Although the official 2011 AP preseason rankings have not yet been released, many websites have already compiled their own top 25 lists.
Using ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach’s list, we can look at each team, pinpoint the key position and name the specific player.
Some names may be surprising, while some may not be. The rankings of the teams are even a bit surprising.
Every aspect of a college football team is fundamental to its success, but sometimes it is necessary to determine that key position and understand why.
Do you see your favorite player?
Playing for a team that has always excelled under the leadership of future NFL quarterbacks is no easy task. In the 2010 season, Jones was under constant scrutiny and sometimes criticized that he was not living up to these expectations.
Yet, he threw for over 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns, winning the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut. His biggest fault so far looks to be that he just is not actually Sam Bradford.
As he enters into his junior year, it is a no-brainer that he will build on a great previous season. The pressure will be on as Oklahoma as the preseason number one, but Jones will guide his team to the BCS Championship Game and be a clear candidate for Heisman.
Despite backing up Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Richardson made a name for himself in the Alabama offense.
In his first season with the Crimson Tide, he ran for 751 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team for good reason: in their 2010 BCS National Championship victory, he ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
His 2010 performance was similar to his previous season, as he took advantage of Ingram’s injuries. He ran for 700 yards and six touchdowns.
The starting quarterback position is uncertain in Alabama, so it will be crucial that Richardson steps up and becomes the next running back star for their offense if they hope to make it back to the BCS Championship.
The Ducks face the best scenario any team could hope for after losing the National Championship game. Luckily, their powerful and speedy offense kept their star running back.
James was the nation’s leading rusher with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns. Despite missing the first game of the season, he also broke the Pac-10 all time sophomore single season rushing record, won the Doak Walker Award (country’s best running back) and was a unanimous choice to the All-American team.
Losing the big game is not easy for anyone, so it can be expected that James will come back more determined than ever. Watching Oregon’s offense have at it again will make for a very interesting 2011 season.
The Tigers, who lost only to Auburn and Arkansas last season, are never out of the news. Jefferson is currently battling for the starting quarterback position over Jerrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger; talk never stops in the Bayou. Fortunately, a few days ago, Les Miles was quoted as praising the work the rising senior has been putting in.
Regardless, LSU has not been a title contender since 2007-2008, and if they want to be in 2011-2012, it is Jefferson’s job to step up and lead them.
His 2010 stats were down significantly from 2009, as he threw for just 1,411 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2009, he threw for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jefferson was continually called out for struggling last season, so his senior season is all his to win or lose.
Although a true freshman, he will be crucial in a successful Bronco offense, as they lost wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who combined for 19 total touchdowns.
At quarterback, fifth-year senior Kellen Moore he has already proven himself to be a stud.
As they move to the Mountain West Conference, the whole team will need to come together and repeat their 2009 and 2010 season performances if they hope to go to another BCS bowl.
The Cowboys had one of the country's best offenses in 2010 thanks to Blackmon, who was named the 2010 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award (nation’s top receiver).
His 2010 statistics blew away his 2009 performance, as he caught 11 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The return of star quarterback Brandon Weeden will also be instrumental in not only Blackmon’s success, but the team’s as well. This duo will have to excel without running back Kendall Hunter if they want to bump Oklahoma as the Big 12’s top team.
Fisher replaces legendary coach Bobby Bowden, but thankfully has cushioning help from the top recruitment class of 2011.
Out of the 29 commits, one is a five-star, 17 are four-stars and seven are three-stars. Twelve of them are in ESPNU’s 150.
The ACC has been lopsided as of late, and all eyes will be on the Seminoles as they look to put the departure of Bowden behind them and look to become elite once again.
The SEC is always full of powerful running backs and Davis is one of them. Last season, he ran for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Despite losing the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State, the Razorbacks proved themselves to be one of the top teams in the SEC as well as the country.
The replacement process of Ryan Mallett at quarterback will not be a difficult one, but it will still be up to Davis to shine in his junior year.
When the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up decided to come back for his (redshirt) junior season, the Cardinal nation breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Not only did he lead Stanford to a 12-1 season and their first BCS Bowl game victory since 1999, but he also threw for a staggering 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and a 170.16 passer rating.
He would have been the number one selection in this year’s draft, so he takes a huge risk by not declaring.
Despite the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh, Luck is still a favorite to be in the front of Heisman Trophy race. The road ahead of him is full of possibilities, and he will be crucial in leading Stanford to a repeat successful season.
Drama, drama, drama.
Pryor, who will be suspended for the first five games of the season, and Tressel, who will be suspended for the first two games of the season, look at an uphill battle during the 2011 season.
The Buckeyes are 3-3 in their past BCS bowl games, including 2 championship losses.
With the suspensions of Pryor, Tressel, and other star players, things might start to get ugly in Ohio if expectations are not met. The performances of Pryor and Tressel, on and off the field, are crucial to the success of this powerhouse team.
Lattimore may be a sleeper in the Heisman Trophy race.
He is one of the top running backs in the nation after a stellar freshman year in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His disappointing performance in the Gamecock’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss means he will likely come back for his sophomore year more determined than ever.
The 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Badgers to an 11-1 record, and a trip to the BCS Rose Bowl Game.
The dynamics of the 2011 Big Ten will be completely different from 2010 and it will be interesting to see how teams and players also change.
White however, at 5’10’’ and almost 200 pounds, will continue to stand out as a dominant running back in not only the Big Ten, but the country as well.
Despite losing in the Cotton Bowl, Tannehill had a breakout junior season after throwing for a total of just 68 yards the previous two seasons combined.
With 18 returning starters, the Aggies will most likely return to top status in the Big 12.
Tannehill threw for just over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010, but is looking at a promising senior year.
Luckily for the Fighting Irish, their star wide receiver decided to return for his senior season.
An improved 7-5 season was highlighted with Floyd’s season, in which he had 79 receptions for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also had a bowl game victory over old rivals Miami (FL).
He is undoubtedly a preseason All-American and will have a huge final season in South Bend, especially if he wants to be a top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Cousins established himself as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks after leading to his team to an 11-2 record and a Big 10 title.
He threw for over 2,800 yards and twenty touchdowns.
Despite a bad loss in the Capital One Bowl to Alabama, Cousins has the potential to build on the Spartans’ excellent 2010 season.
Losing star Blaine Gabbert to the first round of the NFL Draft will be a big blow to the powerful Missouri offense.
This is where James Franklin comes in.
Luckily, he has talent to throw to in T.J. Moe after his own breakout sophomore season.
In the 10 games he played in last season, Franklin ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to throwing for 106 yards and a touchdown.
The Big 12 – now just 10 teams – will be an interesting conference to watch, especially as Missouri tries to exceed last season’s performances.
The quarterback depth chart looks like this: Barrett Trotter (redshirt junior), Clint Moseley (redshirt sophomore) and Kiehl Frazier (true freshman). For the Tigers.
Replacing star Cam Newton is not an easy task, but obviously Chizik knows quarterback talent when he sees it.
How the Auburn offense performs with a new quarterback at the reigns, in addition to how Chizik handles the new team, will be more than interesting to watch.
Luckily, Michael Dyer returns at running back, and he has proven to be a bright spot on Auburn’s offense. The whole team will have to come together as they try to top an outstanding 2010.
The Horned Frogs, who have ended four of the past six seasons ranked in the top ten, have the potential to do it again this year.
Despite losing quarterback stud Andy Dalton, they have a quiet talent taking over in Pachall. He will lead a top ranked offensive line and will have a great coach in Gary Patterson guiding him.
It will be hard to exceed the 2010 season, but it is definitely viable.
The 2010 All-Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year enters in the 2011 season hoping the grass is greener on the other side.
In joining the Big Ten, his job just got a lot harder.
After winning a fierce starting quarterback competition last season, Martinez threw for over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had a public battle with his head coach, and was rumored to have quit the team. He will have competition for the position in Cody Green, but will most likely be named the starter gain, sans any drama.
Their 2011 Big Ten schedule is doable, giving him the possibility to shine.
At 6’6’’ and 240 pounds, Thomas will take over the quarterback spot from Tyrod Taylor. The redshirt sophomore will not only have expectations to live up to from the departing Taylor, but new coaches to deal with.
In 2010, Thomas played in seven games, completing 12 of 26 passes for 107 yards. He also rushed for just over 22 yards.
He was the top tight end prospect nationally in high school, which is a testimony for his athleticism and ability. His performance, coupled with tailback David Wilson, will ultimately determine the success of the Hokies.
After a disappointing 6-6 season, it is surprising to see Arizona State in the rankings. Additionally, Osweiler also had a rough season, competing for the starting quarterback job and playing in only five games.
The quarterback position at ASU is deep, with redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly, freshman Mike Mercovici and incoming freshman Michael Eubank.
Last season, Osweiler threw for only 797 yards and five touchdowns on 62 completions, so he still has a lot to prove.
As a junior, he will continue to improve and become the leader of the Sun Devil offense.
One of the best quarterbacks of the 2008 high school class first became known when he replaced injured Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Although the Longhorns eventually lost 37-21, he completed 15 of 40 passes 186 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions.
This loss seemed to set the tone for the 2010 season, in which the Longhorns had their first losing season since 1997, at 5-7.
Last season he threw for just over 2,700 yards, 10 touchdowns and 17 touchdowns.
Gilbert is a good quarterback, but Texas only wants great quarterbacks.
It is up to Gilbert to meet and exceed head coach Mack Brown’s expectations if he not only wants to keep his starting job, but stay out of the hot seat and move back into the top of the Big 12.
This redshirt senior faces an uphill battle in 2011.
He will be competing for the starting role against Trey Burton, Jordan Reed, Tyler Murphy, and freshman Jeff Diskel.
The new coaching staff in Gainesville, especially Charlie Weis, will be key in the success of Brantley and ultimately the Gators.
Last season he threw for 2,061 yards nine touchdowns and ten interceptions.
Will he be able to meet the high expectations of Florida quarterbacks?
Arguably one of the best returning SEC quarterbacks, Relf has to compete in a rough SEC West.
Last season, he threw for just under 1,800 yards with 13 touchdowns and was named the Progressive Gator Bowl MVP in a romping of Michigan. The Bulldogs finished 8-4 and had one of their most successful seasons in years.
Finishing the season ranked 15th in the AP Poll was their second highest finish ever, marking a season with impressive wins over Georgia, Florida, and Ole Miss. Look for Relf, a senior, to fit into the leadership role perfectly this season.
Despite losing their bowl game, the Mountaineers finished 9-3 and saw promise with their Miami-native quarterback.
The two-time 2010 Big East Offensive Player of the Week completed the season with 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns. Although he had surgery in January, he says he is a “full go” for spring practice.
As a junior with only two true freshmen backing him up, he will need to be careful at practice coming off of his injury.
Also, Dana Holgorsen has been hired as the new offensive coordinator and he will be the next head coach in 2012. His work with Oklahoma State’s offense in 2010 can only mean good things for West Virginia in seasons to come.