2011 BCS Championship: 10 Teams with the Chance to Be the Next Auburn
Everyone remembers the great ascension in college football last year.
The Auburn Tigers started the 2010 season ranked 22nd and 23rd in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls, respectively, before slowly climbing to the top by season's end.
Which teams, likely to be (slightly) overlooked in the preseason polls, have the best shot of following in their footsteps in 2011?
After three solid years, it seems like a Bo Pelini breakthrough is imminent.
Under his direction the defense has, for the most part, been solid. At the same time, the offense has been erratic (a lousy 6 point showing against Texas A&M last year comes to mind).
The Cornhuskers are coming off their first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 2000-2001, so there can be no denying Pelini has the program on the right track.
Losing Prince Amukamara and Roy Helu Jr. is tough, but Taylor Martinez is back, and the defense should have a very strong front seven.
Though it seems Nebraska had a better outlook at the onset of the 2010 season, there are reasons to believe in 2011.
For one, they'll be in a new conference, which seems to often have a positive effect on programs and coaches (see Virginia Tech in 2004).
Never underestimate the talent that constantly streams into the Florida football program.
Though the Gators have a tough schedule (a given for an SEC team), it opens easily enough, with the first challenge coming against Alabama in October.
That should give the new players and coaches time to get adjusted, and the quarterback (whoever the starter may be) time to settle in.
It seems like a rebuilding year for Florida, especially after the loss of Janoris Jenkins, but the team is oozing with talent.
If Charlie Weis can repeat the unbelievable turnaround he oversaw in Kansas City, the Gators could surprise people in 2011. It will all depend on first-year coach Will Muschamp.
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia is tempting, as they represent what will be a very weak Big East Conference in 2011.
Mountaineers are likely to be the only Big East team ranked at the beginning of the season, and will play a very manageable schedule.
The one big game looming is a match-up with powerhouse LSU. But it's a home game, and by far the biggest test West Virginia will face all season, while LSU has Oregon, Mississippi State, Florida, and Auburn just in the first two months of their season.
The addition of Dana Holgorsen should be integral to improving the offense, which returns Geno Smith.
Though the Mountaineers lost many key players on both sides of the ball, they could be in a position to run the table if they could surprise LSU on Sept. 24.
After hanging with the Tigers last season, it seems possible (though unlikely) that they could pull the upset with the venue moved to Mountaineer Field.
Arizona State Sun Devils
It seems odd to suggest that a team that went 6-6 last season could compete for a National Championship, but the Sun Devils unimpressive record included 1-point losses to Wisconsin and USC, a 4-point loss to Stanford, and an 11-point loss to Oregon. Plus, Arizona States has one factor working heavily in their favor: they return a boatload of starters (19). Quarterback Brock Osweiler seemed to come into his own at the end of last season, and should be primed for a good 2011. After three consecutive bowl-less seasons, the pressure is on coach Dennis Erickson to lead the Sun Devils to the next level. He certainly has the personnel to do so.
TCU Horned Frogs
Though the Horned Frogs suffered tremendous losses on both sides of the ball, they have reasons for optimism in 2011. For one, TCU plays a very easy schedule. Other than a match-up with Boise St., the Horned Frogs may not play another ranked team all year. More importantly, coach Gary Patterson has built an excellent program in Fort Worth, and good programs seem to reload players. It's hard to imagine TCU not entering this season with a little swagger after that Rose Bowl victory. It'll all depend on how the young players fill in the gaps left by Andy Dalton & Co., but with such a manageable schedule, and a proven coach, the Horned Frogs could surprise in what is expected to be a rebuilding year.
After disappointing seasons, teams often seem to have strong rebounds (see 2003 LSU, 2004 Auburn Tigers). That could be the case for Texas in 2011. The Longhorns return a good crop of starters on both sides of the ball. With a strong defense led by Keenan Robinson, and a more mature and developed Garrett Gilbert, Texas could emerge as a title contender in the now depleted Big 12. The coaching staff has seen some changes, with Manny Diaz replacing Muschamp as defensive coordinator and former Longhorns quarterback Major Applewhite joining Bryan Harsin as co-offensive coordinator. If the new coaches mesh well, and the players regain their confidence, Texas could see the expectations of 2010 filled in 2011.
Although Georgia has to replace a lot of talent next season, namely A.J. Green, the Bulldogs have followed an excellent recruiting class from 2010 with an even better class in 2011. After an impressive rookie season, quarterback Aaron Murray could be primed for a breakout season. Georgia boasts some of the best tight end talent in the country, and a very solid special teams unit with Drew Butler, Blair Walsh, and the explosive Brandon Boykin. Mark Richt has shown undeniable consistency at the reigns of the Georgia program, but he has yet to take them to a National Championship. A team from the SEC always seems to be in the running for the BCS Title, and often it is not the one that everyone expected from the beginning. Perhaps this season, with tempered expectations, Georgia can surprise the SEC.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Maybe it's just nostalgia, but it's hard to leave Notre Dame out of any discussion of college football. With regards to the 2011 season, the Fighting Irish have reasons to believe. The Irish finished the 2010 campaign with a nice winning streak, culminating with the dismantling of Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. If receiver Michael Floyd is able to play in 2011 (which seems possible) the Fighting Irish would return 17 starters. With a schedule that is not particularly tough by Notre Dame's standards (the one exception being a trip to Stanford), the Irish could be poised for a breakthrough. Coach Brian Kelly will have to decide on a quarterback, then prove that the momentum from 2010 can carry over into 2011.
South Carolina Gamecocks
There are few teams in the country that return more offensive talent than the Gamecocks. With stud receiver Alshon Jeffery and tailback Marcus Lattimore returning, scoring should not be a problem. However, it remains to be seen if Stephen Garcia can find consistency in his quarterback play. After a thrashing in the SEC Title Game and a loss to Florida St. in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Gamecocks lost a little luster off their otherwise impressive 2010 campaign. However, as they showed in games against Alabama and Auburn (the first time), at their best South Carolina can compete with anyone.
Virginia Tech Hokies
After yet another ACC Title, the Hokies are expected to suffer from a rebuilding year in 2011. The losses of Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans, and several defensive starters (namely Rashad Carmichael) will certainly leave holes that need to be filled. But the Hokies have their own Cam Newton look-a-like in 6'6 QB Logan Thomas, and returning tailback David Wilson has proven himself as a phenomenal athlete. If the young defense can develop behind Jayron Hosley and Bruce Taylor, the Hokies could benefit from a very weak schedule. With a slate that possibly could include zero ranked teams, Virginia Tech could coast to an ACC Title match-up with Florida State. With the season opening with Appalachian St, East Carolina, and Arkansas St, the young players will certainly have time to mature.