The 2011 college football season is still many months away, and football fans are anxious to know the prospects for their favorite team.
Some great teams from last year have lost a significant amount of talent, and others are undergoing changes in the coaching staff. Fans of these schools may be inclined to believe that these concerns will not affect their program but rarely is this the case.
Spring practice is still under way, and the impact of coaching changes, new starters, transfers, position switches and court decisions are uncertain. Very few fans are even assured of what the starting lineup may look like for their program next year.
While most teams do not have a realistic shot at going unbeaten, every year a few squads do seem to have a decent opportunity to remain unscathed by the time bowl season comes around.
Using criteria such as past performances, returning players and the difficulty of the schedule, these 10 programs may have the best chance to run the table next year and be in the discussion as possible BCS Championship game participants by the end of the regular season.
Disclaimer: The odds given are for entertainment purposes only and are in no way meant to be used for any illegal gambling activities. Do not call the author and attempt to place a bet.
2010 record and final ranking: 10-4, No. 19 in USA Today
Bowl game result: Lost the Holiday Bowl to Washington, 19-7.
The rush defense should again be strong for the Cornuhuskers. Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini has provided his older brother Bo with solid defensive units every season. With Jared Crick returning to anchor the d-line, the Huskers should again field a stingy front against the run.
QB Taylor Martinez returns after a freshman season which was a tale of two seasons. Before he injured his ankle, this talented signal-caller was running wild on everybody. After the injury, his effectiveness was diminished to the point where Nebraska lost a bowl rematch against a Washington team they had drubbed in Seattle by the score of 56-10.
Nebraska has lost a lot of talent, returning only 12 starters from last year's Big 12 runner-up squad. They lost both their top defensive back and running back.
With the move to the Big Ten conference, Nebraska dropped some big names from their schedule but added more.
Besides games at home against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa, they must travel to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. Going unbeaten through this gauntlet will be extremely difficult.
Prognosis: The Cornhuskers are closer to regaining their 1990s swagger when they won three national championships, but they aren't there yet.
Odds of going unbeaten: 15-1
2010 record and final ranking: 11-2, No. 7 in the AP
Bowl result: Lost 19-21 to TCU in the Rose Bowl
Bret Bielema and his coaching staff have built upon the solid foundation left by former head coach and current Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.
The Badgers were on a roll to end the season, winning seven straight after the loss to Michigan State, before the loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl.
The Wisconsin offense scored 70 or more points three times last year.
The Badgers return only 12 starters from last years squad and two of those are on special teams.
The offense has only four returning starters and must replace the steady play of QB Scott Tolzien.
The schedule will again be difficult with back-to-back games at Michigan State and Ohio State.
Prognosis: Wisconsin lost too many key players to retain the level of play they saw in 2010. The Big Ten will hand them a few losses.
Odds of going unbeaten: 15-1
2010 record and final ranking: 12-1, No. 4 AP
Bowl game result: They defeated ACC champion Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl.
Quarterback Andrew Luck is turning down the opportunity to be the top pick in this year's NFL draft to return to Stanford in an attempt to lead them to a national title.
Andrew's luck may have run out when coach Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL to take over the head spot on the 49ers.
Stanford has only 13 returning starters from last year's team, and most of the offensive line must be rebuilt.
The receiving core is holding auditions, and QB Luck may find it hard to find open receivers next year.
The schedule will be difficult with trips to USC, Arizona and Oregon State along with home games against Oregon, Oregon State and Notre Dame.
Prognosis: Andrew Luck returning for another shot at glory may make a great story, but replacing Harbaugh and an offensive line will be too much to overcome for the brainiacs from Stanford.
Odds of going unbeaten: 15-1
2010 record and ranking: 13-0, No. 2 in the country
Bowl game result: Beat Big Ten co-champ Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 21-19
Head Coach Gary Patterson and his outstanding staff have led this team to double-digit victories in seven out of 10 seasons and three undefeated regular seasons.
Defensive Coordinator Dick Bumpas should again field a strong unit after finishing as 2010's No. 1 ranked defense, when they surrendered a measly 12 points a game.
Linebacker Tank Carder returns. Carder was the Rose Bowl hero as he batted down a Badgers two-point attempt that would have tied the game in the final moments.
Running back Ed Wesley returns after gaining over 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns and an average of 6.5 yards per carry (YPC).
Receiver Josh Boyce led the team in receiving yards with 646. His 34 catches and six TDs were good for second on the team.
Though it is rarely claimed that a non-BCS school may be held back by their schedule, this may be the case for the Horned Frogs. Ironically, they may have a tougher schedule in their final season in the MWC than what they may face in 2012 in the Big East.
According to the schedule as posted on their athletic site, TCU must play their five toughest games away from home, including a trip to Boise State on 11/12, where the Broncos boast the nation's second-longest home-field winning streak.
Quarterback and team leader Andy Dalton must be replaced as he takes his game to the NFL. Backup Kasey Pahall is the favorite to win the position but has limited playing time. Replacing one of the best signal-callers in school history is never easy. Ask Texas.
Prognosis: An untested QB and a game on the smurf-turf is not a good combination. No undefeated season here.
Odds of going unbeaten: 12-1
2010 record and final ranking: 11-2, No. 8 AP
Bowl game result: Defeated the Texas A&M Aggies 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl.
LSU coach Les Miles had his team playing well last season, only losing to Auburn and Arkansas.
The team returns 16 starters for 2011, including nine on offense and seven on defense.
The defense should again be the strength of the team despite losing more starters than the offense.
With the inconsistent play from QB Jordan Jefferson, LSU never felt comfortable in passing situations. Without a vast improvement in throwing decisions and accuracy, the lack of a pass game could cost the Bayou Bengals in close games.
The schedule will once again be brutal with games on the road against Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi State and Tennessee. They also host Florida, Auburn and Arkansas.
Prognosis: A viable passing game is needed to at least keep a defense honest. LSU cannot go undefeated when teams are actually hoping they will throw the ball.
Odds of going unbeaten: 12-1
2010 record and final ranking: 10-4, No. 17 AP
Bowl game result: Defeated SEC East champ South Carolina 26-17 in the Chick Fil-A Bowl.
Second-year Head Coach Jimbo Fisher will try to improve on his ACC Coastal division championship with a core of 18 returning starters.
DC Mark Stoops unit should be better this year with eight starters back. This defense improved dramatically from 2009 and may be the strength of the team.
The offense also returns eight starters from a squad that beat in-state rivals Miami and Florida by a combined margin of 76-24.
The schedule in the ACC is not one of the more difficult ones to navigate though they do have a few tough out-of-conference opponents.
The Seminoles must find a way to beat Oklahoma in Tallahassee this year after being embarassed in Norman last year.
QB Christian Ponder has gone to the NFL, and E.J. Emanual will try to replace him behind center.
The Seminoles have not finished in the top 10 of the final rankings since they lost the NC Orange to Oklahoma at the end of the 2000 season.
Prognosis: If FSU can beat Oklahoma on 9/17, they stand an excellent chance of running the table. That being said, they will lose to Oklahoma.
Odds of going unbeaten: 10-1
2010 record and final ranking: 10-3, No. 10 AP
Bowl game results: Beat Big Ten co-champ Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
Head Coach Nick Saban has won a national championship as both the top dog at Alabama and LSU. He consistently fields a quality team, and this year will be no different.
Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two undefeated regular seasons.
Alabama has 17 starters returning from a team that rolled in its season finale against Michigan State and came within a whisker of preventing Auburn from playing for the national championship.
The defense returns nine starters and should be able to carry the team while new offensive players get their feet wet.
Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram is off to the NFL along with underrated QB Greg McElroy and top receiver Julio Jones.
Replacing these three offensive team leader will be a top priority for Saban's squad, and the transition may not be as smooth as many 'Bama fans hope.
The defense will also be hurt by the loss of Marcel Darius along the defensive line.
The schedule is also stacked against an undefeated Crimson Tide season. Their first half of the slate includes road games against Penn State and Florida and a home-field matchup with Arkansas.
The last half of the season may be worse with games at Mississippi, Mississippi State and Auburn and home contests against LSU and Tennessee.
Prognosis: Losing their QB will hurt, but they will still be in the hunt as a possible one loss SEC champion.
Odds of going unbeaten: 10-1
2010 record and final ranking: 12-1, No. 3
Bowl game results: Lost the BCS NC game to Auburn 22-19 on a last-second field goal.
Head Coach Chip Kelly and his staff have turned Oregon into a national power. Despite losing a starting QB to scandal during the offseason, the Ducks rolled through the regular season and barely broke a sweat in the process.
While they only return 13 starters from last year's team, they will have both running back LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas back along with four other starters for an offense that led the nation in scoring last year.
The schedule will not be too difficult, with games against LSU in Dallas and at Stanford the biggest tests they will face.
While they do have both Thomas and James back on offense, they lost six starters from an underrated defensive unit that held Auburn to its second-lowest point total of the year.
Prognosis: Oregon will be very good once again, but they will drop at least one game in the regular season, either to LSU or Stanford.
Odds of going unbeaten: 6-1
2010 record and final ranking: 12-1, No. 9 AP
Bowl game result: Beat Utah 26-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Head Coach Chris Peterson will again field one of the few non-BCS schools with a legitimate chance of playing for the national title. In his five seasons in charge, the Broncos have a 61-5 record and three undefeated regular seasons.
QB Kellen Moore returns after throwing for 35 TDs and only six INTs.
Boise State returns seven starters on both offense and defense.
While the move to the Mountain West Conference is seen as an improvement over the WAC schedule they frequently dominated, they will still face only a few teams with a realistic chance of beating the Broncos.
Most of their toughest tests will be at home where they boast the nations second-longest home-field win streak.
Boise did lose their top two receivers from last year, both of whom will be selected in the NFL draft.
Boise also lost offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Texas.
The Broncos must open the season in Atlanta against SEC heavyweight Georgia.
Prognosis: If they can get by the Georgia Bulldogs in the season opener, they have an excellent chance of staying unbeaten.
Odds of going unbeaten: 5-1
2010 record and final ranking: 12-2, No. 6
Bowl game result: Oklahoma beat Big East champion UConn in the Fiesta Bowl, 48-20.
Coach Stoops has had three undefeated regular seasons in his 12 years in Norman and has led them to a nations best four NC games.
While officially Oklahoma is credited with returning 17 starters from last year, they have 29 total players returning with starting experience.
QB Landry Jones threw for over 4,700 yards with 38 TDs and 12 INTs last year.
Ryan Broyles is back after leading the country in receptions, with 131 for over 1,600 yards and 14 TDs.
Defensive leader Travis Lewis will be back calling the defensive signals for the fourth season in a row.
The Sooners boast the nations longest home-field win streak.
The Sooners have lost two starters from their defensive backfield including All-American safety Quinton Carter. They may have lost another if All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming doesn't return to the team in the fall.
The defensive line is also a concern after losing DE Jeremy Beal and surrendering to many rushing yards in key situations.
Oklahoma must find a replacement for running back DeMarco Murray, who finished his Sooner career with the most touchdowns in school history.
While Oklahoma is a beast in Norman, they are not the best road team in the world. Their two toughest tests of the season may be the games against FSU in Tallahassee and a second straight trip to Stillwater to play the OSU Cowboys in Boone Picken's Stadium.
Prognosis: Stoops Troops are due for another shot at the title. Considering they have gone to the national championship game 33.3 percent of the time since Bob Stoops took over, and their last trip was two years ago, the odds are the Sooners will play for it all in 2011.
Odds against going undefeated: 4-1