#1 Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners have taken the role as everybody's darling for the 2011/2012 season and it's no different here at CFBZ. The Sooners have a ton of talent returning on both sides of the football (15 on offense and defense and both kicker and punter). Oklahoma returns the much improved Landry Jones, who will now be a junior, to lead the troops. The receiving corps are stacked with Ryan Broyles (131 rec, 1622 yds, 14 TD), Kenny Stills (61 rec, 796 yds, 5 TD), James Hanna (18 rec, 7 TD), and Trey Franks (29 rec, 263 yds). Demarco Murray is gone but rising Sophomore Roy Finch steps in to take his place (85 rushes, 398 yds, 4.6 ypc). The OL returns experience. On defense the Sooners return the meat of their talent including leading tackler Travis Lewis, DE Frank Alexander and corner Jamell Fleming. OU will be tested early at FSU in their second game of the season but unless Texas comes back they don't have a particularly daunting schedule (toughest game looks to be their last of the season at Okie State).
#2 Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama losses Heisman Trophy Winner Mark Ingram (remember him?), Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus to the NFL Draft. They also lose their starting QB. So what are they doing at #2 on our list? Was it Nick Saban's mesmerizing use of hand gentures in his guest appearance at the National Championship game that hypnotized us? No. It is the talent that he's recruited and that remains despite what they've lost to the pros. The biggest question marks are on offense. Is AJ McCarron any good (30 of 48 for 389 and 3 TD in mop up duty last year)? Can Trent Richardson be the #1 back, or will someone else like Eddie Lacy step up in Ingram's absence. Who replaces Julio Jones productivity? There are a lot of questions on the offensive side of the football but they look stacked on the defensive side of the football. This teams back seven might be the best in college football (I guess you would call it a back 8 since they play a 3-4). In fact, I dare you to tell us who has a better LB/DB corps than Bama. In addition to their defense they have outstanding coaching. Bama also has a favorable schedule. They play LSU and Arkansas at home and those will probably be their toughest two SEC West games next year.
#3 Oregon Ducks
Oregon and Stanford once again look to be the class of their conference and with Jim Harbaugh's exit to the NFL it makes Oregon once again the team to beat in the Pac-10 Pac-12. They return their top 3 rushers on a team that finished 4th in the Nation in yards rushing. Oregon has some question marks at WR (losing both Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis) and needs to fill in 2 OL positions but they have the skill players coming back. So what about the defense? In the pass happy Pac-12, the returning secondary looks good. Their top two interceptors Cliff Harris and John Boyett return and Eddie Pleasant and Anthony Gildon are both rising seniors. The DL could be an issue when Oregon faces off with LSU early in September but even if Oregon falters in Arlington I like their odds to finish in a BCS bowl and possibly another National Championship Game.
#4 LSU Tigers
The offense returns 8 starters and if Les Miles hired the right guy to run it then the Tigers could be dangerous. Jordan Jefferson got better as they year went on and this year he will also have exiled Bulldog Zach Mettenberger to push him. Michael Ford (45 rushes, 268 yds, 5.9 ypc) gets his chance in the backfield. The WR corps look good with Rueben Randle opposite Russell Shepard). The defense losses Drake Nevis, Kelvin Sheppard and Patrick Peterson but I have confidence in the LSU defense, under John Chavis, to re-load and pick up just where they left off (which was 11th in the Nation in points allowed). The biggest thing I don't like about LSU is their schedule. LSU starts off with Oregon in Arlington, then they play at Mississippi State in their third game of the year and then they go to West Virginia. Did I mention that they also play at Alabama? Is Les Miles lucky enough to get through this schedule unscathed? It's possible.
#5 Boise State Broncos
Boise State will once again play a schedule that is much, much easier than anybody else that's in the Top 10 but it does get a little bit tougher this year. They start off with Georgia (which actually doesn't look as tough as their Virginia Tech game last year), they also keep Nevada (who they lost to last year but losses their "do everything" QB) and they play at TCU then they get TCU at home. That's their 3 game schedule. Sure, they might slip up against Air Force or Tulsa or Fresno or Toledo but who are we kidding...that's not happening. Kellen Moore returns for his senior season and a Heisman campaign. Over the last 2 years he's passed for over 7,000 yards and has 74 TD against 9 interceptions. Did I mention that RB Doug Martin is also back (1260 yards and 12 TD in 2010). The biggest issue for the offense is who will step up in place of Titus Young and Austin Pettis. I would be very surprised if Boise State losses more than one game in 2011.
#6 FSU Seminoles
Who are we kidding? With the female talent that FSU has on campus they should be #1 in recruiting every year which should also make them a perennial Top 10 team. Did I also mention that they play in the ACC and that they play in the ACC Atlantic? I just can't see NC State, Maryland, BC or Clemson stepping up and taking the division from FSU this year. And Virginia Tech also looks to be taking a small step back with having to replace Tyrod Taylor. EJ Manuel will step up into the drivers seat this year and has a lot of weapons at his disposal. FSU returns their 3 leading rushers and they didn't have a senior catch a pass last year so they return everybody to the receiving corps. On defense FSU gets 5 of it's 7 leading tackles back (they only had 3 seniors among their top 18 in tackles last year). DE Brandon Jenkins, who led the team with 13.5 sacks, is back. All three of the leading interceptors (Xavier Rhodes, Greg Reid and Mike Harris) are back. Both kickers are back. The more I look at FSU the more I like them. The biggest issue I have with them is that they host Oklahoma early in the season on September 17th. But even if they lose that game they have the ability to bounce back and work their way up the charts since it's an early game. This could be the year that FSU re-arrives in the world of college football.
#7 Oklahoma State Cowboys
If we would have put Okie State at #7 last year we would have been laughed out of the room. Everybody and their mama had them 5th or 6th in their half of the Big 12 last year. But along the way something funny happened....Texas tanked and Okie State's offense blew up. The Cowboys finished 2nd in the Nation last year in Passing Yards and 3rd in Scoring. They return their 27 year old QB, 5 of their leading 6 receivers (including break-out star Justin Blackmon) and maybe just as importantly their entire offensive line. In all Okie State returns 9 starters on the offensive side of the football. On offense Kendall Hunter will be missed but Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith are a good tandem of backs and I expect them to combine for a pretty good year. On defense the Cowboys have some question marks in the front 7 but who are we kidding this is the Big 12 so they should be fine as long as their offensive is explosive. The major question is how Okie State will preform without OC Dana Holgerson. From a schedule standpoint Oki State has Arizona at home early, at Texas A&M, at Texas, at Missouri and Oklahoma at home. By Big 12 standards this is a pretty easy schedule for such an explosive team. Watch for Oklahoma State to make some big noise in 2011.
#8 Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes would have been higher if it wasn't for the suspensions of some key players for the first 5 games of the year. The good news is that 3 of their opening 5 games are against Akron, Toledo and Colorado. The bad news is they they go to Miami (Fl) in the third game of the year, play Michigan State in the 5th game of the year and go to Nebraska in the first game with their guys back. With Dan Herron and Terrelle Pryor out for these games that's over 1800 rushing yards that will not be available for the team that finished 14th in the Nation in rushing this past year. The good news for Ohio State is that despite the suspensions and despite the lack of returning starters on the defense they are a football factory and they should reload and continue their winning ways. I think the critical game here is Miami (Fl), who will be looking for a signature win at home under new coach Al Golden. Win that game and the Buckeyes will have a very good year. Also, watch out for that Nebraska game. Practicing isn't the same as playing in a full game and if Ohio State has some cramping issues (see also: AJ Green for Georgia vs Colorado last year) Nebraska could make life trouble for the returning Buckeyes.
#9 Stanford Cardinal
We severely underestimated the Cardinal last year picking them to finish 6th in the Pac-10. Stanford got great news at the start of this off-season that Andrew Luck would be returning for another year but got bad news when Jim Harbaugh passed up his senior season to declare himself eligible for the coaching draft. There is a lot to like about this Stanford team- Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor (1137 yards rushing in 2010 with 15 TD),they return their 4 leaders in tackles, they return their two leading sack artists (LBs Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov) and they return DB Delano Howell (who led the team with 5 interceptions). Stanford does lose a lot of starters this year but it feels like they have a lot of good ones returning. The question remains if new Head Coach and former OC David Shaw can keep Harbaugh's momentum going forward. He returns some good talent and has a good recruiting class coming in (ranked #20 by ESPN). The schedule is not particularly difficult (out of conference foes are San Jose State, Duke and Notre Dame). The November 12th date against Oregon will once again decide the Pac-10 Pac-12.
10. Texas A&M Aggies
For the last several years A&M has stood for average and mediocre. Is A&M ready to finally step up and change that? They sure looked like it at the end of last year when they went on a 6 game winning streak beating Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas and also knocking off Top Ten ranked Oklahoma and Texas. A&M returns 9 offensive starters, 8 defensive starters and both of their kickers. In case you are keeping track, that's the most in the Big 12. They return their QB Ryan Tannehill, their RB tandem of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael, their top 8 receivers and 4 of 5 on the offensive line. And that's for a team that averaged 31 points in 2010. On defense replacing LBs Von Miller and Michael Hodges won't be easy but they do return all of their defensive backfield. The key stretch for the Aggies will come early in the season when they play Okie State at home on Sept 24th and Arkansas in Arlington on October 1st. That will be when we know if the Aggies are for real.
Check back on Monday and we'll give you 5 teams that just missed the Top 10.