The beginning of the college football season is still several months away. But with spring games popping up all over the county, the anticipation for the new season continues to build.
With each turning day, the makeup of these teams become a little more solid and it can be difficult to fight the urge at speculating where these teams will finish in their conferences when we finally reach December.
Since September can’t come soon enough, let’s take an early stab at ranking every team’s chances of winning their conference in 2011.
It has been over 50 years since Duke claimed an outright title to the ACC. It will be probably another decade before they even sniff a chance at the title again.
Duke returns 15 starters from last year’s abysmal squad, but it will take more than a miracle for the Blue Devils to catch the ACC by surprise.
Although Wake Forest returns eight starters on both offense and defense, exponential improvement will be needed in order for the Demon Deacons to make any type of a run at the ACC title this season.
Wake Forest’s offense and defense ranked dead last in the ACC last year and barely showed any signs of life in conference play.
Virginia only managed to win one game against the ACC last year.
A middle of the road offense and a maturing defense should show signs of improvement this year, but don’t hold your breath for a title run in 2011.
Thanks to the second best defense in the ACC last year, Boston College snuck into a decent bowl and displayed signs of an Eagles’ revival.
Their offense is still missing that explosive player though, and it could be a couple more seasons before they regain that ACC crown.
Several key losses this offseason damper Georgia Tech’s hopes for an ACC title in 2011.
Replacing Josh Nesbitt will be essential and hardly an easy task. The Yellow Jackets' defense is also quite inexperienced, but they have flashed signs of potential during a few public practices this spring.
It has been 10 years since Maryland claimed an ACC title. Last year, they made a push to make an appearance in their first ever ACC Championship game but fell just short.
This season, armed with a new coach and only 14 returning starters, the Terrapins are once again a long shot to make a push for the ACC crown. But, as last year’s team proved, anything can happen.
Clemson returns nine players on offense, only needing to replace the oft-consistent Kyle Parker and tackle Chris Hairston.
Although the Tigers’ defense was the best in the ACC last season, a chunk of their secondary departs as well as outstanding defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.
A run for the ACC title for Clemson isn’t out of the question, but it will be a tall task.
North Carolina’s offense takes a major hit with the departure of T.J. Yates. With only five starters returning, offensive production should be an immediate issue.
The Tar Heels will lean heavily on their defense in the early going. However, if their offense can get up to speed fairly quickly, North Carolina could surprise a few teams in 2011.
Jacory Harris comes back for his senior season and provides Miami with a legit chance to contend for a spot in the ACC Championship game in 2011.
With a new coach at the helm, the Hurricanes should have a new look and feel this season. This fresh breath of air might be exactly what Miami football needs to capture its first ACC crown.
North Carolina State scored the second most points in conference play last season and they return eight starters from that dangerous offense, including senior quarterback Russell Wilson.
A more experienced defense could make the difference for the Wolf Pack this year. If North Carolina State can gel at the right time, it is not improbable that the Wolf Pack collects their first ACC title since 1979.
Even though Virginia Tech only returns 13 starters, it is never wise to count the Hokies out.
Virginia Tech went undefeated in conference play last season, taking home its third ACC title in four years. The biggest question mark will be at quarterback. If Tyrod Taylor’s replacement can explode out of the chute, the Hokies should be dangerous, per usual.
Florida State’s roster bursts with talent in 2011.
An offense littered with seniors should assist E.J Manual with any growing pains that might occur. Also, the Seminoles' defense will keep every game within reach this season, especially their elite secondary that many consider to be the best in the ACC.
Although Kansas returns eight offensive players, their offense ranked 111st in the nation and needs a ton of work.
Things don’t get any better on defense for the Jayhawks. Their 103rd ranked defense brings back only six players, but rotating in new talent could be just what the doctor ordered.
It has been almost 100 years since Iowa State won a conference championship. This streak should be safe after this season is through.
The Cyclones’ offense and defense struggled mightily last season, ranking 97th and 77th in the nation respectively. Although they return 14 starters from those squads, they should remain close to the cellar once again this year.
Kansas State’s offense kept them in most games last year. But, with only five starters returning, leaning on this side of the ball in 2011 might be a bit too much to ask.
The Wildcats' defense struggled to keep Big 12 offenses off of the scoreboard and this should continue even though they return a decent portion of its starters. A Big 12 title might be wishful thinking.
Robert Griffin takes charge of Baylor’s offense for the third straight season and the success of the Bears will rely mainly on how well he can preform against the blue blood teams of the Big 12.
With a true round robin this year in the Big 12, Griffin and the Bears will have an uphill battle to take the conference crown.
A stout offensive line should allow Texas Tech to ease in a new quarterback this season, but the weapons in the backfield and on the outside are a little suspect entering the spring.
The Red Raiders certainly can’t rely on their defense to take the conference title, even though they bring back eight starters. They ranked second to last in the Big 12 last season, allowing a horrid 30.9 points per game.
Texas is coming off of its worst season in ages, but it would be foolish to completely count the Longhorns out of making a quick turnaround.
With eight players returning from last year’s sluggish offense, the seeds are certainly there for this team to flourish. If its defense can continue to keep games close, Texas could be dangerous once its offense finally comes around.
Although Missouri loses an enormous weapon in Blaine Gabbert, they bring back 17 starters from last year’s 10-win season, which includes six All-Conference stars.
While their defensive line and wide receivers should allow the Tigers to be competitive this season, the learning curve of Gabbert’s successor will determine just how high Missouri finishes within in the Big 12 this season.
The Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon connection should be in full force once again in 2011.
While Oklahoma State will certainly rely on this duo for the entire season, a total of 10 returning starters on offense will allow this top ranked offense to seamlessly continue last year’s success.
The Cowboys’ defense is a huge concern, though. This side of the ball will need to greatly improve in order for Oklahoma State to contend of a Big 12 title.
Texas A&M returns 19 total starters from last year, which should allow them to nip at the Sooners’ heels for the top spot in the Big 12.
The Aggies’ offense is electric and their defense can be suffocating. However, an early November match-up at Oklahoma could determine who will wear the Big 12 crown.
Oklahoma has been selected as the odds on favorite to win the National Championship next season by several sportsbooks, thanks largely to the return of gunslinger Landry Jones, All-Conference receiver Ryan Broyles and the majority of its offensive line.
The Big 12 title will be the Sooners’ to lose. As long as their defense does not completely implode and they stay clear of injuries on offense, Oklahoma should take home their fifth Big 12 Championship in six year.
Louisville returns a meager 11 starters from last year’s squad, losing practically its entire offensive line and its starting quarterback.
Don’t expect too much from the Cardinals in this rebuilding year.
After making five consecutive bowl appearances, Rutgers displayed one of its worst seasons ever in 2010, winning only one conference game.
Ten retuning players on offense will hopefully spark some life back into this team, but contending for a Big East title might be another year or two away.
With only four offensive starters returning from last season, South Florida will desperately rely on B.J. Daniels more this year than ever.
The semi-dual threat quarterback will need to take the Bulls on his back in order for USF to make any kind of run at the Big East crown. However, this will definitely be too much to ask from the senior.
Syracuse reached its first bowl game in six years last season, surprising many people with a huge win over Kansas State.
While the Orangemen appear to be headed in the right direction, several pieces will need to fall into place in order for Syracuse to blindside the Big East in 2011.
Although Cincinnati only returns five starts from last year’s offense, the returnees include an All-Conference quarterback (Zach Collaros), running back (Isaiah Pead) and wide receiver (D.J. Woods).
While this three-headed beast will definitely make some noise, the 11 starters coming back on defense should be more cohesive this season, allowing the Wildcats to stay afloat in the Big East, making them a dark horse pick to take the title in 2011.
While replacing Zach Frazer will be the biggest issue pressing Connecticut this season, the quarterback that gets the nod on opening day will have experienced weapons at wide out and two All-Conference offensive linemen to protect him.
With nine players returning from last year’s improving defense, if the Huskies can click on offense, it is not outlandish to think they can sneak away with the Big East crown.
Eight starting players return on both sides of the ball for Pittsburgh, including quarterback Tino Sunseri and two All-Conference defensive players (DE Brandon Lindsey and FS Jarred Holley).
The offseason brouhaha surrounding Michael Haywood should no longer be a distraction, but all eyes will now be on Todd Graham and how he replaces the legendary Dave Wannstedt. Anything short of a Big East title will be disappointing for this fan base.
It is hard to call West Virginia the odds on favorite in the wide open Big East, but the return of All-Conference quarterback Geno Smith provides the Mountaineers’ offense with a leg up against the rest of the conference.
Joining Smith again this season will be his favorite target in Tavon Austin. Parlay this with the best defense in the Big East and West Virginia becomes a deceptively obvious pick to wear the Big East crown in 2011.
It has been decades since Indiana has contended for a Big Ten title and they definitely won’t reverse that trend this season.
The Hoosiers allowed the most points in conference play last season while scoring the second least. Another year in the cellar is highly probable.
Minnesota will undoubtedly find itself looking from the bottom up in the newly formed Legends Division in 2011.
With several questions marks swirling around practically every position for the Gophers, it is going to be difficult for them to improve on their two conference wins from last season.
Purdue returns 18 starters from last year’s dreadful squad. However, it’s hard to believe that they can move the gauge far enough to come close to contending for a Leaders Division title.
The Boilermakers should stay out of dead last thanks to Indiana, but that will probably be the only good news that they will take from of the 2011 season.
Illinois lost their three best players to early departures for the NFL this offseason.
While this is definitely a huge hit for the Illini, even if these players returned, they still would have struggled to contend in the fairly stacked Leaders Division. Without these stars, Illinois chances of taking home a Big Ten title are practically nonexistent.
Northwestern’s season will depend greatly upon the health of senior quarterback Dan Persa.
Persa is still rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon and will not see much playing time this spring. Although he is doing his best to mentor the young quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart, the Wildcats will need Persa’s accurate arm back on the field in order to conjure any kind of waves in the Big Ten this season.
With only 10 total starters returning from last season, Iowa posts the least amount of returning talent in the Big Ten.
The bevy of fresh faces for the Hawkeyes raises enormous questions marks on how this team will stack up against the rest of the conference. However, Kirk Ferentz is a master at turning what seems like nothing into gold. Iowa is a long shot, but don’t count them completely out of it.
Brady Hoke inherits the second most experienced program in the nation. Michigan returns an eye-popping 20 starters and this can only be good news for the faithful fans in Ann Arbor.
Denard Robinson will once again be the biggest key to the Wolverines success in 2011. If Hoke can install some defensive wisdom into Michigan and help improve on one of the worst defenses in the NCAA, the Wolverines could take the Legends Division by surprise.
Penn State returns a plethora of players on both sides of the ball, and despite its up-and-down season last year, the future is looking bright for the Nittany Lions.
Robert Bolden should blossom in his second year as a starter, but he will need to show vast improvements when it comes to conference games.
Penn State’s defense will also need to kick it up a notch this season if the Nittany Lions hope to make a run at a Big Ten title. The talent is certainly there, however, they need to prove that they belong.
The dynamic duo of Kirk Cousins and Edwin Baker should send shivers down the spines of every defender in the Big Ten.
If that wasn’t enough, the Spartans’ defensive line and secondary are capable of shutting any running and passing game in the conference.
However, road games at Nebraska and Ohio State will be huge roadblocks standing in the way of the Spartans’ first Legends Division title.
The unstoppable force that is James White returns for Wisconsin this season and they will undoubtedly ride this horse for most of the year. A fairly deep secondary and an experienced defensive line will also help the Badgers maintain a strong presence within the conference and provide them with an excellent shot at Big Ten crown.
Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten should be memorable to say the least. Imagine what fans will say if the Cornhuskers take home the Big Ten Title in their first try.
Taylor Martinez and Nebraska’s fleet footed offense should run circles around most of the defenses in the Big Ten, giving them excellent odds to make the first ever Big Ten Conference Championship Game.
Ohio State’s off the field woes will force many of their star players to miss the first Big Ten game of the season. While this is a huge match-up against Michigan State, the Buckeyes should be able to take the Legends Divisions and make the Big Ten Championship game even if the backups stumble against the Spartans.
Placing the Cougars at the bottom the North division is hardly a surprise. Washington State has struggle immensely the past few seasons and it should still be another season or two until they are completely out of these shameful woods.
Bottom dwelling in the Big 12 for several seasons has cast doubt on just how Colorado will make the transition into the Pac-12. The Buffaloes won’t exactly turn heads in 2011 and they could have troubles keeping out of the South’s cellar for at least the first season.
UCLA’s offense ranked 104th last season in scoring and even though they return seven players, they still have a ton of work ahead of them. Although their defense will keep them in most games, the Bruins should struggle against this scoring happy conference.
Although Oregon States loses a chunk of their offense with the departure of Jaquizz Rodgers, they do return a nice group of starters on offense, which should help them win a few games within its division. It will be a tough road though, especially since they are slated to play the Arizonas and Utah from the South Division.
California has two Thursday night tilts against Oregon and USC on their schedule in 2011, which could mean epic failures in primetime. Having to play at Stanford, in Autzen, and against Utah should mean another season filled with in-conference woes for the Bears.
Washington brings back 16 total starters from last season. RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse were selected All Conference in 2010, which give the Huskies offense an undeniable punch. Washington is also making some noise with their 2011 recruits, currently landing 12th on Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.
Although Arizona seemingly fell apart toward the end of the season, they still have enough weapons on offense and defense to remain dangerous in 2011. Nick Foles should lead this team to several conference wins, but Arizona could once again struggle when it matters most.
Utah’s first season playing a full schedule against BCS caliber teams should be very interesting. They will either completely collapse or be able to hold their own. The Utes seem to stack up well against the rest of the competition in the South, but they will quickly learn that they are not in the Mountain West any more.
Arizona State found its groove towards the end of last year. The Sun Devils’ offense finally showed signs of life, scoring 30 or more points in four of their last five games.
With 11 players returning from that offense, things could be getting brighter in Tempe.
Some might want to believe that USC is experiencing a down period, but just looking at its 2011 recruiting class, the story seems to be saying something different.
The Trojans out-of-division game will hardly be a cake walk. They should find a way to take a game or two from the North and should not have a problem handling all of their in-division games this season.
However, due to sanctions, USC will not be able to compete in the Pac-12 Championship, taking away any chances of the Trojans winning the Conference.
The Ducks return a massive part of their churning offense, which really allows them to contend in any game, during any situation. However, three extremely tough games against matured teams to end the season should make it hard for Oregon to come out of this season unscathed.
Andrew Luck has enough weapons on offense to make a decent run at the first ever Pac-12 title. The Cardinal defense is also legit, returning six starters which includes stalwarts Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas. Playing Oregon at the Farm should work in Stanford’s favor this time around.
Vanderbilt returns the most starters out of any school in the FBS, but this will not get them any closer to an SEC title this fall.
This on field experience will certainly give new head coach James Franklin something to build on, which could mean productive seasons in the distant future.
Although Kentucky had the third worst defense in the SEC last year, the return of All-Conference linebacker Danny Trevathan and its entire secondary could mean improvement on this side of the ball.
Conversely, the Wildcats' offense loses their entire backfield and several reliable wide receivers. If Kentucky’s defense can’t progress, the Wildcats will have troubles climbing the SEC standings.
Ole Miss’s schedule seems to play in their favor this season with their toughest opponents playing in Oxford. But, home-field advantage can only take you so far in the SEC, and the Rebels need to find a way to spark some life into their limp defense.
With only five starters returning from the SEC’s worst defense last season, the turnover in personnel might be a good thing for the Rebels.
Tennessee has a hodgepodge of talent returning from last season, which should allow them to stay in the middle of the pack in the SEC East.
However, the inconsistencies of the Volunteers’ offense will create problems with getting them over the hump, making it practically impossible for them to capture the SEC crown.
Many experts are considering Aaron Murray to be the best quarterback in the SEC this season. If this pans out to be true and the Bulldog defense, with their eight returning starters, can keep progressing, Georgia might make a serious run at the SEC East crown.
But, if Murray can’t live up to the hype, Georgia may have to be happy with just improving on last year’s 6-7 record.
Mississippi State has a tough schedule to open the season, playing at Auburn and against LSU before the month of September is even over. If the Bulldogs can’t gel right of the gates, an 0-2 hole in Conference play with South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas still on the slate could quickly deflate any SEC title aspirations.
The one-two punch of Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia provide South Carolina with enough talent to make a serious bid at a SEC East Title repeat. Replacing several players from the defensive front seven will be the tallest task for Steve Spurrier, though.
Last year, the Gamecocks took teams by surprise. This season, the rest of the SEC will know what to expect.
Arkansas had the 17th ranked offense last year, but the departure of Ryan Mallett and the majority of its offensive line should raise a few concerns. However, the SEC’s number one rushing running back in Knile Davis does return and this could be the difference maker for the Razorbacks.
On defense, Arkansas will bring back an All-Conference player at the defensive line, linebacker, and secondary levels.
This should keep the Razorbacks in the hunt for the SEC Title for most of the season.
Auburn returns the least amount of starters out of any school in the NCAA. With its top offensive and defensive players leaving for the NFL, the cupboard may seem a little bare for the Tigers.
Don’t let the lack of returning players lull you into believing that Auburn can’t repeat as SEC champion. Gene Chizik has exceeded expectations practically every season as the Tigers head coach.
Until proven otherwise, this season should not be any different.
After a rather disappointing season for the Gators, the foolish prognosticator might believe that Florida will continue this slide down the SEC ranks.
However, armed with a new coach and a fresh life, the opposite view should reign true. Florida is still laced with unbelievable talent and with 18 starters returning this season, a trip to the SEC Championship Game is well within reach.
LSU’s passing game was suspect for most of last season. But, on the bright stage of the Cotton Bowl, the Tigers proved that this offense is far from docile. LSU returns nine starters on offense and the potential for explosion is imminent.
The Tigers' defense will also be popping this season despite the loss of Patrick Peterson. LSU will be dangerous in 2011 and they should not be taken lightly.
It is hard to believe that Alabama can be the SEC favorite after the departure of Greg McElroy, Julio Jones, and Mark Ingram. But, with the return of an elite offensive line, the shifty Trent Richardson, and four All Conference defensemen, the deck definitely seems stacked in the Tide’s favor.
Alabama undoubtedly has the best defense in the SEC. As long as their offense does not completely collapse, the SEC title should be theirs for the taking.
Tulsa’s top ranked offense returns eight players. They should be the team to beat
Southern Methodist, 3/1
SMU brings back 10 starts on offense and will be in almost every game with Kyle Padron slinging the ball.
UCF only returns 12 starts from last season. Their top ranked defense should suffer.
Southern Miss, 5/1:
The Golden Eagles’ ranked 15th in the nation in points for. The return of Austin Davis should give them a fighting chance at a CUSA East title.
East Carolina, 50/1
Northern Illinois, 2/1
Northern Illinois scored 100 more points than the next team in the MAC. With nine offensive starters returning, expect more of the same.
The Rockets only lost one conference game last year. If they can find a way to beat Northern Illinois, the MAC title could be theirs.
Miami (OH), 4/1
The Red Hawks took the MAC crown last season and with 17 starters returning, another run this year is definitely plausible.
Western Michigan, 6/1
Alex Calder and the 16th ranked passing attack returns in 2011. With eight starters also returning on defense, the Broncos title hopes could be real this year.
Kent State, 15/1
Ball State, 20/1
Central Michigan, 28/1
Bowling Green, 35/1
Eastern Michigan, 50/1
Boise State, 2/1
Playing in a new conference raises some concerns, but the talent that Boise State fields year-in and year-out should be as prominent in the Mountain West as it was in the WAC.
The Horned Frogs return only 10 players from last year’s outstanding squad. TCU will need Ed Wesley to carry the load early and often.
Air Force, 10/1
San Diego State, 12/1
Colorado State, 45/1
New Mexico, 50/1
Florida International, 3/1
FIU’s 27th ranked rushing attack brings back top rusher Darriet Perry. While the Golden Panthers tied for the best record in the Sun Belt last year, an outright 2011 conference championship is well within their sights.
The Warhawks bring back a conference-high 20 starters. With the parity in the conference this year, this continuity could mean a shot at the Sun Belt title.
Although Troy loses the majority of last year’s starters, it is hard to count out the team that has won or shared the Sun Belt title the past five seasons.
Arkansas State, 15/1
Western Kentucky, 20/1
North Texas, 30/1
Middle Tennessee, 45/1
Florida Atlantic, 50/1
The loss of Colin Kaepernick definitely stings, but the Wolfpark returns four All-Conference players, which should alleviate their paim.
Brain Moniz’s deadly arm will pick apart the sub-par defenses in the Mountain West all season. The Warriors’ defense isn’t too shabby either.
Fresno State, 10/1
Louisiana Tech, 15/1
San Jose State, 30/1
Utah State, 40/1
New Mexico State, 60/1