Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Most Suspect Offenses in the Top 25

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2011

Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Most Suspect Offenses in the Top 25

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    It's been a number of days now since USA Today released the preseason coaches poll for the 2011 season. We've all had time to pour over the teams listed, determine what selections we agree with and with which ones we disagree.

    But even if you think the Top 25 is perfect the way it is, it still has one inherent flaw—it's based totally on guessing.

    There isn't a single team that has played a game yet, and there isn't a single team that returns all 22 starters. Suffice it to say, each team will be very different this year from last.

    There are reasons why each team might not belong in the Top 25 or shouldn't be ranked as high as they are. But what about the unit responsible for scoring points? What about the offense? Are they as good as their team's ranking suggests, or are there linger questions?

    Here's a rundown of the most suspect offenses for teams ranked in the Top 25.

No. 25 Penn State Nittany Lions

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    We begin with the No. 25 team on the preseason poll, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

    Let's face it. Joe Paterno's boys haven't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard lately. In 2010, the Nittany Lions went 7-6 (or 8-5 if you count Ohio State's forfeiture of their 38-14 drubbing of Penn State) and finished the year ranked 81st in the FBS in terms of scoring offense.

    On top of that, Penn State lost the one player who contributed as much or more than anyone else on their roster, Evan Royster, to graduation. Even with Royster in the lineup, the Nittany Lions' run game averaged an anemic 142.5 yards per game—less than half the average of the top teams in the nation. Now, it looks as the heir apparent in terms of carrying the football, Stephon Green, is gone from Happy Valley as well.

    JoePa will have to rely on the Lions passing game experience if the Lions have any hope of making a run at the Big Ten title game this season.

    But it's not encouraging when you have to rely on a passing offense that ranked just 52nd in the FBS in 2010.

No. 24 Texas Longhorns

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    Why shouldn't the Longhorns offense be on this list?

    If you thought Penn State's ranking as the 81st scoring offense was bad, Texas was even worse, coming in at 88th in the FBS.

    Just a sampling of teams that were better: North Texas, SMU, UTEP, and Rice—and that's just from the state of Texas (in fact, no Texas team was worse than the Longhorns in 2010). Teams like Duke, Idaho and Tulane were able to light up the scoreboard more often than the Longhorns last year.

    But 2011 is going to be different, right?

    One would hope so. It's not going to be often that Texas goes 5-7. But if you were hoping that some new offensive blood could provide a spark to Mack Brown's sputtering offense in Austin, you might be disappointed.

    The young guns in 2011 will mostly be concentrated on the offensive line. Other than linemen, only two offensive starters are gone from last season, and neither of them were the quarterback, unfortunately.

    Garrett Gilbert turned in a spotty performance in 2010, and that developed into a real quarterback battle in Austin this off season.

    Regardless of who emerges as the 2011 starter for Mack Brown, one thing is clear. The days of offensive underproduction at Texas probably aren't completely behind us.

No. 19 Auburn Tigers

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    When you lose a one-man offensive juggernaut like Cam Newton, your offense is going to take a step backwards. When you pile on six more starters exiting the program, you could very well be in for some bona fide trouble.

    Auburn only returns four offensive starters from the 2010 BCS Championship team. Breaking in a new quarterback is hard enough, but add to the equation the fact that Auburn will be returning just one starting wideout from last year. Now multiply that by the fact the Tigers will have an almost entirely new offensive line. What does that equal?

    The aforementioned trouble.

No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes

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    There are many reasons to suspect the Buckeyes chances in 2011, the least of which isn't the massive amount of off-the-field distractions that are likely to take place over the next several weeks.

    Not only is “Mr. Integrity” Jim Tressel out the door, but he was followed by Terrelle Pryor in relatively short order.

    In addition to Pryor's departure, there remain three offensive starters—including star running back Dan Herron—who will sit out the first five games of 2011. In essence, that leaves just four offensive starters returning for the start of the season (one fullback, one tight end, and two linemen).

    Let's not forget that the NCAA has yet to determine if Ohio State's self-imposed sanctions will satisfy its Committee on Infractions (even though it's highly likely it won't). The combination of so many inexperienced players and the NCAA sanctions coming down the mountain like a large boulder can't be helpful for the scarlet and gray.

No. 15 Texas Christian Horned Frogs

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    Like many other teams on this list, TCU will enter the 2011 season with an inexperienced offense. The Horned Frogs return just five offensive starters from last season's Rose Bowl championship squad.

    Beyond the difficulties of replacing a star like Andy Dalton, there's word now that the presumptive Horned Frogs starter behind center, Casey Pachall, will be undergoing an MRI to discover if there is any damage to his throwing shoulder.

    Not only is his ability to start of the Frogs in Week 1 now in doubt, it's possible his entire season is in jeopardy, depending on the results of the MRI.

No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies

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    You don't lose a player like Tyrod Taylor without losing something on offense.

    While one player does not make a team, it's difficult to overstate the importance of Taylor to Frank Beamer's offense. After four years of leading the Hokie offense, someone will need to try and fill the awfully large shoes left empty by Taylor's departure.

    The good news is that Beamer had his pick of a number of viable candidates, and sophomore Logan Thomas looks to be ready to step into the starting role.

    He'll be joined by seven returning starters from last season which saw the Hokies rebound nicely after starting 0-2 against Boise State and FCS James Madison. After winning the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies were pretty well pasted by the Stanford Cardinal in the Orange Bowl.

    Thomas will have a complete corps of experienced wideouts as well as a nearly intact offensive line.

No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    There's really only one reason Nebraska makes this list: Taylor Martinez.

    Through most of the 2010 season, one could describe his play as suspect. Nebraska was ranked just 38th in scoring offense last season, which is actually quite impressive considering the Cornhuskers were 113th in passing offense. That's right. Only seven teams had worse performances through the air last season in the entire FBS.

    If Nebraska hopes to be a success in the Big Ten, they'll need to rely a little more on the pass than they got away with last season. Not only has Martinez not proven he is up to the task of successfully throwing the football, he also lost most of his experienced targets. The 'Huskers return just one starting wide receiver from last season.

No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers

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    The Badgers were absolutely decimated by graduations after last season, and head coach Bret Bielema definitely has his work cut out for him following Wisconsin's Big Ten co-championship in 2010.

    Only five offensive starters return for 2011, and the positions that need filling include quarterback, running back, fullback and wide receiver. There's also the prospect of filling two of the five line spots.

    But all is not lost for the Badgers this year. There is definite potential in the capable replacements stepping into the starting roles this season. It's also helpful that Wisconsin runs a pretty uncomplicated offensive system: get the ball, run it right at them, overpower them, score points.

    Sounds simple enough. Now, let's see if they can do it.  

No. 6 Stanford Cardinal

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    Oh, it's Andrew Luck! It's Andrew Luck!

    The return of Andrew Luck was certainly good news for Cardinal fans everywhere. But the downside is that the rest of the offense will be woefully inexperienced, and the Cardinal couldn't get it done last season in the Pac-10 with experience at the skill positions.

    While the 2011 Orange Bowl champs are a clear top 10 selection to begin the season, it's questionable how long they can maintain that position. After all, they're not even favored to win the Pac-12 North this season, and with a completely new receiving corps taking over the starting roles, who knows how long the Cardinal will be able to keep up with the top teams in the nation in 2011.

    For as great as Andrew Luck is supposed to be, the Cardinal offense was ranked 29th in the FBS last season in passing. While that's certainly not terrible, it's a little surprising considering the amount of ink Luck gets.

    Is it at all possible Andrew Luck is (gasp) overrated?

No. 5 Florida State Seminoles

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    Our final, and highest ranked team in the Top 25 that appears on our suspect offense watch list is the Florida State Semioles.

    Maybe calling the Florida State offense “suspect” is pushing it. Perhaps, “unproven” would be a better adjective.

    The Seminoles had a breakout season last year under the direction of first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher. Florida State came up just short in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech before impressively beating a pretty good South Carolina squad in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

    After the 10-4 season, the Florida State hype machine has been in high gear, and FSU has found itself in the top five to start the season.

    Florida State has some truly All-Star talent on their offense this season, and if they play up to their lofty expectations, absolutely anything is possible in Tallahassee this season—including a trip to New Orleans in the second week in January.

    But before there are any dreams of BCS glory, we all really need to actually see EJ Manuel take the Seminole offense out for a spin. As we've mentioned, a team is only as good as its weakest link. With all skill positions (other than quarterback) filled with returning starters from 2010, it looks as if the weak link—if there is one—is going to be under center.

    Can Manuel handle the enormous pressure? Will he be able to live up to the crazy-high expectations?

    Suspect? Maybe not. Untested? Absolutely.