This is supposed to be that special time of year when the NBA, NFL and college basketball provide an extravaganza of highlights for sports fans.
Due to the ongoing labor battle in the NBA, fans are left with the professionals in football, and the student-athletes in basketball. Of hundreds of college basketball teams, 32 stand as equals in the NFL.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Aaron Rodgers is the favorite for the NFL MVP award, and Harrison Barnes is the favorite for the Naismith Award as college basketball's best player.
As if having the best player in the game was not enough, the Packers and Tar Heels are loaded with complementary talent for their superstars. Both teams are the favorite to win their respective championships. If and when either team loses a game it will come as a shocker and dominate the attention of the sports world.
Connecticut is the defending champion, while the Detroit Lions have not sniffed the playoffs in well over a decade. However, this year's versions of the teams are mirror images of each other.
Both teams are buoyed by young talents. Center Alex Oriakhi is the only player among the Huskies' top six that is not a freshman or sophomore. Second- and third-year stars Matthew Stafford and Ndamakong Suh are instrumental to the Lions' success.
Even the stars of each team are similar: Calvin Johnson and Jeremy Lamb are rangy 6'5" athletes that can jump out of the building. Young and talented, these are two teams no one wants to play come playoff time.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is tough, defensive-minded and has some questions on offense. Sound familiar, Chicago Bears fans?
Alabama finished 19-0 at home last season, won the SEC West and was snubbed by the NCAA selection committee. Expect them to play with the same chip on their shoulders the Bears have had all season after finishing a game short of the Super Bowl. Alabama is out to prove Tuscaloosa is the same two-way sports town that Chicago has been for the Bears and Bulls.
To beat the Minnesota Vikings, you must find a way to contain Adrian Peterson. To take down Baylor, you have to stop Perry Jones III. Both are easier said than done.
With every opposing defense keying on him, Peterson has managed to hold strong at sixth in the NFL in yards. Jones would have been a top-five pick in the NBA draft, but decided to come back for his sophomore year. The 6'11" Jones, who has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson, averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game as a freshman.
Duke Blue Devils
The New Orleans Saints are a perennial Super Bowl contender and a franchise whose athletes stay out of trouble. Duke is always one of the top two teams in the loaded ACC, and a constant threat to bring home a national title.
The Saints brought home the Lombardi Trophy in February of 2010, just two months before Duke cut down the nets. Both teams make headlines for only the right reasons; you never hear of a Saint getting arrested, nor a Duke player or coach have his name dragged through the mud. In the increasingly disgusting world of NCAA sports, keeping your name clean is not a given.
The Atlanta Falcons continue to have one of the more talented teams in the NFL, but their playoff success leaves something to be desired; Atlanta has not won a playoff game since 2004.
Enter the Pittsburgh Panthers.
In spite of numerous first and second seedings in the NCAA tourney, Pittsburgh has not advanced past the Elite Eight since 1941. Atlanta entered 2011 as a Super Bowl favorite, but currently stand with their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
Pittsburgh entered the season as the AP's 10th-ranked team, but have already disappointed with a loss to Long Beach State.
Florida State Seminoles
The Tampa Bay Bucs have plenty of talent, but had their work cut out for them competing in the AFC South.
Enter the lives of every team competing in the loaded ACC not named Duke or North Carolina. Florida State stands as the 20th-ranked team in the nation. That makes you elite in any other conference, but they will have to pull some upsets to finish any better than third in the ACC.
Both Arizona's and the Carolina Panthers' fates will be determined by the success of a rookie play-caller. Cam Newton has brought a lot of excitement to Carolina, but not a lot of wins.
Arizona would gladly sacrifice some of the former for the latter with top-ranked freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Turner has big shoes to fill with departed superstar Derrick Williams now awaiting his first NBA paycheck.
Central Florida Knights
Eli Manning is the star of the New York Giants and the youngest of the NFL's first family, the Mannings.
If Central Florida is going to make it to the Big Dance, it will depend on the success of Marcus and Jeffrey Jordan, sons of Michael. Marcus returns to the team as the Knights' leading scorer, while point guard Jeff will try to improve his big brother's efficiency.
The Philadelphia Eagles have some serious talent, but it has not translated to success.
Likewise, Villanova has produced a number of NBA guards, but have not found a lot of wins in March. The Wildcats will hope Maalik Wayns can do what Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry could not do before him and bring home a national championship.
Expectations are a little lower than for their NFL equivalent, and a postseason berth would suffice as a good season. At this point, the "Dream Team" would take that, too.
Every season without a Super Bowl is considered a failure for Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys. Kansas may have lost a lot of NBA talent, but anything less than a deep run in March will be seen as a disaster for Jayhawks fans.
To make a run Tyshawn Taylor will have to prove he is the next first-round pick to come out of the Allen Fieldhouse. He will need some help from the host of juniors that have been waiting their turn behind the likes of Marcus and Markieff Morris.
There was a time when the Washington Redskins were a premier franchise in the NFL. Likewise, Indiana was one of the NCAA's powerhouses.
How times have changed. Neither team has won a championship in over 20 years. The Redskins have been doormats in 2011, and the Hoosiers are not expected to be much better.
Once and future kings? The San Francisco 49ers are experiencing the revival fans have been waiting for. The same is expected in Florida.
The 49ers, a dynasty in the '90s, are poised for a first-round bye come playoff time and may be set for a date with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Florida is the last team to win back-to-back NCAA titles, and the team's Top 10 ranking is their first since their title runs.
The Seattle Seahawks may not be a very good football team, but when they put it all together, they do so against some pretty good football teams. Two of their four wins have come against division leaders in the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens.
Maryland has not been a powerhouse since they won it all in 2002, but that has not stopped them from taking out some of the country's best teams. Gary Williams' Terps have a record seven wins over top-ranked teams. New coach Mark Turgeon has some big shoes to fill but don't be surprised if Maryland upsets Duke or North Carolina.
The St. Louis Rams' chances depended on the progression of Sam Bradford. Bradford has had a sophomore slump for the ages (though that can hardly be blamed entirely on him), and the Rams have tanked.
Utah's hopes depend on super second-year man Josh Watkins. Watkins averaged over 14.5 points per game in 2010, and has started out hot with over 21 per game.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Arizona Cardinals put the fate of their season in the hands of newcomer Kevin Kolb. Mississippi State can hope their import Arnett Moultrie finds more success.
Moultrie averaged 10 points and seven rebounds in his last season with UTEP. Thus far Moultrie has found even more success, averaging a double-double and already leading his team to two wins over ranked opponents.
Michigan State Spartans
Obviously Tom Izzo does not have the stability of a Tom Brady, but the same can be said for his Michigan State Spartans. Whether as a top seed or an underdog, Izzo continues to find success in March and leads his teams deep into the tournament.
Rex Ryan and John Calipari are polarizing, if not entirely popular coaches. Love him or hate him, Ryan finds success with his New York Jets, as does Calipari in Kentucky.
The Jets are loaded with talent, while every season Calipari restocks the Wildcats with NBA ability. For all the talent and guarantees, neither man has won the big one. With two straight AFC Championship appearances, Ryan gets his team to the "Final Four," which is where Kentucky bowed out last March.
The Buffalo Bills will never be forgotten for making it to four straight Super Bowls—and losing them all. Butler shares the same fate, as they will forever be remembered for losing two straight national championships.
Both teams are trying to rewrite their history. Buffalo led the AFC East for a few weeks, while Butler coach Brad Stevens will try rebuild on the fly and lead his team to another deep NCAA tournament run.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
NC State and the Miami Dolphins have seen better days. The proud former champions have seen their rivals dominate their divisions for the better part of two decades.
For a short time, these teams defined success in their respective sports. Fans of both will have to wait for a return to past glory. The Dolphins have won just enough games to play their way out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, while NC State is not expected to compete in the ACC.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on tough, smash-mouth football. Ohio State plays a pretty physical brand of basketball themselves.
The Steelers live and die on the play of Ben Roethlisberger. Ohio State's success depends of Jared Sullinger. Both big men thrive on contact, tossing defenders around like rag dolls en route to victory. While not the favorite to bring home a championship, each squad is respected as one of the four or five best in the game.
The Baltimore Ravens may have swept the Steelers in the regular season, but history still points to the Pittsburgh Steelers as the best in the AFC North.
Likewise, the Badgers are second best as long as Ohio State is around. Both teams have similar styles as their rivals. With such nemeses it is not the regular-season success that truly matters, but the postseason wins.
Sticking with the Big Ten comparison, the Cincinnati Bengals have surprised teams with physical play and a strong defense.
Purdue may take a back seat to the big boys but, like the Bengals, every opponent knows they are in for a dog fight.
Like the rest of the AFC North and Big Ten teams, the Cleveland Browns will go as far as their defense takes them.
Cleveland is a forgotten franchise, but given their youth there are a lot of teams that would take their 4-6 record. Northwestern has their work cut out for them, but will be competitive in 2011. They have started out 4-0 and could be headed for an NCAA tournament bid.
A lot of flash, and little substance. That has been the story for both Memphis and the Houston Texans.
The Texans are on their way to making a change, and are favorites for their first AFC South crown. Memphis has delivered a ton of talent to the NBA, but does not have a championship banner to show for it. The Tigers will hope to stir things up come tournament time, but will have to improve after a 12-point loss to Michigan.
The Tennessee Titans are frequent playoff participants, but have just one Super Bowl appearance in their history.
Likewise, you can mark Gonzaga down for a win or two every time they get to the dance, but do not expect much after that; the Cinderella squad has never made it to a championship game.
Every once in a while the Jacksonville Jaguars will put a good season together and get into the playoffs. That is about where it ends, and the same can be said for UVA.
A young UVA team has been picked by Sports Illustrated to make the NCAA tournament. Jaguars fans hope Blaine Gabbert is the real deal and will provide some future playoff appearances of his own.
The Indianapolis Colts have proved they are a one-trick pony without Peyton Manning in 2011.
Without Jimmer Fredette, BYU will try to prove they are not the same. Some have picked them to make the NCAA tourney, but I think those are the same people that thought the Colts could win a few games without Manning.
For both UCLA and the Oakland Raiders, history has certainly been kinder than the present.
The Raiders were once one of the NFL's premier franchises, but have not made the playoffs in nearly a decade. UCLA was the premier team in college basketball but has not won a championship since 1995. In 2011, both teams should make the playoffs/tournament, but are not a serious championship contender.
The fate of USC and the Denver Broncos are in the hands of two bible-thumping freak athletes.
Tim Tebow continues to Tebow his way to win after win. USC could go for some of his college success to transfer seven-foot center DeWayne Dedmon. After not being allowed to play basketball for the majority of his life, Dedmon has been a fast learner and looks better and better with every game.
The San Diego Chargers were once the NFL's most talented team, but never made it to the Super Bowl. Years later, they are trying to hang on with a diminished talent pool.
Texas, too, has had way too much talent not to win it all. From LaMarcus Aldridge to Kevin Durant, no one has delivered the ultimate prize. Now Rick Barnes will try to keep his team afloat with a relatively mediocre crop of talent.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West last season for the first time since Trent Green was behind center. Their reward? A 30-7 whooping by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chiefs have experienced a bit of a hangover, as they have stumbled to 4-6. Tennessee will try to avoid a similar fate, but are not a popular pick in the SEC.