Spring practice is in session at campuses around the nation, and fans are counting the days until the start of the regular season.
Even though the season does not begin until September, teams are already being dubbed contenders and pretenders. These predictions are very tentative, but a fan cannot help but speculate.
Last season, the Auburn Tigers were unranked in many polls, yet they eventually won the BCS title. It goes to show you that anything can happen.
These are the early top 25 teams in college football.
Spring practice is in session at campuses around the nation, and fans are counting the days until the start of the regular season.
The Texas Longhorns suffered through one of their most disappointing seasons in school history in 2010. They had their first-ever losing record under head coach Mack Brown.
In a panic, Brown fired most of his staff and hired a new defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, and offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin.
It is impossible for the Longhorns to be more disappointing then they were last season. Quarterback Garret Gilbert struggled in his first season as a starter, but he should be greatly improved in 2011.
They are also bringing in a top-5 recruiting class, including running back Malcolm Brown, who is expected to be the Longhorns' every-down back in 2011.
Like Texas, the Florida Gators also had a down season in 2010. For 2011, they will try to return to glory with new head coach Will Muschamp.
Muschamp is bringing along offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, in hopes that he can help senior quarterback John Brantley.
Former head coach Urban Meyer has left Muschamp in a good spot. There is plenty of talent on this team; they just need to piece it together.
Look for the defense, led by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, to be this team’s strongest asset.
But if Weis can get the offense flowing with players like Brantley and running back Jeff Demps, this team could be scary.
The defending BCS champions, Auburn, could take as big of a step back as anyone in the country in 2011. They are losing their two best players in quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
The Tigers are only returning four starters on each side of the ball and will have a lot of holes to fill.
That being said, Auburn was a very deep team last year. They have plenty of talent stockpiled that should still make the defending champs a strong team.
They are still returning their running backs Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, but they will not be enough to carry the team.
Auburn is not a BCS title contender for 2011. They play in the toughest division in college football and play a brutal schedule that includes games at South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia.
Some people might shake their heads at picking a 6-6 team 22nd overall in a preseason poll, but believe the hype about the Sun Devils.
They are returning 18 starters from a team that nearly beat Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Oregon last season.
The Sun Devils are one of the fastest teams in the country and have the ability to catch a lot of teams off guard. Their defense is the strength of their team, led by All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
The Arizona State offense also showed a lot of improvement at the end of the 2011 season. Quarterback Brock Osweiler, the projected as the starter, threw for 647 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the final two games of 2010.
If the Sun Devils can learn to close out games, than they could be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 conference.
A Week 2 matchup against Missouri at home will tell us a lot we need to know about the 2011 Sun Devils.
The Hokies will have to deal with the loss of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans in 2011.
However, they will still have running back/kick returner David Wilson and an offensive line that is returning four seniors.
One thing you can always count on head coach Frank Beamer to have is a solid defense and a strong running game. Next season, the identity of this team should be no different.
The Hokies will have first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas under center, but he is surrounded by talent. The transition should be smooth.
Expect Virginia Tech to compete for the ACC championship next season.
The main reason for Georgia’s rough season in 2010 was defensive inconsistency in their first year running the 3-4. However, the Bulldogs addressed the issue.
Most of the inconsistency was due to shaky play at the nose tackle position. So Georgia recruited a 6’4” 340 pound behemoth named Jonathon Jenkins to play the position. Jenkins was one of the top-rated junior college recruits in the nation.
Georgia is returning eight starters from their defense and seven players from their very potent offense. The most important of those being sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray.
Murray is one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation and is the main reasons why many people thing Georgia will have a bounce-back year in 2011.
Head coach Dan Mullin’s Mississippi State Bulldogs were one of the biggest surprises in the nation last year. In 2011, there is a lot to be excited about for the Bulldogs.
They are returning quarterback Chris Relf, running back Vick Ballard and seven starters from a very good defense. However, they are graduating all of their starting linebackers, their best defensive lineman (Pernell McPhee) and their best offensive lineman (Derek Sherrod) from 2010.
There are a lot of holes on this Bulldogs team, but there is also a lot of talent. They play in the toughest division in college football and will need to prove that they haven’t taken a step back early in 2011.
Nebraska has a challenging first season ahead of them in their first Big Ten season.
They ended the season as one of the coldest teams in college football, losing three of their last four games.
Most of this was due to the play of quarterback Taylor Martinez. The Cornhuskers offense lives and dies with Martinez. When he plays well, they usually win.
Even though Martinez has the potential to be great, the real strength of this team is their defense.
They had one of the best squads in the country last season, but they lose star defensive backs Prince Amukamara and Eric Hagg.
However, they are still returning seven players from their stout defense, four of whom were All-Big 12 players last season.
In 2010, the Horned Frogs had a magical 13-0 season that ended with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The 2011 season does not look to be quite as promising as last year.
They are only returning five starters on each side of the ball and lose their quarterback and leader, Andy Dalton.
Despite TCU losing a lot of players, their defense and running game should still be strong. They return star running back Ed Wesley and one of the best linebackers in the nation, Tank Carder.
TCU is playing a tougher schedule than usual. In Week 1, they will have a road game against a vastly underrated Baylor team.
Then later in the season they will also have to play a neutral-site game against BYU and a game against Boise State on the “smurf turf.”
Most people would expect the loss of star quarterback Blaine Gabbert to be a huge hit for the Tigers. Though he will be missed, Gabbert’s departure should be easy to recover from.
They are returning four senior starters on the offensive line and playmakers like wide receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.
Their defense will have a few question marks, though. They will need to replace defensive end Aldon Smith and cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland.
In a strong year for the Big 12, Missouri might be hit or miss. Early games at Arizona State and at Oklahoma might set the tone for the whole season.
Are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally back? This may very well be the case.
Head coach Brian Kelly has been a godsend and has Notre Dame on the right track. They were red-hot at the end of last season and look to carry that momentum over in 2011.
The Irish return a total of 17 starters, including linebacker Manti Te’o and wide receiver Michael Floyd.
The only thing not to like about the 2011 Fighting Irish is their schedule. It was one of the toughest Notre Dame has had to play in years. There are nine teams on it that made a bowl game a season ago.
In 2010, the Spartans found ways to win close games. It led to one of the most surprising seasons in the nation and Michigan State’s first Big Ten championship in two decades.
On offense, the Spartans look promising for 2011. They are returning quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Edwin Baker. However, things are looking a little shaky on the defensive side.
They are losing linebackers Eric Gordon and All-American Greg Jones. Without Jones and Gordon, I cannot help but have doubts about Michigan State’s defense.
With tough rushing teams like Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State on their schedule, the Spartans will need to find a solution at linebacker.
Throughout most of the season, Wisconsin looked like one of the strongest teams in the country. Then they were stunned by TCU in the Rose Bowl to close the year with a 21-19 loss.
Wisconsin should compete for a Big Ten championship again in 2011. They are returning the best running back duo in college football: James White and Montee Ball.
They will need to replace quarterback Scott Tolzien, tight end Lance Kendricks, offensive lineman Gabe Carimi and defensive end J.J. Watt.
This may sound like a lot, but Wisconsin had great depth in 2010 that should be ready to step up next season.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher is doing an exceptional job restoring the football program in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are a team on the rise and hope to prove it in 2011.
They are returning a staggering 18 starters from a team that went 10-4 a season ago. However, the loss of quarterback Christian Ponder might be hard to overcome.
E.J. Manuel is expected to be his replacement. Manuel is very talented but has been known to turn the ball over on occasion.
The Seminoles have a favorable ACC schedule and are the favorites to win the conference this year.
Though it may be in the near future, I don’t think they are quite ready to compete for a BCS title yet.
Stanford will be one of the most interesting teams in the country next season. This offseason, they lost their head coach (Jim Harbaugh), most of their offensive line and five defensive starters.
But the good news for the Cardinal is that they still have quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck is so great that he should at least allow Stanford to contend for the Pac-12 title. Although, the Cardinal probably won't be quite the team they were in 2011.
I think it is hard to be confident in a team that will be led by so many unproven players and a first-year head coach. Their mid-season game against Oregon will show what Luck and the boys are made of.
The Gamecocks have a favorable SEC schedule next season that should allow them a chance to repeat as SEC East champions.
South Carolina returns plenty of playmakers like running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. But even with playmakers like those, the Gamecocks have been wildly inconsistent.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia is a big reason for concern. His career at South Carolina has been a roller coaster ride that is unexpected at every turn.
This season will be a little more of a challenge this season due to the improvement of teams like Georgia and Florida.
Arkansas might not finish in the top ten next season due to their brutal schedule, but they deserve to start there. They have to play Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M all on the road.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett was great at Arkansas, but Tyler Wilson looks like he has the potential to be just as effective of a signal caller. The Razorbacks also have one of the best running backs in the country, Knile Davis.
Davis is a beast. During offseason workouts, he reportedly ran a 4.29 40-yard dash and bench pressed an impressive 415 pounds.
Along with Davis and Wilson, the Razorbacks also return eight starters from a much-improved defensive unit.
If it were not for their schedule, Arkansas could be dark horses for the BCS title in 2011.
Let me first start by saying that I cannot stand the “underdog” or the “little guy” teams in college football, and it pains me to say that Boise State has the chance to be a BCS buster yet again in 2011.
Chris Peterson’s Broncos are returning seven players on both sides of the ball, including Heisman candidate quarterback Kellen Moore.
Losing wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young will be tough, but not severe. The Boise State offense should still flow like it usually does.
The Broncos have four big games in 2011. In Week 1, they will travel to play Georgia in the Georgia Dome in a “neutral” site game.
Later in the year, they will also have to play tough opponents Nevada, San Diego State and TCU.
If they can get by these games without any losses, they will be going to a BCS game.
Oklahoma State just enjoyed their best season ever in 2010. They won 11 games and were one of the major players in the race for the Big 12 championship.
I expect the Cowboys to compete again for the Big 12 championship and possibly even have a chance at the BCS title.
They are retuning 10 starters from one of the most potent offensives in the country, led by quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Oklahoma State’s season finale against rival Oklahoma will be one of the biggest games of the season.
Their defense is below average, but their offense could be good enough to carry them to an epic season.
Midway through the 2010 season, the Aggies found themselves just 3-3 and with an injured quarterback, Jerrod Johnson. Then he was replaced by Ryan Tannehill and the Aggies won six straight games.
In that streak they beat Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. Now can the Aggies carry their success over to the 2011 season? I think so.
Texas A&M is returning 10 starters on offense and eight on defense. Their offense is extremely well balanced and their defense is dangerously hard-hitting.
The Aggies have already proven they can beat elite teams. They are a serious BCS contender next season and have an opportunity to win their first Big 12 championship since 1998.
The Ohio State Buckeyes may have traded the beginning of their 2011 season for tattoos, but they are still the favorites in the Big Ten.
They will be without quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, head coach Jim Tressel and three others for the first five games of the season.
Two of those games are among the toughest on the Buckeyes schedule, at Miami (Fla.) and home against Michigan State.
If the Buckeyes can get past this rough patch, then they will be national title contenders.
The Buckeyes are actually only returning four players on each side of the ball, but they are still blessed with plenty of depth.
The LSU Tigers are returning 16 starters from last year's squad. Head coach Les Miles is one of the best in the business and his team is returning too much talent not to be great.
Replacing cornerback Patrick Peterson will be difficult, but not impossible. Morris Claiborne is a true lockdown cornerback and should get more attention now that Peterson is gone.
There are doubts surrounding quarterback Jordan Jefferson, so junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger will be given a chance to challenge Jefferson for his starting role.
If they can figure out the quarterback position, there is no reason not to think LSU will be one of the best teams in college football in 2011.
There is very little doubt that Oregon’s offense will be unstoppable again in 2011.
They are returning quarterback Darren Thomas and Heisman candidate running back LaMichael James.
If that isn’t enough to like about the offense, they are also returning tight end David Paulson and special teamer extraordinaire Kenjon Barner.
However, the defensive side of the ball is a huge concern for the Ducks. They lost seven starters from a season ago, including linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.
The Ducks offense should be good enough to make up for their defense and win another Pac-12 championship. The question now remains, can it carry them to a BCS title?
It is hard to believe that a team losing wide receiver Julio Jones, former Heisman running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Marcell Darius can be ranked so high. But the Crimson Tide is still loaded.
They are returning seven starters on offense and 10 players on defense. The Tide returns seven players who received all-SEC honors as well.
New quarterback A.J. McCarron should be a viable replacement for the graduating Greg McElroy, and running back Trent Richardson will finally have a well-deserved chance to start.
I see Alabama making the national championship in 2011 if they can get out of the SEC with only one loss. The only problem is that they have to play a brutal schedule that includes five teams in this list.
It is hard not to pick Oklahoma as the preseason top-ranked team in the nation. They finished red-hot in 2010 and return 16 starters from a team that won the Fiesta Bowl last year.
The most important of these players is quarterback Landry Jones. He threw for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 146.3 in his first season as a starter last year.
Jones’s favorite target, Ryan Broyles, will also be back for their 2011 campaign.
Oklahoma plays a tough schedule next season. An early matchup against Florida State and their season finale against rival Oklahoma State might be the games that define their year.