College Football 2011: Predicting the Champions of Each BCS AQ Conference
Each BCS conference will be packed full of surprise wins and losses this upcoming season, and there might just be a couple underdogs that put everything together to make a nice run at a conference title.
Then there's the big boys of the conferences everyone knows will have successful seasons.
There are the intriguing conferences like the Big Ten and the Pac-12; two conferences with newcomers that can shake up the playing field.
Then there's the ACC; is this finally the year Florida State lives up to the hype and wins the conference?
The SEC has at least five teams that could win the conference; Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Auburn, but don't sleep on Mississippi State either.
The Big East has West Virginia in the driver's seat, but then again Cincinnati is always ready for a nice run, as is Rutgers.
Not to undermine the little guys like Boise State and TCU, but this list is for the BCS AQ conferences.
Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners
The Oklahoma Sooners, led by Landry Jones and a stifling defense, are the favorites to win the conference again and represent the Big 12 in the National Championship.
This team is poised for a title run and practically every piece needed is in place. They have the quarterback in Jones, who could possibly win the Heisman if he continues to rack up yards and touchdowns.
Ryan Broyles might just be the best receiver in the country, and if he isn't that, he certainly is after he catches the ball.
Add in talented true freshman Brandon Williams at tailback, and their offense might have a nice balance to it. Either way, Jones is going to pass for nearly 5,000 yards again with 40 or so passing touchdowns.
The defense, led by linebacker Travis Lewis, is one of the best in the country.
This is a high-powered team that doesn't lack in any area. They have a championship formula right now, and it's hard to pick against them.
Oklahoma will win the Big 12.
Don't Sleep On: Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is a team that could challenge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. With Justin Blackmon returning after a sensational year and Brandon Weeden back throwing him the ball, this offense has enough firepower to put up points on any defense.
Does Oklahoma State have the defense though? The defense has been a giant question mark with this program for years. If they can finally manage to put together a tough defensive front, they will be able to win those games decided by three points.
Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers
The biggest question mark for the Wisconsin Badgers entering the 2011 season is at quarterback, as Jon Budmayr looks to fill in the void left by Scott Tolzien.
Budmayr's benefit will be handing the ball off to James White and Montee Ball. The duo of running backs combined for 2,048 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Both are reliable backs who can break games open.
The offensive line loses Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, but they still have Peter Konz at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Ricky Wagner will be moving from right tackle to left tackle. Add in the fact that it's Wisconsin, and the offensive line is never a problem for them.
The defense will have a formidable line led by Louis Nzegwu at defensive end, but Pat Muldoon is expected to fill in for the shoes of the departed J.J. Watt. Antonio Fenelus was an All-Big Ten corner last year, and he will be leading the secondary.
Wisconsin had a terrific year last year, and although some key ingredients to that team are gone, there is no reason to write this team off. Bret Bielema has this team in the right position to win games, and all he's done since he took over is win.
Now it's time for him to win an outright Big Ten title.
Don't Sleep On: Nebraska
Nebraska is the newcomer, but they bring along with them a 10-win team from last year that was upset with their loss in the Big 12 Championship and embarrassed in their bowl game loss to Washington.
Now they have their sights set on taking over the Big Ten. If Taylor Martinez can stay healthy all year, this team will have bigger dreams of winning a National Championship and not just a conference title.
Rex Burkhead will have to take over the starting running back duties, but incoming true freshman Aaron Green is too good not to see the field.
The defense will be stout with Jared Crick returning on the defensive line, along with Baker Steinkuhler. Lavonte David might be one of the best linebackers in the country, and Alfonzo Dennard is one of the more elite cover cornerbacks in the game today.
Nebraska will be a very tough team to beat, and if Wisconsin doesn't win the conference, Nebraska surely will.
ACC: Florida State
Yes, Florida State finally will put it all together and win the conference championship. This team has set its sights on a BCS bowl and are also thinking in the terms of a National Championship.
Christian Ponder is gone, along with Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, two of the best offensive lineman Florida State has ever had.
E.J. Manuel will be taking over at quarterback, but he has playing experience, and Florida State fans have been waiting for Manuel to take over this team to lead them back into the spotlight.
The backfield is packed full with Chris Thompson, Ty Jones, Jermaine Thomas and Debrale Smiley; Smiley will most likely be playing fullback alongside Lonnie Pryor. Incoming freshman Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will also be pressing for playing time.
The receiving corps still needs someone to step up and be the go-to guy. Bert Reed hasn't lived up to those expectations and neither has Taiwan Easterling. Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith are big body receivers expected to step up, but Christian Green showed a lot of promise in the spring game.
The offensive line will need to replace Hudson and McMahon, but they still have Andrew Datko at left tackle, who has been a solid rock at the position. Jacob Fahrenkrug will take over at center, and Zebrie Sanders and David Spurlock should man the right side.
The defense might be one of the best in the country.
The line is loaded with playmakers. Brandon Jenkins had a break-out year at defensive end last season with 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Everett Dawkins is an emerging star at tackle, along with Demonte McAllister and Cameron Erving. Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine will battle for the right defensive job, but both will see plenty of playing time.
Nigel Bradham is the lone returner at linebacker, but Christian Jones and Vince Williams saw plenty of playing time last year.
The secondary, led by corners Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes, will be one of the best in the country. Terrance Parks and Nick Moody will start at safety, but LaMarcus Joyner and incoming true freshman Karlos Williams will also be in the rotation.
This team is built for a conference championship, and the only real tests on their schedule will be games at Clemson and at home against Miami. If this team gets by Oklahoma and Florida, they will be thinking about a national title to go along with their conference title.
Don't Sleep On: Virginia Tech
Did you expect anyone else?
In the past four years, Virginia Tech has won three conference titles. Frank Beamer is one of the best coaches in the country, and he will have his team ready for another title run.
Tyrod Taylor is gone, but there is plenty of excitement in Blacksburg over Logan Thomas. The 6'6" sophomore will take over for Taylor and has shown plenty of potential. He will have capable receivers in Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to throw to, along with David Wilson at running back, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year.
The defense will again be the foundation for this team.
Jayron Hosley might be the best cornerback in the country. He had a monster year last year with nine interceptions. The defensive line will need some playmakers to step up, but brothers Antoine Hopkins and Derrick Hopkins are solid in the interior. Bruce Taylor is back to lead the linebackers; he posted 91 tackles last year, along with six sacks.
There's little doubt this team will win the ACC Coastal, and if they do they will have to go against Florida State in a rematch of last year's conference title game.
These two teams are the favorites in the conference, and both teams will have good years, but only one can win the title.
Big East: West Virginia Mountaineers
There is plenty of hype around West Virginia right now, but more than that, there is plenty of hype around quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith had a great year last year, throwing for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He should have an even better year under new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who came over from Oklahoma State.
Tavon Austin will be Smith's go-to guy after posting 787 yards receiving last year with eight touchdowns. Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke will battle for the starting running back position.
The offensive line returns four starters led by left tackle Don Barclay and left guard Josh Jenkins.
The defense will be the hurting unit after losing seven starters from last year, but Bruce Irvin, a preseason All-American, is back at defensive end after recording 14 sacks last fall. Keith Tandy had six interceptions last year and will be leading the secondary, as well as Eain Smith at safety. Najee Good is the only returning starter for the linebackers.
While the Big East has been hard to predict lately, West Virginia is the favorite entering the season and should come out as the champion.
Don't Sleep On: South Florida
Skip Holtz took over last year as head coach and posted eight wins in his first year. Now he will be looking to add to that total and win the conference. He has good players to work with, especially at quarterback.
B.J. Daniels is a junior now and has started for two years. He needs to finally mature and become more like a quarterback and less like a runner.
Darrell Scott transferred over from Colorado and was at one time the top prospect in the country coming out of high school. Scott will be competing with Demetris Murray for the starting running back position.
The defense is expecting Ryne Giddins, a redshirt sophomore, to have a break-out year, as well as Cory Grissom at tackle. Sam Barrington and Mike Lanaris will lead the linebackers, and Jerrell Young will lead the secondary at free safety.
This team doesn't have many individuals who stand out, but they do have nice pieces in place to make a title run. Holtz is an excellent coach and will be expecting a lot out of this young team, but can they get past West Virginia?
We will all find out Dec. 1, but even then it might be out of their reach for a title.
Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal
Stanford lost Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, but they got Andrew Luck back.
The poster child for the program at the present time, Luck is the favorite to win the Heisman, the favorite to go No. 1 in next year's draft and the favorite to lead his team to a Pac-12 title.
Luck is the best player in the country, there is no argument to that, but he's surrounded by good players as well.
Chris Owusu is a talented receiver, but he needs to stay healthy. Coby Fleener is a solid tight end who will serve as a safety valve for Luck.
The offensive line, led by preseason All-American Jonathan Martin, might be the biggest line in the country. Right guard David DeCastro is also garnishing All-American looks.
The offense should have no problem putting up points on opponents, especially with Luck at the helm. The defense though will need to be stout in order for this team to reach their goals.
Shayne Skov is the star of the unit. The linebacker tallied 84 tackles and 7.5 sacks a year ago. Opposite Skov is Case Thomas, another linebacker with a knack at getting to quarterbacks; he also had 7.5 sacks last season. The line will need to replace Sione Fua who moved on to the NFL. Terrance Stevens is the likely candidate to replace him.
The secondary hasn't been known as a strength for this team, but safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas emerged last year and had great seasons. Howell had five interceptions and is receiving plenty of All-American talks entering the season.
This team will be under the microscope all season long with the return of Luck, but they have all the right elements to win a title and then some.
Don't Sleep On: Oregon
Of course Oregon is going to be looking to duplicate their success from last year, and it's going to be hard for them not to—every major player is back.
Darron Thomas at quarterback and LaMichael James at running back combine to be one of the best backfields in the country, if not the best.
The receivers will need to grow up in a hurry, but this shouldn't be a problem in this offense. Kenjon Barner is a hybrid back/receiver who can also put up big numbers.
The offensive line, led by left guard Carson York and right tackle Mark Asper, will need to step up in order for this offense to thrive the way it's supposed to.
Make no mistake though, Thomas and James will put up monster numbers again.
The defense will need to revamp their front seven after losing three of their starting linemen and two of their starting linebackers.
Terrell Turner will be the anchor of the line, but that isn't exactly saying a lot. The other players will need to step up and provide a spark. Josh Kaddu is a reliable strongside linebacker, and Michael Clay is an emerging star on the weakside.
Cliff Harris is one of the best cover corners in the game and will lead the secondary. John Boyett is also a solid strong safety.
If this team hopes to replicate what they accomplished a year ago, they will have to get by Stanford on Nov. 12, but the conference will also provide plenty more competition.
SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide
There are many outlets out there that are picking LSU as the conference champion, but Alabama has the edge on this list. There are so many key players returning that outweigh the losses of Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus.
For starters, Trent Richardson is a better running back than Ingram, and he finally gets the position to himself to prove it.
McElroy will be tough to replace, but it's Nick Saban we're talking about here. It was hard to replace John Parker Wilson back when McElroy took over. A.J. McCarron is the likely successor, but Phillip Sims showed a lot of promise during the spring game; Sims is a highly-touted redshirt freshman who is looking to claim the position.
The offensive line, led by Barrett Jones and William Vlachos, will be a strong unit again for the Tide. D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Aaron Douglas round out the other positions.
Jones is going to be very hard to replace, but Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have big-play ability. Ohio State transfer Duron Carter should also provide some consistency to the position.
The defense will need to replace Dareus, but Josh Chapman and Ed Stinson are emerging stars. Damion Square will also look to have a break-out season.
The linebackers are deep as well as lethal. Dont'a Hightower is one of the better linebackers in the country. Courtney Upshaw, Jerrell Harris and Nico Johnson are all large linebackers with plenty of experience to form arguably the best linebacking corps in the country.
Mark Barron returned for his senior season, and the strong safety is the best safety in the country. He will be leading a secondary full of playmakers, particularly at the corner positions. Dre Kirkpatrick is a large corner who can cover as well as play against the run. DeMarcus Milliner will start opposite Kirkpatrick.
This team has a couple question marks, but Saban likely has the answers. If the quarterback transition runs smoothly, this offense is going to be hard to stop. The defense was supposed to be a weakness last season, but it turned into a major strength. Now it might be the best unit in the country.
Alabama isn't just thinking of an SEC title, they are thinking of another National Championship, and they have all the makings for it.
Don't Sleep On: LSU
Why am I not picking a team from the SEC East? Because whoever comes out of the West will surely win the SEC championship. Not to take anything away from South Carolina or possibly Georgia, but LSU, Alabama and Auburn are all teams that are good enough to win the SEC.
LSU has a lot coming back from a team that won 11 games, including a win over Alabama in 2010.
Jordan Jefferson will again be the quarterback, but he will be pushed by Zach Mettenberger, a transfer from Georgia.
Stevan Ridley left for the NFL, leaving the running back slot wide open; Spencer Ware and Michael Ford will do their best to fill the void.
Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle will be the go-to guys in the receiving corps. Both former five-star prospects will be expected to emerge as playmakers. The offensive line loses Joseph Barksdale to graduation, but P.J. Lonergan, T-Bob Hebert and Will Blackwell are all back to form a dominating offensive line.
Defensively, the Tigers lose arguably the best defensive player in the country from last year, Patrick Peterson, but that doesn't mean the secondary is going to struggle. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu have excellent cover skills.
The defensive line will need to replace Drake Nevis, but true freshman Anthony Johnson might be able to pick up where Nevis left off. The linebacking corps will be the biggest question mark after losing Kelvin Shappard to the NFL. Kevin Minter will likely be the man in the middle, while Karnell Hatcher and Ryan Baker will be on the outsides.
This LSU team has plenty of potential as well as question marks, but Les Miles will surely be putting them in position to win games.
If Jordan Jefferson can finally take over this offense, they will be very hard to stop. The defense will need to replace some key positions, but the talent on this depth chart alone is enough to fill those gaps.
LSU will play Alabama on Nov. 5, and the winner of that game will most likely win the conference.