College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Dark Horse BCS Teams

Joey HnathCorrespondent IMay 18, 2011

College Football 2011 Predictions: Top 10 Dark Horse BCS Teams

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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

    Every year, there are several teams that surprise all of us and make it to a BCS bowl.

    Take last year’s BCS champion for example.

    The Auburn Tigers started the season ranked no. 23 in the AP Poll and ran the table to win it all.

    Two other BCS teams, Stanford and Connecticut, weren’t even ranked in the preseason rankings last year.

    2011 will be no different.  There will be some teams that come out of nowhere to make one of the BCS bowl games.

    Here are the top ten dark horse BCS teams.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 04:  Vontaze Burfict #7 of the Arizona State Sun Devils runs onto the field before the college football game against the Portland State Vikings at Sun Devil Stadium on September 4, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Sun Devils defeated the
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Sun Devils return 18 starters off a team that went 6-6 last season.

    This year, Arizona State is primed to break out.

    Their defense is a menacing bunch led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and the offense has always been able to put up points.

    Coach Dennis Erickson’s job may be riding on this season, so the Sun Devils may play with a little more urgency in 2011.

    With Stanford off the schedule, a ten win season and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship are in reach for Arizona State.

9. Northwestern Wildcats

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Dan Persa #7 of the Northwestern Wildcats looks for a receiver against the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Ge
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Coach Pat Fitzgerald has changed the culture of Northwestern football and has them consistently winning and going bowling.

    In 2011, he’ll look to take the Wildcats to the next level and make a BCS bowl.

    Northwestern has one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation in Dan Persa, who scored 24 touchdowns before going down with an injury.

    The Wildcats have a favorable schedule, with Wisconsin and Ohio State both missing from it in 2011.

    In a wide open Big Ten, Northwestern could emerge as a BCS team.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys looks for an open receiver against the Oklahoma Sooners at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Image
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Oklahoma State had an exceptional 2010 campaign, going 11-2 and competing for a Big 12 title.

    The key question mark the Cowboys must address this year is their defense.  The Oklahoma State defense was mediocre last year, and they lost five of their starting front seven from last year.

    However, their offense will be exceptional.  Both quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon have preseason Heisman buzz around them.

    The schedule does the Cowboys no favors though.  Along with playing the other nine Big 12 teams, the Cowboys will host Arizona and travel to Tulsa in September, neither of which will be easy games.

    Like many dark horse teams, if the Cowboys can sure up the defense they can make a BCS bowl.

7. Michigan Wolverines

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines passes against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
    Rick Dole/Getty Images

    Michigan has been a mess the past three seasons, despite playing in the Gator Bowl last season.

    Under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines will again put an emphasis on being a hard-nosed football team that plays defense.

    Their offense is in good hands in quarterback Denard Robinson, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 2010.

    They have a tough early season test at Notre Dame, the first night game ever in the Big House.

    If the Wolverines can get past the Irish and improve on defense, Michigan could be a contender for the Big Ten Championship and a BCS bowl.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 13: Running back Vick Ballard #28  of the Mississippi State Bulldogs rushes upfield against the Alabama Crimson Tide November 13, 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Under the guidance of coach Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State Bulldogs capped off a strong 2010 season with a victory over Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

    Behind running back Vick Ballard and a good defense, the Bulldogs will look to keep improving in Mullen’s third season.

    Three of the Bulldogs’ first five games are against Auburn, LSU and Georgia, so they will have to be ready to play at a high level right from the start.

    Mississippi State has great coaching and talent, the question is whether they can navigate a brutal SEC schedule.

5. TCU Horned Frogs

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers is sacked by linebacker Tank Carder #43 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Ima
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Boise State has received much of the preseason hype for mid-major programs, but don’t count out TCU.

    Despite losing several players, the Horned Frogs will still compete for an at-large BCS bid.

    Behind All-American linebacker Tank Carder, the TCU defense will again be one of the nation’s best.

    If the Horned Frogs can take care of business in their first two games at Baylor and Air Force, then their November 12th showdown against Boise State could be for a BCS bowl.

4. South Florida Bulls

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Quarterback B.J. Daniels #7 of the South Florida Bulls attempts a pass during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Imag
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    It’s no secret the Big East has been down the past couple of seasons, and they will again be the weakest BCS conference in 2011.

    The West Virginia Mountaineers are the preseason favorite to win the Big East, but don’t discount South Florida just yet.

    The Bulls are primed to make a run at the conference title.  With coach Skip Holtz guiding the team and quarterback B.J. Daniels returning and primed to have another big year, South Florida could steal the Big East.

    Their December 1st matchup against West Virginia could be a de facto Big East championship game, and the Bulls will have the home field advantage.

3. 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

    The Aggies had a great 2010 season, going 9-4 and 6-2 in conference.

    Despite losing linebacker Von Miller, Texas A&M is poised for another great season.

    The offense returns quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray and will be one of the most dynamic offenses in the Big 12.

    Their schedule is somewhat tough, especially with an out of conference meeting with Arkansas.  However, most of their toughest games will be played in College Station.

    The Aggies have a BCS caliber offense.  If their defense can step up, Texas A&M may make one of the big bowls.

2. Georgia Bulldogs

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    AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13:  Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Georgia has been a disappointment the past two seasons, failing to live up to their high expectations.

    In 2011, look for the Dawgs to return to being one of the SEC’s best.

    Freshman All-American Aaron Murray is back and is a dark horse Heisman candidate, and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell will try to have the same impact in his first year as South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.

    Their SEC schedule also is favorable, with Alabama, LSU and Arkansas off the schedule this year.

    However, the Dawgs have question marks at wide receiver and on defense.  If they can address those areas, the Bulldogs could win the SEC East and play in Atlanta for their first SEC Championship since 2005.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 30: Dayne Crist #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks for a receiver against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Notre Dame Stadium on October 30, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Tulsa defeated Notre Dame 28-27. (Photo by Jonathan Dan
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After a strong finish to the 2010 season in which they whipped Miami in the Sun Bowl, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are poised to contend for a BCS bowl in 2011.

    Coach Brian Kelly has brought in talent on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Dayne Crist is back from injury has been tabbed as a dark horse Heisman contender.

    As always, the Irish face a daunting schedule.  Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Stanford are just some of the teams Notre Dame will have to go up against in 2011.

    Notre Dame is a team on the rise.  If they can win some of their big games this season while avoiding an upset, the Irish could make it back to the BCS.