2011 Season Preview
by Sam Turner, KURE Co-Sports Director
National pre-season top 10
1. Alabama. Yes, I know they lose Greg McIlroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones, but they return possibly a better back in Trent Richardson. The defense will once again be one of the best in the country led by Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and Dre Kirkpatrick.
2. Oklahoma. Very likely would have been No. 1 without the losses of the late Austin Box and the team’s leading tackler the last three seasons, Travis Lewis. Still they have Landry Jones who threw for over 4200 yards last season. Also return one of the best WRs in the country in Ryan Broyles.
3. Oregon. Last year’s runner-up is after it again, returning QB Darron Thomas and RBs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. Questions surrounding the program on probable NCAA violatons. Very possibly could get a post-season ban. Until then, they’re still the scariest offense in the country.
4. Florida State. Year two of Jimbo Fisher blah, blah, blah… All I care about is the scary amount of top recruits he’s brought in. Look for guys like Jacob Fahrenkrug, Xavier Rhodes, and Christian Jones to emerge. It’s all going to fall on the shoulders of QB EJ Manuel who looks to lead the team to an ACC championship and possibly a NCAA title.
5. Boise State. The Broncos are back with Kellen Moore leading his team for his senior year. That once again coupled with a weak schedule will keep them in the top 10 for most of the year. How good is their defense that led the nation in sacks last year.
6. LSU. Talk about a rough week before your first game. QB Jordan Jefferson allegedly stomped some kids face in at a bar this summer, so he’s out. Enter senior Jarrett Lee. Former starter, but he wasn’t exactly great. The team will need to rely on an O-line that returns four starters.
7. Virginia Tech. My Top 10 sleeper. The loss of Tyrod Taylor is preventing many people to consider the Hokies as a threat, but new starter Logan Thomas will be a stud and RB David Wilson is primed for a breakout season. Defense and special teams will also be among the best in the country behind HC Frank Beamer and DC Bud Foster.
8. Texas A&M. Team that returns one of the best QB-RB-WR tandems in the country with Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray, and Jeff Fuller. The defense needs to rebound from the departure of All-American Von Miller. How well the defense plays WILL dictate this team’s success.
9. Nebraska. My Cornhuskers. Where to start??? How about we just don’t talk about how the season ended last year. They’re moved to the B1G now and are looking to take the league title in their first year. Not so fast, though. This year’s success has everything to do with new OC Tim Beck who will now be calling the shots in more of a wide-open, simple offense than that of Shawn Watson. No questions about the defense that is led by three possible All-Americans at each level: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, and CB Alfonzo Dennard. Oh, and I guess Taylor Martinez’s health is worth a mention too.
10. South Carolina. Old Ball Coach made it to South Carolina’s first East division championship led by stud RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery. Add recruit some called the best in 10 years Jadaveon Clowney, South Carolina looks to make it two straight East division title. Schedule is BRUTAL, though.
Georgia. Bit of a stretch here, but I really like what Aaron Murray did in his freshman campaign and there’s no question about the team’s talent. The Bulldogs avoid Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas out of the West. They bring in the second best recruiting class in the SEC led by RB Isaiah Crowell who will be the guy after Caleb King was dismissed earlier this year.
Best non-AQ team
Boise State. No doubter here. Heisman hopeful Kellen Moore looks to become NCAA’s all-time winningest QB. Return 1,000 rusher Doug Martin and a very underrated defense. Only question is who replaces Titus Young and Austin Pettis. I think Moore will figure that out early and often.
Trent Richardson. As you can tell all I’m about the Tide this year. With the QB questions it’s going to be all about Richardson who I think will lead the team to their second national title in three years. Oh, and did I mention they return four starters on the O-line?
Alabama. They return 9, I repeat NINE starters from last year’s defense that ranked 3rd in scoring. Couple that with Richardson’s Heisman year and you have all the makings for a national title season. And I didn’t even mention Nick Saban.
Best-to-worst ranking of the teams from Big East and Pac-12
- Oregon (North)
- Stanford (North)
- USC (South)
- Arizona State (South)
- Utah (South)
- Washington (North)
- Oregon State (North)
- Arizona (South)
- Cal (North)
- Colorado (South)
- UCLA (South)
- Washington State (North)
Oregon vs. Arizona State at Autzen Stadium (team with best record hosts championship game & USC is ineligible for the postseason)
- West Virginia
- South Florida
Three biggest conference games of the season
USC at Arizona State (Sept. 24)
Arizona State at Oregon (Oct. 15)
Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 12)
South Florida at Pittsburgh (Sept. 29)
Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Nov. 25)
West Virginia at South Florida (Dec. 1)
Conference Offensive Player of the Year
Oregon RB LaMichael James. Very, very tough decision to take James over a guy I believe is the most complete QB I’ve seen in years. I’m taking the guy who will have a better season, though. We all know how impressive the Ducks’ O is and returning James, Thomas, and Barner makes it that much more explosive. O-line only returns two starters, but I don’t expect this to hamper his production. Quack Attack.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith. This really isn’t close in my mind. The question is how good Smith can be under new HC Dana Holgorsen. If he’s great, this is a dark horse Heisman candidate. We’ll see how well the air attack translates in Morgantown.
Conference Defensive Player of the Year
Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. This dude is a beast. The former USC Trojan is the most feared hitter in college and the best linebacker in the country. His recent maturation has been the biggest key to his success.
West Virginia CB Keith Tandy. Tough choice between he and Brandon Lindsey of Pittsburgh, but I’ll default to the best defensive player on the best team in the conference. Has definite first round potential. Looks to lead the Mountaineer defense that was second in scoring last year.
Conference Newcomer of the Year
USC WR George Farmer. Top recruit in the conference looks to make an impact immediately at Southern Cal. Father played in the NFL so he has the pro bloodlines. Absolutely dominated the Army All-American game and should do the same at USC.
Rutgers RB Savon Huggins. One of the best RB recruits looks to do what Ray Rice did a few years ago at Rutgers as the team moves back to a power running game. Possesses size and speed and hopes to help the Scarlet Knights’ 110th rated running O from last year.