2011 College Football: Oklahoma State and 10 Possible BCS-Bound Teams

Jason HeimCorrespondent IJune 3, 2011

2011 College Football: Oklahoma State and 10 Possible BCS-Bound Teams

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 27:  The Georgia Bulldogs enter the field to face 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

    The 2011 BCS has a finite allotment of bids and more worthy contenders than it can accommodate.

    There are no less than 20 teams that you can remotely imagine playing in a 2012 BCS game, and at least one or two teams inevitably make it from the unexpected.

    The favorites to date are the Oklahoma Sooners, LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, FSU Seminoles and Oregon Ducks. For purposes of intrigue and compelling content, none of them will be on this list of possible BCS teams because their inclusion on such a list is given.

    This is a list of 10 potential long, but not too long, shots to crack the BCS when the calendar flips to 2012. 

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13:  Stephen Garcia #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks is congratulated by teammates after rushing for a touchdown during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 9-5 (5-3 SEC); lost to Florida State in Chick-fil-A Bowl

    Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense)

    Recruiting rank: 15

    I like me some South Carolina this year.

    Last year, the Gamecocks made a surprise run to the SEC East crown, then got throttled by Auburn for the second time in the SEC Championship. They finished poorly with a loss to Florida State, careening off the season-long path of momentum they drove.

    Things are looking up for Steve Spurrier's bunch this year. Returning are key players QB Steven Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore and star WR Alshon Jeffrey. Three of the five offensive linemen are back for an offense that should challenge as the best in the conference.

    Defensively, the Gamecocks are very experienced in the secondary with CBs Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock and safeties DeVonte Holloman and Akeem Auguste. One of the DE openings is likely to be filled by top overall recruit in 2011 Jadeveon Clowney, who should dominate as soon as he puts a helmet on.  

    It's hard to imagine any team in the East division having better chances of reaching the conference title game than South Carolina's senior-laden squad. 

Stanford Cardinal

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he threw a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Virginai Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miam
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-10); beat Virginia Tech in Discover Orange Bowl

    Returning starters: 11 (five offense, six defense)

    Recruiting rank: 21

    The return of Heisman hopeful QB Andrew Luck is enough to put the Stanford Cardinal in the nation's top 10 to begin the season. After last year's phenomenal performance, Luck has more than earned that billing.

    Stanford loses two pillars in its potent passing game in Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin, which will hurt the passing game a bit. The offense's true strength, though, was the 17th-ranked running game led by junior dual threat Stepfan Taylor and Luck himself. Taylor is back, but only two starters on the line return to Palo Alto with him.

    Along with the running game, a notable strength was the Cardinal defense, which ranked 10th in points against. The defensive center of that defense, the linebacking group, needs to be replaced with the exits of Owen Marecic and NFL-bound Thomas Keiser. Stud corner Richard Sherman's departure also hurts a secondary that is otherwise intact and improving. The defense will have to overachieve to match last year's productivity, but it will be a formidable unit nonetheless.

    Of course, the biggest loss that Stanford will feel this season comes from the sideline and coach Jim Harbaugh. The architect of the team that peaked last season, Harbaugh departed for the cush head coaching job with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, leaving David Shaw, the former O-coordinator, as his replacement. The loss of Harbaugh will subtract from the team in unseen ways at first, but then later on the field in obvious ways. Unless I'm underestimating Shaw and the returning players, I see Stanford's quality suffering and things going wrong that wouldn't have if Harbaugh were still at the helm. Harbaugh's absence is worth at least one loss in my view, but an undefeated Stanford team also wouldn't surprise me.

    The Cardinal are up against an Oregon team in the Pac-12 North that handed them their lone 2010 loss. Both teams are the class of the Pac-12, and whichever one survives their war on November 12 in Palo Alto will most certainly earn a Rose Bowl bid, if not an opportunity to play for the National Championship.  

Wisconsin Badgers

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Running back Montee Ball #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates a touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten); lost to TCU in Rose Bowl

    Returning starters: 11 (five offense, six defense)

    Recruiting rank: outside top 25

    The Wisconsin Badgers were arguably the hottest team in the country heading into their Rose Bowl matchup with TCU on New Year's Day. They steamrolled their way to seven straight Big Ten wins after losing their opener to Michigan State and had a ton of momentum as they traveled to Pasadena. 

    They came just short of beating the Horned Frogs in what was an entertaining game throughout. Then-sophomore RB Montee Ball was fantastic, giving coach Brent Bielema a lot to smile about as he thought about his 2011 squad. 

    Bielema does lose half his starters, including QB Scott Tolzien, a pair of reliable WR, OT Gabe Carimi and impact DE J.J. Watt.

    The strength of the team will be Ball and battery mate sophomore James White, who ran for a whopping 6.7 yards per carry and 14 TD last year as a freshman. This pair of All-American caliber tailbacks will carry the team, as will the experienced defensive line.

    A new QB in Jon Budmayr will have to be broken in, but his inexperience is minimized by his giant backfield. With six straight at home to start the season and only two true tests at Michigan State and Ohio State, Wisconsin could find itself back in the Rose Bowl, or better.   

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

    2010 finish: 6-7 (3-5 SEC); lost to UCF in Autozone Liberty Bowl

    Returning starters: 14 (six offense, eight defense)

    Recruiting rank: six

    Last year was a growing (read: frustrating) experience for Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs. No Richt team ever finished with less than eight wins, but the young team he had in 2010 managed just six. 

    Prized freshman QB Aaron Murray was fantastic, but the skill players around him just couldn't match him. The running back tandem of senior Caleb King, whose eligibility is in question for 2011, and Washaun Ealey, who is transferring, was uninspiring, and star WR A.J. Green was constantly bothered by an odd number of defenders. 

    The Dawgs faced a brutal early schedule of South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State, which started them 0-3 in conference. A heartbreaking OT loss to rival Florida secured the only losing SEC schedule in Richt's tenure. All six regular season losses were to quality opponents, but most of those are games that a customary Georgia team doesn't lose.

    With the promising Murray leading an offense that gains No. 1 RB Isaiah Crowell, No. 1 TE Jay Rome and No. 7 WR Malcolm Mitchell, the Bulldogs should put a ton of points on the board once again.

    The defense will continue to get familiar with the new 3-4 scheme that caused struggles last season. Returning eight starters to that unit should make the advancement very speedy.

    This team can't be held down long with the great class coming in on top of last year's great class, so an early tussle between the hedges against South Carolina on September 10 could very well decide the East leader for most of the season. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 18: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers is tackled by the fask mask by Vontaze Burfict #7 of the Arizona State Sun Devils at Camp Randall Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 6-6 (4-5 Pac-10) 

    Returning starters: 20 (eleven offense, nine defense)

    Recruiting rank: outside top 25

    The Arizona State Sun Devils have gained so much exposure for being one of the most underrated BCS threats heading into 2011 that they're no longer underrated.

    The uninspiring results from the average 2010 squad should be seen as delayed gratification, because the 2011 edition should be very, very strong. Dennis Erickson returns all but two starters from his defense and everyone from an offense that ranked fairly well in the major statistical categories. Would-be senior QB Steven Threet has decided to leave the team because of grave concussion damage, which paves the way for junior Brock Osweiler to command the offense. Osweiler looked comfortable in the two games he started to end 2010, throwing five TD and no INT.

    The Sun Devil defense should be stifling, with superstar MLB Vontaze Burfict returning for a senior season and impact CB Omar Bolden. Burfict is the rare athlete who can take control of a football game from the defensive side. ASU's defense carries high expectations heading into 2011.

    ASU's mettle will be tested early in a Week 2 battle with Missouri. After that, USC visits to kick off Pac-12 play and a visit to Oregon will go a long way in shaping the Sun Devils' hopes of taking a crack at the North champs in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. 

Michigan State Spartans

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Kirk Cousins #8  of the Michigan State Spartans warms up during the Capitol One Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten); loss to Alabama in Capital One Bowl

    Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense)

    Recruiting rank: outside top 25

    Like their Big Ten foe Wisconsin, the Michigan State Spartans were among the hottest teams in college football last year until a shocking loss to Iowa ruined Sparty's shot at the BCS.

    The 49-7 blowout by Alabama in the bowl game wasn't the way Mark Dantonio wanted to go out, but there's a lot to look forward to this fall in East Lansing.

    Senior QB Kirk Cousins leads back seven offensive starters, including both key tailbacks Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell. The Spartans must replace a few linemen, but all the skill players are back from the 46th-ranked pass attack in the land.

    On defense, there are key holes left by impact LBs Eric Gordon and Greg Jones. Fortunately, Lawrence Thomas and Darien Harris, both incoming freshmen, show the talent to possibly start right away in their stead. Experience and depth across the defensive line should ease the burden on the green (pun intended) linebacking corps.

    There's a lot of continuity from last year's top-10 team. Back-to-back games with Wisconsin and Nebraska in late October should show if this year's team is made out of BCS-caliber stuff.   

Texas Longhorns

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    LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert #7 of the Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Lubbock, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 5-7 (2-6 Big 12) 

    Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

    Recruiting rank: five

    After enduring his worst season as Texas' head coach, Mack Brown blew up his staff in the wake of Will Muschamp's surprise departure to coach Florida. The message is that arrogance and entitlement in Longhorn football are gone; the Horns will work hard to earn everything they achieve and that they'll take nothing for granted.

    Last year was by far Texas' worst in a long time, but there's a lot of cause to forget it quickly and move onto 2011. Malcolm Brown comes in, giving junior QB Garrett Gilbert hope for the every-down impact RB that he's never had. Sophomore Mike Davis should be one of Gilbert's go-to receivers who is liable to break a big play at any time, while the line gives him more protection than last year's group did.

    The Longhorn defense is shaping up to be an intimidating bunch. Stud LBs Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho anchor the middle, while the defensive line returns three and adds the lauded Jackson Jeffcoat to the starting group. The return of safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott should help compensate for two new cornerbacks. 

    The Horns play a tough schedule, as always, with the Oklahomas, Missouri, Texas A&M and Baylor. They're certainly not the favorite in the Big 12 South, but two upsets is the magic number to get them a shot at the Big 12 Championship and corresponding BCS bid.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 30:  Ed Wesley #34 of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs runs for yardage against the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium October 30, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. TCU won 48-6.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 13-0 (8-0 MWC); beat Wisconsin Badgers in Rose Bowl

    Returning starters: 10 (five offense, five defense)

    Recruiting rank: outside top 25

    TCU's peak may have been last year, when the Horned Frogs completed a perfect 13-0 season and beat a tough Wisconsin team in The Granddaddy of the Them All, the Rose Bowl.

    Heading into its last season in the Mountain West, TCU will miss many key players from last year's juggernaut. Gone are starting QB Andy Dalton, as well as receivers Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young. A few impact players on defense will not return as well.

    The turnover hurts, but if one thing is true about mid-major powers, it's that no player is irreplaceable; because teams like TCU can't compete in recruiting with the Texases, Oklahomas, USCs and Floridas of the college football landscape—they're not getting those blue-chip recruits anyway. You lose some of your best players and turn around to receive more of the same. This is a two-edged sword of being a mid-major.

    TCU will rely heavily on RB Ed Wesley Jr. and new sophomore QB Casey Pachall to continue the offensive potency of last year. 

    But the truth is, TCU's bread and butter won't become the offense all of a sudden. This is a defensive team through and through, which is what it will continue to be. Last year's top-ranked defense in the NCAA at 12.0 points per game returns its heart and soul, LB Tank Carder.

    TCU's losses hurt, but none will break Gary Patterson's team. With competition moving out of the Mountain West, TCU's schedule looks pretty smooth until a mid-major clash of powers on November 12 with Boise State. If both teams are undefeated heading into that game, the winner will likely have a strong enough profile to return to the BCS without an automatic bid.  

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

    2010 finish: 11-2 (6-2 Big 12); beat Arizona in Valero Alamo Bowl

    Returning starters: 16 (10 offense, six defense)

    Recruiting rank: 23

    Oklahoma earned the Big 12's BCS bid last year, but it could very easily have been Oklahoma State. The Cowboys did everything but beat the Sooners in their regular season finale, which would have given OSU the Big 12 South title and a berth in the conference's title game. Instead, the Cowboys took a bid to the Alamo Bowl and throttled Arizona.

    Promise surrounds the team in Stillwater for 2011. Mike Gundy returns 10 offensive starters to last year's No. 2 passing and third-best scoring attack in the nation. The notables are QB Brandon Weeden (34 TD and 4,277 yards) and WR Justin Blackmon (111 catches, 1,782 yards and 20 TD). Those are video game stats for two players who should both be in the Heisman running this season. I would be remiss to overlook the return of all five offensive linemen as well. The only guy not returning is top RB Kendall Hunter, who had a great year with 1,548 yards, but is succeeded by the capable Jeremy Smith and and Joseph Randle.

    Oklahoma State has a high ceiling this year, but must bring its A-game on the road, with games at Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri before the season's climax: the Bedlam Game with Oklahoma at home.

    They win that Oklahoma game and the Cowboys might be looking at a very high BCS bid, regardless of the Big 12's automatic berth. 

Boise State Broncos

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    BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 25:  Quarterback Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos looks for a receiver against the Oregon State Beaversat Bronco Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)
    Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

    2010 finish: 12-1 (7-1 WAC); beat Utah in Maaco Las Vegas Bowl

    Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

    Recruiting rank: outside top 25

    The Boise State Broncos withstood a lot of doubt last season as a true contender for the National Championship. They passed every test of legitimacy, starting with a thrilling victory over No. 10 Virginia Tech in their opening game and a big win over Oregon State two weeks later.

    We all know how the story ended for Boise: no BCS game. That was because of a fateful Thanksgiving weekend OT loss to Nevada, made possible by a couple choked field goals from poor Kyle Brotzman. The misfiring leg of one player cost a juggernaut at its peak a chance to play for the BCS National Championship.

    But all that is in the past. Boise and Brotzman (presumably, hopefully) have moved on from that tragic day and are ready to make another run in 2011. This time, though, they likely don't have enough to compete for the title. The losses of receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, both record-setters in Boise's history, and TE Tommy Gallarda and RB Jeremy Avery are significant. Doug Martin has the tailback on lockdown as last year's leading rusher, but sophomore WRs Gerald Hiwat and Aaron Burks will have to grow up quickly for Boise to match last year's sixth-best passing attack.

    The Bronco defense, perpetually underrated, has a lot of talent returning, but must cope with the loss of impact players DE Ryan Winterswyk and CB Brandyn Thompson, as well as safeties Jeron Johnson and Winston Venable. The secondary might be vulnerable, which makes the experience up front on the line very important.

    Chris Petersen's bunch definitely peaked last season. There's no doubt about it: The 2010 team was built for the National Championship and, tragically, fell short. This year's rendition has a ton going for it, and with Kellen Moore at the helm, the Broncos should be right in the mix when BCS bids are handed out.   

Lurking Contenders, Darkhorses, If You Will

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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

    These teams didn't make my list, but might make somebody else's just as easily. They've all got a lot of returning starters and impact players, as well as good recruiting classes coming in.

    Arkansas Razorbacks: This team would be a BCS frontrunner in any conference besides the absolute guantlet of the SEC West. They'll have to navigate LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State without star QB Ryan Mallett this year. His replacement, Tyler Wilson, is likely NFL-caliber in his own right, but he's new at the job. Tailback Knile Davis will be a huge part of the offense and will help take pressure off of Wilson to perform. The Hogs should be right in the thick of the jumble in the SEC, especially with eight returning starters from an upstart defense.

    Ohio State Buckeyes: They are a program under some serious heat right now, but they are talented and deep enough to be a contender. Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, among others, will miss the first half of the season on suspension, and coach Jim Tressel is out, but that provides a setting for OSU to show exactly what it is made of. 

    Texas A&M Aggies: QB Ryan Tannehill played near-perfect ball down the stretch as the Aggies peaked with wins over Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska and Texas. If he leads A&M on another run like that, with the team's 19 returning starters, this team has a legit shot of knocking out Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and storming the Big 12 title. That 9-4 record was no joke last year, with losses to Oklahoma State, Missouri, Arkansas and LSU. Few teams have a profile like last year's Aggies.

    Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Brian Kelly's squad, when actually good, has five gimmes on the schedule every year. If the Irish are as advertised this season, that number will be more like eight. Eight relatively easy wins. Add in a couple clutch wins against Michigan State, USC, Michigan or Stanford, and the Irish might have enough for a BCS bid. The QB-WR tandem of Dayne Crist and Michael Floyd is back, as are 17 other starters. Top all that off with the No. 9 recruiting class, and the talent storehouses in South Bend are overflowing like it's 1997.