2011 NCAA Football: Top 25 Pre-Season Rankings
That little crystal football you see Gene Chizik holding up is the goal every single Division I-A team at the beginning of every college football season has. It is when every team is even at no wins and no losses, the trophy is as good as anyone's.
Who will hoist the trophy next January? The Auburn Tigers once again? How about the little giants of TCU? Badgers?
Let's take a look at who the favorites are going into this up coming 2011 college football season.
25: Florida Gators
That's right. The Florida Gators are barely making it into my top 25.
The 2010 Gators underachieved big time as they stumbled to a very mediocre 8-5 record including a finish outside of the top 25.
The key to the 2011 season will be the guy pictured, quarterback John Brantley. Last season Brantley only threw for 2,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Quite a drop off from the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Now under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Brantley has the opportunity to do great things in the new system.
The fifth year senior will have his toughest test going into LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Not to mention they have the always tough Alabama Crimson Tide at home in Gainsville the week before the road trip.
The under-acheiving Gators could be back for revenge in 2011 or big-time flop.
24: Texas Longhorns
Another usual contender (besides 2010) barely makes it into my top 25.
Texas had a rough go in 2010 falling to a horrible 5-7 record. They won two Big 12 games all season!
They can't have another losing season again, can they?
Mack Brown had two great hires in Diaz (defense) and Harsin (offense) this past offseason. If they can be a threat on the ground this season, unlike in 2010, the Longhorns could be bound for big things this season.
Garrett Gilbert has shown flashes of talent. The offensive system just was not there in my opinion. Now under new management, Gilbert could be bound to lead the Longhorns to a winning season.
2011 should be an easier go for Mack Brown and his group. They have their toughest games at home against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Texas Tech. All are in a row. The toughest road games will be UCLA and Iowa State in the beginning of the season.
23: Northwestern Wildcats
Here's my sleeper for 2011. Pat Fitzgerald is one of my favorite coaches in the entire NCAA. I don't know what it is about him but I think he's great.
He's loyal, runs a great system with not a high talent class and even wins a little.
In 2010, Northwestern had one of the top passers in the NCAA in Dan Persa before he ruptured his Achilles' tendon. In a full season, look to him to be the unconditional leader of this team.
In 10 games in 2010, Persa threw for over 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. Imagine what he could do with two or three more games.
The toughest test for Pat Fitzgerald and his squad in 2011 will be a few games: at Boston College in week one, at Illinois in Week 5, Michigan in Week 6 at home, at Iowa in week seven, at Nebraska in Week 10, and Michigan State at home before the Big Ten Championship game.
I think with a healthy Dan Persa, this team can make a lot of noise in 2011 and be a contender.
22: Arizona State
In 2010, Dennis Erickson's squad had a mediocre season finishing 6-6 although they really beat UCLA and then beat Arizona in their last two games.
The Sun Devils haven't really been a national stage competitor in quite some time but under new quarterback leadership from Brock Osweiler, this all could change.
Osweiler showed flashes of brilliance when he came in against UCLA down 17-0. ASU won the game 55-17. He threw for 380 yards with four passing touchdowns and one rushing.
Osweiler is a big kid standing tall at 6'8'' and he has the potential to lead the Sun Devils to big things possibly including the Pac 12 South title in 2011.
Prediction: 9-4 (losing in Pac 12 title game)
21: University of Central Florida Knights
UCF as my No. 21 ahead of Florida, Texas, Northwestern, and ASU? What? Yup. That's right.
UCF is a very underrated team. George O'Leary is a great head coach and Jeff Godfrey is a great quarterback.
Godfrey took home Freshman of the Year honors in C-USA after this season.
In his true Freshman season, Godfrey threw for over 2,000 yards, 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, along with over 550 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He's the next star.
With one year under his belt, Godfrey is only going to get better. Now the only question will be the Knights defense with the departure of their star defensive end Bruce Miller.
Big things will come for the young star in 2011.
Prediction: 12-2 (C-USA Champions)
20: Georgia Bulldogs
2010 was not a fair judge of the Georgia Bulldogs. They finished 6-7 with off the field distractions from A.J. Green and his suspension. 2011 should be a much better season for the Dawgs.
Redshirt Aaron Murray will be under center for the Dawgs once again in 2011. In his first season under center, Murray threw for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was named to the All-American Freshman team and All-SEC Freshman team.
Now that the clouds are clearing in Georgia, it looks as if Murray is one of the better SEC quarterbacks and Georgia could make noise in 2011.
19: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State ended the season on a high note by spanking Michigan in the Gator Bowl on their way to a nine game season leaving a feeling of euphoria in Starkville.
Even though Diaz left for Texas, the Bulldog defense should be one of the best once again in the country. A talented but younger group of linebackers in the staple Mississippi State defensive scheme can only men big things in 2011.
The tougest test for the Bulldogs will be going into Auburn in only week two. How Mississippi State plays in that game will be the confidence boost that may make this team's season.
With how 2010 finished, it is hard not to be optimistic for the future of this team.
18: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Hopefully Dayne Crist can stay healthy in 2011.
But that didn't matter. When Crist went down against Tulsa on October 30, everyone wrote Notre Dame off. Brian Kelly's job was done and it was going to be another mediocre season for the Irish.
Not so fast.
Youngster Tommy Rees came to the rescue and led the Irish to four victories in their last four games including a bowl victory over Miami (FL).
Rees will be the key to ND's success. If Crist goes down for a third straight year, Rees will need to step in and do the outstanding job he did in 2010.
Although Rees is the key, Crist is now slouch. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in the nine games he played before suffering another knee injury. He was on pace for a fantastic 2010.
If Crist stays healthy, the Irish may be turning the corner.
17: Virginia Tech Hokies
Although the Hokies got stomped in the Orange Bowl, they had a pretty good 2010 finishing 11-3 and undefeated in the ACC.
The biggest loss is going to be the guy pictured, their playmaking quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Even with his departure you can still count on the Hokies to win around nine games. Don't be surprised if they do more.
The stellar defense is returning a few starters along with the offense. Not much as changed for the Hokies going into 2011.
The toughest test is going to come in the last game before the ACC title game at Virginia. Going on the road into Scott Stadium is never an easy task and it won't be for the Hokies.
Prediction: 10-3 (loss in the ACC title game)
16: South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina had a great season in 2010 winning the SEC East finishing 9-5. Spurrier's team beat Alabama, Florida, and Clemson.
2011 is bound to be a better season, right?
Marcus Lattimore is going to have his coming out party this season and the quarterbacking will be above par. If those two things come together, watch out SEC.
The toughest test in 2011 is going to be going into Athens in week two. Georgia is going to be a better team and South Carolina is going to have their hands full.
Look for big things out of Lattimore this season as the Gamecocks win the SEC East once again.
Prediction: 10-3 (losing in SEC title game)
15: Auburn Tigers
Everyone who knows college football knows how 2010 ended for the Auburn Tigers. Due to massive losses, Auburn isn't going to have the magical season again in 2011.
Nick Fairley and Cam Newton have both gone to the NFL. The offensive line suffered losses. What's next for the defending champs?
Rising star Michael Dyer will be the key to 2011. He's going to be running behind a reconfigured offensive line but that shouldn't stop him from having a great year. Although a lot of SEC teams will be looking for payback, the Tigers will still finish in the top 20.
Their biggest test is going to come when they have to go into South Carolina and Arkansas in back-to-back weeks. That will be the make or break point of the Tigers season.
14: Arkansas Razorbacks
Ryan Mallett is leaving Arkansas after leading the Razorbacks to an outstanding 10-3 season with a BCS bowl appearance.
No Mallett means a lower ranking for the Razorbacks than they probably deserve from me.
I know Wilson proved his worth by taking over for Mallett against Auburn and throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. But who knows if that was a fluke or not.
I'm still skeptical just because the kid still lacks some key experience to really lead Arkansas to a special season.
Their toughest test is for sure going to be having to go into LSU before the SEC title game. If they upset LSU the week before the SEC title game, the Razorbacks may sneak in at the last second to face South Carolina. Then if they win that, who knows maybe a national title appearance for Bobby Petrino.
I may be talking crazy but its possible.
13: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Which Taylor Martinez are we going to see in 2011? The Heisman-caliber quarterback that he was the first half of the season or the injured, almost a different player, that he was down the stretch?
There is no reason to not like the Cornhuskers but there is reason to be cautious.
They play seven of the Big Ten bowl teams from 2010. They open their inaugural Big Ten season on the road in Madison and then at home against Ohio State. Tough start.
That shouldn't phase the Cornhuskers.
They have a talented offense and a stout defense. They should really contend for the, uh, Legends Division of the Big Ten.
12: Florida State Seminoles
In Jimbo Fisher's debut season he won 10 games including a bowl victory against a talented South Carolina team.
2011 is going to be a coming out party for their dual-threat quarterback E.J. Manuel. He's going to take off this fall.
The Seminoles could be a favorite to win the ACC and possibly make a BCS Bowl appearance. They haven't been there in a while.
The tough test is going to come against Oklahoma at home in Tallahassee. If they win, this season could be a special one.
Prediction: 11-2 (ACC Champions)
11: TCU Horned Frogs
The TCU Horned Frogs are going no where after their magical 2010 season. Gary Patterson will still have his guys running hard and hitting hard. Ask Tolzein.
What he won't have them doing is having the same aerial attack they had in 2010. Andy Dalton is gone and the quarterback position is a glaring question.
TCU's toughest test is going to come when they have to travel to Boise to play Boise State. Boise State almost had the taste that TCU did of playing in a BCS bowl game but as we all know they lost to Nevada in heart breaking fashion. Now they're back for revenge. I don't think TCU has the man power anymore to beat Boise State.
Even without Dalton, I think the Horned Frogs are bound for big things in the weak Mountain West. With how good their defense is, they should win the conference once again.
10: Michigan State Spartans
Sparty is going to be back for another amazing run at the Big Ten title in 2010. After a disappointing BCS snub last season they will be back for revenge.
Kirk Cousins and the running back tandem of Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker are back in action in green and white in 2011. That's a good place to look first at how talented this team is.
They are taking a hit on defense in losing two of their linebackers but they should still have a pretty stout defense once again come next fall.
Sparty's toughest test is going to come actually in a stretch of three games. It will be after their bye week when they host Michigan and then Wisconsin followed by a road trip to Nebraska. If they can go 2-1 in that important stretch, expect the Spartans to really make a run.
Prediction: 11-2 (loss in Big Ten title game)
9: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State had a magical season after starting the year outside the top 25. They proved everyone wrong and stormed ahead to an 11-2 record including an Alamo Bowl victory.
The biggest news is Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden are returning to school. Scary considering the year the two had.
Their biggest issue will be defense but it looks as if the OK State is on its way to another 11-win season.
Before they can achieve such a feat they have a glaring scary opponent on their schedule: Oklahoma. They need to beat Oklahoma on December 3rd at home if they want to make a BCS bowl game. And I think they can do it behind a more experienced duo of Blackmon and Weeden.
8: Boise State Broncos
Now this team is my dark-horse. Kind of ironic considering I have them ranked number eight.
They had a terrific season in 2010 until the heart-breaking loss to Nevada that tumbled them all the way to the Las Vegas Bowl instead of a BCS game.
This team is going to need to win all their games to have a chance at winning the Mountain West with TCU in this conference.
The thing is, with Kellen Moore and Doug Martin returning, they may win them all.
The two "toughest" games this season are going to come against TCU and against San Diego State. They're in back to back weeks but I think the now seasoned Moore will handle them just fine.
Look to Boise to make a BCS appearance in 2011.
Prediction: 12-0 (MWC Champions)
7: Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies had a great season in 2010. They won six in a row down the stretch and things really seem to be clicking under Coach Sherman.
They're returning 18 starters next season from last year's 9-4 team. They have a stout defense and a powerful offense as they look to win even more games next season.
Oh yeah, they play nine of 12 games in the state of Texas too.
Their toughest game on November 5th when the Aggies travel to Oklahoma to face the Sooners. This will be the make or break point for the Aggies.
With nine of their 12 games in their home state and 18 returning players, the Aggies look to make a ton of noise in 2011.
6: Stanford Cardinal
Andrew Luck led Stanford to one of their best seasons in quite some time. A spanking of Virginia Tech in Orange Bowl is no small feat.
Everyone expected Luck to go pro after his amazing season but he pulled a Tebow and said he's coming back again. Right now he's my Heisman Trophy front runner.
Oh and you might be asking how can you say this with the departure of his coach to the NFL? His new one was his offensive coordinator who by the way has coached the last two Heisman runner-ups (Luck and Toby Gerhart).
The only potential blemish I see on Stanford's schedule is having to play Oregon on November 12. That will pose as their obvious toughest game. This game will also serve as the make or break game for Stanford and Andrew Luck. They win, hello national title game if they win the Pac-12 championship. If they lose to Oregon, nothing really happens that major. Just another BCS appearance by The Cardinal.
5: Wisconsin Badgers
This past season was one of the more memorable ones for Badger fans. Beating Ohio State at home, scoring three million points on opponents, winning a share of the Big Ten title, and even though they lost making the Rose Bowl game made this past season one for the ages.
This offense may have just gotten better. That's scary.
Last Monday, former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson made his announcement that he was going to "take his talents" to Madison (of course he didn't really word it like that because he's not LeBron James). Wilson may be the best Badger quarterback already since Ron VanderKelen or Darrell Bevell.
Madison did lose a lot of talent this offseason in addition to gaining one very strong one in Wilson.
Efficient QB Scott Tolzein graduated, tight end Lance Kendricks left for the NFL, so did Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, John Clay (undrafted), and JJ Watt. Two key linebackers in Blake Sorenson and Culmer St. Jean graduated. That's just naming a few of the key names that left.
But no worries. The Badgers have two of the three headed monster at running back. That's more then enough considering UW is "O-Line U."
The Badgers are going to have another magical season in 2011 but standing in their way is the Big Ten opener against Nebraska. That will be the toughest game this up coming season.
Prediction: 12-1 (Big Ten Champions)
4: Alabama Crimson Tide
With Nick Saban calling the plays on the headset, it's hard to vote against 'Bama even being outside the top-10. Let alone the top five.
The defense was the issue in 2010 and a reason why they were left out of the BCS and why they made quite the statement against Michigan State in their bowl game.
With the losses of McElroy and Ingram, the Crimson Tide still look to contend for a national title in 2011. Trent Richardson will be the key to the success of Alabama. He's proven his worth splitting some carries with Ingram in 2010 while Ingram was side lined with some injuries.
Also, a scary thought is the defense is getting back to Saban's 2009 standard where oh yeah, they won the national title.
The glaring scary game for 'Bama this season is going to be at Auburn the week before the SEC title game. It won't be a cake walk but Saban & Co. will pull out the victory.
3: Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners could be another team to contend for the title in 2011. Bob Stoops had his team prepared as usual going into 2010 as he won his seventh Big 12 title in 11 years.
The defense is loaded. Landry Jones is good. Do I sense a zero loss season for the Sooners?
The game standing in their way from achieving such a thing is having to travel to FSU in the second game of the season. If they beat FSU, watch out. Confidence will be high and they won't be stopped.
Bob Stoops has all his ammo loaded and he's ready to fire at anyone who stands in his way in 2011.
Prediction: 11-1 (Big 12 Champions)
2: Oregon Ducks
In case you were wondering, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are back for revenge in 2011. After a national runner-up season, the Ducks want it all. They had their taste now they want to finish.
Chip Kelly is one of the best coaches in the NCAA and he's going to have his team ready by the LSU game in Week 1. If they win, they won't lose all season and will make a second straight appearance in the BCS title game.
Other than LSU the one team standing in their way is Stanford. The Ducks have to travel to Stanford to face Andrew Luck and his high powered offense.
In 2011, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James put themselves on the map. Now they're looking to make themselves even better in the eyes of the public and I think they will succeed at doing so in 2011.
Prediction: 13-1 (Pac-12 Champions, loss in BCS Title Game)
1: LSU Tigers
You may be thinking, LSU? Really? Again? Yes, really.
Any team from the Superior Everywhere Conference is a pretty good bet. They've won the past five national titles.
Les is one of the best recruiters in the country. He has a top five class with ten four-star recruits. Wow.
He's one of the best coaches in the country. He wins. Plain and simple. He flat out wins.
Two titles in the past eight seasons and over sixty victories in the past six seasons are all attached to the Tigers resume.
They're going to stomp through competition.
They have the entire offensive line coming back, an improvement at quarterback with a more seasoned Jefferson. Even with the departure of key defensive players, Miles is a good enough football coach to plug in the holes.
No losses for this team.
Prediction: 14-0 (SEC Champions, National Champions)