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2011 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 11 to 20
Posted Aug 4, 2011

If you want to argue that Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma State, and/or Texas A&M belong in the CFN Top Ten (COMING ON FRIDAY), fine. These are four of the better teams coming into the season, and they'll be in the hunt for a BCS bid, but they're on the fringe of the elite in the 2011 CFN Preseason Rankings.

Preview 2011 - Preseason Rankings

BCS Contenders - No. 11 to 20

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.

20. Notre Dame Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. If Notre Dame could package all four of its strong quarterbacks into one player, he’d be special. Dayne Crist is a terrific leader with a strong personality that’s perfect to be the team’s spokesman and main man, but his knees are banged up and he makes too many mistakes in his reads for a player of his tenure. Tommy Rees is a terrific passer, doing a good job stepping in as a true freshman and going 4-0 as a starter, but he threw too many picks and he’s not the type of runner Kelly would like under center. Andrew Hendrix is a runner, and Everett Golson is a bomber who can take off when needed. Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar might create a few packages for Hendrix and/or Golson, but he has also praised Crist for his smarts and his savvy. Crist will almost certainly be the No. 1 man when all is said and done, but the other options are getting their chances, too.

What to watch for on defense: The true freshmen. The Irish have a strong starting defensive 11 as is, and now there’s an upgrade and infusion of talent. The strength of the good recruiting class is for the defensive front led by end Aaron Lynch, who got to school early and destroyed the Irish offensive line. Fellow end Stephon Tuitt is a bit raw, but he’s a next-level prospect who could be a devastating pass rusher right away, while Ishaq Williams is a dream of a hybrid who’ll be a perfect fit on the outside in the 3-4. The new guys might not be needed, but they could take the good defense to another level.

19. Virginia Tech Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

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

What to watch for on offense: Scouting Thomas. Now that Tyrod Taylor has run out of eligibility, this is clearly Logan Thomas’ team … and he performed that way this offseason. A 6-6, 245-pounder, he’s a little Jim Druckenmiller and a little Michael Vick, able to beat defenses with his big arm or quick feet. Even more impressive to the staff has been the way he’s conducted himself over the past few months, flashing the poise and leadership of an upperclassmen and dedicating himself to improving in all facets of the game. His ceiling is high, and Hokie fans are hoping he begins to approach it this fall.

What to watch for on defense: Working out the sophomore kinks. The Hokies are dealing with turnover at every level of the D, creating openings for a cadre of talented, but somewhat unproven second-year players. How far along they’ve come will dictate the eventual success of Bud Foster’s unit. Up front, DT Derrick Hopkins and ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins are bucking for starting assignments. LB Tariq Edwards is being asked to carry over his spring performance into the fall. And CB Kyle Fuller and rover Antoine Exum are expected to plug the two holes in the secondary. In all, six sophomores could be in the opening day lineup for Tech.

18. Texas Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

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

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. The running backs and receivers didn’t exactly help the cause, and the offensive line was stunningly bad, but QB Garrett Gilbert was the Beavis & Butthead episode of the 2010 college football season. Even when things were going well there was always one bad decision that meant he wasn’t going to score. While Gilbert has next-level skills and as much pure talent as any quarterback in college football, he doesn’t seem to have a feel for the game quite yet. He’s not as decisive as he needs to be, and now he can’t afford to spill. He has to be perfect or else Connor Wood or Case McCoy will step in and give it a try. It’s Texas; the backup could’ve gone anywhere.

What to watch for on defense: The Manny Diaz enthusiasm. One of college football’s rising star coaches, Diaz was the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee two years ago, spent one year at Mississippi State, and now gets to follow in the footsteps of giant names like Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp. He inherits a line with a world of talent and depth, but little consistency, and a secondary in need of new stars in several key spots. He’s going to be aggressive, aggressive, aggressive, and his front seven – occasionally a front six – is going to get behind line on a regular basis. His defenses over the last few years have been terrific at making big things happen, but he never had talents like the ones he gets to work with now. Considering UT was second in the nation in sacks and eighth in tackles for loss in 2009, and was 31st in sacks and 42nd in tackles for loss last year, Diaz should make a big difference.

17. Boise State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

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

What to watch for on offense: Who’s going to catch the ball? Nate Potter and Thomas Byrd will lead the way for yet another strong offensive line, and Doug Martin should be among the Mountain West’s best running backs. Kellen Moore is a special, efficient quarterback who’ll be on several All-America short lists, and he’s good enough to make everyone around him better. He’ll have to be. With offensive Bryan Harsin off to Texas and Brent Pease taking over the reins, Job One is to find replacements for Titus Young, who was taken in the second round by Detroit, and Austin Pettis, a third round pick by St. Louis. Tyler Shoemaker has been around and knows what he’s doing, and tight end Kyle Efaw is fine, but they’re not elite targets. There’s hope for Geraldo Hiwat to build on his great offseason, and there are several decent untested prospect, but receiver is the team’s one big concern.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. If it’s possible, the Boise State pass rush that led the nation and was second in tackles for loss could be even more dangerous and even more effective despite the loss of all-star end Ryan Winterswyk. He was the leader and the star on the outside, but his departure means more time for Tyrone Crawford, a pass rushing terror who came up with seven sacks in a reserve role. Shea McClellin is a terrific veteran end who’ll end up with at least six sacks, and tackles Billy Winn and Chase Baker are terrific on the inside. With the great pass rush, the rebuilding secondary will get a little time and the decent linebacking corps should look phenomenal at times.

16. Miami Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

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

What to watch for on offense: Go Fisch. The biggest unknown of Al Golden’s new staff is coordinator Jedd Fisch, the 34-year-old former quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He’ll be installing a pro-style offense that mixes the run with the pass, but his biggest priority will be to maximize the talent of his two competing quarterbacks. Their progression during the summer and early parts of the season will dictate just how conservative the attack is in 2011. If the coach has confidence in Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris, he’ll unfurl a longer leash. If not, expect the Hurricanes to do whatever is necessary to limit the team’s number of turnovers.

What to watch for on defense: The situation at cornerback. Although there’s a solid core to build around on defense, the ‘Canes do have issues on the back seven. None is bigger than the loss of last season’s starting cornerbacks. To address the issue, Miami is counting on a pair of imports, former S JoJo Nicolas and one-time RB Lee Chambers. Both have the necessary athleticism, but defending the pass transcends measurables. To keep the two seniors in a defensive mode, Brandon McGee has been shifted over from nickel. Don’t look now, but true freshman Thomas Finnie appears capable of passing everyone at some point this season.

15. TCU Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

What to watch for on offense: Who’ll be the leader? Andy Dalton wasn’t just an ultra-accurate gamer of a quarterback; he was a consummate team leader as the main man for the program during a great four-year run. You don’t just become a leader by being a quarterback; you become a leader by being a great quarterback. That’s why all eyes will be on new starter Casey Pachall to produce immediately. While no one is expecting him to be Dalton right out of the box, he has to fill the void for a team that loses so many key offensive playmakers.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive line. All four starters on the line earned all-star honors last season, and while TCU is able to rebuild and reload as well as anyone, it has to hope that a few players can step up and take over for Cory Grant on the inside and Wayne Daniels on the outside. Stansly Maponga could be the new big-name to come out of Fort Worth after dominating at times through the offseason, but tackle D.J. Yendrey could be the real star that everything works around. Even if the line isn’t up to typical snuff there’s always Tanner Brock and Tank Carder at linebacker to clean everything up.

14. Florida Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Secondary, Receiver

What to watch for on offense: The line. Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, and Mack Brown form a devastating trio of speedy backs who could blow up with a little room to move. John Brantley has all the talent in the world, but the senior quarterback isn’t going to rebound if he doesn’t get more time. The problem is a line that returns banged, bruised, and in need of finding the right combination with four new starters to employ. It’s a big line, and there are plenty of good young talents, but the blocking should be far better next year with everyone but guard James Williams returning. Charlie Weis’s lines were awful at Notre Dame, doing little for the running game and struggling in pass protection in 2009, and with the running game finishing 100th in the nation in 2008. If the line doesn’t show more after getting blown up by the Gator D line this spring, any dreams for a big season will be over immediately.

What to watch for on defense: The emergence of the defensive line. There’s talk of moving around alignments from time to time from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but why? The Gators are relatively thin at linebacker and are loaded up front. If the tackles can stay healthy there will be a two-deep rotation better than any in America. William Green needs to step up and shine at one end, while Ronald Powell is on the verge of superstardom on the other side.

13. Oklahoma State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Receiver, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Linebacker, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: The running backs. All five starters are back up front, and there’s talent waiting in the wings. Brandon Weeden was hardly touched last year, and now he’ll be one of the nation’s most productive passers with Justin Blackmon and one of college football’s best receiving corps to throw to. Can the running game continue to rock with Kendall Hunter gone? He leaves with 4,181 career yards and 37 touchdowns, and now it’s up to Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith to provide the punch early on to take the heat off of Weeden. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken spent last year coaching the Jacksonville Jaguar receivers, and he’ll make sure the passing game rocks, but he needs to hand the ball off, too.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. With the offense OSU has, all the D has to do is get off the field on a regular basis, and that means the linebackers have to come up with key stops. Orie Lemon cleaned up everything that came his way, and a lot of big plays that didn’t, with 133 tackles with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. It was his linebacking corps and he dominated at times, but now he’s gone, as are the team’s top defensive tackles, and someone has to make things happen up the middle. Caleb Lavey is a great-looking prospect for the middle job, but he’s relatively unproven and it’s asking a lot for him to be Lemon right away. Shaun Lewis is a burgeoning all-star on one side, but LaRon Furr has to be all over the field from the weakside.

12. Georgia Preview
OffenseDefense | Depth Chart

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

What to watch for on offense: The running game. After running for just 82 yards against UCF in the bowl loss, it’s time to start pounding away. Of the 21 rushing scores last year, 17 came in the six wins with just four coming in the seven losses. Georgia has been full of four and five-star talents that couldn’t run a lick, and now the backfield is depleted with Washaun Ealey leaving the program and Caleb King getting suspended for academic issues. Carlton Thomas is a good little back who’ll come up with big yards at times, but he's not helping the cause being suspended for the Boise State game, at least, for violating team rules. Former linebacker Richard Samuel is a bruiser, but the ground game needs Isaiah Crowell to do for the Georgia what Marcus Lattimore did for the South Carolina offense last year. He’s a ready-made true freshman with the talent to take the pressure off Aaron Murray and the passing attack, but he needs a steady line to run behind.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive tackles. Georgia’s 3-4 scheme is solid, but it would be nice to have a 4-3 for a little while to get the two NFL-ready defensive tackles on the field at the same time. John Jenkins is a special 340-pound talent who’s the textbook definition of an anchor, but Kwame Geathers stepped up his game this offseason and showed that he could be the main man in the middle. With these two rotating on the inside, the massive, tackle-like ends – Arby Jones and DeAngelo Tyson – will be free to stop the run from the outside. Whatever the combination is, good luck running up the middle on this group.

11. Texas A&M Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Receiver, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Secondary, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The running game. Ryan Tannehill completed 65% of his passes for 1,638 yards and 13 touchdowns with six picks in half a season, and he led the way to a six-game winning streak with victories over Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas. And he’s the weakest part of the A&M skill players. If the receiving corps isn’t the best in the nation, it’s in the top three, making it tempting to let Tannehill bomb away with a high-octane passing attack, but with the healthy return of Christine Michael from a broken leg, combining with the lightning-fast and ultra-productive Cyrus Gray, and A&M might be tempted to let the ground game control the offense.

What to watch for on defense: The front three. Bigger than the emergence of Tannehill for the offense was the job done by Tim DeRuyter, the first year defensive coordinator who came in from Air Force turned the run defense around in a hurry. The 3-4 alignment worked, and now it should be even better with a huge front three that will get even bigger if JUCO transfer LeMarc Strahan is as good as advertised on the nose. The Aggies won’t be flashy up the middle, and they’ll leave the fun and the big stats to the linebackers, but no one will run up the middle on this group.

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