Preview 2011 - The 40 Key Questions
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
Auburn RB Michael Dyer
Posted Jul 24, 2011

Will the SEC win a sixth National Championship in a row? Is Florida State back? Has the magic left the Farm with Jim Harbaugh? How does Ohio State respond to Luke Fickell replacing Jim Tressel 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 1-10

By Richard Cirminiello

The 40 Key Questions of 2011
No. 11 to 20 | 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.

10. How does Ohio State respond to Luke Fickell replacing Jim Tressel on the sidelines?
It's been a strange offseason in Columbus. The season figures to be even weirder now that Tressel won't be on the sidelines for the first time since 2000. The Buckeyes have been mired in a well-documented NCAA scandal that cost them their coach and QB Terrelle Pryor. It'll be interesting to witness how well the rest of the program handles all of the changes on the sidelines and in the huddle. Ditto the performance of Fickell, who has a one-year audition to land his dream job.

9. Assuming Ohio State fades, who takes over and wins the expanded Big Ten?

The most exciting aspect of the conference this season is that it's going to be wide-open … in both divisions. As many as eight members have bona fide hopes of finishing in the Top 25, guaranteeing competitive races right through the regular season. In the Legends Division, Nebraska is the favorite, but Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern plan to be in the hunt. The Buckeyes' off-field issues have elevated Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders half of the conference. The clock is ticking on Ohio State's Big Ten supremacy, though its successor remains clouded in mystery and debate.

8. Has the magic left the Farm with Jim Harbaugh?

In a classic good news, bad news scenario, All-American QB Andrew Luck has returned to school, but Harbaugh is now a San Francisco 49er. The head coach was an undeniable revelation on the Farm, guiding the Cardinal to national relevance with last season's Orange Bowl victory and 12-1 mark. While he leaves behind plenty of talent to go along with Luck, there's no guarantee that successor David Shaw and his staff can keep the trend going. It's highly doubtful Stanford will have Luck back again in 2012, so the program needs to capitalize in what should be his final year as an amateur.

7. Can Oregon keep its focus?

For the second straight offseason, the Ducks have been in the news for all of the wrong reasons. It didn't affect the National Championship runner-up in 2010, but that team had a lot more talent. The 2011 edition, while still the Pac-12 favorite, lost a ton of key players on defense and along the offensive line. If the back-to-back league champ takes its eye off the ball, there are a few teams lining up to take their place in a BCS bowl game. Oregon is one of the country's elite schools, but its margin for error isn't as wide as it was last year.

6. Is Florida State back?

Last season will go down as a breakthrough for the Seminoles and head coach Jimbo Fisher. The program won 10 games for the first time since 2003, blowing out rivals Miami and Florida along the way. From that squad, 16 starters return. The next steps for Florida State are to win the ACC and contend for a national title. Those are realistic goals provided QB E.J. Manuel can handle being the starter for the first time in his career. If the ‘Noles can get past Oklahoma in Week 3, the bridge to the glory days won't be far from completion.

5. What will life in Gainesville be like now that Urban Meyer is an ESPN analyst?

Oh, it'll be a little strange without Meyer prowling the sidelines, but only until Will Muschamp and his staff can gain some traction. There'll be some similarities between the old and new regime, namely big personalities and noticeable intensity. The combination of Muschamp and his new offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, will produce boundless storylines this fall. Producing wins, of course, is their only goal. While the Gators are predictably loaded with fresh talent, the return of just a few starters indicates a need for patience for the new regime in 2011.

4. Are two new coordinators enough to get Texas back on the rails?

No team was a bigger disappointment than the Longhorns, which inexplicably slid to 5-7 a year after appearing the BCS National Championship Game. Head coach Mack Brown reacted swiftly by overhauling his staff. On offense, Greg Davis is being replaced by the combination of former Texas QB Major Applewhite and inventive Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. The defense is in the hands of Manny Diaz, the successor to new Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Are the ‘Horns ready to once again storm the Big 12 gates? Probably not. However, there's too much defensive talent for this team to wallow in mediocrity a second straight season.

3. Will quarterback play keep Bama from winning the SEC?

On a title-contending team, with few glaring holes, all eyes will be on the battle to replace Greg McElroy behind center. Sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims both got plenty of first-team reps in the spring, failing to build much separation. In fact, the complimentary pair is so close that Nick Saban has floated the prospect of playing both at times this season. While McCarron has an extra year of experience, Sims is an elite prospect who has been making up ground ever since arriving from Chesapeake, Va.

2. Will the SEC win a sixth National Championship in a row?

As if there's much debate these days, the Southeastern Conference has staked its claim to the premier league in college football by winning the last five BCS titles. The rest of the country is determined to keep it from No. 6. As usual, there are a slew of viable contenders, with the West Division alone housing highly-ranked Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. The East Division is not quite as deep, through South Carolina, Georgia and Florida cannot be underestimated. So rugged is the league that the champion will never drift too far from the top of the BCS rankings.

1. Does Oklahoma have what it takes to break the SEC's grip on the crystal trophy?

If there's one team best suited to dethrone the SEC, it's the Sooners. They're rich in next-level talent, such as QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles and LB Travis Lewis, and 29 players have starting experience. Oklahoma closed 2010 with five consecutive wins, including the Big 12 title game and Fiesta Bowl, gaining a head of steam as the offseason progressed. Although there are tough road games in Tallahassee and Stillwater, OU is nicely positioned make a serious run at a fifth BCS title game appearance in just over a decade under Bob Stoops.
The 40 Key Questions of 2011
No. 11 to 20 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40