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College Football Rankings 2011: An Early Look at the Preseason Top 25

Alec DoppCorrespondent IApril 5, 2011

College Football Rankings 2011: An Early Look at the Preseason Top 25

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    As the 2011 college football season begins to take shape, who will crack our preseason top 25 rankings?

    Spring training for many college football teams is heating up, giving us a unique opportunity to analyze some of the top programs in the country prior to their 2011 regular season schedules.

    Last season, Cam Newton stole the show by leading his Auburn Tigers to a national championship victory along with winning the Heisman Trophy in landslide fashion.

    But with his departure into the NFL draft (along with many other top-tier prospects at the collegiate level), we as fans will be forced to make due with the players left behind.

    So with spring practices already underway, here is a much-too-early look at the preseason top 25 rankings heading into 2011. 

25. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-3 (8-2)

    Rundown

    The Golden Hurricane finished their 2010 campaign in stunning fashion with a seven-game winning streak, including a 62-35 blowout of Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

    This season, Tulsa boasts one of the most complete quarterbacks in the nation in G.J. Kinne, who passed for over 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns in just his junior season.  Oh, and let's not forget his 561 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground last season.

    With Kinne and notable contributors such as leading receiver Damarius Johnson and up-and-coming tailback Alex Singleton ready to become elite players at the collegiate level, it's not out of the question to suggest Tulsa could crash the BCS party this season.

24. Texas Longhorns

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 5-7

    The Rundown

    Though we are accustomed to seeing the Longhorns at or near the top of the national rankings, 2010 wasn't exactly what we surmised.

    A 5-7 overall record highlighted by an embarrassing 2-6 in-conference record against Big 12 competition was arguably Texas' worst season in over two decades; however things are taking a turn for the better down south.

    Junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert has become the talk of the campus, as a successful 2010 season looks to transfer into 2011.  Expect a seasoned Texas squad led by none other then Mack Brown to contend for the Big 12 title next season. 

23. Arizona State

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 6-6

    The Rundown

    Although Arizona State didn't managed to reach a bowl game last season, many positives can be taken away from their 2010 campaign.  Coming within one point of defeating Wisconsin in early October, while holding their ground against Oregon in a 42-31 loss shines light on the fact that this Sun Devils squad are serious contenders next season.

    Led by junior quarterback Steven Threet, who threw for over 2500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, as well as running back Cameron Marshall (left), Arizona State was but a mediocre force against Pac-10 opponents.

    With another season under their belt, just imagine what these Sun Devils could accomplish.

22. Florida Gators

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 8-5

    The Rundown

    Let the post Urban Meyer-era officially begin.

    Last season may not have been Florida's ideal season, but there are a handful of positives to take away from their 2010 campaign.

    Junior quarterback John Brantley accumulated over 2,000 yards and nine touchdowns, along with junior running-back Jefferey Demps sprinted his way towards 551 yards and three touchdowns.

    With as many playmakers that contributed to their Outback Bowl-winning season, the Gators should be back in the national spotlight next season. 

21. Missouri Tigers

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-3

    The Rundown

    These Tigers managed to crack our pre-season top 25 rankings, but with the loss of super-star talents Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith to the NFL Draft, Missouri could have just as easily been excluded.

    Nevertheless, Gary Pinkel's crew still maintains some serious talent such as senior running-back De'Vione Moore, who ran his way towards 517 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago, along with junior wideout T.J. Moe—arguably the Big 12's best receiver outside of Justin Blackmon.

    It should be interesting to see how this squad handles the loss of Gabbert and Smith, two of the top prospects entering the 2011 NFL Draft.  But don't lose sight of Missouri's talent heading into this season.

20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 8-5

    The Rundown

    A 1-3 start to Notre Dame's 2010 season had Irish fans calling for Brian Kelly's head, but an impressive four-game win streak to end their 2010 campaign has proved their doubters wrong.

    The climax of Notre Dame's 2010 season was easily their 33-17 victory over Jacory Harris and Miami, where freshman quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

    If Rees can provide consistency to Kelly's offense this season, they'll have an outside shot at a BCS bid.

19. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-4

    The Rundown

    Behind the leadership of freshman sensation Taylor Martinez, Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers managed to go 6-3 in Big-12 play.  But the lessons learned from his freshman season with Nebraska should serve him well as he attempts to improve and carry these Cornhuskers in their first season in the Big-10 conference.

    Likewise, Nebraska also maintains a slew of talented receivers headlined by Brandon Kinne and Kyler Reed, and if they can be consistent role-players this season, the Cornhuskers could be hoisting the Big Ten championship trophy next season.

18. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 11-3

    The Rundown

    Early losses to Boise State and James Madison put Virginia Tech behind schedule at the beginning of what hoped to become a promising season for the Hokies.  However, rest assured, senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor did what he does best, and Virginia Tech rattled off 11-straight victories to secure an Orange Bowl big against Stanford.

    Heading into this season, the Hokies must be able to address their current quarterback situation—as Taylor sees his way out of campus.  Can sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas lead these Hokies back to the top of the ACC next season?

17. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 9-5

    The Rundown

    Securing the nation's top recruit in Javeveon Clowney last month only makes these Gamecocks that more deadly heading into next season.

    Last season however, was Stephen Garcia's most successful year as South Carolina's starting quarterback, throwing for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns.  Along with Alshon Jeffery at receiver, it's not out of the question to suggest these Gamecocks could be playing for a national championship next season.

16. Mississippi State

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    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 9-4

    The Rundown

    Mississippi State was one of the most successful programs in the SEC last season, yet the success of their unheralded stars such as running back Vick Ballard and quarterback Chris Relf were overlooked due to the accomplishments of Auburn and Alabama.

    This season, the Bulldogs look to take over the SEC West from Auburn's grasp.

15. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-3

    The Rundown

    The Razorbacks yielded an impressive 2010 campaign under the guidance of junior quarterback Ryan Mallett.  However they'll be without their star passer this season, which can only mean junior quarterback Tyler Wilson will be taking over the reigns of Arkansas' offense.

    Wilson has thrown just 109 career passes while with the Razorbacks, but with Knile Davis and Broderick Green in the backfield, he won't have to pass too much.

14. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 11-2

    The Rundown

    The Badgers managed to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in nearly a decade last season. However they'll have to rely on young stars next season to repeat as Big-10 champions.

    Scott Tolzein, Gabe Carimi, Lance Kendricks, J.J. Watt and John Clay headline Wisconsin's loses heading into this season—four of the most productive Badgers of the last three years.

    It will be an uphill climb for Bret Bielima's crew in 2011, yet we've placed them in our top 25 rankings on the notion that both James White, Montee Ball and their massive offensive line will propell them to success this season.

13. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-0

    The Rundown

    Without senior quarterback Andy Dalton at the helm, do these Horned Frogs actually have a shot next season?

    That, along with many other uncertainties surrounding TCU are the questions facing Gary Patterson's crew as the 2011 season commences.

    Despite not having Dalton in the lineup, junior running back Ed Wesley will be more than capable of taking these Horned Frogs to national prominence once again.  And if TCU's defense is anything like what it was a season ago, they'll be just fine.

12. Michigan State Spartans

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 11-2

    The Rundown

    The Spartans were crowned co-Big Ten champions last season and earned the right to play Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.  But, as you can imagine, things didn't go quite as planned in their 49-7 blowout loss to the Crimson Tide.

    Kirk Cousins' junior season wasn't what we had originally hoped either, yet he still managed to yield 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns for Michigan State.

    Mike Dantonio's crew returns a plethora of contributors from their 2010 campaign, including sophomore running back Edwin Baker and B.J. Cunningham at wideout.  If they can rally around Cousins' talents, then Sparty will regain their tarnished reputation.

11. Auburn Tigers

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-0

    The Rundown

    Without their leading quarterback and rusher from a season ago in Cam Newton, Auburn will suffer the consequences of becoming just another average team in the SEC West.

    Returning for the Tigers are running-backs Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Davis Hooper—three of the fastest tailbacks the SEC has to offer.  If junior quarterback Barrett Trotter can managed the offense without making too many critical mistakes, Auburn will be legitimate contenders in 2011.  If not, well, I think you get the idea.

10. Florida State Seminoles

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-4

    The Rundown

    Florida State finished out their 2010 season with a 26-17 Chick-fil-A BOWL victory over South Carolina, but it was winning four out of their last five contests that really captured the attention of the nation.

    With Ponder out, junior quarterback E.J. Manuel (left) will be left to carry the Seminole offense in 2011 with a barrage of play-makers on offense.  Running back Chris Thompson and wideout Bert Reed must contribute consistently for Florida State to be relevant this season, as well as incoming freshman tight end Nick O'Leary.

    The undisputed key for this group of Seminoles in 2011 will be whether or not E.J. Manual can play up to his standards.  If he does, they'll be in prime position to wrap up the ACC Atlantic division.

9. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 9-4

    The Rundown

    The Aggies maintained excellence throughout their 2010 season, in part because of junior quarterback Ryan Tannehill's effectiveness down the home stretch of their regular season.

    The culmination of their 2010 campaign came against LSU in the Cotton Bowl, ending in a 41-24 loss.  However, both Tannehill and junior running-back Cyrus Gray both had respectable statistics.

    The key for the Aggies in 2011 will be whether or not Hannehill can distribute the football with consistency while avoiding the big mistake.  If he can do that, Texas A&M will have all but wrapped up the Big-12.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 11-2

    The Rundown

    One of the Big-12's most elite programs of the past five years, Oklahoma State will look to continue their successes with senior quarterback Brandon Weeden at the helm in 2011.

    Weeden, who threw for over 4,200 yards to go with 34 touchdowns in his junior season, is one of the most unheralded superstars in the nation and should get Heisman consideration by the end of Oklahoma State's regular season.

    Albeit the Cowboys will have to endure a treacherous schedules in all of college football next season, they should fair just fine with the leadership of Weeden, running-back Joseph Randle and wideout Justin Blackmon. 

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-1

    The Rundown

    Although Buckeye nation would love to have everything as normal as possible heading into their 2011 season, that's simply not the case.

    The sanctions against both head coach Jim Tressel as well as Terrelle Pryor and other notable Ohio State stars is inexcusable; which is why they will be sitting out the first five games of their season.

    If Ohio State can manage to survive the first five weeks of their season without a loss, they'll be just fine.  If not, Brutus won't be too happy.

6. Boise State Broncos

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-1

    The Rundown

    When Kellen Moore is the starting quarterback for Boise State, anything is possible.

    However we should take note to the fact that the Broncos will be without prolific wideouts Titus Young and Austin Pettis—two of the most valuable assets on Boise State's roster over the last three seasons.

    But, as usual, expect these Broncos to blow through their in-conference opponents, and to be a top-five team in the country when it is all said and done.

5. Stanford Cardinal

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-1

    The Rundown

    Andrew Luck amassed more than 3,300 yards and 32 touchdowns in junior season alone, and his sky is the limit heading into his senior season as Stanford's commander-in-chief.

    Along with prolific running back Stepfan Tayler, who furnished 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, the Cardinal offense will be tops in the entire Pac-12, and possibly the nation.

    The key will be for their defense to step up in key situations.  If they can do that, then Stanford will be playing for a national championship.

4. Oregon Ducks

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-1

    The Rundown

    The Ducks were clearly the best team in the Pac-10 last season, and it won't look much different in the inaugrual season of the Pac-12 conference, either.

    LaMichael James and Darron Thomas are once-in-a-lifetime talents that will only get better with experience, and a number of returning seniors should help the Ducks in their national championship efforts as well.

3. LSU Tigers

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 11-2

    The Rundown

    With Cam Newton on his way to the NFL Draft, now is the time for Les Miles' Tigers to rightfully claim the SEC conference with relative ease.

    Jordan Jefferson, Stevan Ridley and Rueben Randle will all be key play-makers throughout LSU's 2011 campaign, as they occupied a bulk of the Tigers' statistics last season with minimal experience as starters.

    Should these Tigers get through their SEC schedule, there is no doubt that they'll be playing for a national championship this season.  The key, however, is execution.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 10-3

    The Rundown

    Probably the greatest 10-3 team in college football history, the Crimson Tide were by far and away the most seasoned team playing in the SEC West last season.

    Led by Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram and Julio Jones, Alabama has quickly become one of the most treasured programs in the entire nation.  But the question is, can they survive without their seniors from 2010?

    For now, we believe they'll be able to prove their critics wrong despite sending sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron out as their offensive signal-caller this season; and with a great incoming class of recruits, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be contenders for the prospective future.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    2010 Record: 12-1

    The Rundown

    What else did you expect?

    Led by Landry Jones, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards to go with 38 touchdowns and a 146.31 quarterback rating, the Sooners are undoubtedly the nation's top program heading into 2011.

    Unlike any other team in the nation, Oklahoma has every position covered with top-tier talent.  Take for example wideout Ryan Broyles, who managed 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns in just his junior campaign with the Sooners.

    If Oklahoma can survive their Big-12 schedule next season, they'll be in the national championship game. 

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