Spring ball is just starting up for some schools, and college football fans are anxious to get the first look at their teams.
There are numerous positions battles happening at some of the top schools in the country. Whoever wins these battles could decide how well that team does in 2011.
In this list. I will point out the most important positions for each team, a position which the team must rely on if they are going to have a good season.
Most of the positions will be ones surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, where new young players need to step up to replace departing seniors.
These are the key positions for every team in the Top 25.
Spring ball is just starting up for some schools, and college football fans are anxious to get the first look at their teams.
Mississippi State has the honor of playing in the best defensive conference in college football. Last season, they were amongst the best, but they lost all three of their starting linebackers from a year ago.
Former starters Emmanuel Gatling, Chris White and K.J. Wright were an impressive threesome, and will all be missed in 2011.
In 2011, the starters are expected to be juniors Cameron Lawrence, Brandon Wilson and Mike Hunt. They seem ready; however, depth here is still a huge question mark.
If the Bulldogs want to continue the recent success they have had lately, they will need these linebackers to elevate their game.
The Cornhuskers ended last season on an embarrassing note. They lost three of their final four games, including a 19-7 defeat against Washington in the Holiday Bowl.
Their early success was mostly due to quarterback Taylor Martinez. Likewise, their late struggles were also due in large part to Martinez.
Their offense is totally dependent on Martinez, especially now that running back Roy Helu has graduated. The Huskers will go as far as Taylor Martinez can carry them in 2011.
Over the past three seasons, Arizona State has suffered from poor quarterback play. However, in the last two games of 2011, junior Brock Osweiler has proved that he can be a big time college quarterback.
Last season, the Sun Devils had the 15th rated passing attack in the nation, but that is very misleading. Although they accumulated a lot of yards through the air, they also turned the ball over frequently and stalled in the red zone.
Last year's starter, Steven Threet, has walked away from football after a severe concussion, so the job is officially Osweiler’s.
The Sun Devil defense might be the most underrated in the country. They return two of the best players in the county in cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
The Sun Devils just need Osweiler to not hurt the team. If they get above average quarterback play, their defense and stable of running backs will carry them to a very successful season.
Frank Beamer’s Hokies always do two things very well: run the ball and play defense. Unfortunately for the Hokies, they lost their quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, and their two strongest running backs, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans.
The Hokies are going to rely heavily on running back David Wilson to get the bulk of the carries. Wilson showed promise in 2010 by rushing for 619 yards and five touchdowns on just 113 carries.
Tony Gregory, a big recruit from 2009, should also see a large number of carries to help overcome the loss of their two great backs.
One might think that the key position is quarterback, since they are losing Blaine Gabbert. However, they are returning everyone else who started on the offensive end last season, so their new quarterback should have a lot to work with.
Their defense, on the other hand, is returning seven players. But they lost both of their two key cornerbacks, Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland.
The Tigers defense ranked second in the Big 12 last season, but losing your two most reliable corners is always tough to recover from.
Junior Kip Edwards and sophomore E.J. Gaines (the expected starters) will need to step up for the Tigers to have another great season.
Florida recruited as well as any team in the country under Urban Meyer, so it is hard to blame lack of talent in their down year in 2010.
They are bringing in former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to be the head coach. They have also brought in former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis to run the offense.
They are returning solid players like running back Jeff Demps and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, so they should have the firepower for a comeback season. However, the main job of the coaching staff will be reviving the confidence of quarterback John Brantley.
Gator nation has to be hoping that Muschamp and Weis can put the pieces together and bring this team back to glory.
In 2010, Texas experienced their only losing season under head coach Mack Brown. Brown took drastic measures and brought in six new assistant coaches, including new offensive and defensive coordinators.
On the offensive side, they brought in former Boise State co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, and on the defensive side, they brought in former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
The Longhorns are retaining seven players on both sides of the ball and are bringing in yet another top-10 recruiting class.
The situation in Texas is very similar to the one in Florida. Can this new team of coaches pull all their talent together and return their team to the top?
Last season, Georgia experienced its fair share of struggles in their first year running the 3-4 defense. One of the main issues was that they did not have a true nose guard on their roster.
Last season, DeAngelo Tyson did a formidable job, but he is really a defensive end. This season, he will be replaced by junior college transfer John Jenkins.
Jenkins is a mammoth 6’4” 340 pounds. He is exactly what the Bulldogs need to plug the middle and let their talented linebackers make plays.
If Jenkins can live up to the hype, then Georgia’s defense might be amongst the most improved in the nation.
It is going to be impossible to replace Heisman winner Cam Newton and All-American Nick Fairly. However, it might be just as difficult to replace the four offensive linemen who graduated for the Tigers.
They only return one starter from an offensive line that blocked for the sixth best rushing attack in the country.
Last season, they had plenty of depth at offensive line, so they will rely on many of the former backups to develop.
Luckily for Auburn, they also had a phenomenal recruiting class, especially regarding offensive linemen. They signed the best offensive guard in the country, Christian Westerman.
It is always tough to recover from losing linebackers as talented at All-American Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. These two players were the Spartans two leading tacklers last season.
If that Spartans want to have another great season, they will need their new linebackers to elevate their game.
Sophomore Max Bullough and junior Steve Gardiner are expected to be their replacements in 2011. Their defense relies greatly on their linebackers getting the bulk of the tackles. It is time for these two young players to step up to the challenge.
Most of the Spartans' other key players, like quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker and safety Trenton Robinson, will be back for the 2011 season.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia has had a fairly inconsistent career at South Carolina. Last season was his best yet, as he threw for 3,059 yards, 20 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 148.7.
Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks have been very dependent on Garcia. When he plays well, they usually win.
Unfortunately, Garcia has lacked consistency most of his career at South Carolina. Sophomore Conner Shaw should be given an opportunity to challenge for the starting job.
Whoever wins the job will lead an offense loaded with skill players like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery.
Brian Kelly has hit the ground running and has already vastly improved the state of Notre Dame football. The Irish are one of the most hyped teams in the nation next season.
Last season, they had a solid passing attack featuring receiver Michael Floyd, and they also featured a much improved defense led by Manti Te’o.
If Notre Dame wants to return to the top of the college football world in 2011, they will need to improve their rushing offense. They have not been able to run the ball consistently for years.
In 2011, the Irish will rely on sophomore Cierre Wood to get most of the carries. Last season, Wood ran for 522 yards and two touchdowns on just 107 carries.
If Wood and the rest of the backfield can step up for Notre Dame, they will be a very tough team in 2011.
Scott Tolzien was absolutely perfect for Wisconsin last season. He was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league and was one of the main reasons Wisconsin won the Big Ten.
Tolzien has now graduated, and it is time for the Badgers to find a replacement. This will probably be the inexperienced sophomore, Jon Budmayr.
The Badgers offense could be very different with Budmayr taking the snaps. Anytime you bring in a new leader, it can hurt the flow of things. However, Wisconsin’s stable of running backs and exceptional offensive line should have make the transition a smooth one.
The Aggies are returning 18 starters from a team that won nine games a season ago. Unfortunately for the Aggies, they are losing their two best linebackers. The first is Michael Hodges and the second is Von Miller, the Dick Butkus Award winner.
Their 3-4 defense relies heavily on linebackers that can make tackles. They will need to replace both of these players if they are going to be contenders for the Big 12 Championship.
The most likely replacements seem to be sophomore Jamontre Moore and junior Jonathan Stewart. If they can be successful, then Texas A&M could be early favorites to win the conference.
Arkansas had one of the best passing attacks in the nation last season, led by Ryan Mallett. Now that Mallett has left early, the team will be led by the promising junior Tyler Wilson.
I do not see coach Bobby Petrino placing the same emphasis on the passing game as he did last season. I expect him to make the running game his offense’s primary focus.
Last season, Knile Davis proved that he is an elite back. Davis ran for 1,322 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on just 204 carries last season.
If Knile Davis does become the focal point of the offense, which is likely, then he could be a dark horse to win the Heisman trophy.
Oklahoma State might have the most prolific offense in the nation for 2011, but their defense is a different story.
Their defense was ranked 84th last season, and they gave up 28 or more points in seven different games last season. If the Cowboys want to play with the big boys in 2011, they will need to improve this.
It all starts in the front seven. They are only returning two starters from the previous unit, defensive end Jamie Blatnick and linebacker James Thomas. Incoming freshman Dylan Wynn might be able to make an impact at defensive end, but Oklahoma State will definitely need more help from returning players if they expect to improve.
The Horned Frogs are losing six players on both sides of the ball, none of them more valuable then Andy Dalton.
Dalton was the heart and soul of the TCU offense and will be difficult to replace. Sophomore Casey Pachall is expected to be the starter and will have big shoes to fill in 2011.
Running back Ed Wesley should take some of the pressure off the quarterback position, but Pachall will still need to be able to come through for the Horned Frogs.
If TCU beats Boise State in their sixth game of the season, they will probably be on their way to another BCS bowl game. They cannot do this without exceptional quarterback play.
If Boise State wants to make a BCS bowl in 2011, they are going to have to get past TCU and Georgia, two teams who like to pass the ball.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they just lost their two best safeties in Jeron Johnson and Winston Venable. Boise State runs a 4-2-5 defense, so there are actually three safeties on the field.
The good news for Boise State is that they will have a lot of experience at the safety positions. All three expected starters are seniors, and safety George Iloka started for the Broncos last season.
The Stanford Cardinal are going to have to play in 2011 after losing their coach, seven defensive starters and three offensive line starters. However, all of that is meaningless as long as the Cardinal can do one thing: protect Andrew Luck.
Luck is probably the best returning quarterback in the country. If the line can block for him, then he could be the front-runner for the Heisman trophy.
Last season, the offensive line only allowed five sacks, but that might be too much to ask from this new inexperienced group. If the Cardinal line cannot block, then we may see Stanford take a huge step back in 2011.
I am not yet totally sold that the Cardinal are a top 10 team.
Key starters suspended for the first four games of the season for the Buckeyes are quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, Devier Posey and Mike Adams.
The first four games for the Buckeyes starts out easy against Akron and Toledo, but the next two are tougher. They will then have to travel to Miami and face the Hurricanes, only to be followed by a tough home game against Colorado.
Backup players will need to step up if the Buckeyes want to win these games and keep hopes alive for the BCS National Championship. Keep an eye on senior quarterback Joe Bauserman and running backs Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall. They will have to replace the two biggest names on the Buckeye roster in Pryor and Herron.
The Ducks return most of their offense that was top ranked in the nation. One thing is for sure: They will score a lot of points in 2011.
Although the story on defense for the Ducks is very different. They are only returning two starters from their defensive front seven, defensive end Terrell Turner and linebackers Josh Kaddu.
They should receive an instant boost from two freshman linebackers, Coly Lyerla and Anthony Wallace.
If they can find depth in the front seven, then Oregon is the clear cut favorite to win the Pac-12 in its inaugural season. If they cannot, then they will be very vulnerable to the run in a conference loaded with talented running backs.
The Tigers return 18 starters from a team that finished with a record of 11-2 a season ago. Despite losing some defensive stars like Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard, they are still a talent loaded team.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers is at quarterback. Last year’s starter, Jordan Jefferson, is returning but might not be starting in 2011.
A lot of hype is surrounding junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger. He is a Ryan Mallett type quarterback. Mattenberger is not mobile, but he has great awareness and can heave the football a mile.
LSU might just be a quarterback away from being a national title contender. If Mettenberger is the answer, then LSU might be one of the best teams in the nation next season.
The Seminoles are one the most hyped teams for the 2011 season. Jimbo Fisher’s squad is returning nine starters on both sides of the ball and has been granted an easy ACC schedule.
Although the Seminoles are returning most of their key players, they are losing their two best tacklers at linebacker, Mister Alexander and Kendall Smith.
Luckily, the Noles are returning their leading tackler at linebacker in Nigel Bradham. He will need to step up to make up for his graduating teammates.
Five-Star recruit James Wilder will probably see a lot of action at linebacker in 2011. He is big, fast and is great at rushing the quarterback.
Florida State has been on the verge of having a breakout season for awhile. 2011 might finally be the year.
Alabama is loaded with talent and experience at every single position, except for quarterback. Greg McElroy was a great leader and served the Crimson Tide well for two seasons as a starter.
He will definitely be missed, but they will have two very talented players trying to take over his spot next season, A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. McCarron appears to be the front runner at the moment.
In my opinion, Alabama is the best team in the country coming into the 2011 season. Their only questionable position is at a spot which their team does not rely too heavily on.
Don’t be surprised if Nick Saban and whoever is named quarterback leads their team to the promised land next season.
The Sooner are returning a staggering 29 players who have started games in their career. However, the biggest loss of the off-season might be the graduation of running back Demarco Murray.
He was a four year starter and has been great for the Sooners his whole career. Expect to see numerous backs try to carry the load.
The starter will probably be sophomore Roy Finch. He was successful last season in his freshman campaign, despite getting limited playing time. Along with Finch, sophomore Brennan Clay and true freshman Brandon Williams should see some action as well.
There is a reason the Sooners seem to be everyone’s top ranked team for 2011; they bring back almost everyone. It is tough to find a key position for them because they are not overly dependent anywhere on the field. This season is a golden opportunity for coach Bob Stoops and his team to take home a national championship.