College Football Rankings: Notre Dame and 7 Teams That Could Get Lucky in 2011
If there's one thing about college football that makes it fun to watch and follow, it's the teams that come out of nowhere and succeed.
In recent years, teams like Boise State and Oregon have shocked experts and enthusiasts by becoming top teams that contend for BCS Championship Game bids season after season.
In fact, Oregon made it to the big game last season, losing to Auburn 22-19 on a field goal kicked as time expired.
This season, however, I'm anticipating a handful of different teams to compete for the top two spots in the final rankings. A variety of different teams signed some great recruits this offseason, so with luck, we will have some great freshmen to watch.
I know that I've said multiple times that LSU is my pick to win it all this year, but I never said it would be an easy road for them.
Thus, here are seven teams that I think could potentially get lucky this season and find themselves in contention for a championship bid.
No. 7: University of Michigan Wolverines
Going into the upcoming season, Michigan is looking to distance itself from the past three seasons known as the Rich Rodriguez fiasco.
In those three years, the former West Virginia coach led (ha...that's funny) the Wolverines to a horrendous 15-22 record (6-18 in conference play) and only one bowl appearance.
That was last year's Gator Bowl, and Michigan was destroyed by Mississippi State in a 52-14 blowout.
This year, however, the team will have a newer and fresher approach. Brady Hoke left San Diego State to become the Wolverines' new coach and will bring a more positive and motivating attitude to the sidelines.
On top of that, star quarterback Denard Robinson (pictured) chose to return for his junior season and will be instrumental to the team's success on offense.
With Ohio State missing key players for the first five weeks of the season and the rest of the teams in the conference questionable, look for Michigan to potentially make an impact early and ride the momentum throughout the season.
No. 6: University of Georgia Bulldogs
I'm just going to say it now: 2011 is almost definitely going to be a rough season for Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs. The team is coming off of a 6-7 season and just lost one of its best players to the NFL in receiver A.J. Green.
Still, miracles can occur in sports and I believe that one has a chance of happening for the Bulldogs.
The reason? Well, Richt signed a top quarterback recruit this offseason, a young man named Christian LeMay.
The quarterback position at Georgia is flooded with underclassmen, so LeMay's chances of becoming the starter are as good as anyone else's, even incumbent starter Aaron Murray.
LeMay has been described by scouts as having a "lean, but strong build" as well as a good mentality under duress. He seems like he would be a good fit for the team in the future, but would be wise to take a year or two first to learn the offense.
Yet, if he can see some time this season and do well, even if it's sharing snaps with Murray, then the Bulldogs will get their bite back and be contenders again.
No. 5: University of South Carolina Gamecocks
After surprising everyone and posting a 9-5 record last season, South Carolina shocked people even more and signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, considered by scouts to be the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Honestly, I can't even begin to say how significant this is for the school's football team.
Let's take a look at Clowney's stats from his senior season: he had 162 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 29 tackles for a loss, 11 forced fumbles, six recovered fumbles, and five defensive touchdowns. That's incredible for a high school player.
Stats aside, Clowney has good enough size to compete in the extremely tough SEC, standing 6'6" and weighing in at 245 pounds.
If he can work his way into the starting defensive line this upcoming season and perform as well as he did his senior year of high school, then the Gamecocks just might have the most dangerous defensive line in the nation.
If that is the case, they will most definitely contend for a championship.
No. 4: University of Texas Longhorns
Needless to say, 2010 was a rebuilding year for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns.
The team had lost four key players to the NFL, most notably quarterback Colt McCoy and receiver Jordan Shipley, and had to start inexperienced sophomore Garrett Gilbert at quarterback.
Overall, Gilbert had a decent season and threw for 2,744 yards and 10 touchdowns, but also had 17 interceptions as the Longhorns went 5-7 on the year.
Those numbers can be chalked up to Gilbert not having an effective running back to help him carry the offense, but that will all change this season.
Texas recruited Malcolm Brown, the No. 2 running back in the nation, to come play for them. This young man's presence combined with Gilbert's improved skills should spell out success for the team.
The only hurdles left for Texas are the rest of the teams in the Big 12, like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The team plays these two talented squads on back-to-back weekends this season and if they can win those games with the squad they have, their championship odds will rise quickly.
No. 3: University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last season, Brian Kelly made Notre Dame football relevant again in his first year as head coach. Under him, the Fighting Irish went 8-5 and faced Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, winning 33-17.
This coming season, I have no doubt that the team will improve even more.
First, the players will be better adjusted to Kelly's stable system. There won't be major quarterback controversies like there were under Charlie Weis.
As of now, Dayne Crist is the starter and Tommy Rees MIGHT see some time.
On top of that, Kelly signed two of the top defensive players in the nation: Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams. These two men might not see much time as freshman but in time, will become defensive stalwarts on this team.
Barring another significant injury to Crist and the team's chemistry just falling apart, look for Notre Dame to get wins in the double digits and perhaps even contend for a national championship bid.
No. 2: Florida State University Seminoles
Last year, Florida State fans went into the season with a feeling of uncertainty. Bobby Bowden, head coach since 1976, had retired and the team was now being coached by his offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher.
The Seminoles had gone 7-6 the previous season and there were iffy feelings about Fisher's lack of experience as a head coach, but he instantly put those to rest.
In just his first year running a team, Fisher led Florida State to a 10-4 record and a victory against South Carolina in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
However, once again, there are questions headed into this season as quarterback Christian Ponder entered the NFL Draft and was subsequently picked by the Minnesota Vikings.
Honestly, I wouldn't be too concerned about the Seminoles. Fisher is an offensive coach who knows how to get the best out of his players.
On top of that, he has a great recruiting class coming in and the team's secondary should be deadly with safety Karlos Williams patrolling receivers.
If both offensive and defensive players can click and work together both on and off the field, then Florida State will definitely have a shot at finishing first in a less-than-competitive ACC.
No. 1: University of Florida Gators
This year is certainly going to be an interesting one for the Florida Gators. Last season, longtime head coach Urban Meyer resigned from the team, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
In six seasons, he led Florida to a 65-15 record and two national championships.
He was replaced with Will Muschamp, who had been the defensive coordinator for Texas. This hiring will prove this coming season to be a great departure from the high-octane offensive system that the players grew used to under Meyer.
It won't help that the team will still be recovering from the lack of Tim Tebow.
Still, Gators fans need not worry. Despite Tebow now being in the NFL, Florida was able to recruit Jeff Driskel, considered to be the No. 1 quarterback in the nation.
With patience, he will become the leader the team needs on offense as well as a top arm in college football. He'll have Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator, so that will help too.
If Driskel can find his way into the starter's slot this season and perform well in it, look for Florida to potentially give LSU a run for its money in the SEC.