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2011 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 21 to 30
Ohio State C Michael Brewster
Ohio State C Michael Brewster
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 4, 2011


Preview 2011 CFN Preseason Rankings No. 21 to 30 ... Conference Contenders



Preview 2011 - Preseason Rankings

Conference Contenders - No. 21 to 30


2011 CFN Preseason Rankings  
Preview 2011 | 1 to 5 | 6 to 10 | 11 to 20 | 21 to 30 | 31 to 40 | 41 to 50
51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 120 
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There's one very important distinction in the CFN preseason rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they're going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell meaning they might be better than their final record might indicate. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 120.

30. Utah Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Secondary, Receiver

What to watch for on offense: The three-headed backfield. The Utes are determined to replace the ground game production of Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, who gave the school a terrific tandem the last two seasons. Competing for playing time will be a diverse, and hopefully complimentary, trio. The future belongs to true freshman Harvey Langi, a heralded 6-1, 225-pounder. Junior college transfer John White will bring some dash and an all-purpose element to the running game. Thretton Palamo, the youngest athlete to ever play in rugby's World Cup, is an intriguing 6-2, 240-pound masher. The task of the staff is to find the right mix of talent when practice reconvenes in August.

What to watch for on defense: Getting the Star treatment. Just a part-time starter in 2010, junior NT Star Lotulelei is about to become a full-time nuisance for opposing Pac-12 blockers. The 6-4, 320-pounder is in the best shape of his career, which is going to enhance his already quick feet and explosiveness off the snap. A classic run stuffer on the interior of the line, he'll either penetrate on his own or make life easier by occupying multiple blockers. Lotulelei is the kind of force that the conference is accustomed to seeing at places, such as USC.

29. Arizona State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Run Devils. While Arizona State conjures up images of high-flying passing attacks, this year's edition will lean more on the ground game. Now, coordinator Noel Mazzone will occasionally turn loose QB Brock Osweiler, whose quality set of receivers includes veterans Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie, and Aaron Pflugrad. However, the Sun Devils plan to leverage their depth and talent in the backfield. There's a complimentary mix that includes every-down back Cameron Marshall, scatback Kyle Middlebrooks, and burner Deantre Lewis. ASU needs to shift the time of possession, while reducing its number of mistakes through the air.

What to watch for on defense: The run D to remain stout. Opposing teams managed only 119 yards a game and 3.2 yards a carry versus the Pac-10's toughest run defense. Running lanes won't be any less congested this fall. The Sun Devils lose little from a year ago, even adding sophomore DT Will Sutton from the ranks of the academic suspended. The front seven is loaded, boasting ample depth in the trenches and outstanding playmakers at the second level. At middle linebacker, Vontaze Burfict is a 252-pound guided missile, who cleans up messes as well as any player at his position in the country.

28. BYU Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. Led by All-American Matt Reynolds, the line was fine last season. Right tackle Brandon Brown and center Terence Brown earned all-star honors, and guard Braden Hansen wasn't far off, but it struggled a bit early on and found its stride over the second half of the year. Now, assuming the right guard situation sorts itself out, the line should be a rock. That means that sophomore QB Jake Heaps should get two days to work, and the quick, talented slew of running backs should be able to crank out big yards on a regular basis. Of course, that means that offense should blow up like Cougar fans are used to.

What to watch for on defense: The front three to be impenetrable on the inside. The pass rush will likely come from outside linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Jameson Frazier, and the secondary will do its part to get into the backfield from time to time, but it'll all revolve around a big, deep front three. Ends Matt Putnam and Eathyn Manumaleuna are built for the 3-4, and the return of Romney Fuga from a knee injury should be a huge boost for the run defense. The back eight might not be full of big talents, but everyone will fly around because the line will do its job.

27. Michigan State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: Shuffling on the offensive line. The front five wasn't exactly special last season, and it didn't do enough on a consistent basis to blast anyone off the ball, but to get back to a Big Ten title level the right combination has to be found right away and the results have to be better. The guard situation is solid with Joel Foreman, when healthy, and Chris McDonald good ones to work around, but the tackle situation is more than just a question mark and the center job has to be settled. When you're counting on defensive linemen to step in and produce on the offensive front, there's a problem.

What to watch for on defense: How fast can the linebackers make up for the losses of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon? Oddly enough, the team came through with its big year even though Jones didn't blow up like he did earlier in his career. Even so, he was the team's leading tackler and a peerless leader for a good front seven. The Spartans have good athletes and lots of options at linebacker, and the stats will come just by the nature of the positions, but it's asking a lot to replace two all-stars and get the same results.
 
26. North Carolina Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Special Teams
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back

What to watch for on offense: Houston, we have a feature back? Hulking senior Ryan Houston was cleared in the NCAA investigation last October, but decided to redshirt and get a fresh start in 2011. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, he's a load in short yardage, scoring 18 career touchdowns, but can he handle the role of every-down runner and keep the chains moving? The Tar Heels are cautiously optimistic he'll be an answer in the running game after averaging just 3.7 yards a carry and losing last season's top three rushers.

What to watch for on defense: The front seven to dominate. Even after having four linemen and linebackers drafted, including three in the first 52 picks, Carolina remains flush with elite talent along the front seven. There's a preponderance of size, quickness, and Tar Heels who are going to play on Sundays. DE Quinton Coples, DT Tydreke Powell, and LB Zach Brown are already considered hot senior prospects, and a couple of juniors, LB Kevin Reddick and DE Donte Paige-Moss, will have tough decisions about their future once the season ends. As hard as it is to fathom, the front line of the D will be as feisty as it's been in recent years.

25. Michigan Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Special Teams, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: Al Borges. Right now, if you were told that the 2011 Michigan offense was going to average 489 yards and 33 points per game; would lead the Big Ten and be tenth in the nation in sacks allowed; and would balanced enough to average 239 rushing yards and 250 passing yards per game; you'd be crazy not to take that deal. That's what the 2010 Michigan offense did, and while the consistency might not have been there, and the production fizzled down the stretch, any step back taken this season will be blamed mostly on offensive coordinator Al Borges. He wants to get the power ground game going with the running backs and he wants a dropback, pro-style passer to sit in the pocket for ten days, but he doesn't really have the pieces. Any offensive coordinator worth his salt would love to have QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, five decent running backs – maybe more – and a loaded offensive line to play around with. Borges has to fit his system to the players and not the other way around.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. Enough of this tippy-tappy, 3-3-5 stuff; the defense is going to get after the ball with a base 4-3 led by former Baltimore defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. There's no excuse with linemen like Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh that the front four can't be decent, and look out if 6-5, 333-pound NFL-sized tackle Will Campbell becomes a player. With the bulk and the experience up front, Mattison can use a smallish group of big-hitting linebackers to fly around and be more aggressive. The 2010 Wolverines rarely came up with game-changing defensive plays, and it didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield. That's not going to happen under Mattison's watch.

24. Nebraska Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Special Teams

What to watch for on offense: Simple, yet speedier. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck is going to try to make things as easy as humanly possible. Nebraska wants to be a running team, so the big linemen are going to block and the speedy running backs and quarterbacks are going to zip through the holes – and it might just be that simple. The other goal is to pick up the pace. Everyone says they'd like to do that, but while it's hard to be Oregon it wouldn't be a bad thing if the Huskers were able to develop a better rhythm while cutting down on the mistakes. The passing game won't be ignored, but it might be along for the ride if everything works as planned as the running game should tear off yards in chunks.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. In a Big 12 with pass happy teams across the board and top-shelf quarterbacks to deal with on a regular basis, Nebraska's defense adapted with a hybrid linebacker/safety almost always in the mix and with the occasional six defensive back look to start games. Now the D will go to a more traditional 4-3 because 1) it makes more sense in the Big Ten and 2) the linebackers could turn out to be the team's biggest strength. Of course the brilliant defensive minds of the brothers Pelini – head coach Bo an defensive coordinator Carl – will adapt and adjust as needed, but the front seven should be ready to handle the running game a bit better.

23. Clemson Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: The rate of retention. From the pace to the playbook, everything will be new now that Chad Morris is taking over the offense. His is a time-tested attack similar to the one that helped Auburn to a National Championship last season. However, like those Tigers in 2009, there could be significant growing pains in South Carolina this fall. The staff is going to get the system fully installed, but how long will it take before Clemson is running it efficiently? If it doesn't happen early enough in 2011, the program could clean house before the coaches even get a second chance to smooth out the wrinkles.

What to watch for on defense: The impact of the rookies. Clemson reeled in a bumper crop of recruits earlier in the year, many of whom will not be asked to redshirt. DE Corey Crawford has already made waves in practice, elevating to the second unit. It's at linebacker, however, where the Tigers are well-stocked for the future, signing blue-chippers Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, and Lateek Townsend. At a need area this fall, all three will have a shot to earn playing time—and a letter—this season.

22. USC Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart 

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Secondary, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Kalil to increase his course load. Junior LT Matt Kalil had to be particularly interested in the fate of teammate Tyron Smith, who was taken No. 9 overall by Dallas in April's draft. He realizes that he's capable of a similar destination in 2012 or 2013, which is going to be tantalizing. He's 6-7 and 295 pounds, with enough skill to make agents pant and a full season as a starter behind him. The Trojans need him to become the anchor of a line that will enter 2011 on shaky ground.

What to watch for on defense: The ends to justify the means. It's go time for USC's two primary edge rushers, juniors Nick Perry and Wes Horton. Neither was quite right last season, saddled with nagging injuries and adapting to a new staff and defensive scheme. This season, however, figures to be dramatically different for both ends. The pair was healthy in the spring, looking much more comfortable in their surroundings. Perry, in particular, was borderline unblockable in March and April, playing as if he plans on being one of the Pac-12's breakout defensive stars of 2011.

21. Ohio State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Terrelle's replacement. There will be two very interesting and distinct schools of thought on Braxton Miller, the latest quarterback super-recruit. No one stepped up to take over the starting quarterback job this offseason, so if everything is equal, going with Miller over senior Joe Bauserman might make the most sense. However, if there's a thought that this could be the last hurrah if the NCAA heat is coming, Bauserman could be the call in a rely-on-the-D-and-let's-win-now sort of way. Miller has the arm, the size, and the mobility to be a franchise-maker, but he's still just a true freshman and he's going to make mistakes. Will the coaching staff end up going with a rotation? Will the patience be there to let Miller sink-or-swim? In a division with Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Nathan Scheelhaase, Ohio State needs to be able to match up with other good quarterbacks and it can't get the call wrong.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. Ohio State has had a who's who of all-star linebackers over the years, and every time it seems like someone is irreplaceable, there's a replacement. The Buckeye linebackers will put up stats, but the often overblown idea of leadership is a big deal with all that's going on and with Ross Homan and Brian Rolle now out of the mix. The hope is for uber-talented junior Etienne Sabino to start playing like his hair is on fire after being redshirted last year. Storm Klein should be a statistical superstar no matter where he plays, and veteran Andrew Sweat could turn out to be the leader only because he's the lone returning starter. If the starting threesome is great and the run defense is its normal top five-self, then this really could be a typical Ohio State season.

2011 CFN Preseason Rankings  
Preview 2011 | 1 to 5 | 6 to 10 | 11 to 20 | 21 to 30 | 31 to 40 | 41 to 50
51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 120