Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Which Top 25 Teams Won't Go Bowling?

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2011

Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Which Top 25 Teams Won't Go Bowling?

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    It's only August, and there is certainly a long way to go before bowl selections are announced. We're even a few weeks removed from the first week of games.

    But now that fall camps are underway and the buildup to the 2011 college football season has reached a fever pitch, why not take a look down the road a bit?

    Every year, the release of the Top 25 polls stirs conversation and controversy. Who belongs, who doesn't, who got screwed, who got fluffed—all topics and all valid questions.

    But let's extend the conversation. Who doesn't belong to the point that they could fail to reach a bowl game in 2011?

    We've selected 10 teams that may not be receiving a bowl bid come December and could spend the postseason watching football on television.

    All of the teams listed in the preseason Top 25 have a legitimate shot at playing in a bowl game. After all, in this era of "everybody gets a ribbon," more teams make bowl games than don't in the FBS (120 teams, 70 bowl participants—or 58.3 percent—in the 35 FBS postseason bowls).

    In short, don't bet the house that all of these teams will miss a bowl game. In fact, based on the aforementioned percentage of FBS teams that do make a bowl game, most of these teams probably will still be playing in December or January.

    But there are cases to be made why each of these teams won't be bowl-bound.

No. 25 Penn State

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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 7-5 and finished the year ranked 68th in the FBS in total offense.

    The defense was better, but still finished outside of the top fourth of defenses in the country.

    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 though the heir-apparent in terms of carrying the football, Stephon Green, is gone from Happy Valley as well.

    If there is a silver lining to this cloud, JoePa still has 15 combined returning starters from last season. Hopefully the experience will be enough to make up for the loss of talent.

    Otherwise, the Nittany Lions will be watching the bowl games from home.

No. 24 Texas

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    A year ago, this prediction would have received quite a bit of ridicule. It would have been blasphemy to suggest the Longhorns would not win six games.

    But after posting an embarrassing 5-7 record in 2010, anything is possible.

    The problem for Mack Brown in 2011 is the simple fact that so many of the underperforming players from 2010 are back for another shot this season.

    And thus far, there's not a whole lot of news out of Austin that makes us believe Texas will be massively improved from last season.

    Longhorns fans will have to stick with the hope that the painful experiences of last season will somehow benefit Texas in 2011. Texas making a bowl game wouldn't exactly be a miracle in 2011, but it's much too soon to say the troubles in Austin are over.

No. 23 Florida

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    Florida was clearly one team that underperformed in 2010. Lofty preseason expectations soon gave way to reality in Gainesville, and Florida finished with a still respectable 8-5 record, including an Outback Bowl win over Penn State.

    But Florida has a few reasons for concern heading into 2011.

    First, the quarterback situation for the Gators isn't exactly up to their typical par. It might be the fact that we all still have a Tebow-induced hangover, but Gator signal-callers are now expected to be the best of the best.

    John Brantley just isn't Tim Tebow, no matter how much Florida fans wish him to be. Any concerns about Brantley were exacerbated by his horrid spring, and it will be interesting to see how he performs in September.

    Speaking of his performance, it's important to note that Brantley will be expected to perform under a new system. New head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are obviously going to put their own brand of football on the field in Gainesville.

    Brantley struggled under the tried-and-true Urban Meyer system. How will he handle a complete shakeup of the playbook and offensive scheme?

    Florida will also have a relatively inexperienced offensive line and defensive backfield.

    Instituting a new system by new coaches is difficult enough, but with less-than-stellar talent at some skill positions and a lack of experience at others, it's not out of the question that Florida could be staring the prospect of the dreaded "rebuilding year" squarely in the face.

No. 21 Missouri

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    Wait a tick, isn't Missouri returning nine offensive starters from last season?

    Yes, they are.

    But it's hard to overlook the massive hit suffered by the Tigers when Blaine Gabbert up and left town. A player like that is easily good for two wins otherwise lost, and a 10-3 team is suddenly looking more like an 8-5 team—and we haven't even touched the defense yet.

    Last season, the Tigers' defensive unit made some decent strides, improving over previous years. Now that experience will be replaced by fresh faces, as Missouri will sport an almost completely new look in the secondary. Only one safety returns, and that's it. Both corners are new, and Missouri will also need to replace a linebacker and at least one D-lineman for 2011.

    A defense that was much improved in 2010 (but still ranked just 47th in total defense) is looking a touch inexperienced to expect much improvement.

    If the Tigers' offense can't score loads of points in a hurry this season, it's possible a six-win team gets left out of the bowl mix come December.

No. 19 Auburn

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    Come on, Auburn fans. You knew this had to be coming.

    With just eight combined starters returning from last season's BCS Championship team, it's likely that Auburn being ranked at No. 19 was more a nod to last year's success than the prospects for 2011.

    Losing Cam Newton is only one piece—an admittedly large piece—of the Auburn puzzle this season.

    The Tigers return just one receiver, two backs and one lineman to the offensive squad for 2011. Auburn is still Auburn, and you can bet the young players stepping into starting roles will be talented players. But in the rough-and-tumble SEC, there's no substitute for experience.

    If there was any hope Auburn could make up the difference on the defensive side of the ball this season, think again.

    First off, Auburn wasn't that great last year on defense, ranked just 60th in terms of total defense.

    That's right. Whoever said defense wins championships wasn't talking about the 2010 Auburn team.

    The Tigers gave up a whopping 368.4 yards per game and a staggering 5.4 yards per play last year. Just based on those numbers, you'd think there was no way that team could win anything, much less a BCS title.

    For comparison, Boise State led the nation with 4.0 yards surrendered per play and ranked second with 254.7 yards per game, while TCU, who finished 2010 as the No. 2 team in the nation, gave up just 228.5 yards per game (best in the nation) and 4.2 yards per play (second in the nation).

    Come to think of it, if the Auburn defense from last season was that bad, maybe it's a good thing most of them are gone.

No. 16 Ohio State

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    Ohio State's inclusion on this list is pretty simple: The Buckeyes won't be participating in a bowl game this season for one of two reasons.

    The first reason, and easiest to explain, is the fact that they simply won't be allowed to participate. The NCAA hasn't handed down any rulings yet, but it's difficult to imagine the Buckeyes being slapped with penalties not including at least one season's worth of a postseason ban.

    The second reason the Buckeyes may miss a bowl game this season is actually related to the first reason.

    With all of the talk and attention surrounding Ohio State, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the distraction becomes so great—especially if the NCAA fails to act before the end of the 2011 season—that it's nearly impossible for the coaching staff or players to focus on winning games in a conference that is distinctly different and more difficult with the introduction of divisional play, the addition of Nebraska and the resurgence of teams like Michigan and Michigan State.

    Ohio State also has the little matter of four players still serving a five-game suspension to start the season—which includes a game against Michigan State and, ironically enough, Miami (in what is sure to be dubbed the "Sanctions Bowl," "Misery Loves Company Game" or "Cheaters Classic").

No. 15 Texas Christian

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    The 2010 season was certainly a memorable one for the Horned Frogs, and it will likely go down as one of the best-ever seasons in Texas Christian football history.

    But the past is the past, and the present doesn't look nearly as bright for TCU.

    In one final season in the Mountain West Conference before heading for the greener (or whatever color the BCS is) fields of the Big East, the Horned Frogs are looking to prove that the program has the staying power of an emerging powerhouse.

    Unfortunately, that's probably a pipe dream.

    The Horned Frogs return just five offensive starters this year, including losing their starting quarterback, two wide receivers and three linemen. The new signal-caller for TCU is Casey Pachall, a capable and athletic sophomore—but he's been busy lately having an MRI on his throwing shoulder to practice much. He's missed at least the last three practices with shoulder soreness, and although the MRI showed "nothing serious," it has to be a cause for concern.

    The nation's best defense from 2010 also returns just five starters from last season, including just one D-lineman in the Frogs' 4-2-5 scheme. There's at least some hope with both linebackers returning from the 2010 Rose Bowl championship squad, but you have to expect TCU to lose a few steps on defense this season.

    Added to all of that is the fact that the MWC won't be TCU's to lose this season. With the addition of Boise State to the conference, TCU finds itself in unfamiliar territory for the first time in a few seasons—chasing the favorite rather than being the favorite.

    The Nov. 12 showdown at Boise State looms very large on the schedule, but the Frogs will also need to keep an eye out for improving San Diego State, Baylor, Air Force and BYU.

    One upset by an opponent is all that could stand between TCU and bowl-lessness.

No. 11 Nebraska

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    Perhaps the most shocking and least-likely team included on this list is Nebraska.

    Why would the Cornhuskers be at risk of not making a bowl game this season?

    It boils down to numbers, really.

    Last season, Nebraska was ranked 113th in the nation in pass-offense. That's right up there with such great programs like Akron, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest, Eastern Michigan, North Texas and Utah State.

    In fact, half of those teams were actually better at putting the ball in the air than Nebraska.

    So why does this spell trouble for the Huskers in 2011?

    The move to the Big Ten is probably going to be a benefit to the Nebraska football program in the long run, but the short-term offers some unique challenges.

    First, there's the style of play in the Big Ten versus the Big 12 style Nebraska is used to. The Big Ten is a conference that has traditionally relied on the power running game, which also means there are some very good run-defenses in the conference. Last season, two of the top six rush-defenses nationally were from the Big Ten.

    While that doesn't mean Nebraska won't have any success on the ground in 2011, it probably means the Cornhuskers will need to fare better than 113th in the FBS to be effective in their new conference home.

    The biggest problem with having an effective passing game is Taylor Martinez. Last season, he didn't even rank in the top 100 passers in the nation—a list that includes a number of second-string quarterbacks.

    Sure, it was his freshman season, but Martinez will need to not only provide much more consistent play passing the ball (1,631 yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 138.8 rating) if he hopes to avoid being picked apart by hungry Big Ten secondaries, but he'll also need to get the ball into the receivers' hands more often if he hopes to put up anywhere near the same numbers on the ground (965 yards, 12 touchdowns) as he did last season.

    If Denard Robinson is the best running quarterback in the conference, you might be able to call Martinez Robinson-Lite. Robinson has his faults to be certain, but he is more productive throwing the ball (2,570 yards, 18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 149.6 rating) than Martinez, and there's no quarterback in the nation better at running the ball (1,702 yards, 14 touchdowns).

    If Martinez can evolve to the next stage in his development, Nebraska fans could be treated to an impressive inaugural outing in the Big Ten. If not, his teammates will have an awful lot of slack to pick up if Nebraska hopes to have any semblance of success in their new conference this season.

    Nebraska isn't likely to miss a bowl game this year—but with Martinez as their quarterback, until we see more from him, absolutely anything is possible.