2011 College Football Predictions: 10 Bottom-Feeders That Could Improve in 2011

Jason HeimCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

2011 College Football Predictions: 10 Bottom-Feeders That Could Improve in 2011

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 20:  Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli #8 of the Ole Miss Rebels walks off the field after their 43-36 loss to the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C.
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Spring and summer practice bring a clean slate to every college football team. Whether a BCS bowl winner or a conference doormat, every team has reason for fresh optimism heading into next season.

    The following list is a collection of teams that disappointed last year, but are not accustomed to being down for long. Each of these teams has cause for hope and excitement heading into next year, whether by strong recruiting, a lighter schedule, lots of returners or a change of conference.

    Here are the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision teams that played in the cellar in 2010, but should be back where they belong in 2011.

Clemson Tigers

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cheerleaders of the Clemson Tigers wave their flag during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)

    Why they faltered

    For starters, a very, very tough schedule. The Tigers lost to No. 16 Miami, No. 16 Auburn, North Carolina, Florida State and No. 18 South Carolina. 

    Next, the regression of two-year starting QB Kyle Parker. In his freshmen 2009, Parker had 20 TD against 12 INT. Last season, he threw for less yards and had a disturbing 12:11 TD to INT ratio. 

    Third, youth. Parker was a sophomore, RB Andre Ellington was a sophomore and WR DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown were freshman and sophomore, respectively.

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    The Tigers have their skill players back, all of whom show great promise for improvement. The defense, which ranked 18th in points allowed, returns a strong contingent of players. 

    The eighth best recruiting class in the nation includes a pair of impact linebackers, Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony, both No. 1 at their respective positions in the class.

    Clemson's defense will continue to be the team's strength because of returners and incoming freshmen, while the offense should be much improved from last year's growing pains. 

Washington State Cougars

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Quarterback Jeff Tuel #10 of the Washington State Cougars throws a pass against the USC Trojans on September 23, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 27-6.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Ima
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2010 record: 2-10 (1-8 Pac-10)

    Why they faltered

    Last year, the Cougs just stunk. Both their offensive and defensive scoring were in the bottom 15 in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and each position on the field was usually overmatched by the opponent counterpart.

    Wazzou's two wins last year came in a one-point squeaker against Montana State and an impressive late-season drubbing of Oregon State.

    The rest was pretty bleak. 

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    One bright spot is the passing game. Junior QB Jeff Tuel showed great improvement as a sophomore starter last year, and receivers Marquess Wilson, a sophomore, and Jared Karstetter, a senior, are both back to make the nation's 42nd-ranked passing game even better.

    Another point of hope is that WSU played the Pac-10's leaders tough. They kept Oregon within 20 points and trailed only 29-17 at half. They lost to Arizona and Stanford by 17 and 10, respectively. Cal and Washington only escaped Pullman by a touchdown each. 

    If they continue to play good teams tough, sooner or later good things will happen.

Ole Miss Rebels

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 20:  Brandon Bolden #34 of the Ole Miss Rebels against the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)

    Why they faltered

    Playing in the vaunted SEC, the schedule is an easy culprit. The Rebs held their own in consecutive weeks against No. 8 Alabama, No. 23 Arkansas and No. 1 Auburn, then No. 5 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State later. Those five and the Vanderbilt loss were excusable for a team in a down year.

    The opening week loss against Jacksonville State in 2OT was not excusable. The inability to hold a 31-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter at home is unheard of for an SEC team. They simply couldn't stop the opponent in the last quarter, which is not surprising when you consider the team's 107th-ranked scoring defense for the season.

    If your defense is bad in the SEC, you better have a good passing game so that you can catch up quickly. Ole Miss did not have it last year, ranking 82nd in the pass game with the constant distraction of QB Jeremiah Masoli's eligibility and legal issues. Sophomore Nathan Stanley got to play a little, but he never knew if/when Masoli would come back and snatch the job mid-game. 

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Distraction-free quarterbacking. The job would probably have been Stanley's, but he decided to leave the team about six weeks ago. Now, it's down to senior Randall Mackey and transfer Zack Stroudt. Whoever emerges from that tandem will lead a passing attack that doesn't look to be much better than last year's.

    Mississippi had a fantastic recruiting season, given the turmoil and ineptitude. Coach Houston Nutt did what he could to shore up the defensive issues, inking two four star linebackers, two of whom are highly-ranked. Overall, the class ranked 25 in the country this year after being 25th last year and 22nd in 2009. Sooner or later, the strong recruits who made up those classes will start making an impact on the field.

    Finally, the running game that ranked 18th last year is back in full. Last year's biggest shining star, senior RB Brandon Bolden, racked up six yards per carry and scored 14 TD, while catching capably out of the backfield. He'll be the rock that Houston Nutt's offense is built upon.

    Don't expect an SEC West title, but be surprised if Ole Miss repeats last year's disappointing year after nine-win seasons the previous two.   

Virginia Cavaliers

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    LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 11:  The Virginia Cavaliers offense huddles with their backs to their goal line against the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2010 record: 4-8 (1-7 ACC)

    Why they faltered

    The 70th scoring offense in the country had real trouble scoring against teams that provided any resistance. If you take out the Cavaliers' wins against Richmond, Virginia Military Institute and Eastern Michigan, they averaged a paltry 19.3 points per game, which would have dropped them to 107th out of 120 teams.

    In general, the team lacked punch. Graduated QB Marc Verica led Virginia to the 25th-best passing average, but only converted a 55th-best 20 TD passes. The running game lacked explosion as well with Keith Payne's team-leading 749 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. 

    The same word I'd use to describe the offense, mediocre, applies to the defense as well. They definitely weren't great, but weren't bad either. In a competitive conference, that won't garner you any mercy from the opposition, which took seven of eight games from Virginia last season. 

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Next season is looking better mainly because it can't be much worse than last year. Most of the skill players, Verica, Payne and leading receiver Dontrelle Inman are all gone, though projected starters at each of those positions do have experience.

    However, the Cavs do have a nationally-ranked recruiting crop, coming in at an impressive 20th. Headlined by two CBs, three versatile athletes and two DT, it's clear that this class was designed to shore up problems in pass defense and rush.

    The concentrated effort to improve the defense through recruiting should pay off right away for a team that needs to get back to the middle of the ACC next year.  

California Golden Bears

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    BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Players of the California Golden Bears get ready to run on to the field for their game against the Stanford Cardinal at California Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Image
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2010 record: 5-7 (3-6 Pac-10)

    Why they faltered

    Inconsistency was a major factor in last year's Pac-10 schedule for Cal. They looked like a contender in a heartbreaking 10-9 loss at No. 14 Arizona, a blowout win against Arizona State and a near upset of No. 1 Oregon, 15-13.

    Other times, the Bears looked like a West Coast also-ran, notably in a three-touchdown loss to Nevada, and blowouts by USC and Oregon State.

    The loss of QB Kevin Riley for the last four games hurt terribly, setting off a 1-3 finish with two losses by three or less.

    The record and impression of the season could have been a lot better had Riley not sustained that season-ending knee injury in late October.  

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Cal needed to get better on offense, and they've likely done just that in recruiting and development. Transfer QB Zach Maynard has played well enough to wrest the starting job from Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford. He's mostly an unknown, but he gets to grow under the tutelage of QB whiz Jeff Tedford.

    Coming back are junior RB Isi Sofele, top WRs Marvin Jones and the promising Keenan Allen. 

    Coming in from the 18th-ranked recruiting class are WR Maurice Harris, RBs Brendon Bigelow and Daniel Lasco and guard Jordan Rigsbee. 

    The defense should continue to get better with great recruits up front in DTs Todd Barr and Viliami Moala, plus outside linebacker Jason Gibson. Some of these recruits might not play a ton to start as freshmen, but they will make practices more competitive, add depth to the team and make them better going forward. 

    Jeff Tedford's team slid a bit this year, but he hasn't stayed down for long in the past. A good coach with a good group of recruits is hard to keep down for very long, even in the revamped Pac-12 North.

Texas Longhorns

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    LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 16: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert #7 of the Texas Longhorns runs toward his teammates ofter the final of their game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Texas Defeated Nebraska
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    2010 record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12)

    Why they faltered

    The Horns? 5-7? Really? 

    Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns really missed departed QB Colt McCoy in both the pass (50th) and run (66th) game. It's hard to believe that the 11th-place Big 12 team was in the BCS National Championship Game just 16 months ago. 

    A 3-0 start had everyone taking a deep breath in Austin, as new QB Garrett Gilbert looked ready to be the leader. Soon, the wheels came off, and the Horns showed their true condition: a rebuilding superpower that had its next crop of players develop just a bit too slowly.

    A shocking home loss to UCLA started a run of six losses in seven games. Granted, five of those losses came to No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 25 Baylor, Kansas State, No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Texas A&M. Those are tough games, but the Texas Longhorns we're used to would never lose at least three of those games.

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Last year's void of star power at key positions will be this year's abundance. Mack Brown has put together three consecutive top six recruiting classes, and the fruit is about to bloom.

    Garrett Gilbert now has a year under his belt and is ready to live up to his No. 2 QB recruit billing from 2009. Sophomore Mike Davis, the No. 2 WR in 2010, got his legs under him last year to prepare to shine in 2011. The same goes for Darius White. 

    Several impact defensive players from 2010 will crack the field and likely dominate their positions, including DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks and DT Taylor Dible. 

    Texas has most of its players back from the last two great classes, which will make it very hard for this year's blue-chippers to get any snaps.

    Last year was a complete aberration for Mack Brown that might have shaken his confidence and the Longhorn prestige a little, but he should be right back in the saddle with a BCS contender this year.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13:  Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 and A.J. Green #8 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrate after Murray's deep touchdown pass to Green against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Ke
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2010 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

    Why they faltered 

    The Georgia Bulldogs presented a curious case last year. They had their usual lofty expectations and a lot of talent, but, for some reason, it didn't translate to success for Mark Richt.

    The ranks for most major stats look good. They had pretty good offensive balance with young QB Aaron Murray and were manageable on defense. The tough schedule got at them early, with three consecutive SEC losses, and four overall. Starting out 1-4 is one way to lose confidence and momentum for the remainder of the year.  

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Four consecutive exceptional recruiting classes will its impact for Richt this year. Coming in to shore up a relatively weak running game is top 2011 RB Isaiah Crowell, who will likely share time with Ken Malcome. This tandem should return the power and punch to the Georgia offense.

    Complementing the strong run game will be Murray's passing attack. The freshman QB was fantastic last year, with 24 TD passes and just eight INT while eclipsing 3000 yards. Having A.J. Green helps out any QB's numbers, but he's gone from Athens now.

    Murray will be throwing to junior Tavarres King, TEs Marlon Brown and Orson Charles and incoming wideout Malcolm Mitchell. Not an elite group of pass catchers yet, but it will be good enough to benefit from a dangerous run game that should attract more attention than it did last year.

    Several defensive blue-chip recruits from 2010 and this year's class should infiltrate the starting lineup and help Georgia clamp down on SEC offenses better than last year's unit did.

    Look for Georgia to be back at the top with South Carolina, competing for the SEC East title after a down year. 

UCLA Bruins

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    PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 02:  Quarterback Richard Brehaut #12 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates a touchdown with teammate Cory Harkey #87 against the Washington State Cougars during the game at the Rose Bowl on October 2, 2010 in Pasadena, California. UCLA defe
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2010 record: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-10)

    Why they faltered

    The UCLA Bruin passing game was absolutely atrocious last year, ranking 116th out of 120. The team simply could not move the ball enough to score, coming in at 104th in scoring offense. A strong defense could have compensated for the starved offense, but the Bruins weren't good enough on the other side of the ball to stay afloat.

    Quarterback is a glaring issue for Rick Neuheisel. Last year's opening starter, Kevin Prince, struggled mightily before being injured and giving way to Richard Brehaut. Brehaut started the last eight games and went just 2-6.

    The receiving corps almost equaled the quarterback position in underperformance, which is also to blame for opposing defenses virtually ignoring the Bruin air attack.  

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Coach Neuheisel has to get the passing game sorted out, right? It can't get any worse, but it can get much better. He's got early enrollee Brett Hundley, the No. 6 QB in the class of 2011, already in school and learning the offense in offseason workouts. Hundley is a dual-threat QB who should have a legitimate chance to grab the starting job and infuse some excitement and talent into a very dry position for UCLA.

    Players from the No. 10 recruiting class in 2010 should start to surface on defense, including DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, S Dietrich Riley and DT Brandon Willis and OLB Aramide Olaniyan. With star CB Aaron Hester back and continuing to improve, UCLA should be noticeably stronger on the defensive side than last year.

    Keep an eye on the QB competition and listen for the name Brett Hundley, who could bring the playmaking ability to the QB position that Neuheisel has desperately missed the last few years. 

Louisville Cardinals

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    LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 15:  Darius Ashley #8 of  the Louisville Cardinals  celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 15, 2010 in Lou
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    2010 record: 7-6 (3-4 Big East)

    Why they faltered

    Charlie Strong's Louisville Cardinals could not figure out how to win close games. Of their six losses, the Cardinals lost five one-possession games. Three of those games were in the Big East, which, if won, would've turned their 3-4 into a 6-1.

    They weren't a great team, but they also weren't far off from winning the league's automatic BCS bid.

    Iffy quarterback play dictated an average offense, which unraveled some stout defensive work from the 18th-best unit in points allowed. 

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    The Cardinals were some adequate QB play away from a BCS bid last year in a really bad league. This year, they boast the only Big East recruiting class ranked in the top 25 nationally, which should make a big difference on the field.

    No. 9 QB Teddy Bridgewater is the most needed and notable of the 2011 recruits, and could challenge immediately for starter's snaps. He is a fantastic athlete: a dual-threat playmaker with both his feet and his arm. No. 15 WR Eli Rogers will make a difference in the passing game if he practices well enough to earn snaps in the fall.

    This team loses a lot of senior skill players, but a solid recruiting class and a better killer instinct in close games will precede a marked increase in success in 2011.  

Colorado Buffaloes

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    BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 20:  The Colorado Buffaloes offenses huddles up against the Kansas State Wildcats at Folsom Field on November 20, 2010 in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado defeated Kansas State 44-36.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    2010 record: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12)

    Why they faltered

    Many reasons. The Buffs didn't really do anything well last season. Besides a highlight win against Georgia on October 2, Colorado had little to celebrate in starting the Big 12 schedule with five straight losses.

    With the talent standards at the top of the Big 12, Colorado just couldn't keep up last season. 

    Why they'll be better in 2011

    Bear with me here.

    The departure from the Big 12 and entrance into the new Pac-12 South lowers the level of competition in my mind. The Pac-12 is strong at the top with Stanford and Oregon, but there's not another team in the conference that Colorado couldn't steal a win from in 2011. I don't know how much weaker the conference schedule will be than the one Colorado played in the Big 12, but my feeling is that it will be weaker with division rivals Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC.

    This will be especially true if Colorado slows down the pace of games by emphasizing the run game. Senior tailback Rodney Stewart will be one of the best runners in the nation in 2011, and will likely be the only thing going for the Colorado offense. He could eclipse 300 carries, and if he does, Colorado might find themselves in low-scoring games that they normally would have no business winning.

    They will be overmatched in talent again, but not necessarily to the extent they were in the Big 12. I could see Colorado winning games against Cal, Washington State, Washington and UCLA, which would put them at 4-6 and likely third or fourth in the division.