College Football 2011: 10 Teams Who Are Preseason Top 25 and Shouldn't Be
It seems like just yesterday that Cam Newton was ignoring Gene Chizik’s call to take a knee and ran a sneak in the waning seconds of Auburn's BCS Championship game win over Oregon.
Nonetheless, spring practices are now upon us, bringing with them the sweet sounds of quarterback cadences, coaches whistles and shoulder pads popping.
Another tradition of the spring is the release of preseason Top 25 lists all across the Internet. Devised from a combination of past performance and future indicators, these lists attempt to give an insight into how the upcoming season should—but never does—transpire.
This season is no exception. Taking a look across many of these Top 25s, one can begin to build a consensus as to which teams will be among the ranked come August. With a close inspection however, it's entirely possible to go ahead and start knocking the pretenders from their lofty and undeserved perches in the rankings right now.
RB Michael Dyer
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One of the benefits of winning a National Championship is a seemingly automatic place among the Top 25 the following season.
That policy needs to be revisited since graduations, early departures and dismissals have ravaged the Tiger ranks. Among the 120 FBS schools, Auburn ranks 120th with a meager seven returning starters.
The obvious headline is one-and-done quarterback Cam Newton and his departing 50 touchdowns and 4,327 total yards, but the damage also extends forward to the offensive line where four starters are gone. Barrett Trotter appears to be the safe pick to see who takes over for Newton, but the offensive load will clearly fall on sophomore running back Michael Dyer to make the best of an inexperienced line. Leading receiver Darvin Adams surprised many when he decided to skip his senior season for the NFL draft.
The defense was hard hit, with All-American tackle Nick Fairley leading a group or prominent departures that also includes linebackers Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes.
Head coach Gene Chizik has brought in some of the very best recruiting classes in the nation over the last two years, and he will need those youngsters to step up in a big way immediately. While repeating as national champions is entirely unrealistic, competing for a Top 25 spot in the brutal SEC this season doesn’t seem to be very far behind.
QB Garrett Gilbert
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One thing that simply just does not happen is the Longhorns going 5-7. Ever.
Yet, there they were, dropping games to UCLA, Kansas State and, dare it be said, Iowa State, with the team showing little fight for prolonged stretches.
Was it a fluke? Or the beginning of the end of Mack Brown's impressive run at Texas?
As a result of 2010's disaster, Brown blew up his coaching staff and the Longhorns will feature new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
The bulk of the blame falls on the offense. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert will have a lot of pressure riding on him to improve his horrific 10-17 touchdown to interception ratio that led to a 103rd national ranking of the passing game. Prized recruit running back Malcolm Brown will team with Cody Johnson to ease the load on Gilbert, but the line will be replacing both starting tackles.
The hopes of the Longhorns will fall on the defense, which ranked 6th nationally in yards per game but lost several starters in the secondary, notably cornerback Aaron Williams. Those losses will be difficult to overcome in the pass-happy Big 12.
Virginia Tech Hokies
CB Jayron Hosley
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This season may prove to be a test of how many points the vaunted Beamerball defense and special teams formula can produce for the Hokies to compensate for a vastly depleted offense.
After three turbulent seasons, Tyrod Taylor finally became a dependable productive quarterback, just in time for his senior season in Blacksburg in 2010. His absence leaves a large hole for the Hokies.
Exacerbating his loss on the offense are the early departures of running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. Converted tight end Logan Thomas has begun generating some hype as Taylor's successor, but the lack of an experienced running game behind him could hamper his development. Thomas will have four returning starters along the offensive line to aid him.
While the offense finds its way, the defense will need to help keep Virginia Tech stay competitive. Linebacker Bruce Taylor emerged last season as a playmaker and will have help behind him in cornerback Jayron Hosley and his eight interceptions.
Whether it can shoulder the load while the offense finds it's way is the central question to the Hokies' season. While the schedule is difficult, at least it doesn't have James Madison on it.
Arizona State Sun Devils
RB Deantre Lewis
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The Sun Devils face a make or break year in year five of the Dennis Erickson era, with their bowl drought now at three seasons.
Coming off a surprising 6-6 season, capped by the thrilling double overtime win over their hated rivals, the Arizona Wildcats, ASU has been mentioned as a potential darkhorse contender for the Pac-12 South division title.
The defense should certainly be up to the task, led by junior All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict and senior All-Pac 10 cornerback Omar Bolden.
The primary question marks fall on the offense, which lost quarterback Steven Threet, who gave up football over the offseason due to repeated concussions. Junior Brock Osweiler took over for Threet and played very well over the last two games to give Sun Devil faithful hope, as the unit lost only one starter. Osweiler will have help in dynamic playmaking running backs Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall, but a perennially shaky offensive line and uncertainty surrounding Osweiler's long-term performance don't make for a Top 25 position just yet for this young and talented team.
DL Brad Madison
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On the surface, Missouri is in a decent position to be among the Top 25 teams in 2011. Ten offensive starters and seven on defense return from a 10-3 team.
However, it’s the one loss on offense that is the most crippling to the Tigers’ hopes. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and his 3,186 passing yards depart the program, leaving a wake of uncertainty, as well as his younger brother Tyler, behind him. Tyler will be in a three-way race to become the starting quarterback, with James Franklin the early favorite at this point.
Like many teams on this list, the defense will be counted on heavily to compensate for the offense. The Tigers allowed only 16.1 points per games last season. But significant losses in the secondary could sting, especially in the pass-happy Big-12.
They also play a difficult road schedule, including a big early season test at upstart Arizona State.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
QB Dayne Crist
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The darlings of the national media always seem to find their way into the Top 25 conversation, regardless of whether such discussion is warranted or not.
This season, it is the optimism generated by a season ending with a four-game winning streak that has Irish faithful clamoring for a spot in the rankings. Whether that momentum will carry over to 2011 remains in doubt.
The biggest challenge for second-year head coach Brian Kelly just so happens to reside at football’s most important position. Dayne Crist began the season as the starting quarterback before being lost to a knee injury. Tommy Rees then stepped in to lead the season ending charge. His decision will be crucial. Whoever wins will have talented wide receiver Michael Floyd to throw to. In the backfield, the team lost Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, so the bulk of carries will go the unproven Cierre Wood, who split time with Hughes last season.
The defense returns eight starters, but suffered big losses in the secondary.
Outside of quarterback, the greatest challenge for Notre Dame will be a schedule that features nine games against 2010 bowl teams.
TCU Horned Frogs
LB Tank Carder
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Any lingering arguments about whether the Horned Frogs are a legitimate football school were answered on New Year's Day when they defeated Wisconsin in The Rose Bowl.
Whether they deserve a Top 25 spot in 2011 is an entirely different story.
Head coach Gary Patterson will need to replace nearly the entire passing offense, with quarterback Andy Dalton (33 total TD) and three of last season's top four receivers gone. The projected starting wide receivers, Josh Boyce and Antoine Hicks, combined for just 47 receptions. Look for the duo of Ed Wesley (1,078 yards rushing) and Matthew Tucker (709 yards) to try to carry the load while the passing game comes together. The offensive line will need to replace three starters of their own.
While the offense attempts to avoid becoming too one-dimensional, the typically dominant defense has it's own question marks up front, where three starters on the line will be new. The brunt of the defensive burden will fall on the All-Conference linebacking duo of Tank Carder and Tanner Brock.
TCU's losses on both sides of the ball, especially along both lines, will make their final season in the Mountain West Conference a challenging one.
QB John Brantley
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What went wrong in Gainesville in 2011? There are many possibilities, but the end result was an uninspired 8-5 finish that signaled the end of the Urban Meyer era in Florida and the arrival of new coach Will Muschamp.
One of the causes of the “meltdown” (at least in Gator terms) was a lack of leadership. Whether senior quarterback John Brantley will finally step into that role remains in doubt. He was a poor fit for the spread offense employed but Meyer, but new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will attempt to resurrect his career in a pro-style offense. He has a lot of work to do, as Brantley only managed three touchdown passes over the season’s final nine games. The line in front of him will have combined for only 19 career starts.
The defense also lost that edge that made them so dangerous in the past and will look to regain it with only three returning starters among the front seven.
The schedule will also be very difficult, especially a three game stretch away from The Swamp featuring LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
QB Aaron Murray
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Could 2010 be the beginning of the end for head coach Mark Richt in Georgia? Or was it merely a bump in the road?
The Bulldogs will answer that question without their best player from 2010 in wide receiver A.J. Green, who entered the NFL draft. The continued development of emerging quarterback Aaron Murray and his rapport with the lot of inexperienced receivers will be one of the two primary factors in determining Georgia’s fate.
The other will be the play of the defensive front seven, which struggled in the transition to a 3-4 defense last season. Most profound are the losses of three of the four linebackers, none greater than All-SEC selection Justin Houston and his ten sacks.
The schedule gives the Dawgs no chance to warm up, as they open the season in Atlanta against Boise State. The real gauntlet begins in Week 4, when they start of a stretch of four out of five games away from home that in all likelihood will determine the fate of their season.
QB Taylor Martinez
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It was the proverbial tale of two seasons for Bo Pelini’s Cornhuskers in 2010.
Nebraska started out 9-1, including impressive consecutive wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri. Then it all fell apart, as they collapsed during a 1-3 finish that saw the unraveling of dynamic freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who earlier in the season was a Heisman contender.
Figuring out the quarterback situation is one of Pelini’s top concerns as he looks to improve on the nation’s 113th ranked passing attack. Whether he can restore Martinez’ confidence or instead goes with Cody Green or Jamal Turner will be the top question mark in camp. Talented running back Roy Helu Jr. and his 1,245 yards and 11 touchdowns will also be sorely missed. All of this takes place behind an offensive line that will be replacing three starters as it heads into the beefy gauntlet of the Big Ten’s trenches.
The Blackshirts finished a pedestrian 63rd in the nation against the run last season, an area that must improve now that they are in the Big Ten. The secondary took two huge hits with the losses of cornerback Prince Amukamura and safety Eric Hagg.
It will be a stern test of Pelini’s coaching ability to make the Huskers’ Big Ten debut a success, which features road games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan and home dates against Ohio State (post-suspensions) and Michigan State.
Ohio State Buckeyes
QB Terrelle Pryor
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So much for the integrity of the sweater vest.
Amidst the newest maelstrom of drama, the ongoing speculation of NCAA sanctions against the once saintly Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes head into 2011 in utter turmoil.
The offense figures to bear the brunt of the early struggles. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor headlines the list of the five suspended players who must miss the season’s first five games. Along with Pryor, three other offensive starters will sit out—running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams. The impact of those losses is likely to prove profound, although four of the season’s first five games will be played at the Horseshoe.
The defense will be reeling from the loss of seven starters, including plenty of playmakers. Among the key departed are defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan. Also gone are three members of the secondary.
Not to mention that Tressel will miss at least the first two games of the season due to the school imposed suspension he received for his role in the cover-up of the five suspended players. There's also the very real chance that he could be gone by the start of the season, as only one NCAA coach who broke rule 10.1 has ever kept their job.
A Top 25 finish for the drama-ridden Buckeyes would be a surprise.