College Football Predictions 2011: 10 Surprise Teams To Watch Out For

Jim MancariCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2011

College Football Predictions 2011: 10 Surprise Teams To Watch Out For

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    Though the focus of College Football fans is currently on this week's NFL Combine and April's NFL Draft, it's never too early to make some predictions for the upcoming season.

    Each year a few surprise teams find their way into the national spotlight.

    This year should be no different, as many teams have improved in an attempt to make a bid for a BCS bowl game, or even a National Championship.

    Here are 10 teams to keep an eye over the next few months as they prepare for the 2011 season.

10. Washington

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    2010 Overall Record: 7-6

    2010 Conference Record: 5-4 (Pac-10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 38th overall with 172.2 rushing yards per game

    Though the Huskies will be losing Jake Locker to the NFL, sophomore quarterback Keith Price will be ready to fill the void.

    Washington will also be returning 16 starters, eight on each side of the ball.

    That includes junior running back Chris Polk who was a 2010 All-Conference selection. Polk was the main reason for Washington's strong rushing attack.

    The Huskies have the pieces to make some noise in 2011.

9. Arizona State

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    2010 Overall Record: 6-6

    2010 Conference Record: 4-5 (Pac-10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 15th in overall passing yards with 286.4 yards per game

    The Sun Devils join the Huskies as a possible surprise Pac-10 team in 2011. The main question will be the quarterback position. Senior Steven Threet started all but two games last season, but he was rather unimpressive. He will have to win an open competition for the spot, which includes several other viable options.

    Arizona State will be returning 11 starters on the offensive side of the ball and nine on defense.

    In order to validate themselves as a threat, the Sun Devils will need to get through an arduous early season schedule.

    Their experience could give the Sun Devils that extra edge in the tough matchups and in the conference.

8. Purdue

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    2010 Overall Record: 4-8

    2010 Conference Record: 2-6 (Big 10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 49th in overall rushing yards with 160.8 yards per game

    Purdue is coming off a tough season in one of the top conferences in the country.

    The schedule won't get any easier, but the Boilermakers should be more competitive in 2011.

    They will return 18 starters, nine of which are defensive players.

    Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan appears NFL-bound, so the Boilermakers will need to replace his presence along the D-line.

    Overall, Purdue still returns a lot of experience and this will lead to an improved team in 2011.

7. Iowa

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    2010 Overall Record: 8-5

    2010 Conference Record: 4-4 (Big 10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked seventh in points against with 17.0 per game

    Iowa's defense was solid last year as evidenced by their 17.0 points allowed per game.

    However, the Hawkeyes will lose quarterback Ricky Stanzi and defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the NFL, as well as a handful of other players who contributed last season.

    They will retain five starters on both offense and defense, including All-Conference wide receiver Marvin McNutt.

    If the Hawkeyes can maintain a strong defense and get off to a fast start within the Big Ten, they could open some eyes around the country.

6. Rutgers

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    2010 Overall Record: 4-8

    2010 Conference Record: 1-6 (Big East)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 62nd in points against with 26.5

    Following a season that closed on a six-game losing streak, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are poised for success in 2011.

    They haven't been a nationally relevant team since the days of Ray Rice, but they will be returning 10 starters.

    In a conference known more for its basketball that its football, Rutgers could make some noise in the Big East.

    Highly-touted quarterback recruit Gary Nova joins the Scarlet Knights and may see playing time right away.

    Rutgers' strong recruiting class could lead the Scarlet Knights back to a winning tradition.

5. Notre Dame

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    2010 Overall Record: 8-5

    2010 Conference Record: Independent

    Notable Stat: Ranked 34th in passing yards at 253.1 per game

    Notre Dame could be considered a surprise team of 2010, with their 8-5 finish under first-year head coach Chip Kelly.

    Well, Kelly, as well as 19 starters, will be returning in 2011.

    Quarterback Dayne Crist should have his two main weapons, receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph, back and that will continue the strong Fighting Irish passing attack.

    Notre Dame will need to improve their running game, but doing so will lead to a big year in 2011.

4. Florida

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    2010 Overall Record: 8-5

    2010 Conference Record: 4-4 (SEC)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 29th in points against at 21.3 per game

    Coming off a big win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl, the Gators will hope for an improved conference record in the 2011 season.

    The SEC is arguably the best conference in all of College Football, so Florida will have to improve against the teams in their conference. However, they did finish 4-1 against teams in their division, the SEC East.

    Senior quarterback John Brantley and running back Jeff Demps will return for their final years in an attempt to bring the Gators back into the conversation for a National Championship.

    They will be joined by 11 other returning starters.

3. Michigan

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    2010 Overall Record: 7-6

    2010 Conference Record: 3-5 (Big 10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 13th in rushing yards with 238.5 per game

    Two words: Denard Robinson.

    The junior quarterback will be returning to the Wolverines despite rumors that he would enter the draft. He is one of the most dynamic athletes in all of College Football and has the ability to take over a game by himself.

    New Michigan head coach Brady Hoke will rely heavily on Robinson, as well as the 17 other returning starters.

    This experience coupled with Hoke's leadership could mean big things for the Wolverines in 2011.

2. South Carolina

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    2010 Overall Record: 9-5

    2010 Conference Record: 5-3 (SEC)

    Notable Stat: Ranked 38th in points scored with 30.9 per game

    Though the Gamecocks will only be returning 13 total starters, they are bringing in one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Steve Spurrier hopes these recruits can have an immediate impact.

    Highlighting this class is the nation's No. 1 recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney made his highly-anticipated decision early last week to play for South Carolina.

    Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore made huge strides last season and will look to improve.

    South Carolina was a surprise team of 2010, but they can even be more of a surprise in 2011.

1. Stanford

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    2010 Overall Record: 12-1

    2010 Conference Record: 8-1 (PAC-10)

    Notable Stat: Ranked ninth in points scored at 40.3 per game

    You may be surprised at why I included Stanford as the No. 1 surprise team heading into 2011. They finished 12-1 and demolished Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

    However, the Cardinals will be a surprise this year because they will compete for, and possibly win, a National Championship.

    Stanford definitely has the tools to do so.

    The biggest story of this year's draft was the decision by quarterback Andrew Luck to remain in school. He will be joined by 10 other returning starters.

    Stanford is all over the top-five in preseason rankings, but they may surprise the nation with a top one or two finish in the polls following the 2011 season.