College Football 2011: Best Positional Showdowns at the Top 25 Programs
One of the aspects of a Top 25 program that makes the team so dominant is that there is constant competition amongst players for playing time.
The rule of thumb is that no starting job is ever truly safe and there is always somebody behind you pushing to take your spot.
In this article I will rank the top 10 position battles going on at preseason Top 25 teams in 2011. These position battles will have long term implications and a lot of them have already created a firestorm of buzz.
As always let me know what you think of my rankings and if you agree or disagree.
10. Michigan State (Middle Linebacker)
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Greg Jones recorded 464 tackles throughout his four years at Michigan State and served as a constant disruptive force for the Spartans on defense. Jones served as the leader of the Spartan defense and played the position at a very high level for MSU.
As Jones now tries to scratch out a career in the NFL, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is searching for someone to plug into the now vacated middle linebacker position on defense.
Max Bullough is the most obvious candidate to take up Jones’s mantle at middle linebacker. Bullough was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school and showed signs of future greatness by recording 22 tackles as a freshman for the Spartans.
Steve Gardiner and Denicos Allen are also candidates to step into the middle linebacker role in 2011.
9. Wisconsin (Tight End)
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Lance Kendricks was one of quarterback Scott Tolzien’s favorite targets last season as evidenced by the tight end's 663 receiving yards.
With Kendricks's eligibility exhausted, the question now becomes who will fill the important tight end position in the Badgers pro style offensive attack?
Jacob Pederson played well as a freshman last season and even caught two touchdown passes during his nine games of work in 2010. Expect Pederson to get an early chance at expanding his role as he attempts to step into Lance’s massive shoes.
Pederson will need to fight off a trio of freshmen though to solidify his spot as the Badgers top tight end. Austin Traylor, Sam Arneson and Austin Maly will all compete with Pederson as they try to earn some early playing time in Madison.
8. Texas A&M (Running Back)
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It is uncertain who will be the featured back in the Aggie offense next season, but either way Texas A&M fans should make out just fine.
Cyrus Gray returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last year. Gray will be pushed by junior Christine Michael in the spring.
Michael rushed for 631 yards and four touchdowns in eight games last season before suffering a broken leg under his sophomore campaign. Christine was a celebrated high school recruit and was ranked 22nd in the Rivals 100 in 2009.
In all likelihood both running backs will see time in the backfield for head coach Mike Sherman next season, but the spring results may determine who gets the lions share of the carries in the fall.
7. Boise State (Wide Receivers)
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The return of quarterback Kellen Moore and running back Doug Martin on offense is reason for Broncos fans to get excited, but the lack of depth at wide receiver is reason for concern.
Big play wide outs Titus Young and Austin Pettis are both gone and head coach Chris Peterson will look for new talent to fill the void left by the departed seniors.
Senior Tyler Shoemaker seems like the obvious choice to step into the No. 1 role in 2011. The senior caught 32 passes for 582 yards last season and has experience in the Boise system. Shoemaker will be pushed by sophomore Geraldo Hiwat who played well during his limited opportunities as a freshman. Dallas Burroughs, a recruit from Meridian, Idaho, should also get a chance to step in immediately and compete.
There is a reason that Boise State has enjoyed such sustained success and I’m confident that they will find suitable replacements for the departed duo, but the question is who will win out as the main wide receivers who will be catching quarterback Kellen Moore’s passes.
6. Texas (Running Back)
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Senior Cody Johnson gave Texas head coach Mack Brown solid production in the backfield last season, gaining 592 yards and punching in six rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive, but Cody will have to compete against highly touted recruit Malcolm Brown if he wants to keep his starting gig next season.
The 6’0" 220 lbs. Brown ran roughshod over defenders as a senior at Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas rushing for an astounding 2,596 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns. Malcolm was rated as the 10th best prospect in the class of 2011 by Rivals and projects to see early playing time at Texas.
Expect both the veteran Johnson and the heralded newcomer Brown to compete against each other for the starting running back role. Brown appears to be the future in the backfield for Texas, but the question will be whether Cody Johnson can hold off the blue chip recruit or whether Brown will take the senior’s carries immediately.
5. Oregon (Wide Receivers)
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The Ducks offense is as explosive as ever, but if there is one question mark, it has to be at wide receiver.
Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis are gone and they will take with them 1,546 passing yards and 15 receiving touchdowns.
Senior Lavasier Tuinei will get an early look at stepping into Maehl’s footsteps. Tunei had 396 receiving yards and averaged 11 yards per catch last season for Oregon.
Sophomore Josh Huff will also compete for an increased role in Chip Kelly’s spread offense. Finally, newcomers Devin Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler will also push for early playing time in Eugene.
There are plenty of options from which Chip Kelly can choose from to replace the production of his two departed seniors. The question will be which players can stand out enough to truly distinguish themselves from the group?
4. South Carolina (Quarterback)
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Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has started under center the past two years for the Gamecocks and is the incumbent. Despite Stephen’s experience, head coach Steve Spurrier has yet to announce that he will be the Gamecock’s starting quarterback in 2011.
After Spurrier saw his Gamecocks lose to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and watched Garcia go 19-34 and throw three interceptions the ole ball coach hinted at a quarterback competition in the offseason at USC.
"Connor Shaw will get a chance heading into the spring," said Spurrier. "There will be a lot of positions up for grabs."
Connor Shaw served as Stephen Garcia’s backup during his freshman season in Columbia and threw for 223 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions during his limited time on the field. Shaw was rated a three star recruit by Rivals.com and was ranked as the 19th best dual threat quarterback in the class of 2010 by the recruiting site.
Whether Shaw can impress the coaching staff enough to beat out the veteran Garcia remains to be seen. What is certain is that while running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery are secure in their starting roles, Stephen Garcia will have to prove himself in the spring.
3. Oklahoma (Running Back)
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The Sooners have skill position talent aplenty on offense with players such as quarterback Landry Jones and wide receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills.
The only question that Bob Stoops has to address is who will replace the big gaping hole left by departed senior running back Demarco Murray in the backfield?
Roy Finch played well as a freshman last season gaining 398 yards, but Finch will be pushed by newcomer Brandon Williams. Williams came to Norman as a celebrated high school recruit and is similar to Texas freshman Malcolm Brown in that he was also rated as a five-star prospect by Rivals and will compete for early playing time in college.
It appears that either way Oklahoma fans will be treated to serviceable talent at running back in 2011, but the question will be how hard Williams can push the established Roy Finch for carries.
2. Auburn (Quarterback)
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There was no way I could leave this position battle off the list.
Who will replace departed Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton as quarterback of the Tigers in 2011?
Junior Barrett Trotter has the inside track even though Trotter has only thrown nine passes throughout his first two years at Auburn. Trotter is a dual threat quarterback out of Birmingham, Alabama who has impressive size at 6’2".
The established Trotter is in the same position as many of the other veterans on this list in that he will be pushed by an incoming freshman for the starter’s role.
Kiehl Frazier is a 6’3" 212 lbs. dual threat quarterback out of Springdale, Arkansas that chose the Tigers over a list of schools that included Notre Dame, LSU, Florida and Michigan. Frazier ranked 89th in the 2011 Rivals 100 and was chosen as the USA Today offensive player of the year.
Barrett will have the advantage of having worked with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn for two seasons, but don’t count out the highly touted Frazier. Whoever wins the starting job will have the advantage of playing with talented skill players such as Michael Dyer and Emory Blake.
1. LSU (Quarterback)
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LSU has a lot of momentum and is being touted as a preseason top five pick going into the 2011 college football season, but with all that being said there is still one major issue that head coach Les Miles and the Tigers need to decide on.
Who will the starting quarterback ultimately be?
The much maligned Jordan Jefferson returns next season, but Jefferson hasn’t solidified his position as starter with outstanding production on the football field. LSU was able to go 11-2 in 2010 despite the fact that Jefferson only threw for 1,411 yards, 10 interceptions and only seven touchdowns.
Of course senior Jarrett Lee will once again be hot on Jordan’s trail as Lee tries to impress the coaches enough to overtake Jefferson on the depth chart. Jarrett has thrown for 2,643 yards and 17 touchdowns in his time under center and has some starting experience with the school.
The wild card in the race and the quarterback that is generating a lot of the headlines is junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger was ranked 199th in the Rivals 250 in 2009 before signing with fellow SEC heavyweight Georgia. Mettenberger was red-shirted as a freshman for the Bulldogs and was later kicked off the team by Georgia head coach Mark Richt for underage drinking. After playing successfully at Butler Community College Mettenberger resurfaced and signed with LSU as a junior college recruit.
Zach will compete with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson this spring in a three way battle to decide who will go under center for this talented LSU offense.