2011 Spring Questions - No. 12
Post-Spring Top 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 - No. 11 to 25.
Defense, defense, defense, defense, defense. The Tide defense was supposed to be an issue last year with so much turnover and so many question marks. Outside of a collapse against Auburn, the D was phenomenal finishing fifth in the nation in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. Now it’s loaded with talent, and while there are a few concerns – star DT Kerry Murphy’s knee is a problem – but Dont’a Hightower and the front seven should be great, and Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, and the secondary should be a brick wall.
Oh yeah, the offense.
YYou don’t get better by losing Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, but Greg McElroy is replaceable – yes, he is – with Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron a talent upgrade, and Trent Richardson is a terrific back who’ll shine with even more time. All the offense will have to do is be average and score a few touchdowns; the D won’t allow more than 14 points a game.
The offense is going to be better. The attack is being ultra-simplified and the quarterbacks aren’t going to be asked to bomb away, but they’ll be sharper under new offensive coordinator Steve ragthorpe. The O might not have blown up this spring, but it was good enough to get by with a terrific defense to pick up the slack. The secondary should be the best in the nation, even with Patrick Peterson off to the Arizona Cardinals, and as always, the Tigers are loaded on the defensive front. There’s too much overall speed, talent, and experience not to be in the national title hunt all season long.
Almost certain to be everyone’s No. 1 based on the talent and returning experience, the Sooners should be unstoppable on offense and more consistent defensively. QB Landry Jones will finally start to get his just due as a very, very good, very sound playmaker. He’s not going to be Sam Bradford, but he’ll put up incredible numbers thanks to the return of Ryan Broyles and a loaded receiving corps. Not needing to carry the passing game by himself, Broyles is flanked by several terrific young targets to allow Jones to spread around the passing wealth, while the deep, quick group of backs can catch. Travis Lewis leads a tremendous defense that brings back most of the key starters and should be a rock against the run, while punter/placekicker Tress Way will make the special teams a strength.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, at least the Pac-10 crown, and now the Ducks will be the hunted in an improved Pac-12. Whatever. A spring ball showed, the high-octane offense, with seven starters returning, is going to be even faster, sharper, and more explosive with QB Darron Thomas experienced and ready to become more of a factor for the passing game, and LaMichael James ready to be LaMichael James again. There are losses on defense, especially on the line, but the program is loaded – LOADED – with plenty of very athletic, very talented young prospects that’ll bring even more speed than last year. Three starters are gone on the line, but there didn’t appear to be too many problems this offseason with the cohesion, and while playmaking target Jeff Maehl is done, everyone else of note returns.
5. Florida State
Boosted by a loaded recruiting class that might have been the best in the nation, the Noles have one of the best young talent bases to provide instant depth and an infusion of more athleticism to an already fast team. Will all the youth be ready to mix in with the good veterans to finally bring back the ACC title, and more, to Tallahassee? If QB E.J. Manuel can be sharp after taking the team by the reins this offseason, yes. Eight starters are back on each side of the ball led by a defensive front that finished third in the nation in sacks last year and should spend most of 2011 blowing up quarterbacks. The secondary was ineffective at times, but it looks far stronger helped by getting all the key starters back.
6. Oklahoma State
So is the offense going to suffer with star offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen off to West Virginia? The answer after spring ball seems to be a resounding no. The attack won’t just be QB Brandon Weeden to WR Justin Blackmon, but the combination will hook up over 100 times and should combine for home run after home run, while there’s a chance star running back recruit Herschel Sims could be an upgrade over the ultra-productive Kendall Hunter. With all five starters back on the line, the running game could be dominant at times, even if it’s going to be running-back-by-committee from time to time with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith in the mix. The defense is along for the ride, and all it’ll have to do is keep teams to under 30 points. That might be an issue early on losing three starters off the line.
There’s no truth to the rumor that Ryan Mallett is on line two and he’s looking to change his decision to leave early. The Hogs are loaded at running back and receiver, and Tyler Wilson is a more than adequate replacement for the New England Patriot backup. The defense gets eight starters back and should be the best yet in the Bobby Petrino era. Throw in good special teams and the Hogs are loaded with the talent and the schedule to be in the national title chase.
8. Texas A&M
The Aggies might have lost Von Miller to the Denver Broncos, but everyone else of note is back including RB Cyrus Gray, who’ll be among the top NFL prospects going into next offseason, and a loaded receiving corps led by Jeff Fuller, who’d get more appreciation if he didn’t play in the Big 12 with Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles. Now it’s time for the golden boy, QB Ryan Tannehill, to show that last year wasn’t a mirage, but he has a tremendous team around him. Throw in the nine starters coming back on defense, and the expectations are sky-high – and that’s sort of the problem. The Aggies haven’t exactly thrived over the years when they’re supposed to be good, and remember, they were struggling last year before the great second half run.
Lose one great quarterback, find another. Mizzou has become a factory for ultra-productive signal callers, and James Franklin appears to be the next in line if it’s not Gabbert’s brother, Tyler, getting the nod. The rest of the team should be terrific with experience and depth all across the board. Several great pass rushers appear ready to pick up the slack with Aldon Smith off being a San Francisco 49er, and the rest of the defense is in place to be even more aggressive and productive than it was last season if superstar JUCO transfer, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, has all the schoolwork and papers in order. Grant Ressel might be the best kicker in America, tight end Michael Egnew should’ve won the Mackey Award in 2010, and T.J. Moe is a pure No. 1 target for Franklin or Gabbert to work with.
10. South Carolina
Yes, Stephen Garcia will be back leading the offense before the season starts, if not sooner. That doesn’t mean he won’t be on double secret probation again, but from all indications, including the latest depth chart, he’s the starter. If not, Connor Shaw is a terrific talent who’d do just fine with Alshon Jeffery, the best NFL receiving prospect in college football, to work with. RB Marcus Lattimore is good enough to start at the next level right now, but will the line finally be good enough to consistently pave the way? The defense might need to find some key replacements up front, but it doesn’t hurt to have sure-thing pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney ready to plug-and-play. The kicking game is going to need some work, and that might be the difference from between being good and getting back to the SEC title game.
- The Final
Rankings Will Probably Be ...
Post-Spring Top 25 - No. 11 to 25.