College Football 2011: 8 Teams That Will Emerge in November
While there are plenty of people who get worked up of the early season polls, there's always a few teams come bowl selection time that few people took notice of back in September or October.
After all, Auburn was barely ranked in some polls at the start of last season, and wasn't ranked at all in some other polls.
Yet, they proved throughout the season that they were deserving of more than their mediocre preseason ranking, and by November, they were squarely in the hunt for a berth in the BCS championship game—which they eventually won.
So which teams will emerge this November as the top teams in the nation?
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Say what you will about Michigan, they've been pretty awful lately—at least by Michigan standards.
But throughout 2010, the Wolverines seemed as if they were just a few pieces short of solving a very complex puzzle.
Michigan certainly has one of the best offensive weapons in the nation in Denard Robinson. He alone can rack up several hundred yards per game, and he has a supporting cast that allows him the ability to showcase his unparalleled speed.
But Michigan's biggest problem last year was a nearly nonexistent defense.
It's all well and good if your team can put up 600 yards of offense and score 49 points. But if you're giving up just as many points as the other guy, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. When it comes time to determine who gets what bowl game, it doesn't matter if you lost 52-49 or if you lost 35-3. A loss is a loss.
With Brady Hoke taking over in Ann Arbor, there's renewed hope. One of the areas everyone knew needed to be solved was the defense, and there's no doubt that Hoke's attention has been on the secondary all spring.
With even modest improvements on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan could find themselves in the hunt for a Bin Ten divisional championship come November.
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The Bulldogs certainly had a rough start to the 2010 season, but by the time the year was over, Georgia managed to salvage at least a few moral victories.
What is perhaps lost in last year's losing record—Georgia's first in over a decade—is the amazing promise for 2011 and beyond.
Aaron Murray was one of the best freshmen in the nation last season, and it's clear to anyone who watches him play that he's going to be a superstar in the SEC before he walks off campus for the last time.
Murray's only downside has been his lack of experience. If you have to pick a problem for a quarterback to have, that's the one you want to go with, because it's the most easily solved. With every snap in 2011, Murray is only going to get better and batter.
Don't expect a losing season from UGA this season. In fact, don't expect them not to be right in the thick of things when it comes to the SEC-East standings in November.
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The much maligned Longhorns have lost some of their luster after last year's embarrassing 5-7 record. Part of the problem for Mack Brown and company is the simple fact that Texas's roster won't have many significant changes from last season, and many of the players that gave the coaches fits will be back in burnt orange this season.
But the quarterback competition currently underway in Austin will not only be good for the eventual starting quarterback, it could galvanize the entire Longhorns roster.
Plus, the added experience for the rest of the team will cut down on some of the absolutely mind boggling mistakes of 2010.
Texas will win five games again in 2011, but they'll have that feat accomplished by mid-October this time. When November rolls around, Texas could be a team searching for a big bowl game invitation.
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Will all of the talk in the Big 12 focused on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for 2011, it's easy to overlook teams like Missouri.
The Tigers have nine returning offensive starters from last season, and Missouri could easily be a team that sneaks up on a few opponents. The defensive line at Missouri is going to put up some monster sack numbers this season, even with the loss of Aldon Smith.
If Missouri can find a quarterback that can effectively utilize the stockpile of talented Tigers receivers, then it's entirely possible that Missouri could be making some big waves in the Big 12 by the time November rolls around.
It's also of note that Missouri has lost perennial Big 12-North pain in the rear end Nebraska from their annual schedule.
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With 19 returning starters for last year's squad, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are looking to make big strides in coach Brian Kelly's second year at the helm.
There really aren't any glaring holes for the Irish in 2011, and there's tons of talent and experience to spread around the field. Dayne Crist at quarterback will have all of his favorite targets returning this season. Manti Te'o is back anchoring a linebacking corps that just keeps getting better and better.
Notre Dame does have a few tough games on their schedule, including September 10 at Michigan and September 17 at home against Michigan State. By the time November rolls around, Notre Dame could be in a position to crack the Top 10 if all goes according to plan up until that point in the season.
Even if Notre Dame drops a game against a highly ranked MSU early or stumble midseason against the likes of USC, the season will eventually come down to a November 26 meeting at Stanford with the Cardinal.
It's entirely possible that with wins in November against Wake Forest, Maryland, and Boston College, the game at Stanford could be what amounts to Notre Dame's BCS play-in game.
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Sorry, Sun Devils fans. The lid has been blown.
Anyone who doesn't think that ASU has a legit shot in the Pac-12 this season hasn't been paying attention.
Arizona State was a late touchdown here or a field goal there from having a very impressive 2010 season. The ability to close out the close games will come with experience, and ASU will have a ton of that on the field this year.
Every single offensive starter from 2010 is back this season. That's right. All eleven of them. Clearly, experience won't be a problem for the Sun Devils' offense this season. The defense shapes up nicely, too, with nine returning starters.
Arizona State will likely start the season on the outside of most Top 25 polls, but that probably won't last too long.
As early season visit from Missouri (September 10) will be a good indication of what to expect from ASU this season. Should ASU get past Missouri, it's entirely possible the first loss of the season won't be a possibility until an October 16 trip to Oregon to face the Ducks.
By this time, the secret will be out, and everyone will be watching the Sun Devils come November. With games at UCLA, at Washington State, and home against Arizona and Cal, ASU could find themselves playing for a chance at a berth in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game—not to mention a Top 10 or 15 ranking.
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With new head coach Randy Edsall taking over this season, there are a fair number of Maryland fans wondering what the Edsall era will have in store for the Terrapins.
Coach Edsall has kept a fairly tight lid on Maryland since taking over, as practices are closed to the media and players and coaches aren't saying much—if anything at all.
Edsall has certainly instituted some interesting changes, including a new defensive scheme. Because of the secrecy Edsall insists on, we may all have to wait until September to figure out what the Terps have up their sleeves on defense.
One thing that isn't a question is returning ACC Rookie of the Year, sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien.
This 6'3", 215-pound youngster had a very impressive freshman year after stepping into the starting roll mid-season. In the 2011 Maryland spring game, O'Brien threw for nearly 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns, cementing his position as the undisputed starter for this season.
Maryland gets off quickly in 2011, with the first game of the season coming with a visit from the University of Miami. Maryland will roll into November with most of their difficult games in the rear view mirror, but will still have Notre Dame and NC State to deal with. Wins against those teams would cement Maryland's Top 25 position, and guarantee them a good-sized bowl invitation.
Maryland has the talent this season to win close games against tough opponents. Maybe that will finally attract the fans to Byrd Stadium,
Regardless of how well the Terps do this season, it does seem likely that there won't be anymore 2-10 seasons in the near future.
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It's never fun to increase a team's stock because of the failures of another program, but that's exactly the situation Penn State finds itself in today.
Penn State's outlook for the 2011 Big Ten football season got a huge shot in the arm with the implosion of fellow Leaders Division opponent Ohio State. Ohio State will likely be ineligible for the 2011 Big Ten Championship game, which leaves the Leaders Division up to likely Wisconsin or Penn State (as Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois are not expected to be anywhere near Big Ten championship form this season).
Penn State's entire season will likely come down to the month of November. Prior to the November 12 meeting with Nebraska, Penn State's conference schedule is what many people would classify as “vanilla.” But November will be anything but. After the visit from Nebraska, Penn State will travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes. While Ohio State likely won't have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship Game this season, it's important to remember that a loss for Penn State could be just what a team like Wisconsin needs to slide into the championship.
But win or lose in Columbus for the Nittany Lions, the season will come to a climax in the final week of the regular Big Ten season with a trip to Madison on November 26.
This November will be Penn State's opportunity to shine and tell the world that JoePa can still coach with the best of 'em, even if he was the head coach at Penn State before most everyone else was born.