January 17, 2011
By Todd Helmick

Now that the college football season has officially ended - final rankings have been released, bowl game winners and losers have been taken into consideration and most important...players leaving early for the NFL Draft can now be figured into the mix. After digesting all of the 2011 preseason polls we could find this early, it's time to debunk and/or establish a few trends about what is likely to happen six months down the road as teams jostle for poll position.

WHO IS #1?
First, what has now become an overwhelming sentiment, the Oklahoma Sooners look like the sure-fire team to start out in the No. 1 spot. This case was far from settled just a month ago when was the first to release a 2011 look ahead with the Early Bird Preview. Some people scoffed at the notion the Sooners would be top dog as the early presentation showed. Now that the versatile Ryan Broyles has decided to return for his senior year and given that head coach Bob Stoops shook off his usual BCS woes while defeating an out manned UConn in the Fiesta Bowl, this team is going to be starting out on top. If anyone else is going to push for this honor it's going to be Alabama, LSU or Oregon.

Alabama - The Tide lost three major players early to the NFL Draft (Ingram, Jones and Dareus) or this might have been that top team for 2011, at least in a few other polls. Everything is set in Tuscaloosa for a run at the SEC Championship minus the play of a new quarterback. The only team standing in their way would be…

LSU - The Bayou Bengals looked fantastic offensively in their Cotton Bowl performance. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson may finally be turning the corner, an ingredient that has held Les Miles' team back. With so much personnel returning, they help make the SEC West the best Divisional split in all of college football by a landslide.

Oregon - The Ducks have the ability to get back to the BCS National Championship Game if anything based solely on the fact both quarterback Darron Thomas and top Heisman contender LaMichael James at running back are in this crazy quick-strike offensive mix. They have to find better answers on the line of scrimmage before they can be compared to the likes of the people ranked in front of them.

It's been said by some television commentators (including the Orange Bowl crew) that Stanford will be a front-runner for all the marbles if quarterback Andrew Luck returns as the Cardinal has upwards of 16 starters returning. This is far from the truth; they only have 11 starters back. That does not even include the loss of their head coach Jim Harbaugh. With Luck back, sure Stanford is somewhere in the Top 10 to start next season, but claiming they are one of the favorites to win it all is a stretch with so many holes to replace.

Looks like all five Ohio State players that are to be suspended for the first five games of 2011 have actually kept their word and decided to return to Columbus while skipping the NFL Draft. Had all these guys not been suspended, the Buckeyes could easily be sitting in the Top 5 this preseason. They won't climb that high, but they won't be that far off either. Even if those five guys never did comeback, Ohio State would still be one of the most talented/well-coached teams in America on the field.

The big jump/surprise in these preseason polls has been the extremely high ranking of Florida State. A few prognosticators have even gone so far to place Jimbo Fisher's team in the Top 5. Hold on a minute! While the talent pool continues to be solid through recruiting some holes still need addressed including inconsistencies on defense and the loss of the two top blockers. E.J. Manuel looks like the real deal behind center though. The truth however is that no ACC team should ever rank that high. History should have told everyone this much. But this certainly is a year that could start the Noles down the path of finally being back.

You want offense? When Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon decided to return to Stillwater for another season, Oklahoma State laid claim to first rights in the Big 12 conference chase of the in-state rival Sooners. Ten starters will line up on this side of the ball for the Cowboys. Nine will line up offensively for the Sooners. Both of their quarterbacks were tabbed All-Big 12 this past fall. If either one of these teams can learn how to play defense, the winner of the Bedlam Series could be headed for a national title showdown without having to finally play a conference championship game to get there. With only ten teams for now, the Big 12 just made their team’s road to the BCS much easier.

So the Horned Frogs have some serious rebuilding to do. Only ten starters are coming back from the nation's undefeated No. 2 ranked team. When will people learn that head coach Gary Patterson does well no matter how many starters come back? A trend exists in Fort Worth that continues to get ignored on years such as this. Get real...they don't deserve a lofty preseason ranking, but they also don't deserve the disrespect they seem to be getting by being placed in the lower half of the Top 25. made the necessary adjustments.

If fans in the BCS aligned conferences are sick of hearing about Boise State claiming they belong in the discussion for top honors...don't look now but the Broncos with Kellen Moore back behind center will continue to be this year's top version of the politically correct “non-AQ” (non-automatic qualifier) team. The Broncos move from the WAC to the newly aligned Mountain West didn't do much for their schedule difficulty...or lack of.

Mississippi State finished the 2010 season ranked 15th in the AP Poll. They also bring back the same amount of people, if not more, when compared to everyone else ranked in front of them. So how is it that their average ranking from all these early preseason polls drops to around No. 21? This makes no sense. The offense is starting to pick up the pace and head coach Dan Mullen has his Dawgs barking as Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez found out at the Gator Bowl coaching his last Wolverine game. made the necessary adjustments.

Notre Dame has a new coach. Notre Dame just got a rare bowl victory over a Hawai'i team that finished .500 for the season. Oh wait, that was two years ago. This bowl win was against a Miami team in the middle of a complete meltdown. The point is, with so many players coming back in South Bend the media is sure to blow these Irish bagpipes all the way into September talking about how first year coach Brian Kelly has turned the program around. Same story, different coach. This team surely has potential to be much better. But jumping them from their final No. 33 ranking in the 2010 AP Poll into a Top 15 spot for next year is malarkey. For once this century can Notre Dame prove they belong?

TULSA TIME pegged Tulsa as a Top 25 team in the first Early Bird Release last month. Some folks disagreed. After beating a good Hawai'i team on the islands Christmas Eve, the Golden Hurricane finished ranked 24th in the AP Poll. New head coach Bill Blankenship just inherited a "golden" mine full of 24-carat players.

Here are a few teams that really got hurt in these preseason polls by a horrible bowl performance.

  • South Carolina was poised to make a huge jump but quarterback Stephen Garcia and his offensive cast laid an egg in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
  • Nebraska getting white washed by Washington was a total downer for Lincoln. Some great talent abounds on the defensive side, Taylor Martinez decided to dispel the transfer rumors but the taste of that horrible Holiday Bowl performance will not soon be forgotten.
  • While Georgia seems to be riding early speculation as a Top 25 team next fall, their offensive woes against UCF and the loss of their only weapon that game, receiver A.J. Green, shuffles Georgia right out of the mix at
  • Utah has gotten a few positive words for 2011 with quarterback Jordan Wynn returning. But they lose the kitchen sink at many other positions. Getting blasted by Boise State in Las Vegas showed that Utah's entry into the Pac Ten might be a little premature from a ratings perspective. They might not even be the third best team in the Mountain West.
  • After one of the worst bowl displays of the season, West Virginia has some issues. The defense gets decimated and no one has proven they can handle the Devine role at running back yet. They finished ranked 32nd in the AP Poll and return just 12 starters. NC State finished ranked 25th and returns 16 starters…all this after pounding the Mountaineers in Orlando. If WVU is a Top 25 team, the Wolf Pack is a Top 20 team. All we keep hearing out of AD Oliver Luck in Morgantown is that they want a coach who can get WVU to compete for a national championship. WVU has never won a national championship and likely never will. It never hurts to dream just as long as the expectations don’t kill the program, or coach, which has been the case in Morgantown dating back to pre-Bobby Bowden.
  • Clemson dropped all the way out of the Top 50 after stinking it up New Year's Eve in Charlotte. Don't let the score fool anyone; the game was never close against South Florida. Dabo Swinney has some coaching work to do.
  • Kentucky was another team that dropped completely out of our Top 50 after getting dismantled by Pitt. Randall Cobb leaving early for the NFL Draft left UK without a single returning starter at the offensive skill positions.
  • Boston College also fell completely out. Against Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, freshmen quarterback Chase Rettig desperately throwing the ball 34 times is not the BC offense needed heading into a new season.
  • No denying June Jones is a great coach, but he needs to learn better bowl preparation. With 18 starters coming back, his SMU squad was primed to make a move. Then Army sneaks into Dallas a shuts down this usual explosive offensive attack. The end result sends the Mustangs towards the back of the non-AQ pack.
  • Missouri went from a Top 10 push for 2011 right out of the Top 20. Losing to Iowa in the Insight Bowl and losing Blaine Gabbert to the NFL silenced the Tiger preseason roar.


  • As already mentioned, NC State finished ranked 25th in the AP Poll. If quarterback Russell Wilson decides to skip baseball for another year the Wolf Pack should be ranked by all accounts.
  • Maryland goes through a seemingly lateral coaching change. They too finished ranked in the Top 25. With better line play and a hot young passer the Terps might find a little preseason love. They certainly would have if Friedgen had returned based on continuity.
  • Arizona State seems to be in everyone’s Top 25 now and they didn't even go bowling. With 20 starters coming back sometimes not playing at all can be a good thing. Especially when your last game was an impressive win on the road against in-state rival Arizona on national television.
  • Florida and Texas are sure to find a few Top 25 rankings here and there despite not being found anywhere near a Top 25 listing this past season. Recruiting stars mean nothing many times, but don't tell that to the voters.
  • Other currently popular Sunshine State schools such as UCF and South Florida will catch some attention after posting solid campaigns regardless of the fact they both lose a ton of seniors.
  • Northwestern is going to be pretty good if they get a healthy Dan Persa back behind center for his senior year. Pat Fitzgerald may not have been interested in the Michigan head-coaching job for a reason. Has Northwestern surpassed Michigan as a consistently better team?



1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Stanford
4. Louisiana State
5. Ohio State
6. Auburn
7. Oregon
8. Florida State
9. Texas A&M
10. Boise State
11. Oklahoma State
12. Michigan State
13. Wisconsin
14. South Carolina
15. TCU
16. Virginia Tech
17. Nebraska
18. Arkansas
19. Mississippi State
20. Notre Dame
21. Penn State
22. Arizona State
23. Missouri
24. West Virginia
25. Texas

Dennis Dodd
1. Louisiana State
2. Oklahoma
3. Oregon
4. Alabama
5. Stanford
6. Ohio State
7. Oklahoma State
8. Texas A&M
9. Michigan State
10. Wisconsin
11. Florida State
12. Arkansas
13. Boise State
14. Nebraska
15. Auburn
16. TCU
17. South Carolina
18. Virginia Tech
19. Notre Dame
20. Mississippi State
21. Georgia
22. Arizona State
23. Texas
24. Northwestern
25. Florida / UCF
Mark Schlabach
1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. Louisiana State
5. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Florida State
8. Arkansas
9. Stanford
10. Ohio State
11. South Carolina
12. Wisconsin
13. Texas A&M
14. Notre Dame
15. Michigan State
16. Missouri
17. Auburn
18. TCU
19. Nebraska
20. Virginia Tech
21. Arizona State
22. Texas
23. Florida
24. Mississippi State
25. West Virginia
Andy Staples

1. Oklahoma
2. Oregon
3. Louisiana State
4. Alabama
5. Stanford
6. Ohio State
7. Texas A&M
8. TCU
9. South Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Boise State
12. Nebraska
13. Missouri
14. Auburn
15. Wisconsin
16. Michigan State
17. Arkansas
18. Oklahoma State
19. Virginia Tech
20. West Virginia
21. Georgia
22. Mississippi State
23. Arizona State
24. Notre Dame
25. Utah