Just like The Canon Review is back in action, so too is college football, and none too soon. After a tumultuous offseason that featured scandals from many top programs, including Ohio State and Miami, and more conference musical chairs, the 2011 college football season gets underway tonight. This year should be a rather historic year, as Nebraska makes their Big Ten debut and the Pac-10 debuts as the Pac-12 with the additions of Utah and Colorado. Also, 2011 will mark the last year of Texas A&M in the Big 12, and who the heck knows who the next team to change conferences will be? So, how will this season play out? Well, read on to see one man's opinion about how the 2011 College Football season will shape up.
ACC: Realistically, the race for the ACC Title should be between two teams. Sure, Georgia Tech may make things interesting with their option attack, and Maryland and Clemson both possess solid football teams, but ultimately, Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division and Florida State in the Atlantic Division. True, both teams are starting new quarterbacks (Logan Thomas for VT, E.J. Manuel for FSU), but these two squads are far and away the most talented in the Atlantic Coast Conference. At the end of the day, look for these two teams to meet in the ACC Championship Game once again, and once again, look for Virginia Tech and their plethora of playmakers (HB David Wilson, WR Jarrett Boykin, CB Jayron Holsey among them) to win the ACC Title once again.
Big East: Last year the Big East failed to produce a Top 25 team, while the WAC and C-USA produced two top 25 teams apiece. While this should call into question the Big East's automatic qualifier status in the BCS, chances are that 2011 will be a stronger year all around for the Big East. West Virginia has a new coach in Dana Holgorsen and a top-natch QB in Geno Smith. Meanwhile, Pitt also has a new coach in Todd Graham, and the conference's best defensive player in LB Brandon Lindsey. South Florida has a rising star in coach Skip Holtz, but QB B.J. Daniels must show more consistency. UConn is the defending champ and brings back a slatwart defense, but may have suffered too much losses in the offseason. Ultimately, West Virginia is the best team in the conference, and they should emerge with the Big East title despite tough challenges from Pitt, South Florida, and a Syracuse team that is on the rise.
Big 12: The Big 12 starts it's first year with ten teams, and with Texas A&M jumping ship after the year, who can tell what this conference will look like next year. Speaking of A&M, they would love to leave the Big 12 with a conference title in their belts, and with 18 starters returning from last year's squad, they may just have the horses to pull it off. Oklahoma State may have the best QB-WR combo in the nation with Brandon Weeden firing passes to Justin Blackmon, but once again, their defense is a question mark. Texas is the traditional power, but it remains to be seen if Garrett Gilbert is the answer at quarterback. However, nobody's going to beat out Oklahoma this year. True, they end the season with a road date at Oklahoma State, but the Sooners are primed and ready to capture the conference title for the fifth time in the last six years. With QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles back on offense, and a strong defense led by lineman Frank Alexander and LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma is the most well rounded team in the conference and maybe the entire nation.
Big Ten: The Big Ten starts it's 12 team era this year, and have split up into the Legends and Leaders divisions. Silly names aside, the Big Ten is as deep as it's ever been with Nebraska joining the fold. The conference's two traditional powers, Ohio State and Michigan, look to be in rebuilding mode this year, but each squad still has a lot of talent and could make things interesting in the Big Ten. Northwestern could be a factor if QB Dan Persi can come back from injury, while Iowa could make things difficult in the Legends division behind rising star RB Marcus Coker. Nebraska comes in with a top-notch defense led by DT Jared Crick, but I'm not exactly sold on QB Taylor "T-Magic" Martinez. So, I predict that Michigan State, led by QB Kirk Cousins and RB Edwin Baker, will emerge out of the Legends Division. The team that they'll face is the Wisconsin Badgers. True, they have a new quarterback, but that quarterback is an accomplished three-year starter in NC State transfer Russell Wilson, who will have a strong running game powered by James White to support him. Look for Wisconsin to win the first Big Ten Championship Game and return to the Rose Bowl.
Pac 12: Colorado and Utah make their Pac-12 debuts this year in the Pac-12 South, but the real power of this conference resides in the North, where two national title contenders reside. Oregon made it all the way to the National Title game last year, and both QB Darren Thomas and RB LaMichael James return to power the Ducks' quick strike offense. Meanwhile, Stanford may have lost coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, but QB Andrew Luck decided to return for his senior season, giving the Cardinal a heck of a chance to capture the Pac-12. The two meet at Stanford on November 12, and the winner of this game will likely win the Pac-12 North. I'm saying that that team will be Oregon. In the South, USC would be the logical choice to win the division, but they can't play in the conference title game due to NCAA violations. While Arizona State has a strong offense and a solid defense led by LB Vontaze Burfict, Utah also has a strong team and an experienced quarterback in Jordan Wynn. Perhaps more importantly, Utah has a favorable schedule that does not include Oregon or Stanford, and so they're my pick to represent the Big 12 South in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Utes won't avoid the Ducks forever, and look for Oregon to capture the title.
SEC: In a stat you've probably heard before, the SEC has produced the last five National Champions. Well, I say that there will not be a sixth, but that's for later. The SEC East may come down to a week two matchup between Georgia and South Carolina, and while Georgia has a solid QB in Aaron Murray and an improved defense (at least if you believe the hype coming out of Athens), South Carolina has the better team and the best player in RB Marcus Lattimore. As long as Carolina doesn't trip up too many times and QB Stephen Garcia can stay consistent, the Gamecocks should repeat as SEC East champions. In the West, it is conceivable that last year's national champions, the Auburn Tigers, could finish fifth in the division this year. Yes, it's that loaded. Mississippi State returns 15 starters from last year's surprising team, and Arkansas may have lost RB Knile Davis for the season, but still have plenty of offensive talent left over with WR Greg Childs and QB Tyler Wilson. Down in Baton Rogue, LSU expects to contend for a national title, and have the squad that may just do it. However, Alabama is once again loaded, with perhaps the nation's best defense and a star in RB Trent Richardson. Plus, they get LSU and Arkansas at home this year, so that's a plus. Look for Alabama to emerge out of the SEC with the conference championship, but they'll suffer one loss along the way and will be on the outside of the National Championship game.
Other Conferences: In the Mountain West Conference, Boise State joins just in time for TCU to blow town next year. The two will meet up this year on the blue turf in Boise, and look for Boise State to not only win that battle, but also the conference. Meanwhile, Boise State's departure has left the WAC a wide open race, with Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii as the favorites. Out of the quagmire, I look for Hawaii and their high-powered offense led by QB Bryant Moriz to emerge as champions. Last year, I picked Houston to win C-USA primarily because of QB Case Kessum, and then he got hurt. Well, this year, he's back, and despite strong squads in SMU, Central Florida, and Tulsa, I'm jumping back on the bandwagon and going with Houston. In the MAC, Toledo returns 16 starters, including star WR Eric Page, so they're my choice. In the Sun Belt, Troy and FIU are the two teams above the rest of the conference, and at the end of the day, I'm taking Troy to win the conference. As for Notre Dame, look for them to win eight or nine games and be a constant presence in the Top 25, but fall short of a BCS bid.
National Championship: As I said before, I think the SEC is so tough this year that no team is going to come out undefeated, not even Alabama. I think Boise State has a very good chance to go undefeated this year, but I think that they'll be on the outside looking in. Look for Oregon and Oklahoma to both emerge undefeated at the end of the regular season and meet in the National Championship game. At the end of the day, Oregon will learn from last year's experience, and emerge as the 2011 National Champions, provided of course that they don't have it taken away from them due to NCAA violations.
Heisman Candidates: Stanford QB Andrew Luck is perhaps the best player in college football and the obvious preseason favorite for the Heisman, but as we've seen before, the preseason favorite doesn't always come home with the trophy at the end. Since I expect Oklahoma and Oregon to compete for the title, it would stand to reason that Oregon's RB LaMichael James and Oklahoma QB Landry Jones would also top contenders. Alabama RB Trent Richardson and South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore could also emerge, while Michigan QB Denard Robinson is perhaps the most exciting player in college football. It would be a mistake to leave Boise State QB Kellen Moore out of contention, as he should once again be a top-notch performer as he tries to set the NCAA all time record for wins by a quarterback. Ultimately, I think that Landry Jones is going to emerge as the Heisman winner, with Luck finishing a close second. The top five contenders are:
Dark Horse: Lattimore
Well, that's it for the 2011 College Football Preview. Hopefully, I'll get at least a few of these picks right. Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this post, then share them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at KtheC2001@gmail.com.