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Monday, January 17, 2011

Buckeyes #1 in Latest College Basketball Poll - NFL 2011 Mock Draft - College Football Rankings for 2011-2012


Buckeyes back at No. 1 in Top 25

David Lighty, the Ohio State Buckeyes' sage veteran who started his career in 2006-07 as part of the acclaimed "Thad Five" recruiting class led by Greg Oden, is seeing his fifth year shape up a lot like his first.
On Monday, Ohio State ascended to No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
An odd mix of mostly seniors and freshmen, the Buckeyes returned to the top spot in the nation by beating Penn State at home Saturday after Duke lost at Florida State on Wednesday.
The Blue Devils fell to No. 5 as Kansas, Syracuse and Pittsburgh each advanced a spot to take the second, third and fourth positions in the poll. San Diego State remained in sixth.
The accuracy of the top 10 will be promptly tested Monday when No. 7 Villanova plays at No. 8 Connecticut (3:30 p.m. ESPN), Syracuse visits Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Big 12-force Baylor hosts Kansas (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Ohio State (18-0) next plays Wednesday night against visiting Iowa as the Buckeyes' Big Ten slate continues. They cap the week at No. 22 Illinois on Saturday as seven of their next nine games come against ranked teams, including the Fighting Illini and No. 13 Purdue twice.
But Lighty has been here before. As a freshman in 2007, he averaged 16.3 minutes per game as Ohio State went 35-4, finished the regular season ranked No. 1 and lost to Florida in the 2007 national championship game.
Ohio State was on a bus ride home from the airport after a Wednesday night victory at Michigan. The TV sets were tuned in, yet there was no celebration when the Blue Devils lost 66-61. Mostly there was silence.
"There wasn't one word said," coach Thad Matta said Friday. "Maybe it was 11:30 at night, but these guys were kind of like, 'Hey, what are we going to do to beat Penn State?' as they got off the bus. That's what I love about this team."
Since that 2007 title game loss, the Buckeyes have constantly been in the top 10, even though the cast of characters has changed with several players jumping to the pros.
Their 18 victories this season include five Big Ten tests (three on the road against down teams but at tough venues -- Indiana, Iowa and Michigan), the latest a 69-66 triumph at home over Penn State on Saturday. Oh, and they waxed Florida State on its home court, 58-44, back on the last day of November.
They've done it with four returning starters supplemented by a solid group of first-year players led by Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.
The 6-foot-9 Sullinger, who leads the team at 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds a game, has been tabbed by some publications as the best player in the nation through the first half of the season. Craft runs the offense like a fifth-year senior and is a shutdown defender. Thomas comes off the bench tossing up shots and is the fifth Buckeye averaging in double figures at 10.1 points a game.
Yet no one seems to have a big ego. And much of that stems from Matta, who never seems to take winning for granted even though he's done a lot of it in his seven years in Columbus. He's a sparkling 174-54 despite losing Oden, Mike Conley Jr. , Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens to the NBA after just one season each, and last year's consensus national player of the year, Evan Turner, a year early.
Lighty has seen how the program has become a perpetual national contender. And rightfully so.
Lighty, granted a fifth season of eligibility after a foot fracture knocked him out of the 2008-09 season after just seven games, refractured the same bone in the same left foot in May. But that gave him six months to recover before his senior season.
"I think it's great for the program," Matta said Saturday of the Buckeyes' return to the top ranking. "I don't know how many schools can say that they've been in that position. We're definitely one of them."

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (49) 18-0 1,606
2 Kansas (6) 17-0 1,526
3 Syracuse (8) 18-0 1,523
4 Duke (1) 16-1 1,393
5 Pittsburgh (1) 17-1 1,382
6 San Diego State 19-0 1,294
7 Villanova 16-1 1,265
8 Connecticut 14-2 1,148
9 Brigham Young 17-1 1,057
10 Texas 14-3 1,015
11 Texas A&M 16-1 996
12 Kentucky 14-3 975
13 Missouri 15-3 758
14 Purdue 15-3 672
15 Minnesota 14-4 513
16 Notre Dame 14-4 495
17 Michigan State 12-5 467
18 Wisconsin 13-4 448
19 Louisville 14-3 438
20 Washington 13-4 409
21 West Virginia 12-4 266
22 Saint Mary's 16-2 195
23 Georgetown 13-5 146
23 Illinois 13-5 146
25 Cincinnati 16-2 125
Others receiving votes: Temple 99, Georgia 89, Kansas State 86, Gonzaga 84, Colorado 78, UNLV 76, Arizona 70, Florida State 64, Vanderbilt 46, Florida 42, St. John's 27, Missouri State 25, Utah State 22, Baylor 18, UCF 10, Southern Miss 8, Marquette 7, Wichita State 6, James Madison 4, Butler 2, North Carolina 2, Penn State 1, Coastal Carolina 1
Dropped from rankings: Temple 19, Kansas State 21, UCF 23, Georgia 24




SI.com's First NFL Mock Draft
January 13, 2011

Wow! Blaine Gabbert #1! Maybe we are better off having a lockout. I do like who they have the Browns taking though, but Gabbert number UNO, come on man!

1. Carolina Panthers -- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Quarterbacks have gone No. 1 overall eight out of the past 10 years. CAA, which represents Gabbert, has represented seven of the past eight overall No. 1 picks. Despite playing in a spread offense at Missouri, Gabbert is the top-rated quarterback and is the kind of player Carolina could sell to its fans.
DON BANKS: Draft notebook on QB prospects, more
2. Denver Broncos -- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Broncos need a defensive playmaker and should look at Bowers and Auburn's Nick Fairley here. It helps to get Elvis Dumervil back from a torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season, but they need to make doubly sure they can improve their league-low sack total.
3. Buffalo Bills -- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Bills allowed over 200 yards rushing in eight games last season and getting tough in the middle should be their No. 1 priority. Fairley isn't quite Ndamukong Suh, but he could bring a Suh-like attitude to a defense that needs to be more aggressive.
4. Cincinnati Bengals -- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Dareus may not be as hot a name because he's been out there as a top draft prospect for so long, but he has had a quality body of work at Alabama. Dareus had 6.5 sacks in 2009 and 4.5 sacks last season. The Bengals' defense fell from No. 4 overall in 2009 to No. 15 this season and needs an impact player on the line.
5. Arizona Cardinals -- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Cardinals might not find the quarterback they love this high up in the draft, so expect them to take the best player available, who also happens to fit a need. Arizona ranked 23rd in pass defense last season in a division in which teams can't throw the ball. Peterson would also be a dangerous return man.
6. Cleveland Browns -- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Hard to tell which direction they'll head until they name a head coach, but this offense desperately needs someone to worry opposing defenses. Green should hold off Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon to be the first receiver taken.
7. San Francisco 49ers -- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
New coach Jim Harbaugh needs a quarterback, but he probably feels he knows the college ranks a lot better than the rest of the NFL and can wait to get a guy he can mold into a star. Just look at what he did with Josh Johnson at San Diego. The Niners allowed too many big plays last season and need a shutdown corner. Amukmara didn't have any interceptions, but primarily because no one threw at him.
8. Tennessee Titans -- Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Smith is going to blow people away at the combine and jump up the board. But he won't be just a workout wonder. He had 11.5 sacks as a freshman at Missouri, and 5.5 last season, when he missed three games with a broken leg. Longtime Titans defensive line mastermind Jim Washburn may be able to turn him into the next Jevon Kearse.
9. Dallas Cowboys -- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Assuming the Cowboys think they can sign Nnamdi Asomugha to help solidify the secondary, they'll turn to the offensive line in the draft. Smith has a good chance to come out of the predraft process as the top offensive lineman.
10. Washington Redskins -- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkanas
Mallett needs to work with a good coach to improve his footwork. Right now if defenses bring pressure up the middle he's in trouble. Mike Shanahan seems to like mobile quarterbacks, but could work with the strong-armed Mallett while he sits behind either Donovan McNabb or Rex Grossman. They also desperately need a receiver, but with Justin Blackmon going back to Missouri, they might wait to draft a pass-catcher.
TONY PAULINE: Top 25 prospects in 2011 NFL Draft
11. Houston Texans -- Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Ayers will thrive in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme since he can rush the passer and cover. The Texans need his versatility and his knack for making big plays.
12. Minnesota Vikings -- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Vikings need a quarterback, but they could let their next offensive coordinator bring in a veteran to implement his system instead of starting over with a rookie. With 22 free agents on the roster, the Vikes may end up with plenty of needs. Quinn could help replace DE Ray Edwards, who is unlikely to be back in Minnesota.
13. Detroit Lions -- Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Lions need help in their back seven on defense, but the right player may not be in this spot unless they love Texas' Aaron Williams, or if Peterson or Amukamara slip. Look for Detroit to fill out those spots later in the draft and start first by solidifying their line with Sherrod.
14. St. Louis Rams -- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Rams could use help on the offensive line, but there are a lot of questions in this year's OL crop. They also need another big target for Sam Bradford.
15. Miami Dolphins -- Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Ingram is likely the only first-round worthy running back, and the Dolphins may very well lose both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams this offseason. Miami also needs a quarterback, but with Tony Sparano presumably coaching for his job he's not going to want to start a rookie.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
The Jags can let Newton sit behind David Garrard and develop.
17. New England Patriots (via Oakland) -- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Under-recruited, hard-working lineman ... sounds like a Patriot. Even though New England's defense improved greatly throughout the year, the Pats still need playmakers.
18. San Diego Chargers -- Vonn Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Having the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 offense provides you some luxury in the draft. But the Chargers' defense isn't quite as good as its numbers because the special teams' failures kept them off the field in certain games. Miller can get to the quarterback and will be compared to Shawne Merriman.
19. New York Giants -- Allen Bailey, DL, Miami
The Giants will likely need a running back, but they've proven you don't need to use a first-round pick to do well at that position. Instead, they can bolster their defensive line with the versatile Bailey.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The Bucs have to be excited there are so many quality defensive ends in this year's draft. Clayborn entered the season as the top defensive end prospect, but only had four sacks his senior campaign. The Bucs could also look at California's Cameron Jordan and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward.
21. Kansas City Chiefs -- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Some draft experts question his athleticism, but Carimi fits the bill as a big, tough, run-blocking lineman.
22. Indianapolis Colts -- Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
The Colts had just one sack against the Jets in their wild-card loss and need to get a player who can make an impact up the middle to free up their pass-rushing ends.
23. Philadelphia Eagles -- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Opponents too easily picked on whoever wasn't being covered by Asante Samuel last season. The Eagles would be very happy if the Longhorns corner was still available.
24. New Orleans Saints -- Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College
The Saints' vaunted line took a step backward this season, and left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Carl Nicks are free agents. They also could have running back issues since Pierre Thomas is a free agent, but they'd be better served getting one lower in the draft.


SI Top 25 College Football Rankings for 2011-2012
It's way too early to begin predicting where college football teams will finish a year from now, but we all need something to get us through the long, cold weeks between Wes Byrum's national title-winning field goal and National Signing Day. This Top 25 may not look so prescient come September, but it should help kick off the discussion for the 2011 season.

Obviously, several of these situations are fluid. The deadline to declare for the NFL draft is later this week, so several game-changing players will decide their fates in the next few days. (I got caught by this when I wrote my Top 25 for this week's edition of the magazine. Because of print deadlines, I had to read the tea leaves on a few players. While I guessed correctly on most, LSU back Stevan Ridley may leave early and render my synopsis incorrect.)

On to the rankings...
NCAA Football Power Rankings
1
Oklahoma Sooners
Receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis are coming back to a team that already had plenty of firepower. Quarterback Landry Jones will play behind a line that returns four starters, and rising sophomore Roy Finch will lead a stable of young backs.
 
2
Oregon Ducks
This past season was not one of those lightning-in-a-bottle years. The Ducks aren't going anywhere. The construction started with Mike Bellotti, and it continues with Chip Kelly. Oregon is the Pac-12's premier program, and it looks as if that will continue to be the case for the next few years. Oregon will lose three offensive linemen and two linebackers, but the Ducks have recruited well. Leading rusher LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas are back. So is cornerback/return man Cliff Harris.
 
3
LSU Tigers
Cornerback Patrick Peterson and tailback Ridley may be gone, but LSU will still bring back nine starters on offense and seven on defense. As the Cotton Bowl win against Texas A&M proved, Spencer Ware can also carry the football a little. LSU's offense should improve this offseason. Combine that with its defense, and you have a national title contender.
 
4
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide lost a lot. Tailback Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive end Marcell Dareus have moved on to the NFL. Given the level of talent Coach Nick Saban has brought into the program, Alabama is going to have to deal with similar losses every season. Assuming safety Mark Barron returns, Alabama will bring back nine defensive starters. On offense, backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy should be able to replace Ingram's production. A.J. McCarron has the inside track to replace Greg McElroy at quarterback, but don't count out redshirt freshman Phillip Sims.
 
5
Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinal lost a coach but kept a quarterback. Things could have been a lot worse. If Cam Newton leaves Auburn for the NFL, Luck will enter the season as college football's best player and the presumptive Heisman Trophy favorite. Whether he stays that way will depend on an offensive line that must replace four starters.
 
6
Ohio St. Buckeyes
Yes, quarterback Terrelle Pryor has to sit out the first five games because of an NCAA suspension. But the Buckeyes always play good defense, and they have a stable of young tailbacks who can fill in for Boom Herron -- who is suspended for those five games but who also may turn pro. Remember the name Rod Smith. Smith is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound tailback from Fort Wayne, Ind., who redshirted in 2010. He is already earning comparisons to former Buckeye Beanie Wells, and that bodes well for the future of the offense.
 
7
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies got thrashed by LSU in the Cotton Bowl, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that this is one of the most intriguing teams in the nation. Texas A&M languished in 2010 before Coach Mike Sherman moved Ryan Tannehill from receiver to quarterback. All of a sudden, the Aggies could beat anyone in the Big 12. As freshman, offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews provided a reason to believe the offense could be good for a while. On defense, coordinator Tim DeRuyter turned around a group that had been porous. Even without star pass rusher Von Miller, the Aggies should still get better on that side of the ball thanks to another offseason with DeRuyter.
 
8
TCU Horned Frogs
It's tough to believe now that in the spring of 2009, there were some who thought Andy Dalton might be unseated at quarterback by then-freshman Casey Pachall. Given Dalton's performance over the past two seasons, that must mean Pachall is pretty good. If he can keep the offense moving, linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock should ensure the Horned Frogs keep punishing opponents on defense in TCU's final season in a non-AQ conference.
 
9
South Carolina Gamecocks
Sorry, Gamecocks, but you get to be the trendy outside-the-power-structure SEC pick for this season. That didn't work so well for Ole Miss in 2009, but Arkansas ended up in the Sugar Bowl in 2010. It will be interesting to see how South Carolina handles lofty expectations. With tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery coming back, South Carolina should be picked to repeat as SEC East champion.
 
10
Florida St. Seminoles
Quarterback Christian Ponder and offensive linemen Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon are gone. Pretty much everyone else is back. The offense will be led by quarterback E.J. Manuel, who has had plenty of seasoning as Ponder's injury replacement in 2009 and 2010. On defense, FSU has a glut of talent at linebacker led by Nigel Bradham.
 
11
Boise St. Broncos
It only seems as if a vast majority of Boise State's roster has been playing since the Clinton administration because so many of these players started as freshmen. The Broncos still bring back seven starters from last year's defense, and quarterback Kellen Moore will be back for his fourth year as the starter. He won't have receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, but Moore will be able to lean on tailback Doug Martin.
 
12
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Defensive tackle Jared Crick gave Nebraska a huge boost when he elected to return for his senior season. When Ndamukong Suh made the same choice between the 2008 and 2009 seasons he was, like Crick, highly regarded but not a household name. We all know what happened after that. Crick and linebacker Lavonte David should lead a group that might be the Big Ten's best defense.
 
13
Missouri Tigers
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert's early departure to the NFL will pave the way for the start of the James Franklin era in Columbia. Like the transition from Chase Daniel to Gabbert, the move from Gabbert to Franklin should go smoothly. The change shouldn't cause Tigers fans to start sweating on their slices of Shakespeare's Pizza.
 
14
Auburn Tigers
Because this is the Internet, I'm covered here. If quarterback Cam Newton shocks the world and announces he'll return for another year in the Loveliest Village on the Plains, I'll adjust these rankings and move Auburn into the top five. Newton is that good. Which is also why the Tigers will end up down here if he turns pro. Tailback Michael Dyer should be a star, but it's tough to believe the offense will be anywhere near as dynamic without Newton.
 
15
Wisconsin Badgers
Backs James White and Montee Ball return along with three-fifths of a bulldozing offensive line, but the losses of defensive end J.J. Watt and quarterback Scott Tolzein will be tough to overcome. Now, we'll see how good of a program builder Coach Bret Bielema is.
 
16
Michigan St. Spartans
Quarterback Kirk Cousins and tailback Edwin Baker lead a large group of returning starters that should keep the Spartans competing for the Big Ten title. After laying an egg against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State has a lot to prove in the first season of the new-look Big Ten.
 
17
Arkansas Razorbacks
Quarterback Ryan Mallett is gone to the NFL, but consider this: We learned by season's end that Auburn's defense was quite good. In relief of Mallett at Jordan-Hare Stadium, heir apparent Tyler Wilson torched the Tigers for 332 passing yards and four touchdowns. Wilson is ready, and he'll go into the season knowing tailback Knile Davis can carry the load on the ground.
 
18
Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Coach Mike Gundy is waiting on the NFL decisions of receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden before he hires a new offensive coordinator. Gundy should know the answer in the next few days, and we'll also know whether the Cowboys belong this low or if they should be bumped up because of the return of their two offensive stars.

Update: Blackmon and Weeden are returning in 2011
 
19
Virginia Tech Hokies
Linebacker Bruce Taylor and cornerback Jayron Hosley should lead coordinator Bud Foster's always-solid defense. The questions will be on offense, where Logan Thomas will take over at quarterback for Tyrod Taylor and backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans have left early for the NFL. The good news is that the Hokies return four starting offensive linemen, including All-ACC selections Jaymes Brooks and Blake DeChristopher.
 
20
West Virginia Mountaineers
Quarterback Geno Smith should benefit most from the arrival of offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Thanks to Smith's arm and a stable of fast young receivers, the Mountaineers may transition to more of an air-it-out offense. On defense, coordinator Jeff Casteel will have to replace a lot, but he will have freakishly fast defensive end Bruce Irvin rushing the opposing quarterback.
 
21
Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have got to begin climbing back toward the top of the rankings, or the administration's patience with Coach Mark Richt will evaporate. The Bulldogs simply have too much talent to keep foundering. If Newton doesn't come back to Auburn, the Bulldogs' Aaron Murray might be the best returning starter at quarterback in the SEC. Even if linebacker Justin Houston decides to turn pro, Georgia returns most of its defense. The Bulldogs have got to be good this year.
 
22
Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Mississippi State lost Manny Diaz to Texas, but co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson should have plenty of tools. The Bulldogs bring back their starting secondary and defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. On offense, Coach Dan Mullen will have some continuity. Quarterback Chris Relf is back after a marked improvement in 2010, and tailback Vick Ballard should give the Bulldogs a legitimate ground threat.
 
23
Arizona St. Sun Devils
Arizona State brings back a whopping 20 starters from a team that was a play or two away from wins against Wisconsin, USC and Stanford. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will have to choose between Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler at quarterback, but both are good options.
 
24
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
On paper, the Fighting Irish look loaded -- especially after receiver Michael Floyd announced Wednesday that he would return for his senior season. But Notre Dame has not lived up to preseason promise for a long time, so we'll keep the expectations low. Still, don't be shocked if Coach Brian Kelly keeps the momentum going from a strong finish in 2010.
 
25
Utah Utes
The Pac-12 South division is going to be wide-open in 2011, and the Utes will bring plenty of talent into their new conference. Quarterback Jordan Wynn should fit right into a league known for excellent signal-callers.






Cbssportsline.com college football top 25

Indecision. There is no clear-cut No. 1 going into 2011. Stanford, Oregon, Alabama and Oklahoma all have important core players returning. Pick any of them. It doesn't matter. I'll take the school that has won two titles in the last eight seasons, 62 games in the last six and has one, damn fine football coach.

1. LSU: The good -- Six experienced offensive linemen return, Spencer Ware looks like the next good one at tailback, the secondary will rock and quarterback is almost guaranteed to be upgraded. The bad -- three defensive stars are gone (Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard).

The explanation: Even if the sometimes-shaky Jordan Jefferson remains the quarterback, it means he will have improved enough to beat out Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger. The kid with the Cam Newton-like dimensions (6-feet-5, 250 pounds) followed a similar Cam path -- from SEC school to junior college where he played in the juco championship game. The Tigers are OK at running back even with the possible NFL loss of Stevan Ridley. The schedule is brutal -- Oregon in the Jerry Dome to start the season, road trips to Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Because of its pedigree, LSU can absorb one loss and still be in the championship picture. Given history, it might be able to absorb two.

Other than that, it's a trust thing. Miles will be able to plug the holes.

2. Oklahoma: The returns of receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis were key. Landry Jones is developing into one of the nation's better quarterbacks. That's one of the reasons Josh Heupel was promoted from quarterbacks coach to co-offensive coordinator. He has one Heisman winner on his résumé (Sam Bradford); will he have another? Coming off a seventh Big 12 title in 11 years under Bob Stoops, the Sooners are loaded. Again.

3. Oregon: If you haven't noticed, the Ducks have arrived. You saw it in the BCS title game. Oregon played even with Auburn until the final gun. Chip Kelly proved his offense can play physical with the best. The defense is opportunistic. The key components -- Darron Thomas and LaMichael James -- are back. Quick tip: Watch for tailback Lache Seastrunk. We'll know more about the Ducks after the LSU game. Oregon also goes to Stanford.

4. Alabama: There might be a reason Nick Saban extended last year's A Day spring game. He wanted to get a look at the future. Quarterback A.J. McCarron threw a walk-off touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson. McCarron will battle Phillip Sims in the spring to replace Greg McElroy. Mark Ingram is gone to the NFL but that clears the way for talented Trent Richardson at tailback. The defense is inching back up to 2009 standards.

5. Stanford: Change coaches? No problem. Stanford went in-house in promoting offensive coordinator David Shaw to replace Jim Harbaugh. There are worse hires than getting the guy who coached the last two Heisman runner-ups (Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck). Shaw will have to rebuild the offensive line but he was going to have to do that anyway. This is a fairly seamless transition. The Cardinal have a chance to go back to a BCS game.

6. Ohio State: Will Buckeye Nation ever forgive Terrelle Pryor for selling his gold pants? To be determined. We do know Pryor, along with the rest of the Buckeye Five, will have to sit out the first five games of the season. That means a trip to Miami and the Big Ten opener against Michigan State will be affected. Every one of the B-5 contributed in the Sugar Bowl win. That has a bit to do with this ranking. They'll be back in time -- if there are no NFL defections -- to chase a seventh consecutive (at least a share of) Big Ten title for Ohio State.

7. Oklahoma State: The biggest news of this week is the biggest news of 2011 so far for the Cowboys. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon are staying in school following a record-setting 11-win season in 2010. The most significant loss might be offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen who went to West Virginia to be coach-in-waiting. Defense always seems to be an issue but the Pokes are at the stage where they can win 11 while trying to figure it out.

8. Texas A&M: Despite the Cotton Bowl loss to LSU, there are reasons to like the Aggies. Things finally clicked under Mike Sherman, who changed quarterbacks and won six straight down the stretch. Eighteen starters return for a group that plays nine of 12 games in the state of Texas.

9. Michigan State: Think of the Spartans who won a share of the Big Ten title, not the Spartans who didn't show up against Alabama in the bowl. Quarterback Kirk Cousins as well as running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker are back. That's a good place to start. The defense takes a hit as Mark Dantonio loses linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell left for Miami (Ohio).

10. Wisconsin: How loaded were the Badgers at the end of the season? Doak Walker (best running back) finalist John Clay was essentially third string. That was him tearing up TCU on Wisconsin's final scoring drive. The offense won't suffer much with the return of tailbacks Montee Ball and James White. There are some holes on the offensive line but in life you can count on death, taxes and a Wisconsin line bigger than a house.

11. Florida State: A 10-win debut by Jimbo Fisher doesn't stink. The 'Noles are expected to take off in '11 with a dual-threat quarterback (E.J. Manuel) and a young defense. If they beat Oklahoma in Tallahassee on Sept. 17, this could be a really special season.

12. Arkansas: No Mallett? No problem. Then-backup Tyler Wilson proved his worth in the Auburn game, throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns when Mallett was injured. Tailback Knile Davis gives Arkansas some offensive balance. Let's give Bobby Petrino credit for sticking around -- three whole years! -- and turning the Hogs around quickly.

13. Boise State: Nothing has changed as far as Boise's championship hopes. The Broncos know they'll most likely have to win them all to have a chance in their first year in the Mountain West. They tumbled all the way to the Las Vegas Bowl after the crushing Nevada loss. The thing is, Boise has a chance to win them all with quarterback Kellen Moore and running back Doug Martin returning.

14. Nebraska: The Big Ten did the Huskers no favors. In their first season, they play seven Big Ten bowl teams from 2010. Their first two conference games are at Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State. That being said, Nebraska might be favored to win the -- ugh, still hard to write this -- Legends Division. Which Taylor Martinez will we see -- the Heisman-worthy star of early 2010 or the injured shadow of himself later in the season?

15. Auburn: This is based on Newton going pro and the assumption Fairley is gone to the NFL. Rising star Michael Dyer will have to run behind a reconfigured offensive line. There will be a lot of payback waiting in the SEC but the Tigers are up to it. This looks like an eight- or nine-win team.

16. TCU: Gary Patterson must deal with massive losses in the Frogs' last season in the Mountain West. We're guessing TCU is going to get by somehow, having won 66 games the last six years. Some things don't change, though. TCU's defense will run and it will tackle. Ask Wisconsin.

17. South Carolina: The Gamecocks won the SEC East in a down year. The same thing might happen this year. Tailback Marcus Lattimore is getting ready to take off. The quarterback play has to get better -- doesn't it? -- with another year behind Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw.

18. Virginia Tech: Pencil in the Hokies for at least nine wins. Assume they will compete for the division title. Then don't be surprised if the surpass expectations. Play-making quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the biggest loss.

19. Notre Dame: Four straight wins to end the season, a spanking of Miami in the bowl game, then to top it off the best offensive player returns. When receiver Michael Floyd decided to come back for 2011, it only added to the optimism. Could the Irish actually be turning the corner?

20. Mississippi State: Despite the loss of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, there is genuine momentum in Starkville. A new set of linebackers have to be found but after winning nine games and spanking Michigan, how do you not feel good about the future?

21. Georgia: The 2010 season was affected by A.J. Green's suspension. The clouds are clearing for 2011. Quarterback Aaron Murray looks like one of the better SEC quarterbacks. Nine starters return on defense. After the first losing season since 1996, the guess here is that the Dawgs are on the upswing.

22. Arizona State: Remember the Sun Devils? They haven't been a player on the national scene for awhile. They do have an intimidating presence if linebacker Vontaze Burfict can clean up his personal fouls. Check out the new Pac-12 South. Arizona State could be favored to win it.

23. Texas: The 'Horns can't be that bad again, can they? Coach Mack Brown hit a home run in hiring coordinators Diaz (defense) and Bryan Harsin (offense). Now it's a question of finding a running game, coaching up quarterback Garrett Gilbert and erasing that sense of entitlement.

24. Northwestern: Give me Dan Persa and Pat Fitzgerald and I'll give you another dangerous edition of the plucky Wildcats. Persa, a top 10 passer in 2010, is recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Fitzgerald stayed loyal to the Wildcats after some reported interest from Michigan.

25. (tie) Florida/UCF: Is there more indignity than the Gators barely in the Top 25, tied with Central Florida? Consider this spot a meeting place as Florida tries to return under Will Muschamp and the Knights keep rising under George O'Leary. Stellar defensive end Bruce Miller is gone for UCF but Conference USA freshman of the year, QB Jeff Godfrey is the next star. If Florida quarterback John Brantley can't thrive under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, he has no excuse. There aren't many times you can say this, but the programs do have one significant thing in common: They both beat the Georgia Bulldogs this past season.

1 comment:

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