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College Football Preview: 5 Bold Predictions for 2011

Posted on September 01, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Just because Andrew Luck is the best player in college football doesn't mean he will win the Heisman Trophy.

Excitement is high as the kickoff to the 2011 college football season is finally upon us. After all the off-the-field scandals of the past several months, it will be nice to finally be able to talk about action happening on the playing field.

Since many with far greater insight and knowledge of college football than I have spent the last several months analyzing all BCS teams and ranking them for the upcoming season, I don’t see the need to just regurgitate information you can find elsewhere, but I do want to kickoff the 2011 season by looking ahead and making five “bold” predictions for some of the things I anticipate will happen in 2011.

Prediction 1: A team from the SEC will not win the BCS Championship

Considering that a team from the SEC has claimed each of the last five BCS championships I guess you can say that I am starting out with a pretty bold prediction right out of the gate.

Don’t get me wrong, the SEC will continue to be the epicenter of college football, but given the deficiencies in each of the top programs, it is difficult to believe that any one team can withstand the brutal conference schedule to come out unscathed. It is certainly possible that a one loss SEC team could reach the BCS title game, but that will only happen if other teams across the country falter. But given the parity in the SEC, I think it will be a challenge for any team to even complete the season with just one loss in this tough conference.

There are a lot of question marks even amongst the top SEC programs.

Trent Richardson will have to do his best Superman impersonation for Alabama to win the BCS Championship.

Alabama seems poised to return to the top spot, but they will have to manage without their veteran quarterback and leading rusher from a year ago. The general expectation is that Trent Richardson is as explosive a runner as Mark Ingram, but he has never had to carry the load for an entire season and there are questions about his durability. Greg McElroy may not have been a Heisman Trophy type quarterback, but he threw only five picks in 2010 and A.J. McCarron will have big shoes to fill as he tries to direct the team. Defensively, the Tide is probably the best team in the country with just about everyone returning. What could help Alabama run through the SEC in 2011 is that they host both Arkansas and LSU. However, they do face tough games at Penn State, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn.

LSU looks like the closest competition for the Tide, but new questions at quarterback where Jordan Jefferson has been suspended and his status is unknown make it tough to believe that LSU can make a championship run. They have loads of talent, but also a very difficult schedule. After opening against Oregon, the Tigers play at Mississippi State, at West Virginia and at Alabama. They also host Florida, Auburn and Arkansas.

Of the rest of the SEC, the team that seems to have the best chance at winning the conference and perhaps representing the league in the BCS title game is South Carolina. The Gamecocks made huge strides a year ago and have a superstar runner in Marcus Lattimore. They also have a veteran quarterback in Stephen Garcia. However, Steve Spurrier has never led a team to an undefeated season and it is tough to believe he will do so now. The Gamecocks open the season with what could be two tough games playing East Carolina in Charlotte and then at Georgia, but then the remainder of the schedule is not overwhelming. They do play three straight away games at Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas in the middle of the season that could prove to be the roadblock to a great season.

Before losing running back Knile Davis for the season it might have been safe to pick Arkansas as a potential BCS team, but they now seem relegated to battling Mississippi State for third in the SEC West. The SEC East continues to be the weaker of the two divisions, which bodes well for South Carolina. Neither Tennessee nor Florida will win the division, though it is likely that each will pull off at least one big upset during the season.

Prediction 2: It will finally be the end of the road for Joe Paterno

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Joe Paterno coach forever, but after his dubious start to this season and questions of whether he will be able to coach from the sidelines, at some point you have to believe that someone (either the administration or Paterno) will decide that enough is enough.

After finishing 7-6 and looking overmatched against a down Florida team in the Outback Bowl, it is hard to imagine the Nittany Lions rising to the top of the Big Ten in 2011. Instead, they will likely struggle to increase their win total from a year ago. Their late-season schedule is brutal as they conclude the season by hosting Nebraska and then playing at Ohio State and Wisconsin, so it wouldn’t shock me if Paterno announces sometime before the final home game against Nebraska that he is stepping down.

Prediction 3: Virginia Tech will finish the regular season undefeated

A favorable schedule could help Virginia Tech rise to the top of the BCS standings.

Most experts have the Virginia Tech Hokies ranked somewhere between 11 and 20 in the country and I suspect that level is about right. However, sometimes schedule and circumstance can be as important to a season as talent and it appears that Virginia Tech has the schedule in 2011 that sits up perfectly for them to run the table and face Florida State in the ACC title game with perhaps a BCS title spot on the line.

After opening the last two seasons with tough neutral site losses to highly ranked opponents (Alabama in 2009 and Boise State in 2010), Tech has apparently learned its lesson. They have a pretty easy non-conference schedule as they host Appalachian State and Arkansas State and play at East Carolina and Marshall. Granted they have to be careful of an early letdown, but I think the loss last season to James Madison probably has made them realize that they have to play every game with the same energy.

If they can get by East Carolina, then the ACC portion of their schedule doesn’t look to be significantly challenging. They host Clemson, Miami, Boston College and North Carolina, which would appear to be their toughest league opponents. The potential trap game for the Hokies is a Thursday night game at Georgia Tech in early November, however, they smartly scheduled an off week for the week prior to that game, so they won’t be playing on short rest.

The only other team from the ACC that has any potential for being a BCS contender is Florida State. We will know by the end of September if the Seminoles can be a national contender as they host Oklahoma and play at Clemson in the final two weeks of the month. Their two toughest games over the remainder of the season will be a Thursday night at Boston College and the regular season finale at Florida.

If Florida State can beat Oklahoma, the momentum should carry them through the rest of the season and very possibly a matchup with Virginia Tech for a BCS Championship Game spot. Even though the ACC is definitely not as strong as other conferences across the country, if the season plays out with no dominant teams in the other conferences, the ACC could sneak in to grab a spot in the title game.

Prediction 4: Someone other than Andrew Luck will win the Heisman Trophy

LaMichael James could get a jump on his Heisman campaign in the season opener against LSU.

The last time I can remember a player being pre-ordained as the unquestionable best player in college football the way Andrew Luck is in 2011 was back in 1997 when Peyton Manning returned to Tennessee for his senior year.

As you will recall, Manning did not win the Heisman Trophy that season as Charles Woodson from Michigan came from nowhere to intercept the award.

I’m afraid that because there is such hype and pressure on Luck to be the next superstar quarterback, that any inkling that he is indeed human will hurt his chances to bring home the Heisman. Stanford will again be a very good team, but all the stars aligned for them in 2010 and with a new head coach and a number of other weapons gone on both side of the ball it is difficult to believe that they can match the 12-1 season from a year ago.

It is possible that Luck will have a better season than he did in 2010 (though eclipsing 32 touchdowns with only eight picks will be tough) and still not win the award because the team lost a couple games.

The real test for Stanford will come in late October and early November when they play at USC and Oregon State before hosting Oregon, California and Notre Dame to close the season. If Luck is able to get out of that five game stretch with strong performances in every game and four wins, he could end up bringing home the Heisman.

If he does falter, other potential candidates include quarterbacks Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Kellen Moore (Boise State) and Case Keenum (Houston) and running backs Trent richardson (Alabama) and LaMichael James (Oregon). As the number two finisher in the Heisman balloting a year ago, James would seem to be a favorite if Oregon is again contending for a national title.

It is very possible that the battle between Oregon and Stanford on November 12th isn’t just for the Pac-12 title, but also for frontrunner status in the Heisman campaign.

Prediction 5: Notre Dame will play in a BCS Bowl Game

Brian Kelly has Notre Dame back in the hunt for a BCS Bowl Game.

Given their national following, it is always tempting to declare the return to greatness of Notre Dame football every time they play two good games in a row. I’m not ready to say that under second year head coach Brian Kelly the Fighting Irish can win a national title in 2011, but with a relatively weak schedule, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that they reach a BCS Bowl Game for the first time since 2006.

The early season schedule could prove to be the most challenging as they play at Michigan, host Michigan State and play at Pittsburgh and Purdue in the first five weeks.

If they are able to exit those games unscathed, then home games with Air Force, USC and Navy in October could cement a BCS spot for the Fighting Irish.

After playing three straight ACC teams (Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College) their final game is at Stanford in a contest that could be crucial for both teams.

If Notre Dame is able to emerge from the season with 10 wins, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, then look for them to receive an at-large bid to a BCS Bowl as their national fan base will be attractive to the non-championship games.

Bonus Prediction: TCU Shocks the College Football World

I couldn’t go without giving my predictions for which teams will play in the BCS Championship Game in January. Please know that I don’t think that these are the two best teams in college football, but given the current landscape, these are the two teams that I think will best weather the season and end up in the BCS title game. If an SEC team is able to maneuver through the season with just one loss then I reserve the right to replace one of these selections with that team, but barring that occurrence, I believe that Florida State will be facing TCU in the National Championship Game.

After celebrating a Rose Bowl championship last season, TCU could be celebrating an even greater title next January.

As I outlined earlier, Florida State can position themselves for a spot in the title game with a victory over Oklahoma in September. However, even if they happen to lose that game, I think a spot in the title game is still possible if they finish with just one loss and then defeat a previously perfect Virginia Tech squad in the ACC title game.

My reason for selecting TCU has more to do with schedule than with talent. If they are able to win their first two games at Baylor and Air Force, then they should be undefeated when they play at Boise State on November 12th. That game could end up being a battle for a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

It will be tough to replace starting quarterback Andy Dalton, but the running game remains intact and TCU should still have one of the best defenses in the country.

Coming off their Rose Bowl win a year ago, it will be very difficult for the BCS committee to bypass an undefeated TCU team in favor of a one or two loss team from a power conference. Especially if there is no power conference team with an unblemished record. The fact that TCU is heading to a BCS conference in the near future should help mitigate some of the politics as their success will help the Big East look more respectable.

In my boldest prediction of all, I foresee TCU erasing an early deficit and defeating Florida State 24-13 to claim their first BCS Championship.

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