College Football 2011 Predictions: The 10 Biggest Storylines to Follow This Fall
It's still 5 months to opening kickoff in the college football season, but story lines for the upcoming season are already surfacing.
Everything from thee Ohio State University to conference re-allignment spark all the talk in college football heading into the summer and fall seasons.
Here are the ten biggest 2011 plot lines heading into what should be an interesting season.
Conference Change-Ups and Title Games
The first big talk of the season will be centered around the conference shake-ups.
In case you have been living under a rock, or maybe just forgot, here is the rundown.
The Pac 10 added both Colorado and Utah and is now called the Pac 12.
Nebraska jumped ship and joined the Big Ten, and even though there are 12, they are still the Big Ten.
The Big 12 now has ten with the loss of Colorado and Nebraska and will not have a title game in 2011.
Boise State has made the move to the Mountain West, while BYU has gone Independent.
Now that we are caught up for the most part, let's talk about the importance of some of these moves.
The first one, and most important is the fact that there will be that extra game in both the Pac 12 and Big Ten. This could ultimately be a major storyline, especially if an unbeaten goes down in one of these games like Nebraska's 1996 team did to an un-ranked Texas team.
This extra game against a potent opponent on a neutral field adds to the suspense the already exists heading into that first weekend in December, and we can thank the conference jumps for that.
Major Title Contenders
There will be much debate about a favorite early on, but as we all know, the debate and talk rarely dies down as the season progresses.
This year you can almost guarantee that Oregon, Alabama, and Oklahoma will headline a list of potential challengers for the Sears trophy.
All three return key components and are expected to enter the season ranked in the top 5.
Alabama has size up front on both sides of the ball, and expect them to lean towards Trent Richardson with the running game.
In Eugene another standout back, LaMichael James will lead the Ducks in their quest to finish business in 2011. Darron Thomas returns at QB to lead an attack that can strike at any moment.
Meanwhile in Oklahoma there are a lot of expectations for a Sooner team that ended on a high note by winning both the Big 12 title game and Fiesta Bowl. Landry Jones returns at QB along with potential Belitnikoff winner Ryan Broyles.
While these three look to be the top 3 on paper, do not look past LSU, Stanford, Florida State, Nebraska, and even Boise State.
Will Andrew Luck Run Away with the Heisman?
If Andrew Luck would have decided to make the leap from college to the pros this past winter, there is little doubt he would have been drafted #1 by the Panthers this Spring. Instead he decided to stick around for another year in Palo Alto in search of a Pac 12 title.
Last year Luck delivered the Cardinal to a 12-1 record with a beat down of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl to top it off. He threw for over 3300 yards and 32 scores.
So is he the lock to win the Heisman?
Well he is the early season favorite, but then again many had Jake Locker as a front runner before the season began and not many had Cam Newton even in the discussion.
Guys like LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Kellen Moore, and Marcus Lattimore could all have their say by the time we get to December.
Theee Ohio State
Things were interesting to say the least this off-season in Columbus. The start of the 2011 season will be marred by the suspension of several stars for the first 5 games, including QB Terrelle Pryor and leading rusher Dan Herron.
To add to it, Jim Tressel will also be serving the same suspension, meaning linebacker's coach Luke Fickell will lead the Buckeyes into tough games against Michigan State and Miami.
All the talk will be if Ohio State can survive without the likes of Pryor, Herron, and DeVier Posey on offense.
Historically the Buckeyes have always been a stronger defense than offense, and as long as they can continue that trend, the 6th game in Lincoln could be an early Big Ten title game preview.
2010 was perhaps the best chance for the little guy to sneak into the BCS title game with Boise State being ranked inside the Top 5 to start the season. They fell a couple of chip shot kicks away from at least making it interesting.
The 2011 Broncos make the transition from the WAC to a tougher Mountain West conference. Also on the schedule is a "neutral" site game with Georgia in the Georgia Dome. Just like last year, if they can get by this game, they have a solid chance to make their case to the BCS.
Kellen Moore is the key for the Broncos offense, and he will have to find replacements for his top 2 WR's in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Last year the Broncos defense allowed just under 13 ppg and will be tested more frequently by MWC offenses.
Boise has the best chance to be Cinderella in 2011, unless of course Georgia drops them in the opener. Then it may be curtains for the little guy this season.
Can Texas Rebound, and Will Mack Brown Keep His Job?
Last season was not one that the Horns want to remember, and for several reasons. Mack Brown had a team that was inconsistent on both sides of the ball and key players quitting the program causing many to question Brown's ways in Austin.
But that was then, and after yet another stellar recruiting class, the Horns appear ready to make another run at the Big 12 title.
A big reason to be optimistic in Austin is with the recruit of 5 star running back Malcolm Brown. Brown is said to be the next Ricky Williams in Texas lore. He possesses speed and power and has the ability to break games open with just one move.
But look for the real reason Texas improves greatly is just by the fact they were so disappointing last year. The 2010 campaign was the first in which Texas did not go bowling in over a decade.
Texas bounces back and once again challenges for a conference crown.
Is Notre Dame Ready to Make It Back to the Top?
8-5 isn't exactly what die hard Irish fans had hoped for in Brian Kelly's first season. But a 33-17 win over Miami in the Sun Bowl, and more importantly, a win over USC to snap an 8 year losing streak.
Now the question is can the momentum keep going into the Irish's 2011 season.
There are certainly questions heading in on offense. A major one being who will start at quarterback between Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist. Rees finished the season after Crist was hurt in the embarrassing Tulsa loss.
Also a question is can the Irish stay out of trouble off the field. Standout WR Michael Floyd has been given a break after his 3rd run in with the law for alcohol related offenses. Without Floyd in the lineup the Irish lack the big play weapon that opposing defenses game plan for.
The schedule shapes up nicely, with the toughest games being against USC, Michigan State, and Stanford to end the season.
8 or 9 wins should be do-able, but a BCS or national title run seem a stretch.
The Charlie Weis Effect on Florida
Will Muschamp may be the new head coach in Gainesville, but look for all the talk to be about what Charlie Weis will do for a Gator offense that was anemic at times.
Weis was the OC for the Patriots during their dominant days in New England, then he went to South Bend as the head man and did not get the job done. Last season he once again went back upstairs and helped the Kansas City Chiefs reach the playoffs.
At the same time the Florida Gators offense was snapping balls over the quarterback's heads and going 3 and out more times than during the entire Tebow era.
So will Charlie Weis make an impact?
Yes, of course he will. He may make so much of an impact that many may give all the credit for the Gator's success to Weis, and not head coach Will Muschamp.
This could cause for some bickering in Gainesville by season's end.
Is This It for Joe Paterno?
He has been the head man in Happy Valley since 1966, and been on the sidelines there for 7 decades. At some point Joe Paterno is going to have to walk away, and all the talk may be about him leaving after this season.
At the beginning of the season Paterno will be 84. He is coming off a rebuilding year that finished up at 7-6 and a loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl. Paterno has done it all, so what else does he have left to prove?
The chances of Joe Pa winning another conference crown is slim, especially with Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin on the schedule. The chances of him winning another national title is, well, a snowballs chance in hell.
The fact is, it could be another mediocre season in Happy Valley, and that could get all the talk about Paterno exiting while is still both alive, and on top.
Will the SEC Win It All Again?
The SEC has now won the last five BCS national championshsips. The only question left on the table is can they win a sixth?
Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina could be the best shots at this 6th title. The question will be, as always, how much will they beat up on each other?
Alabama, as stated earlier, has the size up front, and the coach.
LSU returns key starters on both sides of the ball from a team that lost just twice and finished 8th in the final poll.
Out in the SEC East there are a few more questions.
Will Florida transition under a new coach and OC? Can Georgia rebound from a 6-7 season, and will Isaiah Crowell be the answer to their running game? Can the Gamecocks and Marcus Lattimore continue the physical play that won them the East a season ago?
The chance for a 6th BCS title is there, but it could only exist for the winner of the West. The LSU game in Tuscaloosa should give us the West winner, while the LSU-Oregon game opening weekend should show us where the tops in the SEC compare against the tops in the nation.