New York–Trying to tie up the loose ends of the 2010 season and get home. Here is my (ridiculously) early Top Five for 2011:
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners return 35 of the top 44 players including quarterback Landry Jones. Two guys I thought would turn pro–wide receiver Ryan Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis–also return. The schedule becomes easier because the Big 12 no longer has a championship game. This will be the first year of the nine-game Big 12 schedule. Oklahoma has five home conference games and four on the road. A Sept. 17 trip to Florida State could be interesting.
2. Oregon: After losing to Auburn in the BCS championship game, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said “we’ll be back.” And I think the Ducks will. Running back LaMichael James decided to come back for his senior season. Quarterback Darron Thomas did not have a good BCS championship game (two interceptions) but he is only going to get better in Oregon’s offense. I don’t see who in the Pac-10 is going to beat Oregon because USC is down and Stanford, even with QB Andrew Luck returning, will take a dip with head coach Jim Harbaugh leaving for the pros.
3. LSU: The Tigers are going to lose three studs on defense in CB Patrick Peterson, who will turn pro early, LB Kelvin Sheppard, and DT Drake Nevis. But when LSU gets decent to good quarterback play, like Jordan Jefferson gave the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl, they are hard to handle. The quarterback position will only get better with the addition of Zach Mettenberger, a junior college transfer who started his career at Georgia. LSU has a chance to be the Auburn of 2011.
4. Florida State: I’m taking a little bit of a flyer on the Seminoles because they are going to have to rebuild their offensive line. It may be a year too early to make this call but I think the offense will be more versatile with E.J. Manuel at quarterback and that the defense is going to be pretty good because of the talent Jimbo Fisher and his staff as recruited. This is a reach pick. So what do you think?
5. Alabama: You saw how good Alabama could be when the Crimson Tide just beat down Michigan State in the Cap One Bowl. Yes, they’ll miss Greg McElroy at quarterback but I think AJ McCarron or Phillip Simms will fit right in and run the offense. Yes they will miss RB Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. But Trent Richardson just might win the 2011 Heisman Trophy. LB Dont’a Hightower, who missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury, started regaining his old form in the second half of 2010. He will come back and become an All-American in 2011. And if safety Mark Barron comes back, that’s two guys that coach Nick Saban thought he might lose. After playing six teams after they had open dates this season, the schedule will be much kinder in 2011.
In case you’re wondering, LSU comes to Alabama on Nov. 5, 2011.
Who am I leaving out? Boise State returns quarterback Kellen Moore (74 TD, only 9 INT) over the past two years. TCU will be good again even without quarterback Andy Dalton. Does Florida bounce back big under Will Muschamp?
Give me your Top Five for 2011.
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