College Football Top 25 Rankings 2011: How Far Will Brian Kelly Take Notre Dame?

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent IApril 8, 2011

College Football Top 25 Rankings 2011: How Far Will Brian Kelly Take Notre Dame?

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (L) waits to enter the field with his team before a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan de
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After a great ending to the 2010 season, the Irish have increased expectations for 2011.

    Head coach Brian Kelly has won everywhere he's been.

    Therefore, it would be more shocking if he were unable to continue that trend while at Notre Dame.

    Maybe he'll even get them into a conference!

    In any event, check out this preseason top 25 and see where the Irish fit in.

25. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Chris Relf# 36 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs rushes against the Michigan Wolverines during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 9-4 (4-4)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 17

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Auburn, LSU, at Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, at Arkansas

    In 2010, Mississippi State was 1-4 versus ranked opponents.

    If they want to move up the SEC food chain, winning the big games is a must.

24. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28:  Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountineers hands the ball off to Noel Devine #7 during the Champs Sports Bowl against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Orlando, Florid
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 9-4 (5-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Unranked

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Maryland, LSU, Connecticut

    Last season the Mountaineers were 2-3 in games decided by a TD or less.

    However, the two W's only came against Marshall and Louisville.

    If WVU can win the close games, the Big East may sway back in their direction. 

23. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Rashad Carmichael #21 and Jayron Hosley #20 of the Virginai Tech Hokies celebrate after Hosley intercepted a pass in the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Janu
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-3 (9-0)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 15

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Miami (Fla.), North Carolina

    The 0-2 start in 2010 awoke the giant within as Va. Tech swept their way through the ACC.

    In 2011, the schedule is a bit easier and the Hokies should be contenders once again.

22. Georgia Bulldogs

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 6-7 (3-5)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Unranked

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Boise State, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida, Auburn

    0-4 versus ranked opponents in 2010, ouch.

    That said, Georgia has the pieces to turn things around.

    The question is whether they actually turn it around.

21. Florida Gators

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 30:  Quarterback John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators attempts a pass during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on October 30, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 8-5 (4-4)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Unranked

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn, Georgia, at South Carolina, Florida State

    Just like the Georgia Bulldogs, the Gators were also 0-4 against ranked teams last season.

    However, Florida did manage to win the Outback Bowl over Penn State.

    In 2011, they should improve versus the ranked schools, but if they don't it's going to be another mediocre year (at least in the eyes of Gator fans).

20. UCF Knights

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    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Rob Calabrese #4 of the UCF Knights runs a play against the Texas Longhorns on November 7, 2009 at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  Texas won 35-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-3 (8-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 20

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at SMU, Tulsa, at Southern Miss

    Winners of the Conference USA in 2010, the UCF Knights have earned their stripes in the state of Florida.

    With schools like Florida, Florida State and Miami in the same state, UCF usually takes a backseat.

    Well, if the Knights have a repeat performance in 2011, even more recognition should come their way.

19. Auburn Tigers

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers reacts after a late fourth-quarter run by Michael Dyer #5 that was ruled he was not down by contact against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at Univ
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 14-0 (9-0)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 1

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Mississippi State, at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, Alabama

    The Tigers and Cam Newton proved everyone wrong in 2010.

    That said, 2011 will begin anew and coach Gene Chizik will need to reload fast if he wants Auburn competing each year.

    The SEC doesn't wait, therefore we will see how the Tigers perform post-Cam Newton.

18. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  (L) Solomon Thomas #98 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with his teammates after he intercepts a pass to seal the 31-26 victory for the Buckeyes against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisian
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 12-1 (7-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 5

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Miami (Fla.), Michigan State, at Nebraska, Wisconsin

    Missing their head coach and some key players for the first five games of 2011, the Buckeyes will be looking on the outside-in if guys don't step up.

    And, once everyone comes back, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are next on the schedule.

    That said, games one though five could tell us a lot about Ohio State this year.

17. Michigan State Spartans

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans leads his team onto the field before a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions on November 27, 2010 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Spartans w
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-2 (7-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 14

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Notre Dame, at Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Nebraska

    Coming off their best year in two decades, the Spartans have just as high, if not higher expectations in 2011.

    Also, another somewhat favorable schedule is at the forefront since they get Ohio State before coach Tressel and company comes back.

    However, the games at Notre Dame and Nebraska will truly test how good they are.

16. Missouri Tigers

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27:  Kendial Lawrence #4 of the Missouri Tigers is congratulated after scoring a touchdown during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 27, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/G
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 10-3 (6-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 18

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Oklahoma, at Kansas State, Oklahoma State, at Texas A&M, Texas

    With Nebraska gone to the Big Ten, Missouri should have an easier time in the Big 12 North.

    However, the Tigers have not performed well in the conference title game, so just getting there won't enough.

    Plus, the schedule next season doesn't make anything less difficult.

15. Texas A&M Aggies

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Texas A&M Aggies throws against the LSU Tigers during the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on January 7, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 9-4 (6-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 21

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri, at Oklahoma, at Kansas State, Texas

    Coming off a solid year, the Aggies have another tough schedule in 2011.

    However, last season Mike Sherman's team went on a three-game losing streak that hurt their conference title chances.

    Even with next season's schedule pitting them at home against in some key games, Texas A&M can't afford another losing streak.

    Otherwise, 2011 will be a replica of 2010.

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 06:  Knile Davis #7 of the Arkansas Razorbacks is congratulated by teammates after scoring a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 10-3 (6-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 12

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State, at LSU

    Surprise, surprise that the Razorbacks have a tough schedule being in the SEC.

    But, in order for Arkansas to get to the promise land (SEC title/national championship game), they most likely will have to run the table.

    Florida, Alabama, and Auburn all had to do it (and did it), so chances are the Razorbacks will as well if they want to win it all. 

13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 25: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on September 25, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 37-14.  (Photo by Jo
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 8-5

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Unranked

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Michigan, Michigan State, at Pittsburgh, USC, Navy, Maryland, at Stanford

    Notre Dame football appears to be back on the rise, and with high expectations in 2011, we'll see if they can live up to the hype.

    That said, after the 4-5 start in 2010, the Irish finished on a four-game win streak.

    So, if Notre Dame can win early on and finish in the same fashion, then next season could lead them back to national prominence.

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 30: Coach Bo Pelini soaks up the atmosphere before leading his Nebraska Cornhusker football team on the field against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Missouri 31-17.
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 10-4 (6-3)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 19

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Washington, at Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State

    Despite the 9-1 start, the Cornhuskers lost three of their last four to finish 10-4.

    Thus, finishing is a concern and they may not have as much momentum heading into 2011.

    Also, it doesn't help that their inaugural Big Ten game comes against the Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin.

    However, if Nebraska doesn't slow down toward the end of the season, they can very well contend for a conference title.

    The next concern, is whether they can win the conference title after losing their previous three (two consecutive).

11. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 20:  Jeremy Smith #31 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys is congratulated by Jonathan Rush #70 after a touchdown during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 20, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-2 (6-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 10

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Tulsa, at Texas A&M, at Texas, at Missouri, Oklahoma

    The big question for the Cowboys is getting over that Oklahoma-hump and into their first ever Big 12 championship game.

    You know that Oklahoma State will play rather consistently well all season, so finishing the regular season is huge.

    Also, flipping that mid-season hiccup from a loss to a win should be on the to-do list.

10. Wisconsin Badgers

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: Peter Konz #66 of the Wisconsin Badgers prepares to snap the ball to Scott Tolzien #16 against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18.  (Phot
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-2 (7-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Tied No. 8

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Northern Illinois, Nebraska, at Michigan State, at Ohio State

    The Badgers don't have that explosive sexy offense that most fans want to see.

    However, even if the Wisconsin basketball coach (Bo Ryan) were to coach their football team, nothing would change.

    Run the ball and play defense, period.

    That said, just remember keep Wisconsin on you're radar because they're always in the hunt.

9. LSU Tigers

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 13:  Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers celebrates after defeating the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Tiger Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   The Tigers defeated the
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 11-2 (6-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: Tied No. 8

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Oregon, at Mississippi State, at West Virginia, Florida, Auburn, at Alabama, Arkansas

    Just like anyone else in the SEC, LSU has a tough schedule.

    But, under coach Les Miles the Bayou Bengals have won 10 or more games four times in six years.

    Therefore, if LSU is on your favorite school's schedule, tie the shoes a little tighter because it's going to be a brawl.

8. TCU Horned Frogs

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    FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 16:  The TCU Horned Frogs take to the field against the BYU Cougars at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  TCU beat BYU 31-3.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 13-0 (8-0)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 2

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: SMU, at Boise State 

    Under head coach Gary Patterson, TCU has had a winning record in eight of his 10 years.

    Also, seven of the eight were of 10 wins or more (three consecutive).

    With that said, there's no reason why the Horned Frogs can't repeat perfection again in 2011. 

7. Florida State Seminoles

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    TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Chris Finn #29 of the Florida State Seminoles hold up a gator head to celebrate a win against the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 10-4 (6-3)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 16

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Oklahoma, Maryland, N.C. State, Miami (Fla.), at Florida

    If Florida State wants to propel themselves into the national title contender conversation, a W over Oklahoma in Week 3 would most certainly suffice.

    The Seminoles have the talent, experience and the recruits coming in to make some serious noise in the fall, however living up to expectations is another thing.

    With a national title implication game verse the Sooners early on, that alone could set the tone for 2011.

6. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13:  South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier greets his players after winning a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 3
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 9-5 (5-4)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 22

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: at Georgia, Auburn, at Mississippi State, at Arkansas, Florida

    The Gamecocks definitely have the tools to make another run at the SEC title.

    But, will they be able to live up the hype, especially after signing the nation's top recruit for a second straight year?

    Well, the schedule does favor them a tad more than last season, so 2011 has its possibilities.

    As long as coach Spurrier keeps his player's eyes on the prize then South Carolina should get the job done.

5. Stanford Cardinal

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal rolls out of the pocket against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Stanford won 40-12. (Phot
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 12-1 (8-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 4

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Washington, at USC, Oregon, Notre Dame

    By the looks of it, the Oregon Ducks are really the only team standing in Stanford's way of a national title appearance.

    However, the Washington Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ended 2010 on a four-game win streak.

    As for USC, well, it's USC so you know Matt Barkley and company will come to play.

    Make no mistake about it, Stanford is a national title contending team.

    The question is whether they have enough to de-thrown Oregon from atop the Pac-12.

4. Boise State Broncos

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    BOISE, ID - NOVEMBER 19:  Derrell Acrey #52 psyches up the Boise State Broncos before the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bronco Stadium on November 19, 2010 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)
    Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 12-1 (7-1)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 7

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Georgia, Tulsa, Nevada, TCU

    Combine a favorable schedule with the return of QB Kellen Moore and Boise State maintains their national prominence.

    Much like TCU head coach, Boise's head coach Chris Petersen has the Broncos near the top every year.

    In his five years as the head coach, the Broncos have gone unbeaten twice and won 10 or more games each year.

    That said, there's no signs of the blue turf monsters going away anytime soon.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback A. J. McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide sets for play against the Mississippi State Bulldogs November 13, 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 10-3 (5-3)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 11

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Arkansas, at Florida, LSU, at Mississippi State, at Auburn

    Since the Crimson Tide decided to hire head coach Nick Saban back in 2007, Alabama has yet to have a losing season.

    What's more impressive is that Saban has never had a losing season while coaching in the SEC (LSU from 2000-2004 and Alabama 2007-present).

    So, you can easily expect the Tide to be fighting for a national title each year from the start.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

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    COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners looks on against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Columbia, Missouri.  The Tigers beat the Sooners 36-27.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 12-2 (7-2)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 6

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: Tulsa, at Florida State, Missouri, Texas, at Oklahoma State

    Since head coach Bob Stoops was hired back in 1999, the Sooners have been in eight Big 12 championship games, winning seven of them.

    Each year big things are expected from Oklahoma and 2011 is no different.

    As long as they don't have that road game slip-up like last year, the Sooners should make an appearance in another national championship.

1. Oregon Ducks

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    CORVALLIS, OR - DECEMBER 04:  Head Coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks prepares with his team before the game against the Oregon State Beavers during the 114th Civil War on December 4, 2010 at the Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan F
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    2010 RECORD: 12-1 (9-0)

    2010 FINAL RANKING: No. 3

    2011 NOTABLE GAMES: LSU, Nevada, at Washington, at Stanford, USC

    After the bad taste of losing a national championship game, the Ducks have the most combined talent and experience returning in 2011.

    Come time for the Autumn Wind, we may see even more fire from Oregon as they should be out on a mission.

    Also, the school has yet to claim a football national championship, so what other motivation is there?