25. Michigan Wolverines – They ended last season with a 7-6 record. After a defeat in the Gator Bowl by Mississippi State and losing their head coach Rich Rodriguez they are ready for a new year with a new head coach, Brady Hoke. The Wolverines are hoping for a quick turn around, much like Coach Hoke was able to do at both Ball State and San Diego State. Coach Hokes first task for the 2011 season is to fix the Wolverine defense. They ended the 2010 season ranking 108th.
24. Auburn Tigers – Yes it’s true they ended last year with the perfect 14 and 0 records, winning the National Championship so why would they be ranked so low? When both Cam Newton and Nick Fairley both entered the 2011 NFL Draft the school lost their two top players at the same time. While those two losses are bad Auburn has more to worry about. They are also losing 4 key offensive lineman including All-SEC center Ryan Pugh and All-American left tackle Lee Ziemba. The Tigers did end with the Number 3 recruiting class for next year, which was heavy on the offensive line; these new players will be young and inexperienced.
23. Virginia Tech Hokies – Finishing last season with an 11-3 record and ranking 16th in the BCS. The Hokies are losing three of their best offensive players; Tyrod Taylor, Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. With those loses there is some good news on the Hokie horizon. Logan Thomas their new quarterback is being compared to Cam Newton and David Wilson will help to ease the loss of both Evans and Williams. They also have 4 returning seniors on the offensive line as well as 7 returning starters on the defense. The Hokies should be strong again this year in the ACC.
22. Georgia Bulldogs – They finished their season unranked with a 6-7 record. They have lost AJ Green but their returning quarterback Aaron Murray is the real deal. He finished last season passing for over 3,000 yards which included 28 touchdowns. He was ranked 14th in passing efficiency, and all this during his freshman year. With Cam and Ryan moving onto the NFL Draft Aaron has the potential to be the top QB in the SEC. Georgia has also recruited Isaiah Crowell who is one of the top running backs in the nation making them even more dangerous to their competition.
21. Arkansas Razorbacks – 2011 left them with a 10-3 season and a 12th place ranking. They do have Knile Davis as their running back who could be one of the nation’s best but they also lost Ryan Mallett who was the nation’s top quarterback and is hoping for his shot at the NFL. This move leaves Tyler Wilson to fill the void. The key to the Razorback 2011 season with be their defense. They have eight returning starters to help move the Razorbacks up the rankings. With all this talent they have a very tough schedule in one of the toughest conferences which is why they are ranked where they are now.
20. Florida Gators – Ended last season with an 8-5 record and going unranked by the BCS. They had a weak season last year and while they may not warrant this ranking they are Florida and will get it anyway. Their talent is stockpiled and their offensive system is under new management with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. The hope is to have a better fit with the players what the spear attack instilled by Urban Meyers. This season will be made or broken by how John Brantley adjusts to the new offence.
19. Nebraska Cornhuskers – They finished with the record of 10-4 ranking 20th in the BCS. This year will be the inaugural season for the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten. The big question is how will they hold up against such tough home conference games including Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan. Not to mention their road games against Wisconsin and Penn State. As of right now the question as to who will lead the team in the quarterback position is still up in the air. Luckily they do have two freshmen, Bubba Starling and Jamal Turner who will probably compete for that starting position.
18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Finishing unranked in the BCS with an 8-5 records it’s anyone’s guess how the 2011 season will go. The prediction is that the preseason will start well but ultimately leave Fighting Irish fans disappointed. There is a silver lining around the dark cloud that seems to be hanging over the Irish, new Head Coach Brian Kelly. During Kelly’s coaching tenure with Cincinnati he showed consistent improvements year after year. The hope is he will do the same for the Irish. The suspension of Michael Floyd puts a damper on the Irish’s 2011 season. They did look good during their victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl to finish the 2010 season with a four game winning streak. The Irish will also have nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters all returning for the 2011 season.
17. West Virginia Mountaineers – They finished 2010 unranked with a 9-4 record but this season promises changes. While they lost running back Noel Devine they were able to get offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen from the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Dana developed an amazing passing attack that proved affective for the Cowboys. With the combination of Geno Smith at quarterback with his 2,400 yards of passing and 24 touchdowns and Coach Holgorsen pass attack the Mountaineers may be a team to watch.
16. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Season Record 9-4 BCS rankings 15th. This is a much better season finish that anyone ever imagined thanks to Head Coach Dan Mullen. Coach Mullen turned the Bulldog program around faster than most thought possible. Not much was expected out of the 2010 Bulldogs but thanks to their new head coach they ended with a winning season, ranked in the BCS and a dramatic win over Michigan State in the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs averaged 215 yards rushing per game and with 7 returning starters on both sides of the line the 2011 season is looking good.
15. Michigan State Spartans – They ended last season ranked 14th in the BCS and posted an 11-2 record their season was far from great. They ended the season with a dramatic loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. On the bright side, they only lost two key defensive players, Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Their quarterback Kirk Cousins is returning, who many say was underrated and two great running backs, Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell. With that combination of returning players the Spartans should have one of the better offenses in the Big Ten. That being said they still have a tough season ahead of them with road games against Ohio, Nebraska, Iowa and Norte Dame.
14. TCU Horned Frogs – Ending the season with a perfect record and ranking 2nd in the BCS TCU had a great year. They had the #1 ranked defense in 2010 and it is expected to be in the top rankings this season also. The problem TCU will face in the 2011 season will be the loss of some key players. Namely quarterback Andy Dalton, who was a four year starter. They also lost star running backs Jimmy Young and Jeremy Kerley. This will be a rebuilding season for the Horned Frogs with only 10 returning starters but they should still be a strong force in the Mountain West.
13. Wisconsin Badgers – 2010 season left them with an 11-2 record and ranking 7th in the BCS. With the loss of quarterback Scott Tolzien, Offensive Linemen John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi, Running Back John Clay and Defensive End JJ Watt 2011 could prove to be a tough season. Luckily for Wisconsin they have Running Backs Montee Ball and James White retuning and they could be among the top running backs in the nation. They also have a favorable schedule this year with only four true road games.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks – Ranking 22nd in the BCS and ending with a 9-5 record the Gamecocks are hoping for a stronger season in 2011. They have a good chance at that with their two offensive stars returning. Running Back Marcus Lattimore and Wide Receiver Alshon Jeffery should give the Gamecocks one of the SEC’s, if not the nations, most explosive offenses. The big question seems to be, who Steve Spurrier will put in as quarterback. Will it be Conner Shaw or Stephen Garcia. Nobody seems to know as of right now. Not only do they have to contend with the quarterback issues they also lost several key players on the defensive side. All these components will make watching the Gamecocks an interesting team to follow during the 2011 season.
11. Missouri Tigers – Ending their 2010 season ranked 18th in the BCS and finishing with a 10-3 record the Tigers were looking good. With the departure of QB Blaine Gabbert as he enters the 2011 NFL Draft the Tigers will have a tough time replacing his production in the near future. On a good note they do have 10 starters returning for the 2011 season so whoever the new quarterback is, whether its James Franklin or Tyler Gabbert (Blains brother) they will have experience behind them to show them the ropes. Among the returning offense are Receiver TJ Moe and Tight End Michael Egnew who is said to be the “best pass-catching tight end in college football”.
10. Boise State Broncos – After ending the season ranked 9th in the BCS with the record of 12-1 Boise State moves to the Mountain West. In the past the Mountain West Conference has been a tougher conference than the WAC and that could give the Broncos more of an opportunity to either fail in their quest for another BCS bowl game or it will allow them to shine even brighter. Even with the loss of Austin Pettis and Titus Young as they enter the NFL draft, the 2011 Broncos will have an amazing offense thanks much in part to the return of Kellen Moore and Doug Martin. Reports say the Broncos should have no shortage in the scoring department this coming season.
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys – Ending the 2010 season 11-2 ranking 13th in the BCS the Cowboys are ready to return for the 2011 season even stronger. Both Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden decided to return for one more season launching the Cowboys into a great position for success. The combination of these two key returning players along with the nation’s #2 passing attack and the #3 scoring offence the Cowboys could be a force to be reckoned with. Even with the loss of Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgorson the OSU Cowboys have enough talent and experience to do what is needed to be successful in the Big 12.
8. Stanford Cardinal – The Cardinal finished with a 12-1 season and landed the 4th position in the BCS rankings in 2010. Andrew Luck decided to return for one more season which is huge for the Cardinal and the loss of Coach Jim Harbaugh should be eased by the arrival of David Shaw. That is the good news. The bad news, the Cardinal will have to replace three starters on the offense a seven on the defense. Thanks to a top recruiting class and a weak Pac-10 they should still have a good season.
7. Ohio Buckeyes – Ending 2010 with a 12-1 records posting a 4th place ranking in the BCS the Buckeyes were looking good. Since this is Ohio football we are talking about we already know two things, the defense and the talent will both be there. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posy and a couple other key players will be missing during the first five games due to suspensions. Good thing the first part of the Buckeye season is easier than the second half. If the Buckeyes can survive the first five games without these key players they could be looking at another Big Ten title.
6. Texas A&M Aggies – Finishing 2010 with a 9-4 records and ranking 19th in the BCS the Aggies are hoping for a little more in 2011. Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller are both returning for another Aggie season along with 10 total offensive starters including Ryan Tannehill as quarterback. On the Defensive side the return is relatively intact, only losing Von Miller. The Aggies key games will be against Oklahoma State at home and Oklahoma on the road. Depending how they do during those two games will someone decide the whole Aggie season.
5. LSU Tigers – 2010 brought a 12-1 records and a 8th place BCS ranking for the Tigers. With LSU only losing three players, Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevin, which are three big losses the Tigers are returning with most of their key starters on both sides of the line. With the addition of Steve Kragthorpe as offensive Coordinator who promises to turn around the LSU boring offence.
4. Florida State Seminoles – They finished with a 10-4 record and a 17th place BCS ranking. With 18 returning starters, nine on each side of the line and one of the top recruiting classes, the Seminoles are in great position to have a great year. The biggest question will be whether EJ Manuel will decide to step up and replace Christian Ponders production from last year. If he does the Seminoles will be on the right track for the 2011 season. Florida States has a favorable ACC schedule, avoiding Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. If they can knock off Oklahoma on the 17th of September they could have a legitimate shot at a national title.
3. Oregon Ducks – Ending 2010 with a 12-1 record and ranking 3rd in the BCS the Ducks look strong. With the return of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James there is no reason to expect much of a change in their number one scoring offense of 2010. They are losing their two top wide receivers and three starting offensive linemen; this means the Ducks offense might not be as strong as it was last year. The biggest problem Oregon will face is the loss of several defensive players including Casey Matthews. Oregon’s season opener against LSU will set the tone for the season.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide – The Tide finished the 2010 season with a 10-3 record and they ranked 10th in the BCS. While they are losing Marcell Dareus, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Greg McElroy they are still heavy with talent. With the Crimson Tide it’s not so much a question of if the players will step up but who will fill the big shoes left behind. If AJ McCarron plays to the caliber of McElroy then Alabama could be favored to win the National Championship.
1. Oklahoma Sooners – While they ended with the BCS rank of 6th and a season record 12-2 the 2011 season could be theirs. They have 18 starters returning including Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles on offense and Travis Lewis on defense. On top of that they will be bring back 29 players who have started at least one game during their college career on either side of the ball. With all this talent and experience Jones will still have to have a Heisman trophy season and the Sooners will have to put away Florida State on the Road September 17.
*ranking breakdown courtesy of the March 22, 2011 Bleacher Report