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2011 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 6 to 10
Wisconsin WR Nick Toon
Wisconsin WR Nick Toon
Posted Aug 5, 2011

Preview 2010 CFN Preseason Rankings No. 6 to 10 ... BCS Title Contenders

Preview 2011 - Preseason Rankings

BCS Title Contenders - No. 6 to 10

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.

10. Arkansas Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Why Arkansas Should Be No. 1: If Ryan Mallett was back at quarterback, the buzz would be even louder and this might be a sure-thing top five team in all the polls. The secret? Tyler Wilson might turn out to be better. The receiving corps, helped by Jarius Wright, might be the best in the nation, and the running backs aren't far behind. The defense, for the first time in a long time, will be a plus helped by a terrific defensive front.

Why Arkansas Isn't No. 1: The offensive line isn't a rock. Among the top teams, the Hog line might be the worst on the lot. That's a bit strong; it might be the shakiest. Last year, the line was a major plus with the same starting five for all 13 games, and now three starters have to be replaced. Defensively, yes, Arkansas will be far better than it was a few years ago, but it's still not going to be anywhere near as strong as several other top ten teams.

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

What to watch for on offense: The running game. Ryan Mallett got all the attention and all the spotlight last year as he led the nation’s fourth best passing game and made spectacular throws all over the field. However, the attack got far better and far stronger with Knile Davis and the running game started to roll, but the breakout star of last year is done for the year with an ankle injury. While his loss would ruin most teams, and the loss of big Broderick Green with a torn ACL takes away a versatile, powerful option, there are still more than enough backs to form a killer rotation. Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson are starting-caliber runners who’ll get their chances to balance out an attack that averaged 334 passing yards per game and 149 on the ground.

What to watch for on defense: The line’s play against the run. The Arkansas defense was vastly improved from two years ago when it got torn up on a weekly basis, but it still have problems against the better running teams. Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ohio State all ran for 200 yards or more, and the Hogs lost three of those games; they went 9-0 when holding teams to under 225 rushing yards. The defensive front became stronger at getting into the backfield last year, and now it needs to use its tremendous beef and depth to be a brick wall.

Key Question: No, really, can the Hogs be better against the run? The defensive front was expected to turn things up a few notches with a veteran group returning, and it did by getting into the backfield on a regular basis and helping the D finish ninth in the nation in sacks and 13th in tackles for loss. Run defense wasn’t exactly the group’s forte, but with a good, strong group returning, and a few beefeaters on the inside, there’s room for improvement. There’s too much size, too much depth, and too many good tackles to be so average against the better ground games, and if Bryan Jones and DeQuinta Jones can be strong inside, the defense might not have any major holes. With Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy to start, the stats will be good early on, but the proof will come with a trip to Alabama in late September.

Fun Stat: Third Quarter Scoring: Arkansas 103 – Opponents 39

9. South Carolina Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Why South Carolina Should Be No. 1: The star power is phenomenal. Assuming Stephen Garcia keeps his head screwed on straight, the Gamecocks might have the best skill starters in college football with Marcus Lattimore a terrific back and Alshon Jeffery almost certain to be a top ten draft pick and likely the No. 1 receiver off the board. Devin Taylor and the defensive front are jaw-dropping good, and the linebacking corps is full of veterans and should be rock steady thanks to all the disruption up front.

Why South Carolina Isn't No. 1: It's South Carolina; the clunker is just around the corner. The Gamecocks always have a Kentucky-like collapse in them somewhere, and the bowl loss to Florida State might be even more telling than the poor performance against Auburn in the SEC Championship. Do you trust Stephen Garcia for a full season? Do you trust Steve Spurrier to be a calm hand through the storm, especially with the was his superior Florida teams always had at least one puzzling clunker in them? This might be the most talented South Carolina team ever, but it all has to translate into wins.

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

What to watch for on offense: Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore to be even better. When Lattimore was last seen in live action he was being helped off the field following a huge, scary hit against Florida State. He has come back roaring, and instead of resting on his first year résumé, he has taken on an even bigger role as a team leader, mainly by his hard-working example. He has done everything the coaching staff has asked of him and far more, and the same goes for Jeffery, who has top five-overall draft pick talent and upside. The fat payday is coming, but Jeffery is hardly taking it easy and isn’t acting like he’s too cool to still be in school. For a team and a program that’s had million dollar talents and not enough work ethic at times, that the two superstars are doing so much should go a long way.

What to watch for on defense: The unstoppable pass rush. South Carolina led the SEC and was seventh in the nation in sacks and was 18th in the nation in tackles for loss. Devin Taylor cranked out 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, while Ingram came up with nine sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Throw in the four sacks and ten tackles for loss from tackle Travian Robertson, and the production coming from the linebackers, and as is, the Gamecocks should spend their Saturdays sitting on the quarterback’s head. And then comes the upgrade. Even if Jadeveon Clowney isn’t a polished all-around talent right out of the box, he should be a devastating pass rushing specialist when he gets his chances.

Key Question: Can the secondary tighten up? South Carolina led the SEC in sacks and will only be better with Jadeveon Clowney joining the fun, but it didn’t seem to matter for a pass defense that got picked clean by anyone who could throw the forward pass with some semblance of efficiency. The big move was taking safety Akeen Auguste and making him a corner, his more natural spot, while hoping for DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger to be add more punch at safety. With Stephon Gilmore locking down one corner job and with so much experience and so many options returning, the Gamecocks have no excuse to be 97th in the nation in pass defense and 87th in pass efficiency defense again. East Carolina’s Dominique Davis will provide a nice test on Opening Day.

Fun Stat: Interception Return Average: South Carolina 25.2 per pick – Opponents 3.2 yards per pick

8. LSU Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Why LSU Should Be No. 1: The talent and athleticism is tremendous all across the board. From a secondary that won't skip a beat without Patrick Peterson, to an offensive front that should build on its rebounding performance of 2010, to a running game that should be even stronger, to a great-looking defensive front, all the pieces are there for LSU to simply outtalent almost everyone else. However ...

Why LSU Isn't No. 1: The quarterback situation is still a question mark. Can LSU complete a forward pass on a regular basis? Will it get all the same breaks it got last year? The 2008 and 2009 teams were ultra-talented, too, and they didn't go anywhere. The lines are good, but they're not sure-thing, national title good, and it's hard to be in the championship hunt when the passing game has to improve by leaps and bounds after finishing 107th in the nation.

Relative Strengths: Secondary, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Special Teams

What to watch for on offense: The maturation of Jordan Jefferson. LSU has had an NFL receiving corps for the last few years and hasn’t done jack squat to take advantage of it or develop it further into anything truly special. The quarterbacks have gotten the blame – Andrew Hatch, anyone? - and while the team over the years has done better with the Matt Mauck game-manager types than the JaMarcus Russells and Ryan Perrillouxs, the production needs to be better. Jefferson has to be consistent and he has to make bigger plays down the field. He threw two touchdown passes in the opener against North Carolina and three in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, and he threw a grand total of two touchdown passes in the middle 11 games. He completed 10-of-13 passes against Alabama, and the next week he completed 4-of-10 throws against UL-Monroe. This offseason he has taken on a bigger leadership role, and while he’ll never be Andrew Luck, he has 32 games of experience and he has seen the SEC wars to know what he’s doing. No one will remember the last few years if he takes the Tigers to a national title.

What to watch for on defense: The linebacking corps. Quick, name the superstar LSU linebackers over the last few seasons. Kelvin Sheppard was fine last year, and he turned into a third round draft pick for Buffalo, and Perry Riley had his moments, turning into a fourth round selection by Washington in 2010, but those are the only two LSU linebackers drafted since Bradie James was taken in the fourth round by Dallas in 2003. To take this even further, out of the 90 LSU players taken in the LSU draft since Eric Hill went in the first round to the Cardinals in 1989, Sheppard, Riley, and James are the only true linebackers drafted. Kevin Minter looks like a keeper in the middle in place of Sheppard, while undersized Stefoin Francois can fly. Ryan Baker is the best of the lot, with 6-0, 230-pound size and good pass rushing skills, but he needs everyone around him to shine. The line will be fine, the secondary will be tremendous, but LSU can’t win the SEC title – and they’ll get ripped up by Oregon - unless the linebackers are outstanding.

Key Question: Can the new offensive coaches, even with Steve Kragthorpe's health issues, make that much of a difference? It was a complete and total miracle that LSU won 11 games with the nation’s 107th ranked passing game, 92nd in passing efficiency, and 11th in the SEC in total offense. The team might be good enough to challenge for the SEC title as is, but if it wants to play for the national title, and that’s a realistic expectation, the attack can’t stink. Kragthorpe wasn’t looking to rebuild the machine, but he’s looking to simplify how it works by making the reads easier for the quarterbacks. The moves have worked so far as Jordan Jefferson has thrown well in early practices, while the coaching staff has said it likes what Jarrett Lee and Zach Mettenberger were doing. With eight starters returning, including the entire offensive line, the expectations are for the production to start to come.

Fun Stat: Fourth Down Conversions: LSU 11-of-12 (92%) – Opponents 11-of-21 (52%)

7. Stanford Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Why Stanford Should Be No. 1 Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck. Had Luck left to become a Carolina Panther, Stanford probably wouldn't be anywhere near the top ten in most polls, but he's an elite, all-timer of a talent who can single-handedly keep the production going for an attack that finished second in the Pac 10 in almost all key categories and was ninth in the nation in scoring. It's not just Luck, though, with a strong offensive line, a terreific linebacking corps, and enough talent across the board to be in the mix for much, much more than just the Pac-12 North title.

Why Stanford Isn't No. 1: Jim Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh. Stanford isn't Alabama, Ohio State, or any sort of normal football power; it takes something special to win on The Farm with all the recruiting restrictions - smart football players are hard to find - and without the consistency of a normal football powerhouse. Harbaugh was just the right mix of instanity, frenzy, and talent to make the Cardinal into a superpower. Yes, this is a very good team, but how much of it had to do with the light Pac 10 schedule? The new Pac-12 isn't going to be appreciably better; Stanford might be overranked based on Luck and the dominant Orange Bowl performance against Virginia Tech.

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

What to watch for on offense: The new targets. Someone is going to benefit from the graduations of last year’s top receivers, Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin. The program is still a little unsure of who that’ll be. Coby Fleener will once again be one of the nation’s more prolific tight ends, and WR Chris Owusu has star potential if he can ever stay healthy for an entire year. For an elite quarterback, like Andrew Luck, though, two targets aren’t nearly enough. There’ll be a sizable opportunity for senior Griff Whalen and junior Jamal-Rashad Patterson, in particular. Whalen is Luck’s roommate, and Patterson has the athletic ability to erupt in a big way in 2011.

What to watch for on defense: Good things from the linebackers. Even with the loss of two of last year’s starters, the Cardinal will have no problem filling out a terrific two-deep in the 3-4 alignment. With All-Pac-12 candidates Shayne Skov on the inside and Chase Thomas on the outside, the foundation of the unit is rock solid. However, the talent doesn’t end with the two returning starters. Stanford has recruited the second level well in recent years, landing future starters in rising underclassmen, such as Joe Hemschoot, A.J. Tarpley, Trent Murphy, and Blake Lueders. The competition for reps will be fierce in the summer.

Key Question: Can David Shaw continue what Jim Harbaugh started? While Harbaugh is still in the Bay Area, he’ll be no help to the Cardinal as a member of the San Francisco 49er staff. Shaw and his assistants lack this level of experience, so they’ll be under the microscope immediately, especially after the 2010 squad played in a school-first BCS bowl game. The good news for Shaw, besides Luck’s decision to return to school, is that he was a part of the program’s rise and knows the personnel, especially on offense. It should make for a slightly smoother transition.

Fun Stat: Sacks: Stanford 36 – Opponents 6

6. Wisconsin Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Why Wisconsin Should Be No. 1:
Thanks to the signing of Russell Wilson, the Badgers have reloaded in a hurry. As always, the ground game will be dominant, the defense will be bruising, and the special teams, especially the kicking game, will be phenomenal. There's an angry attitude now coming off the loss to TCU; not winning the Rose Bowl might have been the biggest positive possible going into this year. Motivation isn't a problem, and neither is talent level. Montee Ball and James White might be the best 1-2 rushing punch in America, while Nick Toon has already been ranked by some as the top senior NFL receiving prospect.

Why Wisconsin Isn't No. 1: Even for Wisconsin, with the system often meaning more than the players, losing QB Scott Tolzien, RB John Clay, TE Lance Kendricks, OT Gabe Carimi, and DE J.J. Watt is a problem. Last year's team came up with one great win - Ohio State - and beat up on the weak and the sad the rest of the way. In other words, the big, bad, giant might have been full of bluster, and this year it's without several key reasons for last year's success. Yes, the team did reload and should be fine, but the defensive line will be good, but it won't be as strong without Watt.

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

What to watch for on offense: Russell Wilson. On talent, experience, accuracy, and moxie, Wisconsin got a gift from the gods when Wilson, a graduate of NC State who has one year of eligibility remaining, chose the Badgers over the Colorado Rockies and Auburn. While he set the NCAA record as a freshman for most consecutive throws without an interception, and while he’s a strong veteran leader who instantly solves the UW quarterback problems from a talent standpoint, he threw 14 picks last season and 25 over the last two years. Compared to Wisconsin, who led the Big Ten and was fourth in the nation in passing efficiency, NC State was 67th. However, Wilson didn’t have a running game to rely on, with the Wolfpack averaging just 123 yards per game on the ground and ranking 11th in the ACC, and he was forced to carry the offense by himself. Also not helping the cause was an offensive line that got him killed, allowing the most sacks in the ACC. Now, Wilson gets a terrific line to work behind, has a great ground game that’ll carry the offense, and his job will be to use his veteran leadership and talents to make the third down throw and push the ball down the field when needed. Can Wilson mesh with the Badgers? Considering the struggles of the UW quarterbacks this spring, the coaching staff will be happy to give it a go.

What to watch for on defense: The return of Chris Borland. End J.J. Watt was everything to the Badger defense last season, finishing second on the team in tackles while coming up with seven sacks, 21 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and a whopping nine broken up passes. The emotional heart-and-soul of the defense, Watt was the ultimate playmaker to work around. Borland, a 5-11, 244-pound blaster of a middle linebacker, might not put up Watt’s all-around numbers, but he has the talent and the makeup to be the new leader and the new star of the front seven. With the loss of defensive coordinator Dan Doeren to Northern Illinois, the more strong players to mix in with ready-made leaders in tackle Patrick Butrym and free safety Aaron Henry, the better, and Borland has to be that guy.

Key Question: Can the defensive front get into the backfield? Even with Watt wreaking havoc, the Badgers were still 76th in the nation in sacks and 91st in tackles for loss. Watt bolted early for the NFL meaning Louis Nzegwu, David Gilbert, and young prospects Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel – who missed spring ball with a shoulder problem – have to combine forces to replace a guy being talked about as the prototype 5-technique NFL end. The defense might have to manufacture pressure from several spots, and it’ll all start with figuring out how to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Fun Stat: Wisconsin Rushing Attempts: 584. Lost Fumbles: 3

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