2011 Spring Questions - No. 12
Post-Spring Top 25 - No. 11-25
Which teams looked great this spring? Which ones
reloaded, rebuilt, and looked surprisingly sharp?
Which ones struggled a bit and need more time and
more practice time?
Certain to change in a big way late this summer when
we come out with the Preview 2011 Top 120 - based on
how good all the teams are going into the season -
but for now, here are the 25 best teams after spring
- The Final
Rankings Will Probably Be ...
Post-Spring Top 25 -
11. Arizona State
Loaded, loaded, loaded, loaded, loaded. Everyone is back from a team that played well throughout last year, but lost a slew of nailbiters on the way to a 6-6 record. Ten starters are back on offense, the line returns intact, and several tremendous playmakers and speedsters are ready to explode. Now the question will be whether or not QB Brock Osweiler can actually utilize all the talent around him to pull off some close wins. LB Vontaze Burfict would be front and center in the Butkus Award chase – along with Boston College’s Luke Kuechly – if he didn’t play in the Pacific Time Zone. Outside of the loss of great kicker Thomas Weber, there’s no excuse not to challenge for the Pac-12 title.
Grace period, schmace period. Few teams can touch the Gators talent-wise. Urban Meyer left the cupboard fully stocked thanks to the all-timer of a 2010 recruiting class, and now it’ll be up to Will Muschamp and the new coaching staff to provide some new energy and new fire, along with some new ideas, to get back in the national title chase. Remember, as bad as last year was by Gator standards, the chance was there to win the East, but Marcus Lattimore and South Carolina had other ideas. This time around, the Florida offense has coordinator Charlie Weis in place, and he’ll get the most out of pro-style quarterback John Brantley and/or top recruit Jeff Driskel. The suspension of NFL starting-caliber corner Janoris Jenkins is unfortunate, and losing punter Chas Henry will sting more than it might appear, but everything else is in place to challenge again for championships.
13. Ohio State
The drama has got to take its toll. If everything was hunky dory, and if Jim Tressel was still getting away with being Jim Tressel, and if Terrelle Pryor and the Tattoo Five weren’t suspended, the Buckeyes would certainly be in the mix for a top five spot, and still might be. Even with all the craziness, this is still the most talented team in the Big Ten and everything might be fine if the storm can be weathered over the first half of the year. The defensive front seven needs some reworking and the secondary has to undergo an overhaul, but great recruiting class after great recruiting class have replenished the talent base. Offensively, there’s a chance true freshman Braxton Miller might really be better, with a little bit of time, than Pryor. Don’t dismiss the idea that the suspensions might be used in a nobody-believes-in-us mentality that brings the team together, and if the record is 5-0 when everyone comes back, look out.
14. Notre Dame
If the quarterback situation can be figured out right away, and if the Michael Floyd situation works itself out and all turns out to be fine, the Irish will be extremely dangerous as head coach Brian Kelly, after surviving the Declan Sullivan and Elizabeth Seeberg tragedies, appears ready to work the same magic he brought to Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Eight starters are back on defense including Manti Te’o, the big-hitting linebacker who’s on the verge of superstardom, but Kelly’s teams thrive on the offensive side. With so much talent returning and with everyone knowing the system, everything is in place to be in the mix for a BCS game – again, if the quarterback situation is settled.
Let’s just say that the clunker the team came up with in the Holiday Bowl loss to Washington isn’t sitting well and the team appears to have an attitude. Head coach Bo Pelini will have to deal with the weekly storyline of being the new kid in school, but the Big Ten’s new headliner has the team to stay on an even keel. The defense in place to be a killer with Jared Crick leading a strong line and Lavonte David ready to shine as of the nation’s hardest-hitting linebackers. The offense has to once and for all figure out what it’s doing with Taylor Martinez, and losing RB Roy Helu and WR Niles Paul isn’t a positive, but the biggest loss could be end up being bombing placekicker Alex Henery.
16. Boise State
Sorry, America; Boise State is going to be really, really good again. Heisman finalist Kellen Moore is back to lead the attack working behind three great starting offensive linemen and with bruising back Doug Martin to run the ball. Despite losing studs in safety Jeron Johnson and end Ryan Winterswyk, the defense will be more than fine with several key veterans returning, and now the program is in a place where it can reload when and where it needs to. While the record will be terrific again, the team isn’t going to be the powerhouse that last year’s was. Losing NFL targets Austin Pettis and Titus Young is devastating.
17. Mississippi State
Welcome to the spotlight. After a breakthrough 2010, MSU is expecting even more under rising-star head coach Dan Mullen. Forget that the Bulldogs didn’t beat anyone who was any good last year, but nine wins and a bowl victory were enough to expect more this season with so many great players returning. Eight starters are back on offense, and even with some key losses up front like Green Bay OT Derek Sherrod, the backfield has playmakers led by QB Chris Relf. The defense loses the entire linebacking corps, including NFLers Chris White and K.J. Wright, and the coaching staff is undergoing a shakeup with some big losses, but the systems are in place and there’s enough talent and enough depth to be a pesky factor in the SEC West.
Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Scott Tolzien didn’t get drafted, but he was a tough, accurate, unflappable leader – two point conversion attempts in the Rose Bowl aside – who’ll be sorely missed. Curt Phillips came to Madison a few years ago as the mobile, talented playmaker who was going to take the offense to another level, but he suffered two knee injuries and can’t seem to get it healthy. The spring game was a disaster for the Badger passers, including likely starter Jon Budmayr, but all will be fine as long as they can hand off to Montee Ball and James Ball. Nick Toon should be one of the Big Ten’s best receivers, and the Badgers are great at reloading on the offensive line, but the loss of Tolzien, J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, and John Clay, will be too much to expect a repeat of last year’s success.
19. West Virginia
Is the offense going to work with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen at the helm? If this spring was any indication, yeah. Losing Jock Sanders and Noel Devine takes away two key playmakers from the attack, but QB Geno Smith and seven other starters are back on an offense that should rip through the Big East. The defense that was among the most underappreciated in the nation last year has to fill in some major replacements, especially in the linebacking corps, but the offense should pick up the slack. There might be some interesting shootouts, but the Mountaineers will be able to keep up.
TCU deserves the benefit of several hundred doubts at this point under Gary Patterson, but even this great program has to take a hit from time to time when it has to reload. Andy Dalton was a special quarterback who can’t simply be replaced, and he’s just the tip of the iceberg. From Dalton, to playmaker Jeremy Kerley, to OT Marcus Cannon, eight starters are gone off last year’s offense, while the defense has to undergo an overhaul everywhere but linebacker. Tank Carder is a special player, but he can’t carry the D. The record will be great in the final year in the Mountain West before going to the Big East, but this should be a down year – which probably means a 9-3 record, at worst.
A mega-disappointment last year, Georgia will press the reset button in a make-or-break year for head coach Mark Richt. Now they’re without receivers A.J. Green and Kris Durham to carry the offense, and Trinton Sturdivant suffered another injury, tearing his ACL, but almost everyone else of note is back. Can the running backs finally start to live up to their potential and hype, including star recruit Isaiah Crowell? Can QB Aaron Murray take another step forward without his great receivers to throw to? Will stud pickup Jonathan Jenkins be ready to anchor the defensive front three? There’s too much talent across the board to be that bad again, led by a peerless kicking game and a secondary that should be great. The expectations are low, with South Carolina and Florida the stars of the East, and that might be how the Dawgs like it.
It’ll be easy to assume that the return of Andrew Luck will simply make everyone better, and he will. The offense was terrific and surprisingly sharp this offseason, thanks to Luck, there’s going to be an overall drop-off with Jim Harbaugh at San Francisco and seven starters off last year’s offense. The defense has some huge losses to deal with, including ironman LB Owen Marecic, and as good as Luck will be, he won’t be enough to carry the team back to the BCS. Only four starters are back on offense, but the should’ve-been-No. 1 pick will make everyone better. There’s talent and the recruiting classes have been strong, but there’s way too much turnover on both sides of the ball.
Lost in the disaster or last year was a defense that was up to its normal Texas standards. Yes, the secondary is depleted, and yes, Will Muschamp is off coaching Florida, but there’s so much depth and talent up and down the D that the production won’t dip under new coordinator, Mississippi State’s Manny Diaz. The problem is an underachieving receiving corps that needs Mike Davis to build off his great first year, while the running game desperately needs star recruit Malcolm Brown to shine right away. The biggest concern that won’t be solved for the next several months is the quarterback situation. Garrett Gilbert is the starter, but Case McCoy, Colt’s brother, and Connor Wood are right in the thick of things. Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, who joins Major Applewhite as a co-offensive coordinator, will try to jump-start the mediocre attack that couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be.
As long as the program can stay one step ahead of whatever scandal comes down next, the future is bright. The coaching staff has done a great job of bringing in the talent, but there isn’t another Cam Newton or Nick Fairley ready to carry the program to a title. The running game, with Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer, will be devastating if the line can replace four starters. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will get the passing game working, and there’s good talent waiting to get a chance to shine. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so who’s the quarterback? Barrett Trotter will get the unenviable task of being the next Cam, but he’ll get pushed for the job all offseason. The defense needs to undergo a major overhaul, and the kicking game loses Wes Byrum, but help is on the way. How fast can the great recruiting class be ready? Not soon enough.
25. Virginia Tech
it’s Virginia Tech, so there’s a floor on how far the team and the program can fall, but it’s going to have to reload in a hurry in the backfield. The offense was fine at times throughout the offseason, but the graduation of Tyrod Taylor isn’t a plus and losing running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans is a big hit. The offensive line should be among the best in the ACC, and David Wilson is a great back who’ll put up huge numbers if he can handle the workload role. Logan Thomas, who had a strong spring, is a big bomber of a passer, and he gets all the top targets back to work with. Seven starters are back on defense, with Jayron Hosley, one of the nation’s top corners, leading the way.
- The Final
Rankings Will Probably Be ...
Post-Spring Top 25 -