College Football Predictions 2011: Ohio State & Sleeper in Each Major Conference
There are dominant teams every year in college football, especially in major conferences like Alabama in the SEC and Oklahoma in the Big 12.
Still, there are always sleeper teams that play above everyone's preseason expectations.
This year, Ohio State is a team that everyone is writing off due to their off-the-field distractions.
Among the other power conferences including the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC, there are a number of other potential teams that can make a run at a conference title.
Let's take a look at a sleeper team from each of these conferences.
ACC: Maryland Terrapins
The Maryland Terrapins are a contender in the mediocre ACC this season.
They return seven starters on offense and defense.
Notable returners on offense include quarterback Danny O'Brien, who threw 22 touchdowns last season. He will have to gel early with an inexperienced receiving crew.
The defense should be able to improve from last year with a couple of key leaders returning.
Kenny Tate is moving from safety to linebacker and will look to be a tackling machine for the Terrapins defense.
Maryland has a pretty easy schedule compared to other ACC teams.
They face most of their difficult opponents at home, including Miami (FL), West Virginia, and Boston College.
Head coach Randy Edsall will look to take the next step and make a run at an ACC title in 2011-12.
Big East: Syracuse Orange
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Syracuse Orange made big strides last year, winning eight games including a bowl win over Kansas State.
This year, they will look to continue their improvement with seven offensive returning starters and five on the defensive end.
Syracuse has a great anchor of the offensive line in junior tackle Justin Pugh.
On defense, they will be extremely young. 2010 All-Conference selection defensive end Chandler Jones must have another stellar season in a leadership role.
The Orange have a pretty tough non-conference schedule.
If they can steal a win at USC, momentum could carry them through the Big East season and help them to contend for a Big East title.
Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
The Wolverines are an extreme darkhorse in the Big Ten for the 2011-12 season.
Most people think the Big Ten is a five-horse race between Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa.
However, Michigan returns ten starters on offense and eight on defense.
Their offense should repeat their impressive 2010 campaign behind Denard Robinson.
The defense has a laundry list of questions to answer.
Michigan allowed 35.2 points per game last season.
There is not a single game on the schedule that this team does not have a chance in.
If they can improve on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan can make a run at a Big Ten title.
Big 12: Texas Longhorns
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Texas was on of the worst teams in the Big 12 last season.
It was one of the first times that could be said about the program.
Some feel that this team will struggle again this year. Others feel it was a fluke season for a renowned program.
The Longhorns will return seven starters on offense and defense.
These guys will be out for blood. They were embarrassed last season over and over again.
With two star linebackers, Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, the defense will look to lead this team.
If Texas can get off to a 3-0 start in a somewhat difficult non-conference schedule, the Big 12 needs to watch out for a resurgent Longhorns team.
Pac-12: Arizona State
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
This year begins a new era in the newly named Pac-12 with the additions of Utah and Colorado.
Last year, the conference was dominated by Oregon and Stanford.
Arizona State may be the team to challenge both for a Pac-12 title in 2011-12.
The entire starting offensive unit returns and nine from the defensive end will be back.
The Sun Devils only went 6-6 last year, but returning 20 starters can only help.
The 6-6 record may be misleading as well. This team lost by one to Wisconsin, by 11 to Oregon, and four to Stanford last year.
Arizona State can definitely compete in this conference, and this may be the year that this program competes for a Pac-12 championship.
SEC: South Carolina Gamecocks
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
South Carolina was absolutely walloped in the SEC Championship last season.
There is speculation on their ability to rebound from that ego-shattering loss.
This year, the Gamecocks have the luxury of avoiding the elite SEC teams on the road. Plus, they do not have to face-off with powerhouse Alabama this season at all.
Marcus Lattimore comes off an absolutely phenomenal freshman season at running back. He handled tough SEC competition on a weekly basis to become an All-Conference selection.
The defense has some holes to fill but will look to thrive off junior and senior leadership.
2011 may finally be the year that Steve Spurrier finally breaks through in this cutthroat conference.