College Football Preseason Rankings 2011: The Make or Break Game for Each Team

Joe IannelloAnalyst IIIAugust 9, 2011

College Football Preseason Rankings 2011: The Make or Break Game for Each Team

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    Are you ready for some College Football? Players and coaches across the country are preparing themselves with the hopes of achieving glory in 2011.

    Preseason rankings are out and some of the most storied programs in the country are ranked in the top 25. Each team has seen their schedule and certainly has one game that they have circled and highlighted many times for emphasis.

    There are many published preseason rankings but we will trust the coaches at this point using the USA Today's Top 25 Coaches Poll as a guide.

    Here is a ranking of every Top 25 team's make-or-break game in 2011.

25. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Joe Paterno and his Penn State Nittany Lions may be a sleeper pick in the new look Big Ten in 2011. Penn State will try to avenge last season's loss to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in week two, but this isn't the game that is circled on the calenders in Happy Valley. 

    Alabama does not play in Penn State's conference and that game will not impact their chance of winning another Big Ten Title. Penn State's make-or-break game is when they square off against rival Ohio State on November 19, at Ohio Stadium.

    The Nittany Lions have a real shot of entering this game undefeated in the conference with only Iowa and Nebraska being potential bumps in the road. Ohio St. vs. Penn St. has been a heavyweight battle for years, and Penn St. must capitalize on the turmoil that has overtaken Columbus.

    Penn State has a much better chance of winning this game with no Terrelle Pryor or Jim Tressel, and it could set up a show-down of two undefeated Big Ten teams in week 12 with Penn State playing the Wisconsin Badgers. 

24. Texas Longhorns

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    Who could've forseen the mighty Texas Longhorns finishing the 2010 season with a 5-7 record? Anyone?

    Don't expect the Longhorns to be down for too long as Mack Brown is one of the best recruiters in the country and he always has a top 10 class. For the Texas Longhorns, there is only one game that is considered a must-win every season: The Red River Shootout against the hated Oklahoma Sooners.

    The Sooners are loaded this year (you will see them later in this ranking) and it may be a national championship-or-bust for Bob Stoops, Landry Jones and Co. A win over the Sooners would give Texas all of the reassurance they need that they could play with anyone in the country.

    A lopsided loss to their hated rivals could mean another rocky season for Texas.

23. Florida Gators

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    Can Will Muschamp lead the Florida Gators back to the top of the SEC in his first season in Tallahassee? His first game against the Alabama Crimson Tide (at home) will tell the country a lot about what this Florida team is made of.

    The Gators will hope that the home-field advantage given by "The Swamp" will be the difference against Nick Saban and Alabama. This is a make-or-break game for Florida as it marks the beginning of a brutal four game stretch (thank you SEC) that includes Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.

    An upset win over Alabama could catapult the Gators to the SEC Championship Game.

22. Georgia Bulldogs

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    The Georgia Bulldogs may have finished below .500 in 2010, but that doesn't mean Mark Richt isn't expecting a big season from his players in 2011. The marquee game for the Bulldogs is only 25 days away against the Boise St. Broncos. has a countdown until kickoff clock on their homepage and Richt has his team chomping at the bit of the opportunity to play the Broncos on a national stage. A win against a BCS contender like Boise St. would instantly make Georgia believe that they can play with any team in the country.

    They can play with anyone and they can beat anyone.

21. Missouri Tigers

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    The Missouri Tigers will be breaking in a new dual-threat quarterback in 2011 in James Franklin. Can Gary Pinkel acheive another 10 win season behind a first-year starter at QB?

    The Tigers are a team that has aired the ball out in recent memory, but they return their top four rushers which will certainly help out a young QB. They also return their top two receivers, and four offensive lineman from 2010.

    Missouri will be an underdog against the Oklahoma Sooners, so their marquee game is against the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. Mizzou has a real shot of winning more than the 10 games that they did in 2010.

    They must beat Oklahoma St. first.

20. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Teams will be ready for Dan Mullen and his Mississippi State Bulldogs this season after their terrific 2010 campaign in which they won nine games. The Bulldogs make-or-break game will come early, week two to be exact against the defending National Champion Auburn Tigers.

    Auburn lost a myriad of players from their undefeated squad, but knocking off the defending national champions will do wonders for a program that has looked up at the teams like Florida, LSU and Alabama for far too long.

19. Auburn Tigers

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    Gene Chizik's Auburn Tigers lost Heisman Winner and No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton to the NFL, but the loss of defensive tackle Nick Fairley may be missed even more. Auburn was picked to finish fifth out of six in the loaded SEC West.

    Auburn's make-or-break game will come against the Florida Gators in week eight. The Tigers have a relatively easy schedule up to that point before they have play three tough teams in Florida, LSU and Georgia in four weeks.

    If Chizik and Auburn Nation can find a way to will their team to victory against the Gators, Auburn could find themselves back in the SEC Champiomship Game.

18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Brian Kelly has the Notre Dame Fighting Irish loaded in 2011. Talent all over the field and a surprisingly easy schedule should add up to a great year for Notre Dame.

    Notre Dame opposes the Michigan Wolverines in week two, but it's their week three game at home against Big Ten favorite Michigan State that sticks out. Michigan State returns one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kirk Cousins and a great running back in Edwin Baker.

    If Notre Dame expects to make a BCS Bowl in 2011, they will have to get past a big hurdle in the Michigan State Spartans.

17. Michigan State Spartans

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    The Michigan State Spartans are coming off a banner year in 2010 where they won a share of the Big Ten after winning 11 games. They return two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in QB Kirk Cousins and RB Edwin Baker to help defend their title. 

    Even after winning more games than any other Spartan team in recent memory, Michigan State's season still will be remembered for their humiliating loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. The Spartans have hopes of winning big again in 2011 and they will have to navigate through a tough schedule to do so.

    Michigan State's marquee game will be against the Ohio State Buckeyes. This marks the beginning of a brutal four game stretch that includes Ohio St, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

    A victory in Columbus against the mighty Buckeyes will set the tone for the rest of the season.

16. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Luke Fickell is a brave man to take over the reigns of the Ohio State Buckeyes program at a time like this. Ohio State has been the talk of college football for months and they enter the season without Heisman Trophy candidate Terrelle Pryor and vest-wearing Jim Tressel.

    Is the Buckeyes run of six straight Big Ten Championships over? The make-or-break game for Ohio State is when they place Michigan State at home.

    Michigan State is looking to win the Big Ten outright this season and Ohio State will have their hands full with the Spartans. This game will tell us everything we need to know about how tough the Buckeyes really are.

15. TCU Horned Frogs

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    The TCU Horned Frogs are coming off a 13-0 season that culminated in a Rose Bowl victory against the Wisconsin Badgers. TCU will be looking to make a BCS bowl game for the third straight year in 2011, but they will have to do so without QB Andy Dalton.

    TCU's marquee game will be against fellow-BCS crasher Boise State on week 10. TCU has a really easy schedule and they certainly will have to accrue some style points if they wish to make another BCS game.

    They also will have to beat Boise State.

14. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Ryan Mallett have left for greener pastures in the NFL, but collegiate coaches across the country are still expecting a big season from the Arkansas Razorbacks. Their defense looks to be one of the best in the country as it returns seven starters from a much improved group from 2010.

    QB Tyler Wilson stepped in for an injured Mallett against the eventual national champion Auburn Tigers and threw for over 300 yards. Needless to say, Razorback fans are excited to see Wilson in a full-time gig.

    Their marquee game on the schedule has to be when they play the Alabama Crimson Tide (surprise) during week four. This game will be on the road and show the nation if Arkansas is a national championship contender or pretender.

13. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    It seems like every season that we expect the Virginia Tech Hokies to take a step back but it hasn't happened yet. The Hokies posted another 11 wins in 2010, and have one of the best and most respected coaches in entire country in Frank Beamer.

    "Beamer Bowl" is amazing in itself but Frank still finds a way each season to add a new wrinkle. The Hokies will have to replace Tyrrod Taylor and two of their star running backs, but their offensive line remain's mostly intact and their defense is always great.

    Virginia Tech has their eyes fixated on another ACC Championship, so their eyes are focused on an away game against Georgia Tech. This will be the make-or-break game for the Hokies as Georgia Tech may be the only team that stands in the way of ACC glory once again.

12. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    2011 may be the most anticipated season in South Carolina under Steve Spurrier, as the "old ball coach" finally has the Gamecocks complete enough to face the grind of the SEC East.

    The Gamecocks have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in work-horse RB Marcus Lattimore and junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. There are no better players at the running back or wide receiver positions in the SEC than Lattimore and Jeffery.

    The road to the SEC East title will run through South Carolina this season, but their marquee game will be when they seek vengeance on Auburn for their loss last season.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Taylor Martinez has the Cornhusker Nation from Nebraska buzzing with the potential return of the giants from the Midwest. Bo Pelini has proven that he was the right man for the job and he consistently brought in top-notch recruiting classes over his career.

    Martinez accounted for 22 total touchdowns and looks to wreak havoc on the new look Big Ten Conference. The Cornhuskers will be welcomed to the Big Ten by the team that many experts expect to dominate the conference in the Wisconsin Badgers.

    The Cornhuskers do not have the big bodies up front that they have the past three seasons and may be susceptible to the pounding that the Badgers can dish out. Then again, they have been told the same thing by their coaches all summer long.

    The Cornhuskers will be ready for Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.

10. Wisconsin Badgers

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    The Wisconsin Badgers seemingly have the biggest and best offensive line with a trio of talented running backs every season. They have a QB in NC State transfer Russell Wilson who will make them the dual-threat type of offense that the rest of the country feared they never would.

    The Badgers instantly become national title contenders with the addition of Wilson to a team that reloads every season. Bret Bielema has earned the respect of his players and has one of the toughest stadiums in the country to play in with Camp Randall.

    The make-or-break game for Wisconsin is their last regular season game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions always seem to play Wisconsin tough and this could potentially feature two teams with unbeaten conference records.

    Either way, the Badgers will be looking to close out a perfect season at home in Camp Randall Stadium.

9. Texas A&M Aggies

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    The Texas A&M Aggies won a share of the Big 12 South crown for the first time in over a decade. With Mike Sherman calling the shots, there is a chance that it could happen again in 2011.

    The Aggies return 18 starters from a team that won 9 games and beat the rival Texas Longhorns. The Aggies averaged well over 400 yards and 30 points per game in 2010, but they need their defense to be even better this season if they want to be a true national title contender.

    Week three this season will have Texas A&M squaring off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. This game will go a long way towards determining whether the Aggies are contenders or pretenders.

    Are the Aggies for real? We will find out week three.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Oklahoma State went 11-2 in 2010 and they return QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon after they surprisingly passed up a shot to go pro. Blackmon had 111 receptions, 1,782 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns in 2010.

    One of the greatest single-seasons ever by a collegiate wide receiver. The Weeden/Blackmon duo is back to wreak havoc on the Big 12 and it most likely will be their last, as it seems highly unlikely that Blackmon will pass up the opportunity to go pro again.

    The Cowboys have a real shot of going undefeated leading up to their marquee game against the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma State will be out for revenge in this game, and they have the talent and coaching to pull off a victory.

7. Boise State Broncos

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    Some people (okay, a lot of people) complain that Boise State has no place in a BCS Bowl Game as their schedule is pretty weak. It could be argued, however, that every game for the Broncos is a must-win because if they lose a single game, their chances of a BCS Bowl are shot.

    The Broncos return Heisman Trophy candidate Kellen Moore at QB in 2011, and that alone is enough to have the rest of the country shaking. In 2010, Moore finished fourth in the Heisman voting after throwing 35 TDs and just six INTs.

    Boise State is the one team on this least that has every game on their schedule being their make-or-break matchup. One loss would mean disaster for the Broncos.

6. Stanford Cardinal

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    The Stanford Cardinal have been hearing the "over-rated" chant all summer long and potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft Andrew Luck has heard it as well. Maybe it's not the smartest thing in the world to call the best QB in the country's team "over-rated."

    The coaches across the country certainly agree as they ranked the Cardinal sixth. The make-or-break game for Stanford has to be when they oppose the USC Trojans.

    The Cardinal have to win this game if they want to have any chance of beating the Oregon Ducks two weeks later. Confidence is a powerful thing.

5. Florida State Seminoles

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    The Jimbo Fisher era has begun at Florida State after the team won 10 games in his first season and followed it up with the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation.The Seminoles have a load of talent returning and a schedule that could land them in the National Championship game.

    We will find out very early if the Seminoles are ready to return to a national powerhouse, as they host the Oklahoma Sooners during week three. Such a high ranking for Florida State means that they have the talent to win a national championship.

    That could all come crashing down week three.

4. LSU Tigers

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    Les Miles may be the "Mad Hatter," but he has the rest of the country believing that 2011 is a national championship year for the LSU Tigers. The team has 10 starters (TEN) returning on offense but their is still a huge question mark at the QB position.

    Is Jordan Jefferson really the guy to lead LSU to a national title? His 2010 season doesn't have me convinced as he threw seven TDs and 10 INTs.

    The Tigers most valuable addition to their team this year may be offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who bear's a lot of the responsibility regarding Jefferson. The Tigers oppose the Oregon Ducks in what should be an incredible week one match-up.

    If the Tigers can escape this game with a victory, there may not be any team in the country that can stop them.

3. Oregon Ducks

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    The only team that may be able to stop the Oregon Ducks offense is the Oregon Ducks. Oregon returns two Heisman Trophy candidates in RB LaMichael James and QB Darren Thomas.

    James is the most explosive player in college football and he led the nation in rushing yards with 1,731 yards. He is a threat to score every time he  touches the ball, and Oregon finds a plethora of different ways to do that.

    Oregon (like LSU) has their make-or-break game of the season week one against the LSU Tigers. Both teams are ranked in many preseason polls as top five teams, and whichever team wins will certainly have their eye's set on a national championship.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Nick Saban has the Alabama Crimson Tide program running like a well-oiled machine these days. Alabama may have lost former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and their starting QB, but the Crimson Tide may be even better in 2011.

    They have 16 players that were voted to the all-SEC preseason team, a great coach and one of the most loyal fan-bases in all of college football. The Crimson Tide are loaded on both sides of the ball and it seems unlikely that anyone in the SEC will be able to stop Alabama from "rolling."

    LSU might have something to say about that. They are another top five team (in the preseason rankings) and may be the only roadblock that stands in the way of Alabama and another National Championship game appearance.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

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    The Oklahoma Sooners are "stooping" atop the preseason rankings for 2011. They return a QB in Landry Jones that could shatter every passing record ever set at Oklahoma.

    Jones averaged over 330 yards a game passing in 2010, while tossing 38 TDs and just 12 INTs. The Sooners romped the University of Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl last season, but they have their sights set much higher in 2011.

    Week two the Sooners may face their toughest test of the season as they must head to Florida State to play the Seminoles. If the Sooners can emerge victorious, Bob Stoops may have himself another National Championship Trophy to add to his collection.


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