03 August 2011

2011-12 College Football Season Preview

Well another exciting season of collegiate football is right around the corner and it promises to be one of the most wide open seasons in years. A handful of teams have a legitimate shot at the national championship trophy as pictured above. But only two will. Which two teams do I think will have the opportunity to play for the national championship? And how about the other 118 teams?
It's time for my 2011 College Football Preview.
Coaching Carousel

Atlantic
1. Florida State
This is the year that the Seminoles get back amongst the elite of college football. Jimbo Fisher brought in a fresh infusion of optimism last year that has the fans in Tallahassee dreaming of a potential national championship, despite the loss of Christian Ponder. However the 'Noles seem to be in good hands with the immensely talented E.J. Manuel under center, who has showed enough in limited playing time to show he can be a star.
What surprised the nation last year was the defense, which took many steps in the right direction under new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Now after a tremendous recruiting class filled with many promising defensive talents, the sky's the limit for Chief Osceola's tribe. While I don't think they will be in the national title game, I do feel confident about a BCS berth.
Bowl Game Prediction: Orange Bowl

2. Maryland
Not a lot of people were high on the Randy Edsall after the Maryland athletics department chose to dump Ralph Friedgen because of a lack of excitement in the program. But kid you not, Edsall is a very good coach who did a lot with a little in Storrs, Connecticut. Now with much more resources in College Park, watch for Edsall to build the consistent contender that Friedgen did not.
In case you have not met Danny O'Brien, prepare yourself to be incredibly impressed with this poised and talented young quarterback. O'Brien has the chance to put up big numbers with a strong offensive line and a decent running game.
Edsall is a defensive coach by trade and he has to be impressed with the physical nature of the Terps' defense. This unit should make a lot of strides as the season wears on.
Bowl Game Prediction: Belk Bowl

3. NC State
Tom O'Brien finally got the breakthrough season he needed to keep the pressure off in Raleigh with last season's nine win campaign. However, star quarterback Russell Wilson was dismissed from the program when he chose to spend the summer playing in the Colorado Rockies' organization. However, many think that the Pack are in good hands with the strong-armed Mike Glennon under center. The wide receivers look to be a question mark but O'Brien has a solid contributor at running back in Mustafa Greene.
The Wolfpack were very good last season on defense and they return eight starters on that side of the ball. They have a bunch of talented players at linebackers that take advantage of a high pressure scheme put into place by linebackers coach Jon Tenuta. Thus is an underrated club that could make some noise this season if all the pieces come together.
Bowl Game Prediction: Music City Bowl

4. Clemson Tigers
You always wonder when the Tigers will break through and become the consistent contender they should be with the resources they have with the SEC style of fan support. Simply does not make sense.
Anyways, the Tigers were really bad and quite stagnant on offense last season but they made an excellent hire in the offseason in bringing in Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris to coordinate the offense in Death Valley. The Gus Malzahn disciple preaches a fast pace, wide open style that should help the Tigers score points. Morris will have to manage a questionable quarterback situation but has a couple of quality running backs to lighten the load.
The Tigers lost a lot on defense on all three levels, most notably Da'Quan Bowers at defensive end. Clemson will be hardpressed to be as good as they were on defense last season but the cupboard is not bare.
Bowl Game Prediction: Sun Bowl

5. Boston College
The Eagles are consistently fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball. The offense did sputter quite a bit last season and BC was not great at putting points on the board but they look to have a strong running game with Montel Harris and Andre Williams handling the rock. Chris Rettig had an up and down freshman season in 2010 but did show enough promise to suggest he may be the next Matt Ryan.
Defense is never a problem in Chestnut Hill under head coach Frank Spaziani. The linebacking unit is very strong and they are led by middleman Luke Kuechly, who makes tackles all over the field. The line was also terrific against the run as the BC defense led the nation against the run last season and why can they not do it again. The secondary is in some transition though.
Bowl Game Prediction: Military Bowl

6. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe's club was forced to play a lot of youngsters which led to the most uncompetitive team of Grobe's tenure. And while the team will be a year older on both sides of the ball, it will be at least another season until they compete for bowl berth. Quaterback Tanner Price and running back Josh Harris both look like promising players that look to be players for the Demon Deacons to build around.

Coastal
1. Virginia Tech
Every year, the Hokies seem to be a factor in the ACC. Even after the disastrous start to last season with the loss to James Madison, they rebounded to capture the ACC title and made the Orange Bowl. The Hokies did lose a fair amount from last year's club though, especially quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Logan Thomas has some big shoes to fill. As usual though, the Hokies look set at running bacj with now David Wilson running with the chain.
VaTech has some talent on the defensive end but the linebackers do need to step up, with the exception of Bruce Taylor. Defensive end James Gayle looks like a star in the making.
Bowl Game Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

2. Miami (FL)
It was time the U hired somebody to bring a kick in the pants in this underachieving program and Al Golden is the guy that will do just that. The first thing he will have to do is get Jacory Harris like the budding star he was in 2009 rather than the turnover machine he was in 2010 as he threw way too many interceptions. The "Canes have a lot of talent at running back and at wide reciever but both areas have to get rid of the mental gaffes ever so present over the last few seasons.
The defense has some question marks and does not look to be as strong as they were last season. The defensive line has three returning starters but they need to generate a greater pass rush from the edge. Sean Spence is special at linebacker but he is surrounded by unproven players plus the Hurricanes have some questions marks at the cornerback position. Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong look to be a strong safety pairing.
Bowl Game Prediction: Champs Sports Bowl


3. North Carolina
The Tar Heels had their chance to win the ACC but the multitude of NCAA violations shot the team in the feet before they could hit the ground running. Now after the questionable timing of the firing of Butch Davis, this is a program is serious turmoil. Now Everutt Wither is a good coach, he is in a very tough position.
Quarterback Bryn Renner has more talent than the departing T.J. Yates but has a sore lack of experience. He does have a good crop of receivers to throw to. However the running game looks questionable at best.
The defensive line looks very good as they have a lot of talent up front. The linebacking crew, if everything comes together, could be nasty as well. The secondary is a big area for concern though.
Bowl Game Prediction: Independence Bowl


4. Georgia Tech
I was very disappointed in Paul Johnson's club last season as they stumbled to a 6-7 record. The team ran the ball really well as always but they got minimal from the quarterback position. Their running backs can do so much without something from the quarterback position but the gamebreaker that Josh Nesbitt was does not look to be on the roster in 2011.
The defense has to step up after disappointing under the first season of the Al Groh defensive tenure. The line has to make more plays and a very inexperienced secondary has to step up.

5. Virginia
Mike London has injected life into a program left completely stale by Al Groh. They took many steps forward offensively last season but after the departures of Marc Verica and Keith Payne, they need playmakers at quarterback and running back. Whoever tosses the pigskin around will have an underrated group of receivers to throw to with a mix of experienced veterans and some talented youngsters. 
The defense needs to improve quite a bit though as the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3 did not quite go to plan. Still you can feel the optimism in Charlottesville.

6. Duke
It's easy to mock the Blue Devils but David Cutcliffe has done a solid job making the program respectable. He has manufacutred an excellent passing game with junior Sean Renfree under center. But the Dukies have to generate some type of running game then their offense would soar. 
The defense was putrid last season as the staff tried numerous schemes to find the right fit. The Blue Devils struggled quite a bit to stop the run and the talent does not seem to be there on the defensive line for there to be serious improvement. The secondary however could surprise.

ACC Championship Game
Florida State over Virginia Tech

1. Oklahoma
This team is loaded up for a National Title run. Many wondered how Landry Jones would follow in the footsteps of Sam Bradford but he has done more than that as he joined the quarterbacking elite last year with an awesome sophomore season. Being able to throw to a receiver like Ryan Broyles, arguably the finest receiver in all of college football, helps as well. The Sooners are looking at a committee approach in the backfield following the departure of DeMarco Murray.
The defense had its struggles in 2010 but still looks to be strong this year. Oklahoma boasts one the finest linebacking corps in the nation, led by All American candidate Travis Lewis on the strongside. There are holes at defensive tackle but the ends, Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander, look to be a strong pass rushing duo. Questions in the secondary look to be answered as sophomores Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin both looked solid in the spring.
Bowl Game Prediction: BCS National Championship Game

2. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys offense was simply lights-out in 2010 and could actually get even better, to a point where it would be unstoppable. Brandon Weeden finally got his chance last season to shine and he was brilliant, shattering six schol records. His top target is Justin Blackmon is coming off a similarly brilliant season in which he went from unknown to star. The Okies do have to replace a very good running back in Kendall Hunter but they should still get quality production thanks to a very deep and experienced offensive line.
The defense has some reloading to do but should take some steps forward thanks to what looks to be a very good secondary. The front seven has its fair share of concerns but there look to be solid contributors on both levels, most notably in linebacker Shaun Lewis.
Bowl Game Prediction: Fiesta Bowl

3. Texas A&M
The Aggie offense certainly did not disappoint last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill broke out last season when he grabbed the starting job midseason and he could certainly make some noise as a potential All-Big XII quarterback. Cyrus Gray similarly emerged midseason at running back was also a tremendous boost and he finished 2010 strong with seven straight 100 yard performances. And when talking about this Aggies club, you have to mention their excellent receiving corps, led by Jeff Fuller, who could give Broyles a run for his money for the Biletnikoff Award.
What was amazing last year was the drastic improvement by the defense which went from a disaster in 2009 to respectable in 2010 with new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. Of course, pass rushing fiend Von Miller played a huge part but his departure does not seem to have as big of an impact as feared. The pass rush looks to be very good yet again, the linebackers have some talent and the secondary looks to be solid as well.
Bowl Game Prediction: Cotton Bowl Classic

4. Missouri
The Tigers have really emerged as a very good program over the last few years but the departure of Blaine Gabbert leaves some concerns at the quarterback position. The job is James Franklin's to lose but the talented sophomore did not see a lot of playing time last season. However, the pieces are there for an offense that returns nine starters, including four on the offensive line. The running back rotation does not look to drop a beat from last season and T.J. Moe is a budding star at wideout.
Could a pass rush that lost Aldon Smith actually improve? The general feeling in Colombia is yes as defensive ends Jacquies Sith and Brad Madison look to rev up the heat off the edge. Mizzou has had good linebackers of late and Zaviar Gooden is no exception. Even a secondary that lost three starters looks to be just as good as last year's was.
Bowl Game Prediction: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

5. Texas
The Longhorns really crashed and burned in 2009 to a 5-6 record that led many talking heads to scratch their heads. It won't happen again.
Garrett Gilbert was simply a disaster at quarterback last year and he really hamstrung the offense with his propensity for interceptions. Now in a fight to keep his job as a new offensive scheme takes its shape in Austin, it's up to Gilbert to realize his prodigious talent. The Longhorns really need more playmakers to step up in the backfield and at receiver.
But as usual, the 'Horns will be terrific on the defensive end. To replace Will Muschamp, Texas made a terrific hire in Manny Diaz from Mississippi State and he will keep the pressure high. The linebackers and the secondary look to be very strong and while their top pass rushers from a year ago have to be replaced, there is a lot of talent at defensive end so the D won't miss a beat.
Bowl Game Prediction: Alamo Bowl

6. Baylor
You know who just may be my favorite player in college football is? Robert Griffin, the quarterback for the Bears. Griffin is coming off an awesome 2010 in which he showed off his electrifying skill in the air and on the ground with his legs. He also has a really good and fast receiving corps that returns five that caught 40 passes. The offensive line looks to be solid yet again even with the departure of Danny Watkins. The lack of a rushing threat does leave cause for concern.
The defense needs to take a couple of steps forward and new coordinator Phil Bennett is looking to get more speed on the field. Bennett does have his job cut out for him but he does have a decent defensive line to work with when healthy.
Bowl Game Prediction: Holiday Bowl

7. Texas Tech
The offense is always on centerstage in Lubbock and even with a lot of inexperience at the quarterback position, the wide open scheme looks to be proflic as always. The Red Raiders do have to replace playmakers at running back and receiver as well but they do return all five offensive line starters from a year ago.
The defense last season took a big step back last season, which is shocking considering that is where head coach Tommy Tuberville's expertise lies. The new 4-2-5 hopes to mask the lack of talent at linebacker with the solid depth at safety. However, the lack of experience at defensive line is cause for concern.
Bowl Game Prediction: Insight Bowl

8. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads has done a tremendous job in Ames getting the most out of this club that is short on talent as compared to the rest of the conference. The offense is going through a makeover with a new quarterback and running back. However there is some to build with thanks to some solid receivers and quality depth on the offensive line.
Rhoads always looks to generate a lot of pressure on the defensive end and looks to use a variety of blitz packages utilizing the pass rush skill at linebacker while masking the questions at defensive end. The Cyclones look to have a solid secondary as well.

9. Kansas State
Somehow Bill Snyder got this club to a bowl last year but it will be tough to repeat that. There is a major hole at quarterback but the hole at running back left by Daniel Thomas looks to be filled by talented Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown. The receivers look to be solid.
The defense has plenty of room for improvement. The defense line was awful in stuffing the run but there are reinforcements on the horizon after some talent was recruited up front. The linebackers need to improve as well but another high profile transfer in Arthur Brown, brother of Bryce, looks to be very good. The secondary has some talent as well but has to fill some hills though.

10. Kansas
Turner Gill sure has a hard job to do in Lawrence. The offense was terrible last season and has major questions at quarterback, wide receiver, and the offensive line. Running back James Sims looks solid though.
The defense has similar concerns as their pass rush was atrocious in 2010 and the linebackers were almost nonexistent. The secondary as a bunch of holes as well.

1. West Virginia
Following a bizarre offseason which led in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen taking the reins a year earlier than planned, the offense looks to be very strong. Geno Smith was tremendous in 2010 and will have the opportunity to put up huge numbers in Hologorsen's spread. He has some talented receivers but the departure of Noel Devine leaves a hole at running back.
The Mountaineers have been very strong over the last couple of years on defense but will have some rebuilding to do with only four returning starters. The defensive front of the 3-3-5 looks to have some talent to build on in Julian Miller and sackmaster Bruce Irvin. The linebacking unit needs some youngsters to step up but there looks to be a pair of quality playmakers in the secondary in SPUR safety Terence Garvin and corner Keith Tandy
Bowl Game Prediction: Orange Bowl

2. South Florida
Skip Holtz was a tremendous hire before last season and he looks to be the guy that can take USF to a BCS bowl. But for the Bulls to take a major step forward towards that goal, B.J. Daniels has to improve his decision making. He has all the talent you want in your quarterback but he makes too many mistakes. The Bulls also have some talent in running back, especially in Colorado transfer Darrell Scott as well as at receiver. Holtz looks to mix and match on the offensive line.
The Bulls do not look to have any standouts on the defensive line but look to be deep there. The linebacking unit looks to have some talent and the secondary could be one of the better in the conference.
Bowl Game Prediction: Belk Bowl

3. Pittsburgh
The Panthers made a strong hire, although it was their second chance, in Todd Graham and he looks to be the coach that gets more out of the talent in the Steel City than Dave Wannstedt did. He will bring a wide-open scheme, which hopes to get more out of talented quarterback Tino Sunseri. Having a talented running back in Ray Graham as well as some good receivers also helps.
A very good Pitt defense from a year ago will go under some changes which Graham hopes will lead to more forced turnovers, most notably the transition to a 3-4 of sorts. The front seven is chock full of experience and the backend is talented.
Bowl Game Prediction: Champs Sports Bowl

4. Syracuse
Doug Marrone looks to be the guy that can take the Orange back to the top of the Big East. The offense struggled quite a bit at times last year but looks to have room for improvement thanks to quarterback Ryan Nassib and a veteran offensive line and wide receivers. A group that struggled to score should score more this year.
The defense last season was fantastic but lost a lot. The defensive line needs work on the inside but should have a solid pass rushing duo in Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich. The linebackers are very inexperienced but the secondary has a pair of very good safeties. The corners need to break through for the defense to really shine.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

5. Cincinnati
It was clear that Brian Kelly had left the building before last season as the Bearcats' win total fell from 12 to 8. We all knew they would fall off but not by that much. Anyways, the offense is in good hands with Zach Collaros under center as he has blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Isaiah Reed is a very talented running back and the offense boasts some quality receivers, led by DJ Woods.
The defense struggled mightily last season and has to show improvement. One would think it would with ten returning starters. The line looks like the strength of the unit while the linebackers and the secondary have to step up their play.
Bowl Game Prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl

6. Rutgers
The offense last year was simply awful but there is a lot of promise on this unit. Chas Dodd performed well down the stretch once he seized the reins of the quarterback position and he has arguably the finest receiving corps in the conference. The real reason for optimism is touted freshman running back Savon Huggins, the top recruit from the Garden State, and if he performs to expectations then this offense will soar. A porous offensive line does have to step up.
The defense was not very good either last year and thus head coach Greg Schiano made a variety of changes to bring more speed to the defense. This is a defense that has gotten killed over the years by the spread and this it is hoped the increased amount of speed on defense will help in that regard.
Bowl Game Prediction: Beef O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

7. Connecticut
Last year's surprise champions returns 16 starters and yet I see them falling towards the bottom. The Huskies were not very good on offense last season and lost their quarterback and top two running backs. The quarterback race is wide open amongst four guys with limited experience. They do return their receivers and most of their offensive line.
The defense was not great statistically but did get the job done when needed and returns 10 starters. The defensive line boasts two talented pass rushers off the edge in Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams. The linebacking corps is a question mark as is the defensive backfield, which does return all four starters however.

8. Louisville
Charlie Strong did a tremendous job in his first year as coach of the Cardinals last year and he looks to build on the foundation that he built. A lot of work has to be done on an offense that was not great last season but got the job done when needed. Will Stein will be the quarterback but he will get a big push from touted freshman Teddy Bridgewater. A new running back has to be found and Strong will go with a committee approach. The receivers have talent but are inexperienced while there is only one returning starter on the offensive line. 
The defense, as you would expect under a mind like Strong, was tremendous last year and there are the pieces to do well again. The defenseive line is young and aggressive, the linebackers are raw but experienced, and while a lot of work has to be done on the secondary, there is talent on the back-end. 

Leaders
1. Wisconsin
The Badgers sure did lose a fair amount on the offense from the Big Ten championship squad from a year ago, most notably at quarterback following the graduation of Scott Tolzien. Fortunately, two excellent running backs in Montee Bell and James White return. They combined for over 2,000 yards rushing last season. The quarterback will be former NC State star Russell Wilson, who was dismissed from his previous school because he will be spending all summer with the Colorado Rockies organization. He can be one of the best Big Ten QB's. The Badgers have to replace both starters at wide receivers and a couple of quality linemen, but the Badgers always have a good line.
The defense lost five important contributors from last year's squad but the defense looks to be solid nonetheless. Even with the loss of J.J. Watt, the defensive line looks to be strong. If the linebacking corps can stay healthy they should also be very good. The secondary needs to improve their coverage skills however.
Bowl Game Prediction: Capital One Bowl

2. Illinois
Somehow, Ron Zook saved his job with a surprising breakthrough season in Champaign. Now the Fighting Illini are full of promise, much due to the talented dual threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was very impressive as a freshman last season. Scheelhaase is not alone on the offense, which set a scoring record last season, as Jason Ford steps in for Mikel Leshoure and looks to be just as productive. The receivers also are very talented and productive. The line is solid too.
The defense took some hits in the departures of Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson but coordinator Vic Koenning looks to have a solid unit anyways. The front two lines lack experience but the secondary looks to be very good. 
Bowl Game Prediction: Insight Bowl

3. Ohio State
The offseason has been disastrous for this program as all of the allegations chased away both star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and beloved head coach Jim Tressel. Now interim coach Luke Fickell has to deal with a program in total dire straits at the quarterback position with major questions at receiver and running back thanks to NCAA suspensions.
The defense has some nice depth and athleticism but is more on the inexperienced side. The defensive line is very talented as is the secondary and the linebacking corps is fast and experienced.
Now the cupboard isn't bare, but I doubt Fickell is another Jim Tressel. 
Bowl Game Prediction: TicketCity Bowl

4. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have a bunch of pieces to work with. The receivers can all fly and are filled with talent. The offensive line, despite the loss of center Steven Wisniewski, is very experieced. Running back Silas Redd looks like a budding star. But JoePa's squad has major questions surround the quarterback position as sophomore Rob Bolden struggled mightily at times last season and former walk-on Matt McGloin was not much better. Penn State needs to find a consistent quarterback or they will be further hamstrung. 
The defense can be very good if they found a strong pass rush. Fortunately, the secondary has the potential to be excellent so that alone will benefit the pass rush.
Bowl Game Prediction: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

5. Purdue
This is a club that was ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball but the room for error will not be high in an expanded Big Ten. The production on offense should improve. Coach Danny Hope plans on playing both Robert Marve and Rob Henry at quarterback to take advantage of both's strengths. The Boilermakers need more consistent production from their backs and receivers. 
The Purdue defense could be one that can surprise. Their is a lot of talent on this side of the ball, especially at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. The line is very experienced as well.

6. Indiana
Indiana made a great hire in Kevin Wilson and he'll bring the swagger and exciting offensive gameplay that has been lacking in Bloomington. The Hoosiers need to find a consistent performer at quarterback and at running back but does has a blooming star in Damarlo Belcher at wideout. 
The defense flat out sucked for the Hoosiers last year and needs to see marked improvement if their competitiveness is going to increase. The defensive line looks to be solid and the linebackers have some talent. The secondary is the real cause for concern due to a lack of speed. 

Legends
1. Nebraska
The key to the Huskers offense is young quarterback Taylor Martinez. Martinez should tremendous talent and looked like a darkhouse Heisman contender at times but other times he struggled, especially down the stretch. He does need to work on his passing skills but he is a prodigous runner. He and Rex Burkhead will make for a great rushing combo. The receivers are solid but the line is inexperienced.
As usual, the defense in Lincoln looks to be fantastic. Jared Crick is an excellent defensive tackle and leads an experienced and talented front four. The linebacking unit is not very deep but is very talented, as is the secondary.
Bowl Game Prediction: Rose Bowl

2. Michigan State
This Spartans club may not have a record as good as last year's 11-2 mark but don't expect to not be as good. Kirk Cousins is one of the better pocket passers in all of the nation and they have a pair of talented backs in Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell plus a solid reciving corps. The offensive line is cause for concern however.
The defense looks to be just as productive as it was a year ago. The defensive line looks to be tremendous while the linebacking and secondary units also look promising.  
Bowl Game Prediction: Outback Bowl

3. Michigan
The Wolverines made a great hire in Brady Hoke and he looks to get the most out of this underachieving club. He and coordinator Al Borges are transitioning the offense from a spread to more of a pro set while looks to take away from quarterback Denard Robinson's strengths but they still plan on ultilizing many multiple wide receiver sets anyways. The rest of the offense is loaded and will score loads of points, no matter what system. 
The key is improvement on the defensive side of the ball, which has been putrid for years now. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has his job cut out for him as he has a crew of undersized and inexperienced players to work.
Bowl Game Prediction: Gator Bowl

4. Iowa
Kirk Ferentz is one of the really good coaches in college football but he has a strong task at hand with this years Hackeyes squad after all they lost from last season, most notably quarterback Ricky Stanzi. James Vandenburg will seize the reins of the quarterback position and the strong-armed junior will have the benefit of a solid running game with Macrus Coker chugging along plus a very good receiver in Marvin McNutt.
The defensive line will be under serious construction after losing three of the four starters from last year's overhyped unit. The linebacking unit was hurt by injuries but gave some youngsters important playing time while the secondary needs some players to break through for the defense to be really effective.
Bowl Game Prediction: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

5. Northwestern
When talking about the Wildcats, the conversation starts and ends with Dan Persa, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation. When Persa succumbed to injury late last season, the team fell apart but if he stays healthy, he should put up really good numbers as he will be throwing to a solid receiving group. The big question offensively is whether or not they can find a running game.
The defense was a real shortcoming last season and if Northwestern wants to make some noise, players have to step up amongst the front seven.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

6. Minnesota 
Minnesota made a hell of a hire in Jerry Kill but he has some work to do to build up this underacheiver. To operate his spread he moved one of his better receivers, MarQueis Gray, to quarterback and while Gray has not played quarterback in a bit, he was a QB coming out of high school. There is not much of a running game to speak of but Gray will be able to take advantage of a stud at wideout in Da'Jon McKnight.
The defense last year was a mess and Kill plans to ramping the pressure after last season's squad racked up only nine sacks. The hope is that an improved pass rush through pressure will benefit a questionable secondary.

Big Ten Championship Game
Nebraska over Wisconsin

East
1. Central Florida
The Knights have a potentially strong offense in Orlando, especially if talented dual threat QB Jeff Godfrey builds on his promising freshman campaign. They also should have a very good running game as they go three deep with quality backs. There is a need for capable receivers though.
The UCF defense will not be as good as last year's unit but should still be pretty stingy. The line and the secondary both are talented but the linebacking unit is very inexperienced.
Bowl Game Prediction: Hawaii Bowl

2. Southern Miss
C-USA is known for having great quarterback play and there is no exception in Hattiesburg thanks to four year starter Austin Davis, whose consistency and productivity has enabled USM to continue their bowl game appearance stretch, now at nine games. Kendrick Hardy broke out as a running back last season and Davis should have some quality weapons to throw to.
The question mark, as seemingly always, is with the defense which is now in a 4-2-5 alignment. The team needs end Cordarro Law to perform at an all-league level for the defense to perform at a high level. The Golden Eagles do have a pair of solid linebackers in Korey Williams and Ronnie Thornton.
Bowl Game Prediction: Armed Forces Bowl

3. East Carolina
Virginia Tech transfer Dominique Davis was awesome last season in his first season in Greenville as he put up prodigious numbers in the wide open attack that new coach Ruffin McNeill put into place last year. He has a strong receiving corps but could use some more production from their running game.
The defense was truly awful last year, worst in the country statistically speaking. The new 3-4 alignment looks to improve the defense, which literally cannot get any worse.
Bowl Game Prediction: Beef O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

4. UAB
The Trail Blazers look to be a team right on the fringe of a bowl game thanks to a solid offense that should put up a fair amount of points. Quarterback Bryan Ellis is one to watch out for.
The defense will be the decider of whether the team does play in the postseason, and probably save Neil Callaway's job. The defensive line is very inexperienced but the back two lines are chock full of upperclassmen. I just do not see this team making a bowl appearance because they do have a very tough schedule in 2011 but don't be surprised if they do end up in a game.

5. Marshall
Doc Holliday is recruiting some talent to Huntington but the cupboard is still pretty bare, especially on offense due to no threats at quarterback or running back. The receivers could be all right though.
The Thundering Herd were not bad on defense last season and they will have to rely on them again. Senior end Vinny Curry is one of the best pass rushers in the conference.

6. Memphis
The Tigers were brutal on both sides of the ball in the first year of the Larry Porter and they look to be bad again with no quarterback or any weapons to speak of on offense plus a lack of talent on defense as well.

West
1. Southern Methodist
Safe to say that June Jones knows how to build a program. In a just a few years he has taken this program from dire straits to arguably the top team in the Conference-USA. Kyle Padron is a hell of a quarterback and has done a tremendous job leading the Run 'N' Shoot while keeping his interceptions totals relatively low. Zach Line has also been great running the ball, which Jones did not do a great deal of at Hawaii, even setting the best rushing totals last season for any Pony running back not named Eric Dickerson as sophomore. The receivers are very god as well.
A lot of veterans return to a strong defense, including the entire defensive line and most of the secondary.
Bowl Game Prediction: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

2. Houston
Case Keenum returns for his sixth season of elgibility and that is really all Kevin Sumlin needs for success in his wide open offense. Keenum should put up prolific numbers once again as a majority of his weapons from last year return.
The defense's continuing transition to the 3-4 will be the key as it did not go down so well in 2010. Fortunately for former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, six of the front seven return but there is a lack of experience in the secondary, which could be fatal in a conference with many spread offenses.
Bowl Game Prediction: TicketCity Bowl

3. Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane made an awful hire in Bill Blankenship to replace Todd Graham, who departed to Pittsburgh, but fortunately he returns 15 starters, most importantly star quarterback G.J. Kinne. Kinne has been superb during his career in Tulsa and he has a great receiving partner in Damaris Johnson. The running game will be in transition early on.
The defense was brutal last season and will convert to a 4-3 from a 3-3-5 in order to try and improve the worst pass defense in the nation from a year ago. Fortunately there are a bunch of veterans returning from last year's squad.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Orleans Bowl

4. Rice
Since the Owls won the 2008 Texas Bowl, they have won six games since. So clearly, the 11 win season in 2008 was a fluke for David Bailiff and don't expect a return to that many wins in the near future. The Owls do return their entire offensive line from a year ago and Sam McGuffie is a solid back but the Owls are breaking in a new quarterback and wide receivers.
The defense was pretty bad last year, especially against the pass. The Owls need their defensive backs to get more aggressive and they need to develop some sort of pass rush for the defense to be passable.

5. Tulane
This is a make or break year for head coach Bob Toledo but fortunately for him, it looks like he'll have a decent offense to work with. Ryan Griffin has shown promise at quarterback and Orleans Darkwa is a good running back. There are a lack of quality receivers but the line has four upperclassmen projected to start.
The defense, however, will be bad. There is a little bit of talent, especially at linebacker, but the Green Wave were way too soft stopping the run and that has to drastically improve.

6. UTEP
Over the past few years, coach Mike Price has had to rely on his offense to make up for his atrocious defense and many times had to chuck the ball all over the yard with Trevor Vittatoe. Unfortunately, not only has Vittatoe graduated, 10 starters all together have graduated. UTEP will need to develop some offensive playmakers if they want to get out of the cellar in the West.
However, the Miners might actually be somewhat decent on defense thanks to eight returning starters.

C-USA Championship Game
SMU over UCF


East
1. Ohio
Frank Solich has done an impressive job in Athens turning this program into one of the MAC's elite. The offense was not great last season and is breaking in a new quarterback and running back but still the outlook is positive as the offensive staff is installing a no-huddle attack to increase the tempo and gain an edge due to the spread not being used a lot in the MAC. The Bobcats do return their entire offensive line and have some solid targets in the passing game for whoever the quarterback is.
The defense only returns three starters from last year's unit but will have the advantage of getting two quality players back from injury in safety Gerald Moore and linebacker Noah Keller. The linebacking corps looks especially solid.
Bowl Game Prediction: GoDaddy.com Bowl

2. Miami (OH)
Mike Haywood did an epic job last season taking this team from one win in 2009 to ten wins in 2010 before leaving to take the Pittsburgh job where he then got fired after getting arrested for hitting his wife. Miami alum Don Treadwell comes in from Michigan State in a very solid that will keep this program moving forward. Zac Dysert returns from injury to handle the quarterback position but backup Austin Boucher was very impressive down the stretch after Dysert got injured. Dysert has the advantage of a strong offensive line and some fine receivers but the key will be to find a running game.
The aggressive Redhawks defense looks to be as good as they were in 2010 with nine returning starters. The linebacking group is very strong with three very talented players returning. The line and secondary are also veteran laden.

3. Temple
Al Golden did an immaculate job turning Temple into a winner and it is former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's job to make sure his work is not put to waste. Both quarterbacks, Chester stewart and Mike Gerardi, had their highs and lows last year but no matter who the starter is, he will greatly enjoy the talent the Owls have at running back with Bernard Pierce coming back from injury and Matt Brown doing a very good job in his place. The offensive line is also solid as well.
Temple was great last season on defense and lost some key contributors, most notable defensive tackle Muhmmad Wilkerson. The tackles are a little questionable but the ends look to be solid. Temple is also deep at linebacker but the pressure will be on the secondary.

4. Kent State
The Golden Flashes made a fine hire in Ohio State assistant Darren Hazell but he will have to roll up his sleeves if he wants to get this team to their first winning record in ten years. Nine starters return on the offensive side of the ball but QB Spencer Keith has to step up his game. He has solid playmakers at the skill positions and a veteran offensive line.
The defense last year did a tremendous job and were led by Roosevelt Nix at defensive tackle, who had an extraordinary freshman season in which he totaled 10 sacks. The linebacking unit has to be reconstructed but the secondary could be decent.

5. Buffalo
2010 was rough for new coach Jeff Quinn but he has been doing a great job on the recruiting trail so the future looks promising. The Bills Bulls need to find a capable quarterback plus an effective running back but they do look to have an underrated receiving unit.
The defense was very good last year but only returns two starters. The entire secondary needs to be replaced and the defensive front is very young. The linebackers could be all right though, which is very important in a 3-4.

6. Bowling Green
The Falcons were very bad last season but the future does indeed look bright here as well. Dave Clawson is a solid program builder but he's just getting started here in NE Ohio. The team is very young as a whole but gained a lot of experience last year. A lot of optimism surrounds the young Matt Schilz at quarterback. There are multiple receivers for him to throw to plus a decent line. A starting back has to be found, however.
The defense was bad last season but there is hope that improvement will come with experience. A fair amount of talent can be found on the defensive line, most notably at tackle.

7. Akron
Akron was really, really bad last year on both sides of the ball. The offense sputtered frequently and there is a dearth of playmakers. Patrick Nicely needs to work on getting more adept in a pro-style.
The defense could be passable in 2011 as the defensive line is experienced as are the linebackers. The secondary is a sore spot despite the solid play of Manley Waller.

West
1. Toledo
Tim Beckman has this club on the verge of a breakthrough in the MAC West with a bevy of veterans on both sides of the ball. Both quarterbacks battling for playing time have experience and Beckman may use both. Whoever the quarterback shall be will greatly enjoy the explosive Eric Page at wide receiver plus the skilled tailbacks in Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams.
The defense has nine starters returning from a solid performance in 2010 and there is solid depth and talent on all three levels.
Bowl Game Prediction: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

2. Northern Illinois
The Huskies were terrific in 2010 but lost their coach as Jerry Kill departed to coach Minnesota. However there is still plenty of talent for Dave Doeren to led this club to a bowl. Chandler Harnish is a very experienced dual-threat at quarterback and should be a natural fit in the no-huddle offense being installed by the new coaching staff. NIU will need to find a running back to take some of the load off of Harnish but there are good receivers and a veteran offensive line.
The defense needs to be rebuilt as only two starters have returned. But there is still some for Doeren to work with at defensive end and at linebacker.
Bowl Game Prediction: Humanitarian Bowl

3. Western Michigan
Alex Carder really broke out last season at quarterback and has a stellar season. He has a solid receiver to throw to in Jordan White. There is some hope for the running backs although one has to seize the load but the inexperienced offensive line is of concern for coach Bill Cubit.
The Broncos defensive line should be pretty good thanks to a strong tackle duo and a skilled edge rusher in Paul Hazel. The coaches are really high on the linebackers and Lewis Toler had a strong freshman season at cornerback.

4. Central Michigan
The Chippewas' stranglehold on the MAC was bound to end once star Dan LeFevour graduated and that it did as their win total fell from 12 to three. Coach Dan Enos hopes that the youngsters that gained experience last season will turn into solid contributors. Ryan Radcliff struggled at quarterback but showed some promise towards the end of the season. He looks to have a decent receiving corps and a respectable running game but there are worries with the offensive line.
It's back to the drawing board with the defense but the line could be better than expected. The linebackers are experienced but the secondary is not.

5. Ball State
The Cardinals have been bottom feeders since Brady Hoke left for San Diego State and Stan Parrish promptly drove the Oldsmobile right off the Dike Bridge. Now new coach Pete Lembo has to all but start from scratch in Muncie. Lembo hopes to run a fast paced offense but he needs more offensive playmakers. The offensive really struggled to move the ball last year.
The Cardinals were not awful on defense in 2010 and return more than half of the starters from a year ago. The secondary looks to be very good but there are questions along the defensive line, especially with the lack of a pass rush.

6. Eastern Michigan
Ron English has been working hard on bringing this downtrodden program out of the muck and while the job is not nearly done, there is hope for the first time in a while in Ypsilanti. Alex Gillett  is a solid QB who is effective in the air and on the ground. Unfortunately though, he has to do a fair amount of the heavy lifting on offense as there are not any quality running backs.
The defense was atrocious last year and English has been trying to get this unit to play with more physicality. The defensive line could be passable but the linebacking and secondary units need a lot of work.

MAC Championship Game
Toledo over Ohio

1. Boise State
The Broncos lost both of their talented receivers in Austin Pettis and Titus Young but with the outstanding Kellen Moore at quarterback, things will be just fine in Boise. Moore's win-loss record is just amazing as are all of his statistics. He also has an excellent running back in Doug Martin but a veteran offensive line.
Much of an elite defense returns, including arguably the finest defensive line in all of America. The linebacking unit is also very good but there are some questions in the secondary. The weaknesses of the secondary should be hidden due to the fact that the Broncos have been one of the best schools in rushing the passer.
Bowl Game Prediction: Sugar Bowl

2. Air Force
Looking for a deep sleeper in college football that could stun the nation and make a BCS run. It would be the military school in Colorado Springs. The Falcons always excel running the ball with their varied option attack but triggerman Tim Jefferson is arguably the best Air Force quarterback since Dee Dowis. Jefferson always was electric with the football but his arm has caught up to his legs and has given this offense the passing game to keep defenses off balance. The Falcons are extremely deep at running back and have some talented receivers as well.
Air Force has a very talented secondary yet again plus a fast defensive line but it will be key how effective they are against the run.
Bowl Game Prediction: Maaco Bowl Las Vegas

3. TCU
The Rose Bowl champions lost a lot on both sides of the ball but the holes will be harder to fill on offense as the team has to find a new quarterback plus a new offensive line. Casey Pachall is very talented but has almost no experience, fortunately he has a strong running back in Ed Wesley plus a talented receiving group. The line is a real question mark.
Gary Patterson always cooks up an excellent defense and figures to do the same in 2011. The defensive line has the coaches excited due to their talent and the excellent linebackers from a year ago in Tanner Brock and Tank Carder return. The secondary does have some holes.
Bowl Game Prediction: Poinsettia Bowl

4. San Diego State
The Aztecs may have one of the most underrated QB-RB combos in all of the nation in the wily veteran, Ryan Lindley, and the extremely talented underclassmen, Ronnie Hillman, who could grab a couple of Heisman Trophy votes. There are questions at wideout but the line looks to be very good.
The maestro of the 3-3-5 in San Diego remains with the club as Rocky Long was promoted to head coach of the Aztecs after Brady Hoke left for Michigan and the defense should be solid once again. The defense boasts  star power in linebacker Miles Burris and cornerback Leon McFadden.
Bowl Game Prediction: Independence Bowl

5. Colorado State
It looks like this will be the year the Rams get back to a bowl game. Why so optimistic? Because it looks like that they have a budding star at quarterback. Pete Thomas showed all the talent in the world last year as a freshman, the only freshman to start every game last season. Thomas should get more help this season with a veteran offensive line and some depth at running back but some receivers need to develop.
The defense struggled in 2010 and needs to step up to keep thomas' talent from going to waste. There is some potential sprinkled about but it all has to come together.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Mexico Bowl

6. Wyoming
Dave Christensen came to Laramie with the title of a spread offensive guru but the offenses have been putrid in his two year tenure. He hoped to have Austyn Carta-Samuels be the triggerman but he left the program after last season, leaving the quarterback position in flux. There are very few playmakers at the skill positions and the offensive line could be a concern.
The Pokes' defense does have promise as there is a plethora of depth and experience. The hope is that the defense will keep the team in games so that it makes life easier for the offense.

7. UNLV
Bobby Hauck carries on in his rebuilding project in Vegas and it won't be helped by having to replace the talented Omar Clayton at quarterback. The running backs look promising and the receivers can be very good but the line is a question mark.
The defense was pretty bad last season and only returns three starters. Not exactly a recipe for success. The defensive line got some junior college reinforcements but linebacker is a big weakness and the hope is that the defensive backfield improves from a year ago.

8. New Mexico
 Mike Locksley was thought to be one of the promising young coaches in college football when he was hired by the Lobos a couple of years but it has been a fiasco in Albuquerque. Locksley has had success in recruiting talent but it's been a struggle getting those guys to fit in. There is not much to be excited about on offense as there are a lot of holes throughout.
The defense was really bad last year, only slightly better than the offense I guess, but there is some reason for optimism as there are eight returning starters.

North
1. Oregon
The Chip Kelly cavalcade of offense looks to be setting off fireworks yet again as many of the skilled playmakers have returned. Darron Thomas, although not as electric as Dennis Dixon nor as powerful as Jeremiah Masoli, had an awesome season last year though both the air and on the ground but could improve his throwing mechanics. LaMichael James was truly electrifying in 2010 and was a threat to go the distance practically every carry. The receivers will be solid but the offensive line needs some inexperienced youngsters to step up their game so everything goes seamlessly.
The Ducks defense was underrated and returns five starters. The line used a deep rotation so the new starters have plenty of experience. The linebackers are the cause for concern as there is not a whole lot of depth or experience. The secondary should be pretty solid.
Bowl Game Prediction: Rose Bowl

2. Stanford
New coach David Shaw caught an enormous break when Andrew Luck chose to return to Palo Alto for his redshirt junior season. Arguably the finest quarterback in America, Luck has all the tools to be a star at the next level and has just been extraordinary since he stepped foot on campus. He has no returning recievers and there are some holes on the o-line but he has a very good back in Stepfan Taylor.
The Cardinal defense should a lot of improvement last year and should maintain that yet again. The back seven looks to be pretty solid while the defensive line will miss nose tackle Sione Fua.
Bowl Game Prediction: Alamo Bowl

3. Washington
Steve Sarkisian has changed the culture in Seattle and has brought pride back to what was a downtrodden program of late. Many might think that they will struggle without Jake Locker but I think their offense will be even better with Keith Price under center. Price has the advantage of a very good running back in Chris Polk and a solid receiver in Jermaine Kearse but the disadvantage of an inexperienced line.
The defense struggled almost all of last season but late turned things around and made some plays. The defensive line really stepped up and was very disruptive. The secondary can be good but there are questions at linebacker for coordinator Nick Holt to deal with.
Bowl Game Prediction: Sun Bowl

4. Oregon State
The Beavers face this season after a disappointing 2010 without star running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who left school a year early to head to the NFL. Now, more than in the past, coach Mike Riley is going to have to rely on the strong armed Ryan Katz, who should have a good crew of wideouts provided James Rodgers stays healthy. Whoever the running back needs better production out of the offensive line.
Even after losing Stephen Paea to the NFL, the Beavers look to have a solid d-line with a lot of speed. The defense as a whole needs to work on better stuffing the run.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Mexico Bowl

5. California
The Golden Bears disappointed in 2010, falling to a losing record for the first time in the Jeff Tedford tenure, and have problems throughout their offensive unit. The quarterbacks and running backs are unproven plus there is not much depth at receiver and the offensive line looks questionable.
The defense though was stellar last year and looks to be good once again. Tedford has done a very good job in bringing in promising young talent on all three levels. The linebacking unit can be especially good.

6. Washington State
You may not have noticed much in the record department but Paul Wulff's team has been making progress. The Cougars have a really good quarterback in Jeff Tuel plus a very good wideout in Marquess Wilson. Both are one of the most underrated players in all of college football at his respective position. The running game was pitiful last season however thanks to mediocre running backs and poor line play.
The defense was truly awful last season thanks in part to one of the softer defensive lines in the nation. The back seven is not half bad however.

South
1. Arizona State
The Sun Devils are bound to disappoint us. There are a lot of expectations with this team that was so close last season to multiple breakthrough wins. And if the Sun Devils don't play to expectations, Dennis Erickson will get axed.
Losing Steven Threet was a big blow at quarterback and while Brock Osweiler has impressive size and a very good arm, his accuracy must improve. Fortunately a talented group of backs and wideouts return plus a veteran offensive line.
The Devils will make their money on defense and they just might have the best one potentially in all of the conference. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a force that just may be one of the top defensive players in the nation. Both of his fellow starters at linebacker return as does a talented line and defensive backfield.
Bowl Game Prediction: Holiday Bowl

2. USC
Everyone expected the Trojans to have a stellar offense last season in the first year of the Lane Kiffin era and it could be even better in 2011. Matt Barkley really shined last season and showed a lot of improvement. He looks to be the next great SC QB. He has a young but very talented group of receivers and some quality tailbacks but the offensive line has to do some retooling.
The defense was shockingly bad, even with legendary assistant Monte Kiffin running it. The Trojans could have a pretty solid line but the linebacking unit really underachieved last season and has to step up while the secondary was borderline awful at times.

3. Utah
Utah will go from being a consistent top-level team in the Mountain West to a mid-level club in the Pac-12 but still should be able to make some noise. That is due to the very talented quarterback named Jordan Wynn, who does have to adjust to a new offensive scheme under new coordinator Norm Chow but Chow's record speaks for itself. The Utes have a pair of couple of quality backs plus a solid receiver group and a good offensive line.
The defensive line will be very good while the linebackers will be above average. The secondary will be tested early and often.
Bowl Game Prediction: Maaco Bowl Las Vegas

4. Arizona
The Wildcats were sitting at 7-1 last season on Halloween but all hell broke loose after that and they lost five straight. All of the optimism in the program quickly died. The Wildcats still have star quarterback Nick Foles and the very talented Juron Criner and a solid backfield rotation but the offensive line, one without any returning starters, is a major concern for coach Mike Stoops.
The defense looks to be pretty good once again but the pass rush from the defensive line needs to improve. The tackle pairing looks to be strong as do the linebackers, who all played very well last season. The secondary has the talent but needs to play like it.
Bowl Game Prediction: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

5. UCLA
It is sure looking like Rick Neuheisel is in really bad shape at head coach of the Bruins. The California-Las Angeles graduate came in when he was hired a few years proclaiming the football dynasty in L.A. was over. Fortunately for him, USC has fallen off thanks to some NCAA violations but UCLA has sucked in the same time. The Bruins have nothing at quarterback and fans are praying that prized recruit Brett Hundley plays early and often. The pistol did have positive results for the running game and both starting receivers do return.
There is talent on the defense in Pasadena but it has yet to turn into positive results. New coordinator Joe Tresey is hoping that bringing more pressure will help out a rebuilt defensive line. The linebackers will miss Akeem Ayers but the secondary, if they put it all together, can be very strong.

6. Colorado
The Buffs really made a bad hire in Jon Embree, who was only hired because he was a Colorado grad and came cheap. What Embree does have is an underrated offense with a gamebreaker at tailback in Rodney Stewart, a potentially good quarterback in Tyler Hansen, a fine receiver in Toneu Clemens and a good line.
The defense probably will struggle, especially against the pass and the team has to find new cornerbacks. No one really stands out on the defensive end.

Pac-12 Championship Game
Oregon over Arizona State


East
1. South Carolina
This is a team that if everything comes together just right, could pull off an upset and win the SEC. They have a star running back in Marcus Lattimore, an excellent receiver in Alshon Jeffery, an excellent defensive line including ballyhooed freshman Jadeveon Clowney, and a great coach in Steve Spurrier. However, it will come down to whether or not Stephen Garcia can play to his potential and behave for once. The line is also a concern but does have some continuity.
The linebackers look to be very improved but the secondary needs to improve its play and should as Akeem Auguste is moved back to cornerback.
Bowl Game Prediction: Capital One Bowl

2. Florida
The Gators made a bold hire in Will Muschamp as their new head coach and he in turn made a bold hire in bringing in Charlie Weis to be the offensive coordinator. Say what you want about Weis, the man knows how to coach quarterbacks and he has the talented John Brantley to work with. Brantley really struggled last season in the spread but should be a much better fit in Weis' pro-style. There is still a lot of speed on offense at running back and at receiver, although the receivers are unproven, as is the offensive line.
The Gators have to replace seven starters on defense but Muschamp is one of the finest defensive coaches in the nation and he'll have this defense making plays. The defensive line should be improved from a season ago, the linebackers look to be rock solid, but the secondary could be exploited.
Bowl Game Prediction: Outback Bowl

3. Georgia
Mark Richt is under fire entering the 2011 season so he is hoping that he can keep the coals off his ass with a strong season. The pieces are there on both sides of the ball. Aaron Murray showed a lot of promise at quarterback last season as a freshman and looks to be a star. The Bulldogs are hoping that freshman Isaiah Crowell can be their Marcus Lattimore and they need him to be as their running game was subpar last season. Murray could use some targets to emerge at wideout and an offensive line to jell.
The defense was very impressive last season despite transitioning to the 3-4 and should be just as good if not better. The Bulldogs finally have the nose tackle they craved in juco transer John Jenkins plus 3/4 of the secondary returns. UGA needs to find some playmakers at linebacker though.
Bowl Game Prediction: Chick-fil-A Bowl

4. Tennessee
The Vols rallied late last season to make a bowl in Derek Dooley's debut season but it will not be easy once again for this club. Tyler Bray really showed a lot late in the season and looks like the future, although Tennessee has a solid backup in Matt Simms. Tauren Poole is a fine running back and Justin Hunter is a game-breaker at receiver. The line should be solid.
The defense has some work to do. The coaching staff has high hopes for the defensive line but there is a real lack of playmakers at linebacker and the secondary needs to be more consistent.
Bowl Game Prediction: Music City Bowl

5. Kentucky
Coach Joker Phillips has to rebuild the offense from scratch as the team has lost a lot from last year's unit, most notably quarterback Mike Hartline, tailback Derrick Locke and do it all receiver Randall Cobb. The team will need playmakers to step up but at least the offensive line is pretty experienced.
The defense will transition to a varied defense with a lot of different looks but nothing will hide the lack of production from the defensive line. The back two levels are very experienced and linebacker Danny Trevathan is a very good playmaker.

6. Vanderbilt
New coach James Franklin comes into Nashville with a lot of optimism and he will need it this season as the Commodores will be outmanned almost every week. Larry Smith has been very inconsistent over the years and very unaccurate. He won't get much help from a below average receiving corps and offensive line but the running game should be solid and the strength of the offense.
The Vandy d-line hopes to come back after an injury ravaged season but does look to be solid if everyone stays healthy. The secondary is also deep but there concerns with the linebackers.

West
1. Alabama
Not many teams look like national title contenders with a quarterback battle that has not yet yielded a clear winner but this Alabama team is stacked and will win a lot of games whether AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims is under center. They may even split time and it won't matter. Trent Richardson is a budding star at running back just waiting for his time to shine not that Mark Ingram went to the NFL. The receiving corps should be very good and it looks like the Tide will have possibly the top offensive line in the country.
The defense is always a strongpoint of any Nick Saban squad and the linebacking and secondary units can match up to any in the nation. The defensive front is the one major concern on this side of the ball but at least coordinator Kirby Smart has his nose guard in senior Josh Chapman.
Bowl Game Prediction: BCS National Championship Game

2. Louisiana State
This Tigers squad could be the national champion this season but it will come down to how well Jordan Jefferson plays at quarterback. Jefferson has his ups and downs but he needs to minimize the downs for this club to get past the Crimson Tide in the West. Spencer Ware looks to be a solid running back and the Tigers have a strong receiving corps chock full of veterans.
The defensive line has no returning starters but is very talented thanks to great recruiting by Tigers coach Les Miles. There is a major hole at middle linebacker but the outside 'backers are both very solid. And even after the loss of Patrick Peterson, the secondary should be tremendous yet again.
Bowl Game Prediction: Sugar Bowl

3. Arkansas
Could an offense losing Ryan Mallett be just as good? The Hogs could certainly do that behind the legs of Knile Davis and one of the elite receiving groups in all of America but they will need Tyler Wilson to play as well at quarterback as he can. He does not have the gun that Mallett had but he is pretty accurate and deceptively mobile.
The defense was better than many thought they would be last season and should be just as good. The Razorbacks should have one of the better defensive tackle combos in the conference and should be able to bring plenty of pressure without having to blitz. The linebacking group should be very good and the secondary unit can be solid as well.
Bowl Game Prediction: Cotton Bowl Classic

4. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen has changed the culture in Starkville and has built a consistent bowl contender. Chris Relf is the spread operate that Mullen needs and in his senior season should be even better. He has a strong receiving corps and a good running back in Vick Ballard.
Manny Diaz did a tremendous job last season and he was thus hired away by Texas. New coordinator Geoff Collins from FIU has some good players in place on the defensive line and in the secondary. He does have some work to do with the linebackers.
Bowl Game Prediction: Gator Bowl

5. Auburn
Quite a drop from last year for the Tigers but when you lose guys like Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, it's bound to happen. The entire offense for coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has to be rebuilt, with the exception of budding star Michael Dyer at running back. The quarterback situation is one to be watched closely because while pro-style QB Barrett Trotter looks to be the favorite, it seems that everyone is anxiously awaiting the highly touted Kiehl Frazier, who is a dual-threat.
The defense must be rebuilt as well as only three starters remain and there is a whole lot of youth throughout. Fortunately for coordinator Ted Roof, Chizik has done an excellent job on the recruiting trail over the past couple of years.
Bowl Game Prediction: Liberty Bowl

6. Mississippi
Houston Nutt is another on the hot seat and probably needs a bowl bid to save his job. There are major questions at quarterback but the running game should be in good hands with Brandon Bolden handling the rock behind what should be a strong offensive line.
The defense really struggled last season and it will have to show a lot of improvement if Ole Miss wants to be bowl eligible. The defensive line got a major break when end Kentrell Lockett was given a sixth season of eligibility as he is a solid pass rusher. The linebackers have some holes and the secondary is a major weakness as well.

SEC Championship Game
Alabama over South Carolina

1. Florida International
The job Mario Cristobal has done in the other school in Miami has been nothing short is spectacular. He has taken one of the worst programs in all of college football and got them to a bowl victory after last season. One of the elite players in the conference plays wideout for FIU and his name is T.Y. Hilton and he can take the ball the distance practically anytime he touches the ball. Wesley Carroll was inconsistent in his first season as a starter a year ago under center but the hope that he will have more ups than downs in 2011. The Golden Panthers have a bunch of fine backs sharing the carries and a solid offensive line.
The FIU defense improved greatly last year and the hope is that this year's unit will be just as good as last year's. If the pass rush can be just as good as last year's, then the defense will be fine.
Bowl Game Prediction: New Orleans Bowl

2. Troy
The long dominant Trojans ruled the Sun Belt yet again last season and offensively, they should shine as usual. Quarterback Corey Robinson was tremendous last season in the spread as a freshman and should only get better with more experience. Robinson has to deal with a rebuilt offensive line and receiving group but should have a solid running game.
The defense has consistently been subpar at Troy and it leads fans to wonder how good could their team be if their defense was half as good as their offense. The defense as a whole is a question mark but they do return one of the top sack collectors in all of collegiate football last year in junior Jonathan Massaquoi.
Bowl Game Prediction: GoDaddy.com Bowl

3. Louisiana Monroe
Coach Todd Berry had this club right on the brink of a bowl bid last year as they totaled five wins in his first year in Monroe, with a pair of losses by seven points or less. The team played a lot of youngsters last season and they hope that all of the experience they gained will be a strength. Kolton Browning has a solid freshman year at quarterback but he needs a more consistent running game and better line play to really take off. He does have an above average receiving corps.
Look for the defense to take a step forward from a year ago, where the Warhawks used their 3-3-5 scheme to confuse opponents. The defensive line should provide plenty of pass rush while the secondary can be very solid as well.
Bowl Game Prediction: BBVA Compass Bowl

4. Arkansas State
Offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze got promoted to the head coaching job in Jonesboro and he should find even more success with the offense then he did a year ago with the return of Ryan Aplin at quarterback, Derek Lawson at tailback, and Dwayne Frampton at wideout. The offensive line is a major drawback, unfortunately.
The Red Wolves should field one of the better defenses in conference and one of the more experienced. Every projected starter is an upperclassman. The defensive line was fine rushing the passer but needs to be better at the point of attack against the run.

5. Middle Tennessee
Over the past few seasons the Blue Raiders have lived and died with the talented but turnover prone Dwight Dasher at quarterback. Now as he has moved on in his life, there is a hole that has to be filled under center. Coach Rick Stockstill needs the running backs and the receivers to step up and make more big plays. He does enjoy a veteran offensive line.
The defense did not make a lot of plays and questions are sprinkled throughout the defense as MTSU hopes to increase the amount of pressure they bring. The leader of the defense is outside linebacker Darin Davis.

6. Western Kentucky
Coach Willie Taggert has this program on an upward swing after a very rough adjustment to the FBS ranks. The team only won two games last season but was a whole lot more competitive than the year prior. One of the best players you have never heard of is WKU running back Bobby Rainey who has been up there with the more well known backs statistically over the past couple of seasons. He is the definition of a true workhorse and should make life easier for quarterback Kawaun Jakes.
The defense last season was very impressive in Bowling Green and has the fortune of returning eight starters. The line should be pretty strong while the linebackers are inexperienced but promising. The secondary got a lot of key experience last season.

7. North Texas
I love the hire of Dan McCarney as the new head man in Denton as the Mean Green move into a new stadium. However, the cupboard is pretty bare and the schedule is tough as McCarney will have to break in a new quarterback and much of his offensive line. Lance Dunbar is a stud at running back.
The UNT defense made very little noteworthy plays last season but that should change under McCarney. The Mean Green should get some solid pass rush off the edge and the back seven should be decent.

8. Louisiana Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns brought in Mark Hudspeth to turn their downtrodden program into a consistent contender in the Belt but he has his work cut out for him. The offense should be strong as quarterback Chris Masson and running back Aaron Spikes both return as does one of the finest tight ends in the nation, Ladarius Green.
The new defensive schemes hope to generate a greater pass rush by sending more pressure but that could leave a weak secondary vulnerable in the air, where the team struggled last season defensively.

9. Florida Atlantic
Howard Schnellenberger has done a great job building this program literally from scratch but he does not have much to work with despite the promise brought on by the completion of an on campus stadium. The only playmaker of note on offense is running back Alfred Morris but besides him, there is a lot of question marks.
The defense did take a couple of steps forward last season, but that was from pitiful to pretty bad. Now with only three returning starters, the optimism is cautioned but the secondary should be solid. The Owls need to do a much better job stuffing the run.

1. Hawaii
The Warriors offense last season was one of the most prolific in the nation thanks to great performances all around, especially by quarterback Bryant Moniz, running back Alex Green and wide receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. Only Moniz returns but he just may be the top quarterback in conference. Moniz put up huge numbers in the Run N' Shoot and figures to do so again even without much of a running game and a porous offensive line.
The defense held up its own end of the stick as they were adept at forcing turnovers to get their offense the ball. More than half of last year's starters return, most notably linebacker Corey Paredes.
Bowl Game Prediction: Hawaii Bowl

2. Nevada
Coach Chris Ault pieced together a magical 2010 highlighted by the upset of Boise State after Thanksgiving but that won't happen again after all the Wolf Pack last on offense, most notably quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua. The Pistol needs a solid rifleman but nobody is sure who will be that man in Reno this season. Whoever it will be does have an experienced line and reciving unit.
The defense was pretty solid last season but lost a few key contributors. However, this should still be one of the best WAC defenses, led by middle linebacker James-Michael Johnson.
Bowl Game Prediction: Poinsettia Bowl

3. Fresno State
Pat Hill has built a solid program in Fresno but it is hard to see them taking the next step in their final year in the WAC due to their trademark tough schedule. The Bulldogs' new starting quarterback's last name may sound familiar to you. High hopes surround Derek Carr as he he appears to have all the physical tools plus the mental ones as well. He has a very inexperienced offensive line and an inconsistent receiving corps but he has a strong backfield mate in Robbie Rouse.
The defense lost a lot from a strong unit and it is a question where the pass rush will come from. The Bulldogs do appear to have an above average linebacking unit but a below average secondary.
Bowl Game Prediction: Humanitarian Bowl

4. Louisiana Tech
Surprise, surprise. Coach Sonny Dykes instituted a high flying pass-first offense in Ruston. He was only an assistant under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, what gives? Anyways, the offense lost their starting quarterback from a year ago so the pressure will be on Colby Cameron this season. He does have a very good back in Lennon Creer and some solid receivers but the line is a bit of a concern.
The Bulldogs were atrocious on defense last season and if Dykes wants to get this club to a bowl game, improvement has to come here quickly. What really hurt the team was the lack of a pass rush but it does not appear that help is on the way.

5. Idaho
The Vandals are really going to miss quarterback Nathan Enderle, who was their top signal caller in recent memory. The team lost a lot offensively, including key performers at all of the skill positions and only a few offensive linemen return from last year's squad.
The defense lost a fair amount from the 2010 team as well but appears to be better off thanks to a solid linebacking unit and a deep defensive line.

6. Utah State
Gary Anderson had this club on the brink of some upsets, most notably in the opener at Oklahoma, and pulled one off in beating BYU but the team struggled a lot at other times as well. The offense returns nearly their entire offensive line but not much else with the skill positions being short on talent with the exception of running back Robert Turbin, who is coming off injury.
Anderson has been working hard to get the most out of the defense in Logan but it has been largely for naught. Therefore he is adjusting to a 3-4 alignment in hopes of getting better production by taking advantage of his solid linebacking corps.

7. San Diego State
First year coach Mike MacIntyre was forced to play a lot of inexperienced youngsters due to circumstance last season and as expected, the team sucked. MacIntyre is hoping that the players that were forced into playing time can turn into solid contributors. Most of the top receivers return from last year's team as do the running backs and the offensive line feature some experience as well. The quarterback battle is one to watch as all eyes are on prized recruit Joseph Gray.
The defense was really bad last season but every single starter returns, which bodes well for improvement based off of experience along. The group of linebackers looks to lead this unit.

8. New Mexico State
DeWayne Walker came to Las Cruces and has been working his tail off trying to build this program. Unfortunately there was nothing for him to build with and there still is not much talent on this roster but this team still works hard each and every Saturday. The offense is undergoing another scheme change but there is not much talent to work with, but there is some promise surrounding quarterback Andrew Manley.
The defense got destroyed on all levels last season and it was a chain reaction of how offenses moves against the Aggies. The secondary could be above average however.

Independents
Army
Rich Ellerson has done tremendous work at West Point and looks to get this team to a second straight bowl appearance and appears to have the team to do it. The option is the scheme used by the Black Knights and they have become one of the better option running teams in the nation, granted there are not many. Trent Steeleman has been great at quarterback since he arrived at the Military Academy and fullback Jared Hassin is a solid threat as well.
The Knights did lose a bit from their defensive line and their secondary at the safety position but do look to have a fine linebacking corps and solid corners.
Bowl Game Prediction: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

BYU
The Cougars are going out on their own as independents but do have a rough schedule to navigate. Fortunately for them they have another rising star at quarterback in Jake Heaps, who was impressive at times as a freshman last season. Heaps is surrounded by a veteran unit but could use some more weapons at wideout to go with back JJ Di Luigi.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall always cooks up a fine defense and there is optimism that this year's squad could be the best one in quite a while. The 3-3-5 requires an active line which the BYU boast plus pretty good linebackers. The secondary does have some question as they some suffered some key losses.
Bowl Game Prediction: Armed Forces Bowl

Navy
When talking Navy football, it starts and ends with the triple option. Few run it as well as the Midshipmen do and when they are on, it can be mighty tough to slow down, let alone stop. Just ask Notre Dame. The team lost Ricky Dobbs to graduation but Kriss Proctor looks to be a fine replacement under center. Alexander Teich really shined late in the season at fullback while Gee Gee Greene was very good in the slot running and catching the football. The Middies also have an experienced offensive line.
Navy's defense was very strong last year at times but only two starters remain. Fortunately one of them is talented pass rusher Jabaree Tuani who is taking his place as one of the better pass rushers in school history.
Bowl Game Prediction: Military Bowl


Notre Dame
Colour me Kubrick but I'm a believer in this Fighting Irish team. I really liked how they ended 2010 and let's face it, Brian Kelly is a hell of a coach. The quarterback competition is between the talented Dayne Christ and the clutch Tommy Rees but it looks like Christ will have the honor of throwing behind a solid offensive line to a quality receiving corps led by Michael Floyd. The Fighting Irish have struggled to find a consistent running game for a while now.
A much improved defense returns eight starters, most notably budding star linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o is part of a very good linebacking unit in front of a quality secondary.
Bowl Game Prediction: Fiesta Bowl

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