NCF Nation: 2011-conference-win-poll

It’s not just coachspeak. The ACC race is wide open. That’s why we play the game. Anyone can win on any given Saturday.

You get the picture.

Yes, Virginia Tech and Florida State should be considered frontrunners, but by no means does that mean they’re a lock. Both have first-year starting quarterbacks, and both have questions up front. The Seminoles didn’t get a good look at their starting offensive line this spring because of injuries and the Hokies have to replace the winningest quarterback in school history, not to mention two top-tier running backs and three of four defensive linemen. There are more reasons for confidence than concern at both of those programs, but in the ever-unpredictable ACC, there’s almost always a surprise.

If Miami can settle on a quarterback, and cut down on its turnovers and penalties, there is no reason the Canes can’t win the Coastal Division in Al Golden’s first season. And talent is rarely, if ever, an issue at Clemson. The Tigers’ biggest challenge will be adjusting to a new offense, new coordinator, new quarterback and new offensive line coach. North Carolina is still oozing with NFL potential, and despite a first-year starting quarterback, the Tar Heels should have one of the best offensive lines in the ACC and a proven group of receivers.

Will the ACC really have another title game rerun, or will somebody else derail the preseason hype?
The 2011 season could produce the most wide-open Big Ten title race in recent memory. Projecting the league champion is no easy task, but I have faith in you to do so.

Ohio State has won or shared each of the past six league titles, but the Buckeyes will face a set of unique challenges to keep their streak alive. Starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others are suspended for the first five games. Coach Jim Tressel also is scheduled to sit out the first five, and some are questioning whether The Vest will be on the sideline at all this fall. All this comes after the departure of a sizable and decorated senior class. And still, you can make a good case for Ohio State once again winning the league.

Wisconsin and Michigan State shared the Big Ten title in 2010, and both teams enter the season with high hopes. The Badgers must replace four All-Americans and standout quarterback Scott Tolzien, while Michigan State needs to upgrade its line play. Both teams face multiple road tests, especially Michigan State, but both are in the title mix.

Nebraska enters the Big Ten with an immediate chance to compete for a crown. The Huskers boast the league’s most accomplished defense, and if a new offensive system produces enough, Bo Pelini's squad could be hoisting a trophy Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

The league's top four teams have a bit of separation on the rest, but another squad like Iowa could make a surprise run to a title.

Now it's your turn to weigh in on the 2011 Big Ten champ.

Vote: Top non-AQ team

May, 13, 2011
You saw my preseason power rankings on Wednesday. I have Boise State as the top non-AQ team for the 2011 season. Now it is your turn to weigh in. Do you agree? Who do you think will be the top non-AQ team of the season?

The Broncos are No. 1 on my list because they have Kellen Moore returning, along with strong offensive and defensive lines, and one of the most underrated running backs in the nation in Doug Martin. But you can make a case for some of the other candidates on this list. TCU should have a strong defense once again and that could make up for inexperience at quarterback and on the offensive line.

BYU returns 19 starters, including potential first-round pick Matt Reynolds on the offensive line, along with a deep group of receivers and running backs. Houston has Case Keenum back, and the nonconference schedule is not impossible. Tulsa has a ridiculously difficult nonconference schedule, with games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. But the Golden Hurricane have lots of talent coming back.

There are other teams that could have made this list, including UCF, Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio), SMU, Hawaii, Nevada, Air Force and San Diego State. If you disagree with my top five, leave your choice in the comments section and we shall discuss next week.
This one's pretty simple? Who's winning the Big 12?

Oklahoma is the presumptive favorite, if not the favorite to win the national title. The Sooners have won the Big 12 seven times in the past decade and are the defending champs, bringing back the core of last season's team. Will they take it home once again?

Oklahoma State came close last season, losing a high-scoring matchup in Stillwater to the Sooners with the Big 12 South on the line. Can Mike Gundy finally knock off his in-state rival for the first time ever? Oklahoma has to come to Stillwater for the second consecutive season.

Texas is the wild card from this group, coming off a 5-7 season after an appearance in the national championship game in 2009. Do you believe the Longhorns' new coaches can get them back on top in just one season?

Missouri brings back a complete team, but has a gaping hole at quarterback after Blaine Gabbert left. Can the Tigers surround James Franklin with enough talent to win the Big 12 for the first time?

Texas A&M was the hottest team in the league at the end of the regular season, but finished the year with a lopsided loss to LSU. Can the Aggies shake it off, as well as the loss of Von Miller, and win their first Big 12 title since 1998.

SEC champion poll

May, 13, 2011
With so much talent in the SEC this season, there are a handful of teams that will battle for a trip to Atlanta.

It feels like the last team standing will make it out of the West. Alabama enters as the presumed favorite, but LSU and Arkansas bring back enough talent on both sides of the ball to stay right with the Tide until the end.

Alabama has the fortune of playing LSU and Arkansas at home, but must travel to Mississippi State, who will have one of the most exciting offenses in the league this fall.

LSU has a young defense, but it possesses the talent to compete with just about anyone in the country. The Tigers saw a transformation in quarterback Jordan Jefferson and they are hoping to see that bleed over into the season.

Arkansas' offense will be deadly, but the defense is much improved. If the defense is as good as advertised, the Hogs will be very though to get by this fall.

In the East, South Carolina will be the favorite, even if quarterback Stephen Garcia doesn't return. The Gamecocks could benefit from playing a West team in the SEC championship game that should be exhausted after making it through the regular season.
We're looking for your take on burning questions facing the league for 2011. We'll tally up your votes in the poll and react to the result later on.

Here's perhaps the most important question of them all: Who will win the Big East this year?

There's no league with a more wide-open race than this one. Hardly any team winning the BCS bid would surprise me at this point. OK, maybe Cincinnati and Rutgers would surprise me after going 4-8 last season. And Louisville has a lot to replace. But here are my top five contenders:
  • West Virginia: The early favorite, based on Dana Holgorsen's offense and the consistent level of performance by the program.
  • Pittsburgh: Can Todd Graham and his new staff inject some energy into a program that has underachieved in its Big East history?
  • South Florida: A solid contender for their first ever title, based on the way the Bulls finished in 2010 and the fact that it's Year Two under Skip Holtz.
  • Syracuse: The Orange shocked a lot of people last season on the way back to respectability. Is a league title the next step?
  • Connecticut: The Huskies are the defending champs, after all.

So there are your nominees. Now it's time to let your voice be heard. Vote early, vote often.
Who will rule the Pac-12 in its inaugural season?

Oregon played for the national title last year and is expected again to be in the national title mix in 2011. The Ducks welcome back a number of key starters, most notably quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, but they have some holes on both lines.

Stanford welcomes back Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, who likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft. Most project the Cardinal as a top 10 or even top five team after they went 12-1 in 2010. Some other key starters are back, but the offensive line, defensive line and receivers take hits.

Arizona State is widely seen as the favorite in the South Division, with 17 starters back from a 6-6 team that pushed Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin to the brink. USC might not be the USC of 2002-08 but the team still has plenty of talent. And if the Trojans get their bowl game back when the NCAA (finally) rules on their appeal of sanctions? Well, this might turn out to be a highly motivated team.

Finally, is there a dark horse? Plenty of teams qualify, but conference newbie Utah is an interesting choice. The Utes have won 33 games over the past three seasons, so it's not like they don't know how to win.

So who is it?