get that opportunity in 2011, and all signs indicate he is ready.
29. How Will the Big 12 Function with Only 10 Teams?
It will be an interesting change for the conference after having had the two divisions with a championship game system. The regular season now counts a lot more and teams can’t afford to lose games in conference. However, that will also heighten the intensity of the regular season, with every game carrying a bit more weight. It should be fun to be a part of.
30. Are George O'Leary and the UCF Knights Ready to Be C-USA's First BCS Rep?
All the pieces are there with a stout defense and a young standout quarterback in Jeff Godfrey. However, the schedule is a beast, with road trips to BYU, SMU, East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. When you’re in C-USA, you can’t afford any losses and there is no way that UCF manages to navigate their schedule undefeated. They have the best shot at a BCS run, but it won’t happen.
31. Can Case Keenum Return to Heisman Form After Injury-Plagued 2010?
Keenum was on the way down before being injured in 2010. Starting with his six interception debacle against Air Force in Houston’s 2009 bowl game, Keenum has been steadily regressing after an incredible 2009 regular season. Chances are he won’t be back to that form. He’ll still chuck the ball all over the field, but don’t expect the 2009 version to run out of the tunnel.
32. Can Will Muschamp Put an End to Gators' String of Player Arrests?
That’s a tough one to say. I’ve always been on the boat that says player arrests are more of a reflection on the character of a player than the tightness of the ship a coach runs. Basically, if Muschamp doesn’t recruit a bunch of idiots who are going to act like fools, then the string of player arrests will more than likely come to an end.
33. Will Steve Spurrier Throw Stephen Garcia Under the Bus This Offseason?
Steve Spurrier doesn’t care who you are. If you aren’t performing the way he expects you to be performing, he’s going to say something about it. Garcia has been inconsistent at best in his time as a starter at South Carolina. His highs are really high, but his lows are really low. He has to always be on that high in order for South Carolina to continue to climb the pecking order in the SEC and compete for a conference title.
34. What Does Life After Locker Look Like at Washington?
Young, to say the least. All eyes are on Nick Montana, the son of Hall of Famer Joe Montana, as he seems to be the heir apparent to Jake Locker. Montana redshirted his freshman season in 2010, so he has four years to be the man in Seattle. Two other quarterbacks on the roster will be redshirt sophomores, but that’s it on the quarterback depth.
35. Is 2011 JoePa's Farewell Tour?
No way. In all reality, Joe Paterno probably doesn’t have enough sense left in his head to figure out that retirement is best for him at this point. Although he’s still got the energy, still got the passion for the game and his teams have not been terrible. I’ve always thought it would be a perfect script if he died coaching a game, but that’s a bit morbid.
36. Whose Hot Seat Is the Hottest?
Rick Neuheisel's, without a doubt. The monopoly of Los Angeles is still very much alive and Neuheisal has done nothing to stop it. His teams have been inconsistent and horrific on offense in particular. If UCLA doesn’t make a bowl at the very least, he is gone.
37. Who Will Win the Big 12?
Oklahoma. Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri and possibly Texas should all contend for the title, but Oklahoma has the schedule in their favor, getting two of the four above teams at home and Texas in Dallas. The Sooners proved they can win in Stillwater last year against a good Cowboys team and will do it again in 2011 to win the conference title.
38. Which Teams Will Show the Biggest Drop Off?
It seems odd to say that the top two teams at the end of the year will drop off the most in 2011, but that certainly appears to be the case. TCU and Auburn are both sustaining heavy personnel losses and won’t be anywhere close to the dominating teams that they were in 2010. Both will still be good teams, but they won’t be close to the national title race.
39. Which Teams Will Be Most Improved from 2010?
You don’t accumulate talent like the talent that has been accumulated in Austin and have back-to-back terrible years. Texas will be back on the national scene in 2011 without a doubt. Will the Longhorns be contending for a national title? Probably not, but they will definitely look a lot better than the horrific excuse of a team from 2010.
40. Can TCU Repeat a BCS Bowl Again?
Unfortunately for the Frogs, this will be a hard thing to accomplish. The Frogs lose a lot of starters on both sides of the ball and don’t have gushing enthusiasm about the players replacing them. That’s not to say that TCU won’t have good players step up, but there aren’t players that are going to blow people away immediately. If the Frogs make another BCS bowl, then they should be considered among the top programs in the country.
41. Which Team's Schedule Will End Their BCS Bowl Hopes?
Pretty much any SEC team could be here. The conference is just so deep and competitive top to bottom, it’s hard for any team in the conference that is on the cusp of making a BCS bowl to keep that hope alive. There’s a reason why the SEC champion is normally a shoo-in for a BCS bowl or the national championship game. They’ve earned it.
42. Which Team's Schedule Guarantees Them a BCS Bowl Berth?
Florida State has an easy schedule overall. Oklahoma and Florida are definitely tough games, but the ACC schedule is very manageable. The toughest game will be on the road at Clemson, but that’s really the only obstacle between the Seminoles and an ACC division title. FSU isn’t guaranteed a berth because of their overall schedule, but rather their easy trip through the ACC.
43. Who Has the Easiest Conference Schedule?
As stated previously, Florida State has a very easy schedule in conference. Home games against Maryland, Miami, NC State, Virginia and road games against Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest, and Boston College make for an easy trip to the ACC title game and possibly a BCS bowl game.
44. Who Will Be Preseason Top 10?
In no particular order: Oklahoma, LSU, Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Auburn, TCU and Stanford
45. Which Top Ten Preseason Teams Will Be Overrated?
Auburn and TCU are losing a lot of starters, but will probably be ranked this high because of finishing at the top of the polls last season. Ohio State is also overrated because of the suspensions and trying to basically play with two different teams over the course of the season.
46. Can Anyone Keep FSU or Virginia Tech out of the Orange Bowl?
While it is not likely that anyone will be in the Orange Bowl besides FSU or VT, Clemson, NC State and UNC have the best shot at doing so. Clemson has a great recruiting class coming in, NC State returns quarterback Russell Wilson and UNC has a high number of starters coming in as well as a nice recruiting class. VT and UNC will do battle in the Coastal, while Clemson, FSU and NC State will battle in the Atlantic.
47. Who Will Win Big East?
There is no overwhelming favorite in the Big East this season, but West Virginia seems to have the edge. The addition of Dana Holgerson as offensive coordinator will boost an already dangerous offense. The Mountaineers will have to figure out how to replace Noel Devine, but there are players ready to step up. The defense was solid in 2010 and should be similar in 2011.
48. Will USC Win Their Appeal and, If So, Will They Win Pac-10?
No, USC will not win their appeal and they will be stuck with another season without a postseason. It’s really unfortunate for any program to have to suffer really strict consequences, but that’s the way things work sometimes. All the Trojans can do is work hard and show they value the direction of the program more than their own personal gains.
49. Will South Carolina Finally Get over the Hump This Year?
South Carolina has a great chance to win the SEC East, but they just don’t have what it takes to win the SEC Championship. Both Alabama and LSU from the West will be stronger than USC this season, so look for one of them to win the championship. However, South Carolina has a great shot of making a BCS bowl game.
50. Who Are the Top Five Heisman Finalists?
Returning finalists from 2010, Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck and LaMichael James, will once again be contenders. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles have the potential to be finalists, as do Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Aside from the first three, Jones and Blackmon will be the other two to make up the top five.