NCF Nation: First-2011-power-rankings

Early 2011 Pac-12 power rankings

January, 11, 2011
Here's an early look at the Pac-12 pecking order heading into the off-season. Count on this being fluid, particularly after I get to see teams practicing this spring.

1. Oregon: The Ducks likely will be ranked in the preseason top five even though the offensive line and defensive front seven take some hits.

2. Stanford: While there are plenty of questions -- both lines, head coach -- the return of Andrew Luck makes the Cardinal a preseason top-10 team.

3. Arizona State: Losing defensive tackle Lawrence Guy to the NFL is a significant hit, but the Sun Devils still have 19 starters back from a team that lost by one at Wisconsin. But who will be the quarterback?

4. USC: Trojans take some hits on both sides of the ball, particularly on both lines, but quarterback Matt Barkley will have some nice skill surrounding him on offense.

5. Arizona: On the downside, the Wildcats must completely rebuild their lines. On the upside, quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner will be the top pass-catch combination in the conference.

6. Washington: The post-Jake Locker era begins, so it's hard to judge the Huskies. And post linebacker Mason Foster, for that matter. But coach Steve Sarkisian has been recruiting well, and there are plenty of returning starters.

7. Utah: Hard to place the Utes because we don't know them in this environment. And there are questions on both sides of the ball, particularly in the secondary and offensive skill positions. But the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn helps.

8. California: The Bears must replace their best offensive player, running back Shane Vereen, and their three best defensive players, end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Mike Mohamed and safety Chris Conte. And don't even ask about quarterback.

9. Oregon State: Putting the Beavers down here might be an overreaction to running back Jacquizz Rodgers' decision to enter NFL draft. Or it might be because they lost four of their final five games. And Stephen Paea's departure leaves a HUGE void on the defensive line.

10. UCLA: The Bruins actually have some good players coming back, despite some high-profile early departures (linebacker Akeem Ayers, safety Rahim Moore). But they have offensive questions and we don't know who the coordinators will be in 2011.

11. Colorado: Just like Utah, we don't know the Buffaloes in this environment, plus there's a new coach. And, to be honest, that 52-7 loss at Cal isn't helping their candidacy. Curious how quarterback Tyler Hansen will look this spring after missing much of the year because of injury.

12. Washington State: Do. Not. Panic. Cougars. Fans. I'd bet $1 the Cougs will not finish last in 2011. Quarterback Jeff Tuel should take another step forward and he's got his top targets back. But we're not ready to promote the Cougars just yet.

2011 Power Rankings

January, 11, 2011
Earlier this morning, we looked at how the ACC stacked up after the 2010 season. Now it’s time to look ahead, and there’s a new leader in the league. And as of right now, the No. 1 spot is about the only one that seemed clear-cut. Every other one is debatable. This year should bring a wide-open race, and this list will fluctuate many times before the season’s end.

Here are the first ACC Power Rankings for 2011:

1. Florida State: This spot was a no-brainer for the Noles, as they finished the 2010 season with a win over the SEC East champs, and they did it with their backup quarterback. Jimbo Fisher led FSU to an appearance in the ACC title game in his first season, so expectations should be even higher in his second.

2. Virginia Tech: It’s a rebuilding year for the Hokies, who will have a new starting quarterback and are down to one proven running back after Ryan Williams and Darren Evans decided to leave for the NFL draft. That one running back, though, might be the best in the league, and until proven otherwise, the Hokies are still the team to beat in the Coastal Division.

3. NC State: Quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't announced he's going anywhere yet, so this is where the Pack land as long as he's on the roster. NC State also gets the nod over UNC because, well, the Heels haven't been able to beat NC State under Tom O'Brien.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels' roster is loaded with talent, and aside from the resignation of John Blake, there haven't been any major staff changes, despite the NCAA investigation. UNC will have a new quarterback, but expectations are high for Bryn Renner.

5. Miami: Despite the staff transition, Al Golden at least has enough talent to start with. He needs to name his starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, but Golden will rejuvinate the program and win in his first season.

6. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to improve in all three phases of the game, but at least quarterback Tevin Washington got some experience, albeit at the expense of injured starter Joshua Nesbitt. The defense should also take a step forward in the second season under coordinator Al Groh.

7. Boston College: The Eagles have a Heisman-caliber player in linebacker Luke Kuechly, but it’s not the defense that needs an overhaul. BC’s offense, which could be under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, looked like it regressed against Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Still, with Kuechly, running back Montel Harris and quarterback Chase Rettig returning, the Eagles have enough returning for another winning season.

8. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall inherits a talented team led by ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien. The defense will stay the same under coordinator Don Brown, whom Edsall brought with him to Maryland, but Maryland's best win last year was over NC State. What separates Maryland from Clemson right now is its quarterback situation.

9. Clemson: The Tigers have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive line coach, and a new quarterback, not to mention they lost their top player, defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, to the NFL draft. The pressure is on coach Dabo Swinney to avoid a second losing season and three straight losses to rival South Carolina.

10. Wake Forest: The Deacs should improve now that quarterback Tanner Price has had a year of experience, but they’ve still got something to prove. The linebackers will lose two starters, and center Russell Nenon and receiver Marshall Williams will be missed, but an extremely young roster in 2010 could pay off in 2011.

11. Duke: The Blue Devils will have to overcome the revolving door at defensive coordinator, as they’ve had three in three years, but they’re leaving because they’re good. In order for Duke to become bowl eligible, the Blue Devils have to develop a running game and take a big step forward defensively.

12. Virginia: Mike London has had instant success on the recruiting trail, but it’s going to take some time before it translates into a bowl appearance. He has to name a new starting quarterback and find the best spots for the new talent.

Early 2011 Big 12 Power Rankings

January, 11, 2011
I haven't had a chance to break down who has how many number of starters returning or a number of other factors, so this list could very easily (and probably will) change before we kick off spring practice in a few months, but with 2010 officially in the books, here's how the new-look Big 12 sits heading into 2011.

1. Oklahoma The Sooners look every bit the part of a national championship contender on paper. Proving it will be difficult come September.

2. Texas A&M The Aggies don't have the momentum heading into 2011 they'd like after losing the Cotton Bowl, but those six starts at the end of the year will pay off for Ryan Tannehill. Don't expect a dropoff from the defense, either, and the offensive line will continue to improve.

3. Oklahoma State If Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon both come back, I'll probably move the Cowboys up to No. 2, but for now, the wild-card Cowboys hang on to No. 3. Lots of exciting freshmen could become household names in 2011. Namely, RB Joseph Randle, CB/KR Justin Gilbert and LB Shaun Lewis.

4. Missouri Replacing Blaine Gabbert will produce growing pains, but the Tigers defense can be leaned on a bit next year with what should be a dominant defensive line. And, the truth is, the middle of the Big 12 is pretty fluid, not unlike 2010.

5. Texas. The talent is still there. New, young coaches with a lot to prove and a new purpose have made a new arrival. That could make a big difference for the Longhorns in 2011. Does Garrett Gilbert have some redemption in store for his junior year after a sophomore season that was nothing short of a disappointment (10 TD, 17 INT)? No quarterback in college football threw more picks.

6. Baylor. Look out for the Bears. The offense brings back an absolute ton of talent at the skill positions, and if new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett shores up a leaky defense, they could surprise a lot of people next year. Nine...perhaps 10 wins? Not impossible. Opening the season against TCU doesn't help, but the Bears will be fun to watch in 2011.

7. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders don't have a defensive coordinator or a quarterback...yet. That's not a recipe for success. File these guys under "Wait and see." Get ready for another year of a quarterback derby between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young.

8. Kansas State. The Wildcats livelihood in 2010 was Daniel Thomas. He's gone. K-State fans have plenty of faith in the Wichita native Brown brothers, running back Bryce and linebacker Arthur, who transferred from Tennessee and Miami, respectively after being top-flight recruits. I'll wait and see. The upside is there, but right now, that's all it is: upside. Neither brother really tore it up at their previous address.

9. Iowa State. The Cyclones don't have a sure-thing quarterback, either, but Jerome Tiller should emerge from a three-man race that kicks off this spring. Linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein exceeded expectations in 2010, and should be exciting to watch as juniors in 2011.

10. Kansas. Last place by default as of now. The Jayhawks found a piece to build around in running back James Sims. They need a few more. Kansas has some receivers who can get it done. But in the Big 12, you need a quarterback. KU needs Brock Berglund to be as good as advertised.

Early 2011 Big Ten power rankings

January, 11, 2011
The 2011 season will be a historic one for the Big Ten as Nebraska joins the conference, the league splits into two divisions and the first Big Ten title game is held in December.

Here's the first of what will be many preseason installments of the power rankings. Keep in mind that it's early and these will change in the coming months.

There's clear separation with the top four. The next pack includes six teams that could make a jump or backslide. Both Minnesota and Indiana have some work to do following coaching changes.

1. Ohio State: The upcoming suspensions make the Buckeyes less of a firm favorite than normal, but Ohio State still boasts the most dominant program in the Big Ten. Although the Buckeyes lose a sizable senior class, they have shown the ability to reload and should improve at several positions like running back. The first half of the season will be a grind, but until someone consistently beats the Buckeyes, they're on top.

2. Wisconsin: Arguably no Big Ten team loses more outstanding individuals than Wisconsin, but the Badgers still boast a lot of depth, especially on offense. The run game and offensive line will be fine, and it comes down to Wisconsin identifying a capable quarterback. Standout linebacker Chris Borland returns to a defense that should be solid in the back seven.

3. Nebraska: There likely will be an adjustment period for the Huskers, but the Pelini-led defense makes Nebraska an immediate Big Ten title contender. Quarterback Taylor Martinez will face better defenses in the Big Ten than he did in the Big 12, but if he recaptures his form from the first half of 2010, look out. A brutal schedule does Nebraska no favors, but the Huskers have an immediate opportunity to distinguish themselves.

4. Michigan State: It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see the Spartans rise in the power rankings throughout the offseason, but I need to see improvement in several areas after a revealing Capital One Bowl loss. Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in his development? Who replaces Greg Jones and Eric Gordon at linebacker? Will Michigan State become a force along both the offensive and defensive lines? These are some of the questions facing a potential league title contender.

5. Penn State: There's a drop-off after the top four, but keep an eye on Penn State entering the 2011 season. The ingredients are there for the program to take a step forward, particularly on defense, after a mediocre 2010 campaign. It will be very interesting to see what happens with the quarterback competition this spring as Rob Bolden seemingly has rejoined the mix.

6. Northwestern: Star quarterback Dan Persa returns from injury and should make Northwestern one of the Big Ten's top offenses entering 2011. The Wildcats should be able to rack up plenty of points and yards as they lose only one starter on the offensive side. But there are major questions on defense after the unit allowed 163 points in its final three games.

7. Iowa: This is another team that likely will rise in the power rankings before the season kicks off. There are quite a few question marks after the departure of a sizable senior class, but players like Marcus Coker and Micah Hyde began to provide answers in the Insight Bowl victory. Iowa is typically at its best under the radar, so look out for Kirk Ferentz's crew.

8. Illinois: The NFL departures undoubtedly hurt the Illini, but the program took a step forward in 2010 and returns a decent core led by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois has some reloading to do on defense if tackle Corey Liuget joins linebacker Martez Wilson as an early entrant to the NFL draft. But this team has shown that it can beat anyone when things are clicking.

9. Michigan: It's very hard to rank Michigan right now as the program lacks a head coach or much schematic direction. The Wolverines still will have significant issues on defense but will be older and most likely deeper at several spots, namely the secondary. If Denard Robinson can continue to flourish in a spread offense, the Wolverines will put up points.

10. Purdue: The Boilers once again enter the fall as a potential sleeper team in the Big Ten. They'll be healthier and most likely a lot better on offense as key players return at the skill positions. Purdue boasts some exciting returnees on defense but must find a way to replace All-American defensive end Ryan Kerrigan.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill inherits some talent on offense, namely junior MarQueis Gray, who returns to the quarterback spot after a season as a receiver. The Gophers will be a year older on defense but need to make strides in several phases to keep pace in a tough division.

12. Indiana: I really like Kevin Wilson's plan for the Hoosiers, and when he gets more of his players in the program, IU should take a step forward. There are too many holes on defense to foresee a breakthrough this fall, and replacing quarterback Ben Chappell won't be easy.

Early 2011 SEC power rankings

January, 11, 2011
Here’s an early look at how the 2011 SEC power rankings may look to open the season:

1. Alabama: With added experience in the secondary, look for the Crimson Tide to be more consistent next season and not have some of the breakdowns on defense that plagued them in 2010. A.J. McCarron steps in for Greg McElroy at quarterback, and Trent Richardson will get his shot as the centerpiece of the running game.

2. LSU: Former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will push Jordan Jefferson for the starting job this spring, which will be good for Jefferson. The young returning talent on defense is especially impressive with the likes of Tyrann Mathieu, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne all showing star potential.

3. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose very little from their 2010 Eastern Division championship team. It looks like Steve Spurrier is going to open up the quarterback competition between Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw. The one-two punch of running back Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery should be as good as any in the league, and the defense returns all of its key performers.

4. Arkansas: Ryan Mallett has decided to turn pro after back-to-back 30-touchdown seasons, but Tyler Wilson showed in the Auburn game this season that he can also be a star. He’ll have a talented cast of receivers to throw to, and coach Bobby Petrino thinks the Hogs will be better on defense next season than they were this season.

5. Mississippi State: If you’re looking for a program with a lot of momentum, look no further than Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will bring back the nucleus of the team that hammered Michigan in the bowl game. Quarterback Chris Relf has improved tremendously, and coach Dan Mullen has this bunch believing. Chris Wilson takes over the defense with Manny Diaz making the move to Texas.

6. Florida: First-year coach Will Muschamp steps in for Urban Meyer at Florida and tries to restore that edge that was missing last season. The Gators plan to shift to a pro-style offense, and there’s still no definitive word on whether John Brantley will return. There shouldn’t be any shortage of talent. Meyer brought in top-5 classes nationally every year he was there.

7. Auburn: For a team that just won a national championship, this is a pretty dramatic fall. But with the likelihood that quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley will both turn pro, the Tigers face some major personnel losses. They will also have to replace their entire offensive line and several key starters on defense. The good news is that Gene Chizik has recruited very well and continues to do so.

8. Georgia: Clearly, Georgia coach Mark Richt is down to his last chance to fix the Georgia program. Having a quarterback like Aaron Murray to build around is always nice, but the Bulldogs need to be better at running the ball next season. It will be the second year in the 3-4 defense under Todd Grantham, so there should be more consistency on that side of the ball in 2011.

9. Tennessee: One of the things that should help Tennessee is that the schedule gets easier in 2011. That offensive line, which was starting three true freshmen to end last season, will be more mature, a year wiser and a year stronger. The Vols have an impressive base of young offensive talent. The key now is finding more defensive linemen and replenishing the secondary.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels have to get back to where they were defensively the first two years under defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix when they were attacking people and causing turnovers. Some crippling injuries killed them last season, and they just didn’t play very well in the secondary. Houston Nutt’s old pal David Lee takes over the defense.

11. Kentucky: Joker Phillips’ second season as the Wildcats’ head coach figures to be one of his most challenging, especially if Randall Cobb decides to turn pro. Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski will battle for the starting quarterback job, and the Wildcats will look to replace most of their key playmakers on that side of the ball.

12. Vanderbilt: After heading up the Maryland offense for the past three seasons, James Franklin moves in as the Vanderbilt head coach. One of his first orders of business is settling on a quarterback, not to mention some guys at receiver who can add some pop to the Commodores’ passing game. Vanderbilt also fell off defensively this past season.
As if sorting out the 2010 Big East jumble wasn't difficult enough, I've been tasked with coming up with the super-early forecast for the 2011 season already. Given my recent prognostication track record -- hey, my 2010 preseason pick (Pittsburgh) did win a share of the conference title at least -- odds are this won't be too accurate. But it should be fun and a good cause for debate. I only ask one thing: Do not rip these selections without providing your own rankings.

And away we go:

1. South Florida: Yep, I'm taking a flyer on the Bulls. The 5-2 record down the stretch, impressive bowl showing and returning young talent have me convinced that Year 2 of the Skip Holtz era could be special. B.J. Daniels must make major progress and the receiving corps needs to get better. But if UConn can make a BCS game, why not the Bulls in '11?

2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers should get much better on offense under the direction of Dana Holgorsen and return plenty of key playmakers, including quarterback Geno Smith. But they also lose eight starters off that terrific defense, and the potential for tension in this awkward coaching transition is just too much for me to make the Mountaineers the favorite.

3. Syracuse: The Orange lose some very valuable seniors, especially Doug Hogue, Derrell Smith and Delone Carter. But they also bring back a lot, and the offense should continue to make strides. Will Syracuse build off its breakthrough 2010 season or backslide? I say it keeps moving forward.

4. Pittsburgh: Lots of questions for this team, which will be making a coaching transition and could be shifting into entirely new philosophies on both offense and defense. Losing Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin hurts, too. But there's still plenty of talent on hand for Todd Graham, who might make the Panthers dangerous by the time conference play rolls around with his high-scoring spread attack.

5. Louisville: If this were the 2012 power rankings, Louisville might be near the top (with TCU?). The Cardinals are bringing in boatloads of blue-chippers and will be a force soon. But they could take a small step backward, or sideways, in 2011 after the departures of so many valuable seniors. Almost the entire offensive line has to be rebuilt, and a true freshman could start at quarterback. This will be a young team that could threaten if it matures quickly.

6. Connecticut: Had Jordan Todman and Randy Edsall come back, I might have made the Huskies the preseason favorite. But as I write this, we don't even know who will be coaching this team in 2011. So consider this No. 6 ranking a mere holding spot until we find out more about UConn's new direction. Several starters will be back, but there will be a new quarterback (which might be a good thing) and a new heir to the running-game legacy. And perhaps completely new schemes on both sides of the ball. Nobody knows anything about the 2011 Huskies right now.

7. Cincinnati: The Bearcats have the most potential of any team to make a huge leap in 2011. Virtually every player comes back off the defense, which can't help but be better than it was in 2010. The offense returns a strong core led by Zach Collaros, D.J. Woods and Isaiah Pead. The second-year in Butch Jones' system should have everybody more comfortable. But until I actually see some improvement from the defense and in ball security by the offense, I will start Cincinnati out low.

8. Rutgers: Here's another team that should be better than 4-8 in 2011. The maturation of players like Mohamed Sanu, Mark Harrison, Jordan Thomas and Jeremy Deering should pay dividends, as should the return to a pro-style attack under former Pitt coordinator Frank Cignetti. Chas Dodd still has to prove he's the guy at quarterback while avoiding the sophomore slump that plagued Tom Savage. There's no experience behind Dodd now that Savage has left. And that offensive line is the offseason's biggest reclamation project. This is another case of needing to see it before I believe it.

Early 2011 non-AQ power rankings

January, 11, 2011
I took out my crystal ball and have looked at the non-AQ future for 2011. Here is my early conference ranking for the next season. Subject to change come the spring, then again in August.

1. Boise State. The Broncos lose several of their top players, including Austin Pettis, Titus Young, Jeremy Avery, Winston Venable and Ryan Winterswyk, but Kellen Moore returns and that makes them the top non-AQ team going into 2011.

2. BYU. The Cougars have a chance to post a 10-win season again, even though they face a tough start to their first independent schedule. But they have a lot of talent returning on offense, and if they can go at worst 3-2 in their first five games, the Cougars will be in great position to win out.

3. TCU. The Horned Frogs are in for a rebuilding year with their top two leaders, Andy Dalton and Tejay Johnson, leaving. But there is plenty of young talent on this team, from Josh Boyce to Matthew Tucker to Ed Wesley to Tanner Brock.

4. UCF. The Knights lose plenty on defense, but they also have freshman phenom Jeffrey Godfrey returning at quarterback, along with one of the deepest running back groups among the non-AQs.

5. Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are going to have a coaching change with Todd Graham leaving, but they also return 16 starters, including C-USA Offensive Player of the Year G.J. Kinne. The nonconference schedule is brutal with games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.

6. San Diego State. The Aztecs might be losing their coach, but with running back Ronnie Hillman and quarterback Ryan Lindley returning on offense, and Miles Burris coming back on defense, they should be able to follow up the success of 2010.

7. Air Force. The Falcons return 13 starters, none more important than quarterback Tim Jefferson, whose maturation in the offense helped Air Force win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 2002.

8. Hawaii. The Warriors lose plenty with top receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares leaving, but quarterback Bryant Moniz and linebacker Corey Paredes return, and they could be the favorite to win the WAC with Boise State leaving for the Mountain West.

9. SMU. The Mustangs played in the C-USA championship game, and though they flopped in their bowl loss to Army, they have plenty of experienced players. The key to their success will be how Kyle Padron has developed -- this will be his third season as a starter.

10. Miami (Ohio). The RedHawks are going to prove that 2010 was no fluke. I see them as the favorites in the MAC with all the talent they have returning -- either Zac Dysert or Austin Boucher at quarterback, Nick Harwell at receiver, Austin Brown and Evan Harris on defense. Don Treadwell is an excellent hire and proved himself in his short stint filling in for Mark Dantonio at Michigan State.