Now that we’ve officially kicked off the 2011 season of college football, we can look forward to how the polls will shake out after a full weekend of play.
With games stretching from Thursday night all the way through Monday evening, it will take almost four full days to determine how the teams will stack up after actually (and finally) hitting the gridiron.
So, which teams that didn’t find their way into the preseason polls will manage to make an appearance in the rankings going into the Week 2 festivities?
The first obvious step in teams climbing upwards is that a certain number of ranked squads will have to drop out to make room, something that will happen either by a school in the lower Top 25 suffering a defeat or by virtue of a huge upset occurring to one of the higher rated teams (I’m getting excited just thinking about all the options).
The following slideshow identifies seven unranked squads that have a relatively good chance of finding the Top 25 after the dust settles on Week 1.
The key elements of these selections are that the team in question either has a realistic shot of upsetting a Top 25 team or they have received mention (points/votes) in either of the major preseason polls (but not enough to be ranked) and play an opponent that could produce a win worthy of upward mobility.
Though teams that finished just outside of the Top 25 window in both polls such as Penn State, Arizona State and Utah could be seen as candidates to squeak in, all three play FCS opponents in Week 1, which greatly weakens their argument to push upwards (though they no doubt will find the rankings in coming weeks if they continue to win).
The Wildcats earned a nod, albeit a small one, in both major preseason polls; they garnered 30 points in the Coaches’ Poll (netting them the No. 31 spot) and earned only one point in the AP voting (landing them at No. 47).
What Northwestern has going for them is a winnable game against a BCS opponent, which comes via their Week 1 road trip to Boston College from the ACC (to put this in perspective, only seven members of the preseason Top 25 play a BCS foe).
The matchup, if won (in combination with some key losses on the part of some lower ranked teams), could provide a perfect catapult for the Wildcats to find the very bottom part of the rankings in one of the two major polls.
Boston College is a three-point favorite over Northwestern and the game is slated for Saturday at 12:00 PM EST and will be aired on ESPNU.
The newly independent Cougars set out on their first trail of football freedom this season and received enough love for the No. 33 spot in the preseason AP poll (15 points) and the No. 43 position in the Coaches’ rankings (a mere five points).
So, BYU is at least on the radar which makes their opener at Ole Miss a real opportunity to rise upwards, a move that could happen if the Cougars can manage a road victory (and some ranked teams can suffer a defeat or at least look poor against an easier foe).
The Cougars are independent and the Rebels are SEC West members (who struggled last season), and the game is on the road in Oxford. Eeally this is a perfect set-up for shift in the right direction.
BYU is favored by field goal, and the game is slated for Saturday at 4:45PM EST and can be viewed on ESPN.
As soon as Cougars QB Case Keenum was awarded the eligibility necessary to complete his final season under center in the Bayou City, U of H’s fortunes once again began to rise.
Houston received at least a passing glance from both major preseason rankings and netted approximately a No. 40 slot in both polls.
What is advantageous for the Cougars is that they have the back-end of a home-and-away series with UCLA in Week 1 and therefore host the Bruins on their home field this Saturday afternoon.
UCLA won the contest last year in LA (and remember this is the same game when both Keenum and his backup were lost to injury), but the Bruins went on to suffer a 4-8 finish in 2010.
Both teams should be improved from last year’s product, but if the Cougars could manage a win it would be a victory over a BCS squad which, if the rest of the rankings played out in their favor, could garner them a very low spot in the Week 2 Top 25.
Houston is favored over UCLA by just over a field goal, and the game is scheduled for 3:30PM EST.
The Bulls went 8-5 in Skip Holtz’s inaugural campaign in Tampa, but the lack of experience returning in 2011 has netted USF very little notice in the preseason polls (the only mention at all came in the form of 9 points in the Coaches’ voting).
But what has USF on this list is their blockbuster opener against the Irish in South Bend.
In what may be lost among the delicious shuffle of Georgia versus Boise State and Oregon clashing with LSU, the Bulls at Notre Dame contest is, after all, “the” independent team against a BCS opponent, which is nothing to snort at.
And this is far more than Holtz the Younger playing at Holtz the Elder’s beloved former employer…this is two good young coaches with two good youngish programs.
If USF could pull off the upset, they probably have the best chance of any team in the country of boldly entering the Top 25 (you don’t sneak in when you beat No. 16 ranked Notre Dame).
Notre Dame is a whopping 10-point favorite over the Bulls and the kickoff is slated for 3:30 PM EST and the game is aired on, yes, you guessed it correctly, NBC.
This dynamic ACC duo is mentioned together because they play each other in a contest that could realistically mean a low Top 25 ranking for the winner.
With the suspension of the eight Hurricanes involved in the alleged improper benefits scandal (and the total loss of another), you almost have to think that a Miami victory would be heralded as more of an achievement than would an upset win by the Terrapins.
Regardless, it’s a Week 1 conference game and a great opportunity for both squads.
In terms of where they sit on the national radar, the Hurricanes garnered an equal billing of No. 29 in both early polls while Maryland received mention only from the AP (2 points).
Miami is the favorite by just under a touchdown, and the game is slated for Monday evening (Labor Day) at 8PM EST on ESPN.
Jerry Kill’s first ever Golden Gopher product has a golden opportunity to make a statement in Week 1 when they travel to the West Coast to face USC.
The Trojans are the No. 25 squad in the AP (they are ineligible for consideration in the Coaches’ poll), and a win over USC would almost certainly bump Minnesota at least into the consideration phase of the rankings process.
You know the Trojans will be improved, and hey, they have won 13 straight home openers, so a Golden Gopher win would be, by all means, a huge upset.
But, Minnesota is under new management (with a very successful track record) and has the capability to surprise the people of Troy who are still rebuilding their big wooden horse of football domination.
USC is a whopping 21-point favorite over the Golden Gophers, and the game is scheduled for 3:30PM EST on Saturday afternoon on either ESPN or ABC (depending on your locale).
In my opinion, this may be the best candidate for “totally overlooked game of Week 1” honors.
The No. 14 Horned Frogs hop into Waco to face Baylor in what looks, on the surface, to be a bit of a tussle between a really big poisonous toad and a Bear that just can’t seem to get the better of the little, prickly guy.
But wait! Though these are the Rose Bowl champions, the masters of perfection and the purple Lords of Heaping (victories), this is not the same TCU team that left the Pasadena turf victoriously in January.
Only eight starters remain, 26 lettermen are gone, and the wizard like Phil Steele ranks their overall experience level as the fourth worst in the nation.
On the flip side we have Baylor who returns 14 starters and 52 lettermen from a team that went 7-6 in 2010…and, most of the offensive firepower is back from a unit who ranked No. 19 in passing yards, No. 24 in rushing yards and No. 36 in points scored (and, oh yeah the Bears achieved these number in the Big 12 South).
It’s a perfect storm for an upset involving two ex-conference, in-state foes and if it was to come to fruition you could certainly see the Bears nipping into the Top 25 (and remember this team was in the lower reaches of the rankings in the final weeks of the 2010 season).
TCU is favored by only six-points and mark your calendar because this game is the reason to find a high0def TV on FRIDAY NIGHT at 8PM EST on ESPN.
Don’t be roped into going to see The Help on Friday night. It’s a great flick but you need to watch this game, it’s absolutely critical.