Athlon's Pre-Preseason Top 25: 1-10
Oklahoma is the early favorite for the 2011 national title.
By: Steven Lassan | 1/21/11, 10:10 AM EST
The 2011 season is still eight months away and spring practice hasn't started, but here's an early glance at how the top 25 might look when Athlon's college football annuals hit newsstands in June.
1. Oklahoma – With the decisions by receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis to turn down the NFL, the Sooners get the nod as the early favorite for 2011. The offense will miss running back DeMarco Murray, but quarterback Landry Jones is back, along with four starters on the offensive line. Expect sophomore Roy Finch to pickup Murray’s production on the ground. The defense needs to improve, as the Sooners allowed 361.9 yards per game and must replace end Jeremy Beal. The Sooners catch a break with the elimination of the Big 12 Championship Game, but an early road date at Florida State could be a major speed bump in the path to the national title.
2. Alabama – Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus are significant losses, but the Crimson Tide is in good shape for another run at the national championship. AJ McCarron has yet to start a game, but the last quarterback – Greg McElroy – won a national championship in his first season as the starter. Even though Ingram is gone, Trent Richardson should ensure the Alabama rushing attack doesn’t miss a beat, but replacing Jones will be a tough assignment for coordinator Jim McElwain. The defense had to replace nearly everyone going into 2010, but the youth will turn into experience next season, likely giving Alabama the best defense in the SEC. Nick Saban has continued to compile impressive recruiting hauls and after a semi-disappointing 2010 campaign, look for the Crimson Tide to bounce back in a big way.
3. Oregon – The Ducks fell short of hoisting the national title, but are poised for another run next season. The offense remains explosive with the return of quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. However, three offensive line starters and receiver Jeff Maehl must be replaced. The Ducks will have some significant losses on defense, including linebacker Casey Matthews, but several players with experience are ready to step in. The biggest obstacle to another appearance in the national title could be a road date at Stanford and the season opener against LSU.
4. LSU – Whether or not LSU fans are happy, Les Miles is back in Baton Rouge. Lucky Les decided to turn down more money at Michigan for what should be a preseason top-10 team. Junior college transfer (and former Georgia quarterback) Zach Mettenberger will compete with Jordan Jefferson for the starting job, but the Tigers must find a replacement for running back Stevan Ridley. There are key losses on defense with the departure of tackle Drake Nevis, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. The Tigers will be tested early, with a neutral site battle against Oregon in the season opener.
5. Stanford – Jim Harbaugh is gone, but quarterback Andrew Luck is back for his junior season. Luck’s return is more than enough for the Cardinal to challenge for the Pac-12 title, but the offense must replace three starters on the line, including center Chase Beeler. The Cardinal showed major improvement under coordinator Vic Fangio this season and must replicate that play under a new coaching staff. The players have confidence in new coach David Shaw, but it remains to be seen if the Cardinal can match the type of success they had under Harbaugh. If Stanford knocks off Oregon on Nov. 12, a trip to the Pac-12 title game seems likely.
6. Ohio State – Navigating the five-game suspensions of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams will be the biggest issue surrounding this team going into 2011. With a road date at Miami and a home game against Michigan State in the first five weeks, the Buckeyes could find themselves out of the national title picture with two losses. Although the suspensions and a rebuilt linebacking corps are a concern, the Buckeyes should find a way to patch things together and finish 2011 as the Big Ten’s best team.
7. Florida State – Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back on track and poised for a run for a top-five finish next season. Christian Ponder must be replaced at quarterback, but EJ Manuel has six career starts and should contend for All-ACC honors next season. The biggest question mark could be up front, where guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon must be replaced. The Seminoles showed big improvement on defense in 2010 and only three starters are gone. With Virginia Tech rebuilding, the ACC should be Florida State’s to lose.
8. Boise State – After falling short of a BCS bowl this season, can the Broncos reload for another run in 2011? Even with significant losses in the receiving corps and the departure of coordinator Bryan Harsin, quarterback Kellen Moore will be among the best passers in the nation. With Moore returning and a solid defense, the Broncos will be the favorites in their first season in the Mountain West. The season opener against Georgia and a road date at TCU could determine whether the Broncos get a shot in a BCS bowl or finish 11-1 or 10-2 with an appearance in one of the Mountain West affiliated bowl games.
9. Notre Dame – The Irish finished 2010 by winning four in a row, including a 33-17 thumping of Miami in the Sun Bowl. With momentum heading into 2011, don’t be surprised if the Irish end up in a BCS bowl next season. The schedule is favorable, and the offense got a nice boost with the return of receiver Michael Floyd. The quarterback battle between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees will be one of the nation’s most intriguing once spring practice kicks off.
10. Texas A&M – Despite a disappointing showing in the Cotton Bowl, the Aggies appear to be on track in Mike Sherman’s fourth season. Ryan Tannehill assumed the starting duties after the seventh game and finished the year with 1,638 yards and 13 scores. The offense gets a boost with the return of running back Christine Michael from a broken leg, and receiver Jeff Fuller decided to return to campus, instead of pursuing the NFL. With only five starters gone from 2010, it will be a major disappointment if the Aggies don’t challenge for double-digit wins in 2011.
Most Popular Articles
Contests & Promotions
Athlon Sports Fantasy Racing!
Enter the Athlon Sports Fantasy Racing game. Just head over to athlon.myfantasyracing.com and register for your chance to win a chance to watch a 2014 race from the grandstands. You'll also have a chance to win other amazing prizes such as an autographed Kyle Busch helmet.