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College Football 2011: Florida, UNC and the Top 15 Comeback Teams Next Season

Mike KlineAnalyst IApril 6, 2011

College Football 2011: Florida, UNC and the Top 15 Comeback Teams Next Season

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    There are a lot of changes happening in college football in 2011.

    New coaches, new teams in new conferences and new questions surrounding some of the more established coaches and programs in the country.

    And while the NFL tries to figure out how to divvy up its money among owners and players, college football will go on as scheduled and some familiar faces will be back in the spotlight.

    It wasn't a great year for teams like Florida and Texas—and other programs, like Notre Dame and North Carolina, suffered less than desired results in seasons that saw them lose players to injuries or suspensions.

    The 2011 season should prove to be a bounce-back for some of those traditional powers and some of the growing powers in college football.

    Here is a look at 20 of the teams that are most likely to bounce back.

Florida

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    No team had a bigger hangover in 2010 from the previous year than the Florida Gators.

    In year one AT (After Tebow), the Gators struggled on offense with John Brantley, and its defense couldn't stop anyone.

    This year sees a new coach in former defensive coordinator and future coach of the Texas Longhorns, Will Muschamp.

    He will likely improve the defense, and a second year in the post Tebow transition should mean good things for the Gators offense.

    How the program responds to Urban Meyer's departure to spend more time with at ESPN studios (err... his family) remains to be seen, but there is a good chance the Gators bounce back in the SEC East this season.

Notre Dame

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    It seems like every year since 1988 has been the year the Irish rise back to the top of the college football world.

    There is reason to believe that Notre Dame is finally due some luck in 2011. They have seemed to have stabilized a program that suffered last year from injuries and the death of a student videographer.

    And aside from Michael Floyd, who is in trouble again for alcohol-related charges, the Irish bring back plenty of talent and a good coach.

    Year two under Brian Kelly should set the tone if he can get solid play out of the quarterback position and the defense continues to improve.

    If all that happens, then Notre Dame could be back in the Top 25; as a Top 10 or better is likely a year or two away still.

Alabama

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    It is hard to think of Alabama as bouncing back or needing to bounce back, but, considering the 2009 champs lost three games in 2010, they feel they have something to prove.

    They certainly bring back a lot of talent and a Heisman Trophy candidate in Trent Richardson, but they also lose some skill on the defensive line and at quarterback.

    That being said, they return nine starters on defense and what was seen as a weakness of last year's team should be a strength this season.

    The Tide certainly should find themselves back in contention for the SEC title and beyond.

North Carolina

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    It is hard to imagine a team that had higher expectations come crashing down in a wave of stupidity like the Tar Heels did in 2010.

    Projected to finish near or on top of the Coastal Division last season, North Carolina once again, as almost determined by fate, failed to live up to the expectations.

    With many of its best players on both sides of the ball sidelined for parts of the season, if not all, due to various NCAA violations including receiving improper benefits and academic fraud, it is amazing North Carolina did as well as they did.

    Even more amazing is that coach Butch Davis didn't see his job affected or threatened. But in a year when the Heisman Trophy winner was found to have potentially sold his services, UNC's problems weren't going to get much attention from NCAA investigators.

    So Davis lives to coach another day and is bringing in more talent that again makes the Tar Heels a trendy pick as a contender in the ACC. Whether it happens or if fate intervenes again to keep North Carolina down, only time will tell.

Michigan

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    Michigan may finally have its man.

    Only time will tell if the Wolverines scored their Michigan Man, former assistant Brady Hoke.

    As expected, there will be big changes. Gone is Rich Rodriguez and his spread offense. Also gone is Tate Forcier, the back up quarterback.

    Michigan does retain quarterback Denard Robinson—the break out star who was an early favorite for the Heisman in 2010 before the Wolverines' hot start fizzled out.

    Hoke still has some work to do. While no one should expect a national title any time soon, the Michigan faithful are probably just glad to be off to a fresh start after dropping Rodriguez and his baggage.

USC

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    Perhaps the band USC coach Lane Kiffin was referring to getting back together when he ditched Tennessee after one year to take his "dream" job with the Trojans, was a cover band.

    It certainly looked as much, as the Trojans struggled mightily in his first year on the sidelines.

    Kiffin is hoping a new year will bring improved results and that quarterback Matt Barkley will lead the Trojans back to the top of the new Pac 12.

    At this point, you could give USC the benefit of the doubt. Even though the Trojans still are a draw for big time recruits, only a few of them can come thanks to NCAA sanctions.

    Still, there is enough talent in place to expect a bit of an improvement over last season—at least Kiffin and Will Ferrell are hoping so.

Maryland

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    Obviously, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams didn't bad mouth his current athletic director in his pursuit for a new football coach.

    After letting Ralph Friedgen go, following a solid season that saw the Terps win a bowl game, Maryland hired Randy Edsall away from UConn who had made a BCS bowl in 2010.

    Despite the hire, many were scratching their heads. But Edsall is a proven winner and can recruit and make the most of his talent. His talent pool will be a little bit better in and around Maryland and Virginia than Connecticut.

    So the Terps look for a resurgence to the success they experienced under Friedgen in the early 2000s. It might not be this year, but don't expect Edsall to rest on the laurels of years or coaches past.

Miami

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    Miami has a new golden boy in coach Al Golden.

    The inconsistent, underachieving and undisciplined Randy Shannon is gone. Though Shannon graduated players and cut down on The U's reputation of being the bad boys of college football, the Hurricanes failed to achieve where it matters most to fans—the field.

    Enter Golden, who turned Temple, a long time bottom dweller, into an actual bowl caliber team. That in and of itself is an accomplishment, but Miami has much higher expectations.

    Early reports indicate a very competitive and much more disciplined team showing up this spring. Good news for the Hurricanes and their fans, and bad news for the ACC who has seen other teams flourish despite Miami's addition to the conference as a football power.

Georgia

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    The Bulldogs' 2010 season was as bad as it has been for quite some time in Athens, and especially for coach Mark Richt

    Despite talent and high expectations, they suffered the first losing season in Richt's tenure and had many wondering if the coach would survive.

    He has, and it appears, at least as of spring, the ship has righted itself. Time will tell, and the SEC East and the conference in general can kick you when you are down, so the Bulldogs better be ready to fight in 2011 because it is dog-eat-dog.

Georgia Tech

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    Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson isn't used to losing, so it is easy to see why the Yellow Jackets coach, who had led them to a conference title one year prior, would sooner forget 2010.

    The 2011 season should only be better as Johnson continues to prove to the ACC and college football that a run-first, triple-option offense still has its place in the 21st century.

    It is hard to argue with the facts. He has posted only one losing season, and he still went to a bowl in that year. In fact, he has only missed a bowl on time in his nine years as an FBS level coach.

    Expect more of the same from the Jackets in 2011 but with better execution, as Georgia Tech should bounce back into contenders in the ACC once again.

Tennessee

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    Even if you hate Tennessee, you had to be pulling for them a little bit in 2010 after they got dumped by their coach and some recruits at the last minute.

    Not many expected the Volunteers to be in contention for a bowl, much less make it to one. Derek Dooley inherited the mess left over of a once-proud program.

    He has worked hard to keep the Vols relevant in a conference that can quickly pass you by. Not only did he manage to do that, but he was a couple heart-breaking losses away from having what most programs would have considered nice seasons.

    That being said, Volunteer fans don't want nice seasons—they want championships. It might take him a little while to accomplish that feat, but Dooley and Tennessee together are certainly working hard to make it happen and should be even better in year two.

Louisville

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    The Cardinals have certainly fallen on hard times since coach Bobby Petrino left to test the NFL waters for part of a season.

    After stumbling through some lean years, and a young, up and coming coach at the helm, Louisville appears to be back on track in the Big East and nationally.

    It still may take some time for Charlie Strong to get the Cardinals back to BCS contention, but, then again, the Big East isn't the SEC so it may be sooner than you think.

    Look for Louisville to make some noise in conference, but it may be too early to say if they have enough to to win it all.

West Virginia

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    West Virginia had a nice season in 2010 but fell short of their goal of winning the Big East title and representing the conference in a BCS bowl.

    Still, there is enough reason to think the Mountaineers can build on what they bring back.

    They are in the last year of current head coach Bill Stewart's tenure. He will coach the 2011 season before turning the reins over to Dana Holgorsen.

    In the mean time, West Virginia has its sights on winning the conference this season and representing the Big East in the BCS. They have the talent, but will there be, unlike last season, enough separation between the conference foes for it to happen?

Pittsburgh

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    Pitt had quite a season and offseason in 2010.

    The Panthers finished the regular season 7-5. They made a bowl game, had their coach resign (fired him) and then had an interim coach win them a bowl game to finish 8-5 on the season.

    They then hired a new coach, and less than two weeks later, fired him for being involved in a domestic dispute before settling on Todd Graham as their new leader, the third in less than a month.

    Now it is 2011, and it is time to think football. In a wide-open Big East, there is reason to believe the Panthers have enough talent to win and win a lot.

Texas

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    Texas had simply an awful year in 2010.

    They failed to make a bowl in what seemed like forever and they lost their coach in waiting to SEC powerhouse Florida.

    Mack Brown told ESPN's Urban Meyer on College Football Live that he has addressed all the problems but hadn't yet solved them.

    One would think though that as talented as the Longhorns are that last year was an anomaly and this year they will bounce back.

    With Nebraska gone from the Big 12 it could be Texas' to lose especially if they get improved play at the quarterback position.

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