Preview 2011 - The 40 Key Questions No. 11-20
Michigan RB Denard Robinson
Michigan RB Denard Robinson
Posted Jul 24, 2011

How will Denard Robinson adapt to a pro-style offense? Is Russell Wilson the long-awaited answer at quarterback for Wisconsin? Will USC underachieve for a second straight year for Lane Kiffin? Is this JoePa's final year on the sidelines? Richard Cirminiello answers these questions or more in the 40 Key Questions of 2011.

Preview 2011 ... Turning 40 

The Key Questions For 11-20

By Richard Cirminiello

The 40 Key Questions of 2011
No. 1 to 10 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40

- 2010's 40 Key Questions | Preview 2011 

Is Oklahoma the team to beat in 2011? How will Ohio State and Michigan react to new head coaches? Can a senior with the Heisman Trophy for the first time in five years? As always, there's no shortage of tantalizing questions, storylines, and sub plots on the minds of college football fans as the 2011 season rapidly approaches.

The following 40 queries will define the upcoming campaign and be fodder for endless debates until the opening kickoff in early September.

20. How will Denard Robinson adapt to a pro-style offense in Ann Arbor?

As the focal point of Rich Rodriguez's spread attack, Robinson was brilliant a year ago. The Heisman frontrunner at the midway point, he wound up rushing for more than 1,700 yards and accounting for 32 touchdowns. What does he do for an encore in an offense that's less likely to accentuate his incredible athleticism? Coordinator Al Borges has a track record of maximizing the skills of his personnel, which should mean a few wrinkles to get Robinson outside the tackles. Although the junior needs to work on his footwork in the pocket, he was hardly a slouch as a passer, throwing for 18 scores and 2,570 yards.

19. Can Oklahoma State actually build on its best season in school history?

Those expecting a retreat from 2010 are going to be surprised by the current Cowboys edition. The team is loaded on offense, hopeful on defense and motivated to soar beyond last season's Alamo Bowl invitation. Plus, it helps that Mike Gundy enters his seventh season as the head coach. The attack that averaged 44 points and 520 yards a game last fall returns QB Brandon Weeden, All-American WR Justin Blackmon and the entire starting line. Oklahoma visits Boone Pickens Stadium on Dec. 3, which could wind up being the title game that was lost when the Big 12 shrunk to 10 teams.

18. Is Russell Wilson the long-awaited answer at quarterback for Wisconsin?

The Badgers have had nice quarterbacks in the past, such as Scott Tolzien, Brooks Bollinger and John Stocco, but rarely a game-changer. Wilson has that potential, provided he can learn the system and get comfortable in Madison on the fly. If the former ACC Offensive Player of the Year at NC State acclimate in August, the Wisconsin ground game will be even harder to slow down. Of course, don't completely dismiss the candidacy of feisty sophomore Jon Budmayr, who won't go down without a fight.

17. Will Brady Hoke's impact be felt right away at Michigan?

Based on the early returns, Hoke has been very well-received by current—and future—Wolverine players. Sure, no games have been played yet, but the buzz is palpable as the new staff starts reshaping Michigan's philosophy and approach to success. The coach is taking over a defensively-challenged team that hasn't won more than seven games since 2007, so there's plenty of clutter that needs to be discarded. However, there's reasonable optimism that Hoke was the right choice to get the program back on course following the Rich Rodriguez debacle.

16. Will USC underachieve for a second straight year for Lane Kiffin?

Despite all of the off-field distractions, the Trojans still had no business going 4-5 over the final nine games of 2010. The offense was fine until November, but the defense was historically toothless under Kiffin and his dad, Monte. The offensive attack will again be potent, with Matt Barkley teaming up liberally with Robert Woods. However, the D will continue to be a question mark until proven otherwise. USC will also have to self-motivate for one more year, having lost the NCAA appeal that would have made the team eligible for the postseason.

15. Is this JoePa's final year on the sidelines?

When a coach reaches the age of 84, it's fair to ponder a possible exit strategy each and every summer. That said, JoePa looked spry throughout the offseason, even venturing into the world of Skype to upgrade his recruiting street cred. It gets repeated all the time, but he plans to stick around as long as he's healthy, showing no desire to be away from the game. His 46th Nittany Lion team has a chance to be pretty good if both lines grow up in a hurry. The staff also has to decide whether Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin will be the quarterback, a competition that could last deep into August.

14. How far will defending champion Auburn fall?

The only way is south for the defending national champs, but how far will the Tigers fall? While it'll be next to impossible to duplicate 2010 with the losses of QB Cam Newton, DT Nick Fairley and a bunch of other starters, Gene Chizik has amassed a considerable amount of talent the last two years. While the program reloads for 2012, a mess of young stars, like RB Michael Dyer and DE Nosa Eguae, are going to cut their teeth as the foundation of Chizik's next title run.

13. Can Nebraska win a Big Ten title in its first year in the league?

The Huskers will start play in a new environment with as much ability as any Big Ten member. The defense is championship-caliber, and the running game has the potential to be vintage Nebraska. Besides the durability of QB Taylor Martinez, the biggest hurdle to success will be getting to know an entirely new set of opponents. Film work will be crucial. The birth of new rivalries against the likes of Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State won't take many meetings to blossom in intensity and excitement.

12. What will Steve Kragthorpe's impact be on a mediocre LSU offense?

The Tigers will go far based on the defense and the coaching staff, but an SEC title for the first time in four years will require more support from the offense. The 86th-ranked unit produced an unthinkable two touchdown passes in the 11 games between the opener and the Cotton Bowl. Kragthorpe was hired to milk more consistency out of an offense that's always been able to attract outstanding athletes. His linchpin could be QB Zach Mettenberger. Whether or not the hard-throwing former Georgia Bulldog can unseat the incumbent, he's bound to make everyone at the position work a little harder this offseason.

11. Is Notre Dame poised to turn the corner in Brian Kelly's second year in South Bend?

Year 2 is typically the time that a coach can really validate his hiring by ratcheting up the play of his kids. Winners of four straight to close out 2010, the Irish will begin the season with confidence and a bit of a tailwind. With 19 starters back, including the healthy return of QB Dayne Crist, there's legitimate reason to believe the Irish will finish the season inside the Top 25. If the defense can pick up where it left off in November, yielding just 39 points in four games, Kelly could have Notre Dame back in BCS bowl contention.

The 40 Key Questions of 2011
No. 1 to 10 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40