College Football 2011: 29 Teams That Should Survive September Undefeated

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2011

College Football 2011: 29 Teams That Should Survive September Undefeated

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    The month of September is important for many reasons.

    Prime among them are the facts that September not only sets the tone for a team's conference schedule, but the games in September usually are a team's chance to showcase their ability against foes they rarely meet—the all-important non-conference schedule.

    While winning a conference championship can propel a team into the BCS (for the BCS automatic qualifiers), only an unblemished non-conference schedule combined with that conference championship will earn a team a trip to the BCS championship at the end of most seasons.

    So which teams should make it through September without a blemish on their record?

    Here they are, in alphabetical order by by team, grouped by conference.

Georgia Tech

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    The Yellow Jackets haven't had much to cheer about as of late, but after the month of September is over, Atlanta may see an undefeated Georgia Tech squad heading into the meat of the ACC schedule.

    Georgia Tech begins the year with a game against FCS Western Carolina on Sept. 1 before traveling to meet Middle Tennessee State on Sept.10. Tech will finish out the month with two potentially difficult but winnable games against Kansas and North Carolina—both at home.

    With a 4-0 start to the 2011 season, Georgia Tech has an excellent shot at an impressive bowl bid at the end of the year, with seven or even eight wins a real possibility.

Miami (FL)

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    The Hurricanes have a couple of things working in their favor when it comes to their September schedule.

    First, there are only three games on Miami's schedule. Second, their Sept. 17 game against Ohio State went from a near-guaranteed loss to a very possible win.

    Everyone knows of the storm that has consumed Columbus, so it's not worth going into here. But suffice it to say that with the suspensions, Jim Tressel's resignation and Terrelle Pryor's leaving the program, it's entirely possible for the Hurricanes to emerge from September 3-0.

    The other two games for the 'Canes this September include a season-opening game at Maryland and a Sept. 24 game at home against Kansas State.

NC State

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    The Wolfpack won't have any excuses if they enter the month of October with a loss on their record.

    Their first game comes against an absolutely mediocre FCS Liberty squad that never is able to live up to their preseason expectations in the Big South.

    A Sept. 10 meeting at Wake Forest shouldn't provide the Wolfpack with too much trouble, and NC State will move on to their second FCS opponent of the year in Week 3 when they host South Alabama.

    The Jaguars will soon be making the jump to the FBS, but for the time being, they're still a 65-scholarship program and should be easily over-matched.

    NC State finished up September with a game against Cincinnati—a team that hasn't been the same since the departure of Brian Kelly. Many Bearcat players were quick to tell the media that Brian Kelly wasn't the reason for Cincy wins.

    A year later, the world can actually see that Kelly may well have been the reason, as the Bearcats have endured some major struggles and embarrassing defeats since his departure.

Virginia Tech

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    The Hokies started 2010 with a shocking 0-2 record. Don't for a second think that anything similar to that could happen in 2011.

    First of all, Boise State isn't on the schedule this year. Secondly, Virginia Tech won't allow another shocking loss to an FCS program—even if it is Appalachian State.

    While the Mountaineers can still hold their own in the FCS, they're not the giant killers they were a few seasons ago, and they haven't claimed a national championships since then, either.

    After the Mountaineers, the Hokies have games against ECU, Arkansas State and Marshall.

    Not exactly the type of teams you would expect to beat a BCS participant from a year ago—but as FCS James Madison proved last season, anything's possible.

Oklahoma

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    The Sooners will start the 2011 season as the No. 1 team in the nation, and by the end of September, not much will have changed.

    The Sooners begin the season with a Sept. 3 game against in-state also-ran Tulsa before a week off.

    The Week 3 showdown everyone is looking forward to is Oklahoma and Florida State. The Sooners have to travel for this game, and Florida State should be much improved over 2010, if the hype surrounding the Seminoles is to be believed.

    Still, the Sooners will be the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason, and unless there's some sort of Tallahassee miracle on tap, the Sooners should be heading into their Sept. 24 game against Missouri with their No. 1 ranking intact.

    Missouri has been on the cusp of the Big 12 for several years, and with Big 12-North nemesis Nebraska departing for the Big Ten, there was hope that the Tigers would finally be able to break through.

    But running into the buzzsaw of Oklahoma early in the season just two weeks after a game against a very talented and very experienced Arizona State squad could spell disaster for Mizzou.

Oklahoma State

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    Last season, Oklahoma State had one of the nation's top offenses. This season, with 10 offensive starters returning, expect the Cowboys to even more dangerous with the ball.

    Oklahoma State begins the 2011 season with a few games that can best be described as “warmups.” First on the schedule for the Cowboys is Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns haven't been much of a threat to top teams in the past, and 2011 will be no different.

    In Week 2, the Cowboys host the Wildcats from Arizona. While Arizona does have the talent needed to win more than their fair share of games, they will be woefully over-matched against Oklahoma State.

    Tulsa is next up for Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys will travel from Stillwater for the first time in the 2011 season. While Tulsa has the potential to be a top mid-major team this season, they're still a few rungs below Oklahoma State on the FBS ladder.

    The real test for the Cowboys will come in Week 4 with a Sept. 24 trip to take on Texas A&M. This will be one of the early gems in the Big 12 this season, and it could set the tone for the entire season for both teams.

    While A&M is one of three or four teams realistically looking for a Big 12 championship this season, they're not going to be favored in this game, as they just don't have the horses to keep up with the Cowboys on the scoreboard.

    With a 4-0 record intact, expect Oklahoma State to be riding a top-10 ranking well into the middle part of the season.

Texas Tech

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    The Red Raiders probably aren't on many people's lists for the Big 12 favorite this year, but they should be in decent shape by the time October rolls around.

    Texas Tech has a pretty easy September on tap. The season opener on Sept. 3 comes against FCS Texas State. While Texas State will soon be making the jump to the FBS, they're nowhere near the level of even the bottom-tier Big 12 schools yet.

    Week 2 will be an off week for the Red Raiders before they travel to New Mexico to take on the Lobos on Sept. 17. After what should be an easy win, Texas Tech finished September with what should be their biggest early test with a visit from Nevada.

    The Wolf Pack made a bit of noise last season when they shocked Boise State in overtime after a pair of missed Bronco field goals.

    While Nevada is certainly improving, and the move to the Mountain West Conference will most likely keep them headed in the right direction, it remains to be seen if they can hold their own against the BCS AQ conference programs that don't typically bring up the rear in their respective conferences.

    While this game will end with a score much closer than the Aggies would like, it will still be a W for A&M, and the Aggies will enter October 3-0.

Connecticut

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    Last year's Big East champion and Fiesta Bowl participant will begin the 2011 season with four September games that should be winnable for a team in UConn's position.

    Sure, there have been a lot of changes on the sideline for the Huskies, but Connecticut will ease into this season with a Sept. 1 game against FCS Fordham before travelling to SEC bottom feeder Vanderbilt on Sept. 10.

    On Sept. 16, the Huskies host Big 12 also-ran Iowa State before traveling to Buffalo to take on the MAC's Bulls.

    While Connecticut probably won't be cracking the top 10, even with a 4-0 record in September, they should put themselves in great position to earn a fifth consecutive bowl berth.

Louisville

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    The Cardinals stumbled their way to a 7-6 record in 2010 but finished the season on a high note with a St. Petersburg Bowl win over Southern Mississippi.

    Louisville will be just two seasons removed from a 4-8 finish, and 2011 will provide the Cardinals with the opportunity to take the next step forward back towards Big East supremacy.

    The year begins with visits from FCS Murray State and Florida International before the Cardinal meet their first BCS AQ opponent on a Sept. 17 trip to Kentucky.

    While the Wildcats are no pushover, the Cardinals are returning seven defensive starters, which should help the team bring down their 20 points given up per game average from last season.

Rutgers

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    We're now a number of years removed from the 2006 “Pandemonium in Piscataway” season at Rutgers, where the Scarlet Knights finished an impressive 11-2. Last season, Rutgers was at the other end of the spectrum with a 4-8 season.

    But with the way the Knights' schedule shapes up for 2011, they should nearly equal last year's win total by the time the leaves begin to change colors.

    Rutgers begins the 2011 campaign with a visit from FCS North Carolina Central on Sept. 1. A week later, the Scarlet Knights travel to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels.

    While UNC was potentially considered an ACC contender last season, suspensions and dismissals have gutted the team, particularly on defense. While UNC did manage to win eight games last season, it will be curious to see how the Tar Heels recover from a troubled 2010.

    After a week off, Rutgers hosts Ohio from the MAC in what should be an easy win for the Scarlet Knights. With three wins in September, the Knights are in a great position to improve upon last season and hopefully return to a bowl game in 2011.

Indiana

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    The Hoosiers aren't exactly known for their prowess on the gridiron, but after this September is finished, they will be sitting pretty at 4-0.

    Indiana fulfills the Big Ten's contractual obligation to have one Big Ten school play at a MAC school—although Ball State has elected to host the game at an NFL stadium, as is typical in these situations. This year, Ball State and Indiana will tangle at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    After what should be a fairly easy win, the Hoosiers will host Virginia in a battle of two teams that are hardly ever considered contenders in their respective BCS AQ conferences.

    Niether team will get anywhere near the Top 25 in 2011, and both teams are probably even outside of the Top 50 to begin the year.

    But that doesn't mean that Indiana has made some improvements, and with some hard-earned experience from 2010 in the form of close wins and impressive close losses, the Hoosiers should be able to capitalize on that experience and the home field to squeak out a win against the Cavaliers.

    On Sept. 17, the Hoosiers will host their FCS opponent, in this case South Carolina State.

    Indiana finished up September with a trip to North Texas in a game that will be next to impossible to find on any television station.

    Regardless of the poor caliber of the opponents, Indiana should be encouraged with a 4-0 start in 2011. However, making a bowl game could still be a difficult task for the Hoosiers, as they have a tough Big Ten schedule ahead of them, which includes Wisconsin (who scored 83 points against Indiana last season), Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue.

    Indiana's last win against any of those teams other than Purdue was in 2008 when they topped Northwestern 21-19.

Iowa

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    The Hawkeyes were hoping to follow an 11-2 performance in 2009 with a run for the Big Ten championship in 2010. While there were some impressive wins last year, including against Michigan State, Iowa suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of Minnesota to finish the regular season.

    Iowa should be able to put themselves in a position to improve on last season with their September schedule. Additionally, Iowa will have the time to break in a whole cadre of new starters. The Hawkeyes return just 10 combined starters from 2010.

    Iowa begins 2011 with a visit from FCS Tennessee Tech before traveling to Iowa State for their annual non-conference in-state rivalry clash.

    The Hawkeyes' first major test comes on Sept. 17 when Pittsburgh comes calling. We'll be able to see the effectiveness of the 12 new starters for Iowa in this game.

    While no one should expect a blowout win by Iowa, this came could turn into a statement game for the Hawkeyes, announcing to the rest of the Big Ten that they can beat quality teams in 2011.

    Iowa finished September with a Sept. 24 game against Louisiana-Monroe in what should be a game that is over before halftime.

Nebraska

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    Nebraska will begin their first year in the Big Ten with an abysmally weak non-conference schedule in the month of September.

    The Cornhuskers will play FCS Chattanooga, Fresno State, a Jake Locker-less Washington and Wyoming.

    There's not much to say about this schedule except for this: if Nebraska doesn't finish September 4-0, there will be some hard questions to be answered in Lincoln.

Northwestern

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    The Wildcats under Pat Fitzgerald have made three straight bowl games, and in 2011, the goal is to not only extend that streak but make strides toward earning a top-tier bowl bid.

    Northwestern should be able to begin the 2011 campaign on the right foot with September games against Boston College, FCS Eastern Illinois and Army.

    Dan Persa, the quarterback for the Wildcats, is one of the more underrated and unnoticed quarterbacks in the nation as he leads the Wildcats to victories with his amazing accuracy and quiet consistency.

    Persa missed several games last season with an injury, but if he stays healthy in 2011, he could not only lead Northwestern to some surprising wins but could find his name mentioned in the race for some top awards at the end of the season.

Purdue

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    Purdue isn't the first team that comes to mind when the word “undefeated” is mentioned. But as bad as the Boilermakers are, their September schedule is so weak, even the lowly Boilers should be able to emerge with a 3-0 record.

    First on tap are the Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee State. Purdue follows that game up with a trip to Rice before returning home to host FCS Southeast Missouri State.

    With such a weak schedule, any Big Ten team, no matter how weak, should be able to emerge with three victories.

Wisconsin

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    One of the three Big Ten co-champions from 2010—Wisconsin—will begin their championship defense with four games that the Badgers should be able to win in their sleep.

    On Sept. 1, Wisconsin will host the Rebels from UNLV in the season kickoff on ESPN. On Sept. 10, Wisconsin welcomes Oregon State to Camp Randall.

    While the Beavers have been a team that can surprise top-ranked opponents, it's doubtful Oregon State will be able to contain Wisconsin's hard-nosed offense for more than a few drives.

    On Sept. 17, Wisconsin will meet up with Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago in what is a match up between one of the top Big Ten programs and one of the MAC's top programs.

    If anyone doubts the comparative weakness of the MAC to any BCS AQ conference, watch this game. It should provide some insight as to just how weak the MAC is these days.

    Wisconsin finishes the month of September by hosting FCS South Dakota. The Coyotes are just a few years removed from Division II, but have already made a name for themselves in just three short FCS season when they topped Minnesota last season, 41-38.

    Still, Wisconsin is not Minnesota, and South Dakota did finish last season 4-7.

Southern Mississippi

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    A perennial favorite in Conference USA, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles will begin the 2011 season with four very winnable games in the month of September.

    The mark of consistency, Southern Miss hasn't finished with fewer than seven wins since 2001. They also haven't finished with more than nine wins since 1988. The Golden Eagles are looking to extend their bowl streak to 10 games, and with a 4-0 start, they shouldn't have much trouble doing just that.

    Southern Miss begins the season with a Sept. 3 game against Louisiana Tech before traveling to Marshall on Sept. 10. Both games should be relatively easy wins for the Eagles, as neither opponent shows much in the way of ability when it comes to knocking off even top mid-major programs.

    Southern Miss will host FCS Southeastern Louisiana before traveling to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers to finish out the month of September.

    With a 4-0 start, the Eagles will again be one of the top programs in C-USA, and the entire season may hinge on the Oct. 22 clash with SMU—a cross-divisional game that could set the tone for the rest of the season leading up to the C-USA Championship Game.

Notre Dame

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    Of all of the programs on this list, Notre Dame probably has the toughest road to an undefeated September.

    The Fighting Irish begin the season with a game against USF in South Bend. While the Bulls probably won't provide much of a challenge for the improving Irish, the hill only gets steeper after this Sept. 3 game.

    The annual grudge match between Notre Dame and Michigan is set for Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. Eastern in a rare night game at Michigan Stadium.

    While Notre Dame has its sights set on the BCS this season, Michigan has a new head coach, new philosophy, a Heisman-caliber quarterback, and an improved defense.

    This game will certainly be one of the early gems in the 2011 college football season, and a win for either team will grease the tracks a bit when it comes to bowl selections.

    As great as the Notre Dame-Michigan game is likely to be, the Notre Dame-Michigan State game should be even better.

    Anyone who watched the game or saw the replay of the final play won't soon forget the 2010 edition of the battle for the Megaphone.

    A daring fake field goal in overtime to win propelled Michigan State on to bigger and better things in 2010, and the Spartans eventually earned a share of the Big Ten championship.

    The Irish are certainly looking to avenge the loss, and they'll be able to do it at Notre Dame Stadium. This game could turn out to be another classic, but if Notre Dame wants to keep their BCS hopes alive, a win over MSU is a must.

    The Fighting Irish finish up the month of September with a trip to Pittsburgh. Notre Dame should be able to handle a Pittsburgh program that has had more than its share of problems during the offseason.

    While Notre Dame seems to have finally found some rhythm, the Panthers seem listless, and it's going to be a difficult task for new head coach Todd Graham to right the ship before Pitt hosts the Irish on Sept. 24.

    When and if Notre Dame emerges from September with a 4-0 record, they should find themselves poised to make a move into the Top 10 and earn their way back into the BCS at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

Air Force

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    The Falcons finished the 2010 season 9-4, won the Independence Bowl and won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2002.

    Head coach Troy Calhoun has quietly led the Falcons to a 33-18 record over his tenure in Colorado Springs. The road to the Mountain West Conference championship may have gotten a bit tougher with the addition of Boise State, but if there's one team that's up to the challenge, it's most likely Air Force.

    To begin 2011, the Falcons start off with a game against FCS South Dakota before hosting last year's Rose Bowl champion TCU on Sept. 10.

    While Air Force won't be picked to win this game by many people across the country, TCU won't be the same team they were in 2010. In fact, with just 10 total starters returning from last season, even TCU fans will need to reach for their gameday programs with all of the new faces.

    It's doubtful TCU will be anywhere near their 2010 form, while Air Force will return seven defensive starters and the bulk of the skill position players on offense. The bottom line is that this game will shock a good number of people as Air Force throws one by the Horned Frogs.

    The Falcons will have a week to recover after their clash with TCU before hosting FCS Tennessee State on Sept. 24. With a 3-0 record to finish the month of September, the Falcons will be primed for their next two games against Navy and Notre Dame before heading into their MWC conference schedule.

    A repeat of last season's 9-4 record is definably within reach, and a 10-3 year isn't out of the question for Air Force.

Boise State

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    This selection shouldn't come as a shock to anyone outside of Athens, Georgia.

    The Week 1 showdown between Boise State and Georgia is one of a small handful of great games to begin the 2011 season, and both programs should be primed for an epic battle.

    While Georgia should unquestionably improve over their embarrassing 2010 1-4 start, a loss to one of the top teams in the nation shouldn't shock anyone and shouldn't send Bulldog fans into a panic—although after their reaction last season, it might.

    The Broncos get a week off before traveling to Toledo to take on the Rockets. After dispatching the Rockets in a game that shouldn't be too interesting, the Broncos host one of the other top mid-major programs in the nation, Tulsa.

    The Golden Hurricane could be a dark horse candidate this season, but Boise State will let the nation know that they are the undisputed mid-major king after the Sept. 24 game is over. Still, this game will probably end up being closer on the scoreboard than many Boise State fans expect.

    After starting the season 3-0, Boise State will find themselves in the top five in the nation and should be well on their way towards a triumphant return to the BCS.

Arizona State

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    By now, most college football pundits and football fans across the nation have begun to pick up on the buzz building around Arizona State.

    After ending the 2010 season 6-6, there weren't many people who gave ASU much of a chance in the expanded Pac-12 in 2011. But a closer look at the Sun Devils' 2010 season shows that they were just a scant 10 points from being 10-2.

    Arizona State also returns their entire offense from last year and nine defensive starters. With the experience of 20 starters returning, Arizona State should be able to make up those 10 points over the course of the season, and that could place them right in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship in 2011.

    That quest will begin with four September games against opponents of varying difficulty.

    First up for the Devils is FCS California-Davis. UC-Davis shouldn't provide ASU with much more than token resistance before the Sept. 9 showdown with Missouri.

    The Tigers took a huge loss when Blaine Gabbert decided to pursue a career in the NFL rather than returning for his senior year at Missouri. Still, Mizzou will be a tough opponent, and the Sun Devils will need all of that returning experience to emerge from this home game as the victor.

    Arizona State hits the road for the first time in 2011 when they travel to Illinois for a Sept. 17 clash with the Fighting Illini.

    While Illinois is certainly no pushover, they aren't exactly the cream of the Big Ten, either. Arizona State should be able edge past the Illini without extreme difficulty.

    Perhaps the biggest early season game for the Sun Devils comes on Sept. 24 when they host the Trojans of USC. While USC is still stumbling through their NCAA sanctions, they have the capability of being a thorn in the side of teams hoping to use the opening provided by USC's falloff.

    This late game will be a statement game for each program. Arizona State will be attempting to show the rest of the Pac-12 that they are for real this season, and the preseason buzz was well earned.

    USC will be hoping to prove that they still have what it takes to win the tough games in the new Pac-12. In this cast, Arizona State will have too many weapons and too much to play for to allow USC to issue an early setback.

California

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    The Golden Bears nearly pulled off the upset of the year last season when a penalty forced them to re-kick a go-ahead field goal late in the game against Oregon. The second attempt was no good, and Oregon went on to win the Pac-10 and earn a berth in the BCS Championship Game.

    This season, Cal will be hoping to make some improvements, and the month of September will give them ample opportunity to prepare for what is sure to be a rough Pac-12 season.

    The Golden Bears begin 2011 with an in-state clash with Cal State-Fresno on Sept. 3. While Fresno State has shown that they can win big games against BCS AQ opponents, that hasn't been the case these past few seasons, and Cal should be able to dispatch Fresno State without too much undue effort.

    The second game of the season is a scheduling aberration as California travels to face fellow Pac-12 member Colorado in a non-conference game. This game was scheduled before Colorado's decision to join the Pac-12, and so the game remains as a non-conference matchup.

    On Sept. 17, Cal hosts FCS Presbyterian before traveling to Washington to begin the Pac-12 season on Sept. 24. While Washington has been decent over the past few seasons, that can pretty much be summed up by two words: Jake Locker.

    Since he's gone, the Huskies may find themselves relegated back to the bottom of the conference.

Stanford

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    A trip to the BCS. Orange Bowl champs. Last season was clearly a magical one for the Cardinal, and things seemed to look even brighter when Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck announced he would be returning to Stanford for another season.

    But Stanford will have plenty of issues for 2011, including the loss of six offensive starters (including all receivers) and five defensive starters (including four of the front seven).

    Still, Stanford is going to start the season as a top ten team, and that ranking should hold all the way through September as aren't likely to drop any of their three September contests.

    First on slate for the Cardinal is FBS bottom feeder San Jose State. SJSU is so bad, the only team they managed to beat in 2010 was FCS Southern Utah—and the Spartans only beat the 6-5 Thunderbirds by five points.

    As if going 1-12 wasn't bad enough, their games against ranked opponents were shockingly lopsided. Don't expect the first game in 2011 to be much different. Stanford could win this game with the 3's and 4's playing all 60 minutes.

    Stanford travels to the East Coast for the second game of 2011, taking on the Blue Devils at Duke University. Duke may be all the rage in basketball, but when it comes to the gridiron, the best the Blue Devils can hope for is mediocre.

    The Pac-12 season starts for the Cardinal on Sept. 17 as they travel to Arizona to face the Wildcats. While Arizona will easily be the best team Stanford faces in September, this game should be an easy win for Stanford.

    Arizona is improving, but they're still several years away from competing for a Pac-12 title. Stanford on the other hand, is a team everyone expects to be right in the mix come November.

UCLA

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    For the better part of the last couple of decades, the perennial football powerhouse in Los Angeles was USC. With the Trojans muddling through their NCAA sanctions, UCLA has not only taken the lead in LA, they've made some strides in the conference and in non-conference games, as well.

    The season starts with a Sept. 3 game aginst Houston. While Houston cracked the Top 25 a few years back with some impressive offensive displays, those days are gone. Houston just doesn't have the talent these days to keep up with even mid-range BCA AQ programs.

    Sept. 10 will see another win for the Bruins as they host abysmally bad San Jose State.

    The game that will headline the Bruins' September schedule arrives on September 17 as UCLA hosts Texas in a rematch of last year's shocking “upset” that sent Texas on a spiral that didn't stop until the season concluded with the Longhorns 5-7.

    The problem for Texas is that not much has changed, and the Longhorns will be fielding pretty much the same team from last year. Plus, this game is at home in the Rose Bowl for the Bruins.

    While Texas does have fond memories of that stadium and the glory days of Vince Young, this game will end up much differently for the Longhorns.

    UCLA gets the Pac-12 season started with a trip to Oregon State on Sept. 24. At first glance, these two teams might seem to be evenly matched. But an intangible may play a role in this game. Over the past few seasons, UCLA has seemed to exceed expectations, while Oregon State has disappointed.

    While Oregon State has one of the more difficult stadiums in which to play in the Pac-12, the Bruins should be able to overcome any minor advantages Oregon State will have in 2011, and UCLA will enter October with a 4-0 record.

Utah

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    As it turned out, the Utes weren't quite as advertised in 2010. After beginning the season with high hopes, Utah was thoroughly beaten by the three quality teams they played in 2010.

    In fact, against TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State, the Utes were only able to manage a combined 13 points while giving up 101.

    The first step in erasing those nightmares will be the three games on Utah's September schedule.

    First up, FCS Montana State. While the Bobcats are an FCS program that has been increasing their level of success over the past few seasons, they have yet to break through to the top echelon of FCS programs. They came close to beating Washington State last season, losing 23-22—but Utah isn't Washington State.

    The Utes will play their first even game in their new conference on Sept. 10 when they travel to Los Angeles to take on USC.

    While this match up may prove to be an exciting contest in future seasons, the 2011 edition will provide an excellent opportunity for the Utes to show the rest of the conference that they won't be awed by the history or name recognition of any program, no matter how storied.

    Sept. 17 will see the 2011 installment of the Utah-BYU rivalry. Both teams have made affiliation changes, with Utah moving to the Pac-12 and BYU becoming an independent in football. Even though there are no conference implications for this game, don't expect the emotions or passion on either sideline to be diminished.

    This rivalry is intensely personal and intensely heated, with burning passions and hatred rarely seen outside of games like Michigan-Ohio State or Alabama-Auburn.

    But as Utah underachieved in 2010, BYU probably underachieved to a greater degree. It's yet to be seen how the Cougars will handle independence, but Utah should be the victor again in 2011, and will enter the heart of the Pac-12 schedule with a 3-0 mark.

Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide enter the 2011 season in everybody's top five, and there's good reason to assume that Alabama will be ready and able to compete for not only an SEC championship but possibly a BCS championship by the end of the upcoming season.

    Alabama has a ton of talent returning for the 2011 season, and the month of September should provide the Tide with some excellent early tests to prepare for the rest of the season.

    The opener against Kent State on Sept. 3 will end the way everyone expects it to end—with a massive blowout win for Alabama.

    On Sept. 10, Alabama travels to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions. Last season, the much-anticipated game between these two teams turned out to be a bit of a letdown as the Crimson Tide cruised to a 24-3 victory.

    Unfortunately for Penn State fans, there's not much to make anyone believe that this year's score will be much different. Alabama will again be one of the best teams in the nation, and Penn State will struggle to maintain their place at the bottom of the top tier of Big Ten teams.

    Week three will see the Tide host North Texas in what should be another easy victory for Alabama, and the reserves should see plenty of action on Sept. 17.

    The SEC season gets underway for Alabama on Sept. 24 in a game in Tuscaloosa against an improving Arkansas program. Last year, the Razorbacks surprised many of their opponents in the SEC, and rode their successes all the way to the BCS and a Sugar Bowl berth.

    This season, the Hogs hope to do one better and challenge the top teams in the conference for the SEC championship. Unfortunately, Arkansas just isn't quite ready to be mentioned in the same breath as Alabama, LSU and other top SEC programs.

    But this game should provide a little drama and a whole lot of entertainment.

Florida

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    The Gators finished 2010 with a record of 8-5. While there are many programs around the country that would view that as a success, those programs aren't located in Gainesville, Florida.

    Urban Meyer has moved on, and has been replaced by Will Muschamp. One of the early tests for Muschamp will be to guide his Gators squad through a fairly smooth September, setting up a showdown of two 4-0 SEC teams on Oct. 1 when Alabama comes to the Swamp.

    First up for the Gators is in-state foe Florida Atlantic. Anyone who is betting on FAU clearly has money to burn, as the Owls won't provide Florida with much more than practice fodder.

    Alabama-Birmingham is next up and will visit Florida on Sept. 10 before the Gators get the SEC season underway with an early-season showdown with Tennessee on Sept. 17.

    Tennessee was once a national powerhouse, and throughout the mid 1990s, they were almost unbeatable. But times have changed, and with the exception of an odd season here and there, the Vols have become not much more than a footnote in the SEC standings.

    Last season's 6-7 finish for Tennessee has become the norm over the past three seasons, and there's not any reason to believe that the Volunteers will make any huge strides in 2011.

    The month of September wraps up for Florida with a Sept. 24 trip to Kentucky to take on the Wildcats. Kentucky hasn't won more than eight games since 1984, when they finished 9-3. W

    hile the Wildcats have made five consecutive bowl trips leading into 2011, they haven't made much noise in the SEC, and 2011 won't be any different. Florida should easily handle UK and will finish September with a 4-0 record, giving all of us the dream matchup between an undefeated Florida and an undefeated Alabama.

LSU

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    With the possible exception of aforementioned Notre Dame, LSU has perhaps the most difficult September schedules in the nation.

    When and if LSU emerges from September with a 4-0 record, that difficulty will provide the Tigers with all of the experience and strength-of-schedule points they will need to plow through the rest of the season en route to a BCS return.

    In what is easily the marquee Week 1 matchup of 2011, the LSU Tigers will meet up with the Oregon Ducks at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas. This meeting of two top five teams will be the most-watched game during the first week of football, and the debate is already well underway as to who will win a why.

    Rather than go into all of the details, suffice it to say that someone has to win, and there's just as much reason to believe LSU will be that team as there is for Oregon. In the end, the game may come down to intangibles, such as guile.

    And there's no one more cunning in the business than Les Miles.

    LSU gets a bit of a respite after the cutthroat season opener with a visit from FCS Northwestern State on Sept. 10. The SEC season begins with a trip to Mississippi State, and while the Bulldogs aren't quite the pushovers they once were, they aren't quite a top SEC team, either.

    LSU is, and the Bulldogs will be just one of many who will fall short against the Bayou Bengals in 2011.

    LSU finish September with another real test and they travel to take on West Virginia in Morgantown. WVU is an early favorite to win the Big East.

    Because of that conference's weakness, in seasons past, winning the conference didn't mean much in a national sense. But this season, the Mountaineers may prove to be a cut above Big East contenders in the past.

    Should both teams make it to this game at 3-0, as expected, this contest could answer a great many questions about both programs.

Hawaii

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    The Warriors will begin the 2011 season as the odds-on favorite in the WAC, now that teams such as Boise State and Nevada have moved over to the Mountain West.

    The always high-flying Hawaii passing attack will be in full swing in 2011 behind the arm of senior quarterback Bryant Moniz. The concern for Hawaii in 2011 will be their utter lack of experience on offense, as Moniz is just one of only three returning starters.

    The defense is in far better shape, but still returns only six starters from 2010. The upside is that both the secondary and front seven return a few starters each, with two each returning at safety, linebacker and on the line.

    Hawai'i's first opponent in 2011 is Colorado on Sept. 3. While Colorado has made the jump to the Pac-12, their recruiting hasn't quite caught up with their conference affiliation. Their reputation as an irrelevant team in the Big 12 will undoubtedly follow them to the Pac-12, at least in the near term.

    One also can't ignore the travel strains put on any team that has to fly out to Hawaii for a football game. A seven hour flight is bad enough, but when you arrive in a distraction-filled paradise to begin the season, it's easy to find a team that has it's focus less than perfect.

    Hawaii follows up a visit from Colorado with a trip to Washington to take on the Huskies.

    While a year or two ago, this game would have been quite the matchup, and Jack Locker probably would have led his Huskies to victory, the face is Washington is without Jake Locker, and the Huskies will be facing a Warriors team that really knows how to put points on the scoreboard.

    It's doubtful that the Huskies will be able to keep up this year.

    Hawaii will next travel to Las Vegas to take on UNLV on Sept. 17. This cross-conference game between the WAC and MWC is interesting only for that reason. T

    his game should be over by halftime, and Hawaii will be able to get many of their young prospects some quality playing time, even if it is against UNLV.

    Hawaii finished up the month of September with a visit from FCS UC-Davis. Ever since making the move to the FCS from Division II in 2003, the Aggies have been stuck in neutral, never winning more than six games, never winning fewer than five.

    Their FCS mediocrity won't be anywhere near good enough o keep up with Hawaii for more than a quarter. At most.