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

John RozumCorrespondent IApril 7, 2011

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

0 of 25

    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

1 of 25

    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

2 of 25

    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

3 of 25

    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

4 of 25

    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

5 of 25

    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

6 of 25

    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

7 of 25

    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

8 of 25

    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

9 of 25

    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

10 of 25

    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

11 of 25

    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

12 of 25

    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

13 of 25

    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

14 of 25

    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

15 of 25

    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

16 of 25

    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

17 of 25

    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

18 of 25

    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

19 of 25

    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

20 of 25

    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

21 of 25

    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

22 of 25

    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

23 of 25

    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

24 of 25

    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

25 of 25

    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?