College Football Rankings: Why Each Top 25 Team's Stock Is Rising or Falling

David LutherFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2011

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    College Football Rankings: Why Each Top 25 Team's Stock Is Rising or Falling

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      Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

      The preseason rankings for any college football season invariably differ from the final polls of the previous season, and they surely won't be the same as the final poll of the current season. After all, Auburn was ranked in the 20's at the start of 2010, and some polls didn't have them ranked at all. But people who watched Auburn closely knew that at the start of 2010, their stock was definitely on the rise.

      So, what is Auburn's stock likely to do this season? And what about Alabama? Oklahoma? Michigan State?

      We'll take a look at the Top 25 teams, see if their stock is rising or falling and then figure out why.

    No. 25 Michigan

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      Stock: Rising

      Just because Michigan has had a rough three years under Rich Rodriguez doesn't mean all hope is lost. After all, their biggest failure over the past 50 years or so—Rich Rodriguez—is gone.

      Michigan is loaded with lots of young talent, but the biggest reason for their rising stock is a guy named Brady Hoke.

      Straight out of the Schembechler College of Football Coaching, Hoke is a true “Michigan Man,” which is just as important to people in Ann Arbor as winning. He also has the ability to take a program—any program—and turn them into overnight successes. Just look at what he's accomplished in just a few short years at San Diego State.

      As the head coach at his alma mater, Ball State, Hoke built the program from nothing into a team that broke into the Top 25 en route to a 12-2 season.

      Now, he is in control at Michigan.

      While we're not expecting U-M to go 14-0 this year, blowing everyone out of the water, it's clear that the future for the Wolverines looks quite a bit brighter than the recent past.

    No. 24 Georgia

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      Stock: Rising

      The reason for the rise in Georgia's stock this season is two-fold.

      First, they can't possibly have a second losing season in a row, can they? After going the better part of two decades without a losing season, you just don't expect a program like Georgia to lose that many games over two seasons.

      The second reason can be summed up in two words: Aaron Murray. This sophomore-to-be had a pretty remarkable freshman year. Murray finished the season with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. That's a pretty good year for any quarterback, much less a freshman.

      With the invaluable experience Murray now has under his belt, don't expect Georgia to drop four of their first five this season—or four of any five games. With an SEC East that's perceived as being weak, anything's possible this year for the Bulldogs.

    No. 23 Florida

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      Stock: Steady

      In 2010, the Gators finished a surprising 8-5. It wasn't the eight wins, but the five losses that were surprisingly high.

      Urban Meyer and his underlings just couldn't seem to figure out the Gators' offense last season, and Florida finished with the 10th-best offense in the 12-team SEC.

      Still, Florida managed to win more games than they lost. But for the first time in recent memory, they weren't really a factor in deciding the SEC championship last season.

      Urban Meyer has since retired. Enter Will Muschamp.

      Florida's struggles last season have been a big focus this offseason, and the hiring of Charlie Weis as new offensive coordinator shows how seriously Muschamp is taking the situation. Although Weis is much maligned for his failures at Notre Dame, there is no question about his amazing abilities as an offensive coordinator.

      Florida still is lacking in a few positions, most notably the secondary, offensive line and the lingering quarterback questions.

      But it's Florida. And although Will Muschamp is unproven as a head coach, he just doesn't seem like a guy who is in over his head. Expect an outcome in 2011 that isn't significantly better than 2010—but not any worse, either.

    No. 22 Texas

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      Stock: Steady

      Perhaps the biggest reason for the Longhorns' stock not falling is the simple fact that it would be difficult to get much worse.

      For the first time at Texas, Mack Brown had a losing season. In fact, it was Brown's first losing season as a head coach since the 1989 season at North Carolina.

      It seemed as if Texas couldn't figure out what type of team they wanted to be last season. One loss led to another, and before long, the Longhorns were in panic mode.

      While you wouldn't expect this type of situation to last too long in Austin, the coaching staff is faced with the prospect of having much the same team in 2011 that they had in 2010.

      Sure, experience counts for something, and maybe all of that losing will be good for Texas' collective soul.

      But without any influx of new talent or bright prospects on the horizon to take center stage in 2011, it's hard to get too high on Texas.

    No. 21 Missouri

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      Stock: Steady

      The Tigers have lost their best player in Blaine Gabbert, as he departs to try his luck in the NFL.

      But Missouri still has nine returning offensive starters, and with the loss of Big 12 nemesis Nebraska to the Big Ten, Missouri could have a better chance at capturing that elusive Big 12 championship.

      Not this season, though. Even had Gabbert returned, the chances of Missouri being able to catch Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (and maybe even Texas A&M) in 2011 were doubtful.

      Still, all is not lost. There's enough returning talent to keep Missouri squarely in the Top 25 this season, and there's nothing on the horizon that creates any pessimism for the future of the Tigers.

    No. 20 Nebraska

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      Stock: Rising

      It's not just because of Taylor Martinez, but let's be honest:  He's a huge factor in the optimism in Lincoln right now.

      Oh, and there's the little issue of Nebraska moving to the Big Ten. It's not that the Big Ten is by leaps and bounds a better conference than the Big 12, but partly because of Nebraska's move (combined with Colorado's departure for the Pac-12), the Huskers' former conference has taken a bit of sucker punch right in the teeth.

      The loss of a championship game is a bigger deal than anyone in the Big 12 is willing to admit. Similarly, the Big Ten's addition of a CCG is huge, especially since the Big Ten has its own proprietary network (meaning they don't partner with ESPN or CBS or anyone else to make it happen).

      Nebraska doesn't have the most favorable schedule in the Big Ten, nor did they draw an easy division assignment, but the if the Huskers can find a way to win consistently in the Big Ten, they should reap huge rewards from the move.

    No. 19 Notre Dame

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      Stock: Rising

      Two words: Brian Kelly.

      The man doesn't know how to do anything else but succeed. Whether it's winning Division II national championships at Grand Valley State, or MAC championships at Central Michigan or Big East championships at Cincinnati, Brian Kelly is the consummate winner.

      In fact, since taking over as the head coach at Grand Valley State in 1991, Brian Kelly has amassed 179 career victories to just 62 losses and two ties. He's also had just one losing season in his 20 seasons as a head coach.

      Plus, it's probably a good thing he didn't go lights out in South Bend in his first year as head coach of the Fighting Irish. The last few guys who did that ended up tanking hardcore in the years that followed.

      Brian Kelly will win as many games as is possible with his current slate of athletes, and you can expect another bowl game in 2011. Beyond that, Notre Dame will continue to win more and more as Brian Kelly recruits his program's way back into the BCS. Kelly not only recruits the best athletes; he recruits the best people he can find.

      Oh, by the way, Notre Dame is returning 10 offensive starters and nine defensive starters from last year's 8-5 team.

    No. 18 Virginia Tech

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      Stock: Falling

      Our first program with a falling stock this season is Virginia Tech.

      You just don't replace a guy like Tyrod Taylor without missing a few steps. When you have an athlete like Taylor, who can literally take over a game or dig you out of a whole single-handedly, it's a huge loss. While Va. Tech does have a lot of talent returning at receiver, the wide outs can only be as good as the guy throwing the ball to them. Right now, that's a pretty large question mark.

      Frank Beamer will have his program ready to play come the fall, and don't expect the Hokies to lay another egg against an FCS opponent (this year Appalachian State is on the schedule for Sept. 3). But the ACC has a number of contenders this season, and Virginia Tech will have a much tougher conference road in front of them for 2011.

    No. 17 Mississippi State

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      Stock: Steady

      While we're not ready to recommend a “buy” when it comes to Mississippi State's stock, we're not advocating a “sell” either.

      Mississippi State is returning quite the lineup for 2011, with eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters returning. Obviously, returning talent isn't the issue. But Mississippi State hasn't quite been able to prove that they're ready to break out in the SEC quite yet.

      Sure, they've made some impressive strides over the past few years, and they're miles ahead of where they were, but even the most strident of Bulldog fans has to admit that they're not to the level of Alabama, LSU or Florida quite yet.

      With the improvements Mississippi State has been able to make, it wouldn't be fair to say they won't ever be in the running for an SEC title. But 2011 certainly doesn't look like their year.

    No. 16 South Carolina

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      Stock: Steady

      You would think that coming off a first-ever SEC East title would definitely place Carolina's stock squarely in the rising column.

      Ordinarily, you'd be right, especially with a player like Marcus Lattimore on the roster. But there's just something nagging about the Gamecocks, and it just happens to be Stephen Garcia. Not only was Garcia suspended for the fifth time in his career at USC, but the equivocal statements about his future from head coach Steve Spurrier didn't really do a whole lot to instill a sense of confidence about the future of the quarterback position at Carolina.

      It could also be the fact that Spurrier passed the buck big time by not making up his own mind about one of his players. He sheepishly told the media that the university administration would have to decide Garcia's future.

      Why, exactly? Is Spurrier not capable of making decisions about his own team?

      Were it not for this distraction, it's unquestionable that the Gamecocks' stock would be quickly on the rise. But as long as this issue remains, and until Spurrier can take some responsibility as a head coach about a chronic problem player, it's difficult to get too high on the Gamecocks.

    No. 15 Arkansas

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      Stock: Steady

      Arkansas certainly made quite the leap forward in 2010. Thanks to the exploits of Ryan Mallett, the Razorbacks surprised many in the SEC, earning their way into the Sugar Bowl.

      But when you compare last year's squad to the 2011 prospects, it's hard to imagine the Razorbacks making much of an improvement without Mallett and the four other offensive starters that will need to be replaced from last season.

      Don't take the absence of a rising stock here as an assumption Arkansas won't be a good team in 2011—those who underestimate the Hogs do so at their own peril. But we don't expect to see a vast improvement this season.

      Hey, steady is better than falling, right?

    No. 14 Texas Christian

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      Stock: Falling

      When you're a team in a non-AQ conference, you finish the year 13-0 and win the Rose Bowl, there's really only one way to go.

      Especially if you have lost so much of your team, even the season ticket holders will be reaching for their program rosters. The Horned Frogs are going to have to contend with the fact that Andy Dalton was a huge part of their success over the past few seasons. His loss to a team like TCU cannot be overstated. Teams like TCU need an all-around playmaker like Dalton, and without one, it's questionable as to whether or not the Horned Frogs will be able to go blow for blow with teams from the BCS conferences or new Mountain West foe Boise State.

    No. 13 Auburn

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      Stock: Falling

      Anyone shocked by a falling stock at Auburn?

      If you are, then you probably should take off the Auburn national championship T-shirt, hat, scarf and temporary tattoo. All of the post-championship hooplah has blinded you to the fact that Auburn will be one of the most depleted teams in terms of returning experience for 2011.

      If you thought TCU's 10 total returning starters was bad, Auburn only has eight.

      Everyone knows that Cam Newton was the best player in the nation last season, so let's just blow past that whole issue.

      But what about Newton's supporting cast? Great players in team sports are rarely great simply by themselves. Would Cam Newton have won the Heisman if he played for Bowling Green State or Arkansas State? Probably not. Would he have won a BCS championship? Definitely not.

      Auburn's big problem—other than being Newton-less—is the fact that they've lost all of the Scotty Pippens to their Michael Jordan.

      There are so many question marks for Auburn, no one is probably going to be able to figure out how well the Tigers will be able to perform in 2011 until September.

      Even if all of that wasn't true, like TCU, Auburn really only had on direction to go: down.

    No. 12 Wisconsin

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      Stock: Falling

      Wisconsin had a pretty impressive 2010 season, wining a share of the Big Ten and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl.

      But the Badgers also took a hit in terms of graduations this offseason, and head coach Bret Bielema is going to have to find some emerging stars if he has any hopes of guiding Wisconsin back towards a Big Ten championship in 2011—and there won't be any co-champions this year.

      Wisconsin also drew the short end of the stick, as they have to travel to Michigan State again in 2011—where their one regular season loss from 2010 occurred. Add in a trip to post-suspension Ohio State and visits from Nebraska and Penn State, and it's easy to see why the smart money could be on Wisconsin not repeating last year's Pasadena-bound season.

    No. 11 Michigan State

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      Stock: Rising

      Michigan State has one of the nation's best quarterbacks that no one is talking about in Kirk Cousins.

      Cousins is as solid a quarterback as you could ask for, and he's returning for his senior season at MSU in 2011. Add junior All-Big Ten tailback Edwin Baker to the mix, and you have much of the scoring potential back for the Spartans this season.

      Michigan State will need to find some quality replacements at linebacker, but Mark Dantonio and company should be up to the task.

      Many Big Ten pundits will tell you that it's improbable that Michigan State can win 11 games (or more) again this season. These are the same geniuses that told us last year that 11 games and a co-Big Ten championship for the Spartans was impossible.

    No. 10 Texas A&M

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      Stock: Rising

      Texas A&M may be a surprising top 10 team for some, but when you look at the talent and experience that returns for the Aggies in 2011, it's hard not to see a lot of reason to be high on A&M.

      Ryan Tannehill is as good as any quarterback in the Big 12, and he'll be surrounded by familiar faces, as the Aggies return 10 offensive starters from the 2010 squad.

      Last season ended with six-straight regular season victories and a 9-4 finish. A&M also kept it close against some of the top finishers in the 2010, including a three-point loss to Oklahoma State and a seven-point loss to Arkansas. That's just 10 points from 11-2.

      The experience should help the Aggies close out the close games, and by season's end, they may very well find themselves squarely in the hunt for a Big 12 title and BCS berth.

    No. 9 Florida State

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      Stock: Rising

      Jimbo Fisher learned one very important fact in his first year as head coach: H aving a deep bench will win you a lot of games.

      Florida State will be returning 16 total starters from 2010. There's experience and talent at practically every position on the field, and there are plenty of talented youngsters waiting in the wings, too.

      Although FSU came up just short in the ACC last year, there's enough reason to believe that they could be the most talented and deepest Seminoles squad since the turn of the century. While it might be too soon to say the return of the glory days in Tallahassee are upon us, it's certainly clear that Florida State is the early favorite in the ACC for 2011, and the future is very bright indeed.

    No. 8 Oklahoma State

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      Stock: Steady

      Oklahoma State had one of the nation's top offenses in 2010, and that offense will return nearly complete for 2011. The Cowboys high-flying offense will be ready for act two, and it's doubtful that there's any defense in the Big 12 that's up to the task of containing them.

      Even Oklahoma may have to stake their hopes on keeping it close long enough to squeak out a win this year.

      Brandon Weeden, an All-Big 12 selection in 2010, is back for his senior season under center, and watch for him to put up absolutely huge numbers this season. All of his top targets are back, and his offensive line from last year is complete intact.

      Really the only thing keeping Oklahoma State's stock from climbing is the few question marks they have on defense for 2011.

      While there is certainly a lot of talent coming back this season, losing two linebackers, a corner, both defensive tackles and an end is enough to wonder if Oklahoma State can hold of some of the more prolific offenses in the Big 12.

    No. 7 Ohio State

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      Stock: Falling

      A few days ago, this stock may have been steady, as long as the Buckeyes made it through their first five games without a loss.

      But since Jim Tressel's resignation was announced early Monday morning, it now appears that Ohio State's stock is in free-fall.

      Regardless of what you think of Ohio State, the loss of a coach like Jim Tressel under the current circumstances is a huge blow and could affect the program for years to come. On top of Tressel's resignation, there's still the little matter of four offensive starters and one defensive returning senior sitting out the first five games of 2011.

      All five of the those games are winnable for Ohio State, even without the suspended stars, but the depleted Buckeyes will be tested to the extreme against Michigan State and could be at risk against Miami (FL).

      Regardless of the outcome, the consequences Ohio State will endure (remember that we haven't even heard the NCAA's take on all of this yet) are purely of their own making. Rather than directing their anger at the NCAA, the Buckeye Nation only has one person to blame: Jim Tressel. It's not even about the players any more. Sure, they broke the rules. But Jim Tressel lied about it, then tried to cover it all up.

      In the end, like Nixon, it was the cover up the eventually led to the end.

    No. 6 Boise State

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      Stock: Steady

      Boise State really missed a golden opportunity in 2010. While it's doubtful an undefeated Broncos would have supplanted Auburn or Oregon in the BCS title game, Boise State should have been a lock for another BCS bowl and was clearly a tough opponent in 2010.

      The 2011 edition of Boise State football won't quite have the returning talent and depth of experience that the Broncos saw last season, but that doesn't mean they're out of the picture entirely.

      Boise State has become the rarest of animals in the FBS—a “small” program from a non-BCS conference that has the talent and name recognition to start the season in the top 10.

      There are only two questions the Broncos need answered for 2011.

      First, can a go-to receiver be found for Kellen Moore? Both of BSU's leading receivers have graduated. Moore, a Heisman favorite headed into 2011, should be able to find a few new favorite targets. But once he throws the ball, the play is over for Moore. A lot will depend on the playmaking ability of the new receivers.

      The other question is, will the coaches have the guts and integrity to vote their conscience this year? Enough is enough. If the coaches can't bring themselves to vote a proven Boise State program without a loss ahead of BCS-AQ programs with a loss, then they have no business casting poll ballots. The BCS protectionism must stop, or the whole system as currently employed is at risk.

      The best thing that could happen to the BCS in 2011 is for Boise State to go undefeated and earn a trip to the BCS championship game. Then, the BCS detractors who harp on the fact that non-BCS programs don't have an opportunity to play for a championship will find their legs have been taken out from underneath them in one fell swoop.

    No. 5 Stanford

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      Stock: Falling

      Stanford will start the season with a ridiculous top 10 ranking.

      Why is such a ranking ridiculous? After all, Andrew Luck is back, and he's one of the best players in the nation, right?

      Yes, Luck is returning, and yes, he's one of the nation's best players. But as mentioned before in reference to Cam Newton at Auburn, being a great player is only part of the equation. In order for the team to be truly successful, the great player must be surrounded with a good supporting cast.

      After all, without Gracie, George Burns is just another comedian. Without Ginger, Fred Astaire is just another dancer. Without Statler, Waldorf is just a grump muppet. Without Batman, Robin is just a guy in tights. You get the idea.

      Including Luck, the Cardinal return just five offensive starters from a year ago. The defense isn't in much better shape, as just three of the front seven return.

      Luckily, the Cardinal have a couple of gimmes on tap to start the 2011 season, hosting San Jose State before traveling to Duke. Still, the learning curve will be steep for the new crop of starters, and the Pac-12 won't be an easy conference to win this season.

    No. 4 Oregon

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      Stock: Steady

      You ever have the feeling that if your team could just have one more play, everything would have turned out very differently?

      Oregon came about as close to a national championship as you can come without walking away with the trophy. Thankfully for the Ducks, there is plenty to be hopeful about in 2011. There isn't much room for Oregon's stock to increase, but they're not falling, either—which is a very good thing.

      In 2011, the Ducks will continue to bring home the bacon on offense. With players like quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Oregon offense will again be a sight to see this season.

      The Ducks do need a bit of a reload on defense, as the front seven returns just two starters from last season. If Oregon can get their defensive house in order, they could be chasing down a Pac-12 title in no time.

    No. 3 Louisiana State

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      Stock: Rising

      At the beginning of 2010, LSU had a number of close calls. Four of their first six games were decided by a single score, and some of those scores came on less-than-traditional plays.

      It seemed as if LSU was escaping with wins, and people were wondering aloud if they were really as good as their record.

      By the end of the season, LSU had managed a 11-2 record and was a firm top 10 team.

      With the experience of winning the tight games from 2010 combined with 16 total returning starters, people are again wondering aloud, “How good is LSU?”

      All indications point to “very good.” It's possible that Les Miles has a few more tricks under his hat, but this time, instead of escaping tight games with a win, he might be leading his Tigers back to Atlanta—as possibly right into New Orleans in the second week in January.

    No. 2 Alabama

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      Stock: Rising

      It's hard not to be excited about the Crimson Tide in 2011.

      Alabama fans look at the 2010 season as a down year, as if 10-3 is such a horrible thing. That just goes to show you the winning culture in Tuscaloosa and the expectations that Nick Saban has created at Alabama.

      The Tide are, not surprisingly, stacked again for 2011. Even the loss of Greg McElroy and Mark Ingram doesn't seem to be enough to derail the SEC championship chances for Alabama. Stepping in at running back will be the nation's best backup, Trent Richardson. Richardson was good enough to be a starter at any program in the nation, but he was quietly patient, and now it's his time to shine in the backfield.

      The as yet unresolved quarterback competition at Alabama may actually turn out to be a great thing. Either AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims will emerge as the starter after stiff competition from the other, and that type of pressure in the offseason will serve the eventual starter well in the long days of an SEC season.

      Alabama is not only an early favorite in the SEC, but they're at or near the top of nearly every poll around. While winning the SEC is certainly first on their list, it's definitely not last. Somehow the season won't quite seem complete without a mid-January trip to New Orleans.

    No. 1 Oklahoma

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      Stock: Rising

      Has Oklahoma finally gotten the BCS monkey off its back?

      A convincing win in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl went a long way towards ridding the Sooners of that dreaded perceived “BCS curse.”

      Of course, non-Oklahoma fans will point out that the opponent was Connecticut.

      But a BCS bowl win is a BCS bowl win.

      Now, Oklahoma is gearing up for a 2011 season with 16 returning starters, including nine on offense. Led by the incredibly capable Landry Jones at quarterback, the Sooners are the even money favotire in the Big 12—even against fellow Top 10'ers Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. After all, Oklahoma has owned the Big 12 for the better part of the last decade, and the Sooners are now focused on getting back to the BCS championship game—and winning this time.

      A Sept. 17 showdown with Florida State could tell all a lot about the Sooners' chances this season, as we'll have to wait until a Nov. 5 game against Texas A&M to see another highly-ranked opponent on Oklahoma's schedule.

      Perhaps the most eager person to get the season underway is Bob Stoops. It's hard to imagine a coach who is 129-31 in his 12 years to be under any pressure, but Oklahoma has been so successful in the Big 12 under Stoops, that winning the conference is almost expected in Norman. Now, he needs to win BCS games in order to keep the fanbase happy.

      This year will be his best shot in a while, and Oklahoma will be the team everyone is looking to beat in 2011.

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