Well, here's my breakdown of my Top 10. I can't WAIT for some college football to get underway!
1. Alabama - Yes they have a tough schedule, but who in the SEC doesn’t? The Tide have to break in a new quarterback, but after early-season games at Penn State and a dangerous Arkansas team, I think the Tide quarterbacks will be ready. Mark Baron leads the nation’s best defensive backfield, and running back Trent Richardson is a game-breaker. Being in the SEC, the Tide can have one slip-up and still make it to the Big Easy for the BCS title game.
2. Oklahoma - Quarterback Landry Jones threw more passes (617) than any quarterback in the nation last season. Jones should get close to the 50-touchdown mark this season, and he has some good help around him. Four of five interior linemen return up front on offense, along with receiver Ryan Broyles. Broyles hauled in 131 receptions last year, for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. Fellow wide receiver Kenny Stills should see a good season, and the defense should be better with linebacker Travis Lewis back in the lineup. The Sooners’ defense must improve on their rushing attack, as they allowed 148 yards per game last season. However, when your offense is one of the best in the country, there is a little room for error. The biggest hurdles for the Sooners will be a huge early-season road trip to Tallahassee to take on FSU, and a late-season date in Stillwater to face rival Oklahoma State.
3. Oregon - The Ducks should make a run though their regular season schedule again, but that does not include their first game against LSU in Dallas. Auburn physically manhandled Oregon in the trenches in last season’s BCS matchup, and LSU will use the same game plan. The nation’s top scoring offense last season (47 points per game!) should hit the 40-point average again this season. Running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas will help make that happen. The Ducks will be the cream of the Pac-12 this season, but Stanford will again be a challenge.
4. LSU - The Tigers are loaded on both sides of the ball, and they have a four-year starter at quarterback. Now, will that quarterback finally play with some consistency in his final season? LSU’s strength should lie within their veteran O-Line, and the Tigers have a stable of running backs, including the talented Spencer Ware. The defense is salty, along with a secondary set to become one of the best in the nation, despite the loss of Patrick Peterson. LSU opens with Oregon, and then goes on one of the most difficult opening runs in school history. If the Tigers come out of September without a loss, that should set them up to be in position to have a chance to win the SEC West, with a trip to Atlanta to follow. That game in Atlanta has been the path for the last five national champions!
5. Florida State – Fans in the sunshine state, and many across the nation, are claiming that the Noles are back! However, that all depends upon the play of quarterback E.J. Manuel. As one of the most prized recruits of Coach Jimbo Fisher, Manuel is set to become the full-time starter for FSU. Running back Chris Thompson heads up a “running back by committee” corps of backs. The FSU defense is loaded with speed and athleticism. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is one of the best in the ACC, and defensive end Brandon Jennings is expected to pick up where he left off a year ago. Jennings recorded 16 tackles and 13 ½ sacks in 2010. Cornerback Greg Reid should anchor the secondary. The schedule is tough, with an early-season home date against Oklahoma followed by a trip to Death Valley to face Clemson...A place where the Noles have not won since 2001.
6. Arkansas - The Hogs are here to stay. Coach Bobby Petrino is an offensive genius, and he has the luxury of replacing a top-flight quarterback with another top-flight quarterback in Tyler Wilson. Wilson should not miss a beat, and his weapons are as good as any in the nation. Arkansas has the best corps of wide receivers in the country in Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. However, Arkansas has two tough stretches this season to overcome: Early on, a four-game stretch that features Bama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Ole Miss. Then, a season-ending stretch that has games against South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and LSU. That might be too much for these high-powered Hogs to overcome!
7. Nebraska - Coach Bo Pelini and his Huskers are now in the Big Ten! Nebraska will once again feature one of the nation’s most-feared defensive units, along with three potential All-Americans. Lockdown cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returns, along with defensive tackle Jared Crick. Linebacker Lavonte David is also back, who set a Nebraska record with 152 tackles last season. The defense will be set, but quarterback Taylor Martinez will have to improve on his passing skills this season. The Huskers will be able to run the ball, but what will they be able to do when forced to pass is the question they must answer this season!
8. Boise State - The Broncos are going to be in the hunt, so long as they don’t lose a single game! This team has one of the best defenses in the land (just 12.8 points per game allowed in 2010,) and quarterback Kellen Moore will go down as one of the best quarterbacks we have seen. In three years, Moore has thrown for 10,867 yards and 99 touchdowns, with just 19 interceptions. The Broncos’ average margin of victory was 32.3 points per game in 2010…but as I said earlier, one loss and they are done. Sadly for Broncos fans, that loss will come in the first week of the season against the Bulldogs of Georgia!
9. Oklahoma State - A school record 11-win season should be followed up with another double-digit-win campaign this year. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon is as good as any in the nation, and quarterback Brandon Weeden is back after guiding an offense that scored on average 44.2 points per game. All five offensive linemen return, and that means this Cowboys offense should rack up big numbers again in 2011. The Cowboys did an excellent job of taking the ball away from opponents last season, with OSU finishing the season +12 in the turnover department. Watch out for a late-September game at Texas A&M, and a date in Austin with an improved Texas team, before the final game of the season at home against rival Oklahoma.
10. South Carolina - I will put the Gamecocks in this final slot, but I’d be very surprised if they are a top-ten team in 2011. Why? Well, first off: Quarterback Stephen Garcia is erratic, and must improve on his touchdown/interception ratio (20/14,) and he needs to stay out of trouble. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is arguably the best in the nation after last season’s 88 grabs for 1,517 yards and 9 touchdowns. And, running back Marcus Lattimore is poised for another great season. However, an early-season test at Georgia will be a huge hurdle for the Gamecocks, followed by a late-season stretch that features a run against Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas. That will likely just be too much for the Gamecocks to handle.
Others to keep an eye on - Georgia - The Dogs will be back in a very big way this year. With an early-season win over Boise State, and another early win over South Carolina, UGA will find themselves close to the top ten…if not in it! Virginia Tech - The Hokies have another dangerous signal-caller in Logan Thomas. Running back David Wilson should have a banner year, and the Hokies’ defense has to get better against the run (155.9 yards per game) under longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Texas A&M - Coach Mike Sherman has the Aggies rolling, despite Texas A&M being embarrassed last season in the Cotton Bowl. The Aggies have eighteen starters back this season, including one of the nation’s top targets in wide receiver Jeff Fuller. Running back Cyrus Gray should up his total of 1,133 yards last year. However, a tough four-game stretch against Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Texas Tech and Baylor will be a tough test for the Aggies. That test will determine A&M’s fate of whether or not they will be a legit contender in the Big XII this season.