This Fall's New Hotness

By Joe Beale on July 20, 2011 at 1:00p
26 Comments
"Is it too late to change my mind and go pro?"Luck: depleted offensive line is no laughing matter.

Ohio State was once thought of as a sure top-10 pick for the 2011 season, and a possible BCS championship contender. That was before you-know-what happened. Most still had OSU in the upper echelon of teams until Jim Tressel "resigned" and Terrelle Pryor decided to end his college career. Now, the consensus is that the Buckeyes are 11-15 timber or worse. Strangely enough, I do not have a problem with it.

As it gets later into the summer, more and more media sources are coming out with their predictions for the CFB Top 25. At the top of most lists you will find the usual suspects: Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, etc. However, there are always a few surprises and so I thought I would take a look at some of these "surprise" teams and discuss whether or not they deserved to be in such elite company. I am going to limit the analysis to the top ten in the interest of brevity (not to mention laziness).

Stanford

Several pundits have picked the Cardinal for a top ten finish, with Tim Hyland of about.com pegging them at #5. Perhaps he is impressed by their 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, but beating the ACC champion has lost a bit of its luster over the past few years, and VaTech last season was, to say the least, a bit of a flawed team (see below). Still, an impressive (and physical) win in a BCS bowl has to count for something, and so you're probably wondering why I'm doubting the idea of having "the tree" in CFB's top 10.

While it is true that top NFL prospect Andrew Luck returns at QB and leading ground gainer Stepfan Taylor also returns, the Cardinal lose 3 out of 5 starters on the offensive line. In addition, Luck's top two receivers have also moved on. It doesn't get a lot better on defense, where they lose another 5 starters. But the most crushing blow is that the man who resurrected the program, Jim Harbaugh, has moved on to coach in the NFL, and so the team will be led by former offensive coordinator David Shaw. Quick, name the last team to finish in the top 5 of the rankings with a first-year coach.

Stanford has an easy early schedule, but must play USC, Oregon, and Notre Dame (possibly overrated, see below) in their last 5 games, plus a road date at Oregon State and the traditional rivalry game with Cal. That late stretch might be the place where the new players step up and carry the team to greater glory, or it might be the place where the wheels fall off due to inexperience both on the field and on the sideline.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies return 13 starters from last season's 11-3 team and they have an extremely weak schedule (playing in the Atlantic Ghost Conference). Athlon thinks enough of them to put VaTech at #7 in their pre-season rankings. So what's not to like? Well, for starters they looked terrible in their 40-12 bowl loss to Stanford. Since then, star running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams left early for the NFL, and of course all-time leading passer Tyrod Taylor exhausted his eligibility. And this is a team that struggled to score points against quality opponents even with those players. 

It is possible that "Beamer-ball" will allow the Hokies to overcome their offensive shortcomings long enough for Soph Logan Thomas to mature into a quality QB. They do return 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line and both starting WR's. Thomas does not have Taylor's mobility, but even more than that VT will miss Taylor's leadership. No one was more instrumental in getting the team back on the beam after the devastating loss to FCS school James Madison in week 2, which is one reason to doubt VaTech in 2011, at least early in the season. As weak as the schedule is, they could still end up in the ACC championship game, but they would probably face a very good Florida State team, and Beamer's boys might be overmatched in that one.

Notre Dame

Again it is Athlon that pulls the surprise by putting Notre Dame in their top 10 at #6. As with VaTech, the schedule is very favorable. The Irish get Michigan State and USC at home, while traveling to Michigan is not the scary trip that it used to be. The toughest challenge is a road game at Stanford, but that won't happen until the last week of the season. Also, this is coach Brian Kelly's second season at the helm, and year 2 is traditionally when a big-time head coach has his breakout year. So why am I doubting the Irish? 

First of all, I can't find any other publication or pundit who has Notre Dame in the top 10. Perhaps that is because their 8-5 record from a year ago does not impress? Maybe it's because they still haven't settled on a quarterback even after spring ball? Or maybe it's because star receiver Michael Floyd was arrested for DUI in the offseason and his future with the team is uncertain. Combine that with the QB questions and the loss of star TE Kyle Rudolph and some of the luster might come off of Kelly's vaunted passing game. Yes, the Irish won their bowl game last season, but it was the Sun Bowl. Until they make a strong showing against a quality opponent I remain unconvinced that Notre Dame is ready to "wake up the echos" in 2011.

Oklahoma State

Lindy's has the Cowboys ranked #7 in their pre-season top 25, and they would appear to be on solid ground at first glance. The team returns 10 offensive starters, including record-shattering QB Brandon Weedon and star WR Justin Blackmon. Their schedule in the Nebraska-less Big 12 is fairly soft, with the only scary road game being an Oct. 15 trip to Texas. Add to that the fact that they get in-state rival Oklahoma at home, and all the pieces appear to be in place for a big season.

However, offense alone cannot win a championship, and that's bad news for this particular OSU squad. They return only 5 starters on defense, with 3 of them in the secondary. But the secondary was routinely shredded by opposing passers last season, and so fans might have wished that some of those players were gone now. Finally, Oklahoma State is coached by the mercurial Mike Gundy, who is the polar opposite of the seasoned leader the team needs. It's possible that the Cowboys can score enough to be a contender for national honors, but somewhere along the line their defense will have to carry them, and I'm not sure that they are capable of it at this point.

So what do you think? Which team did you see in someone's top ten that just caused you to do a double-take? Am I wrong to doubt the teams listed above? 

26 Comments

Comments

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

Notre Dame is back again!!! UNTIL the 3rd week.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

rkylet83's picture

Notre Dame is like the coaches son that isn't very good.  Their going to get every opportunity and chance to succeed handed to them but their geniune lack of skill and talent will always fail them in the end.

GunnersApe's picture

Michael Floyd may miss the opening series of the first game as punishment, Kelly has proven to be about on par with Mark Dantonio when it comes to discipline.

Irricoir's picture

Stanford- Could be right. Like us this year, there are a lot of unknowns with this team. The talent may be there but with a new coach and multiple new starters only time will tell.

V. Tech- I agree whole heartedly. I think they will have a quality team because of the coach and talent on that team but they won't be spectacular if gaged by anything other than their record. They always start slow and typicaly drop and early one.

Notre Dame- oddly enough, might be quality this year. They have a lot of ? marks but I too would be hesitant to give them such a lofty ranking with out seeing more evidence against quality opponents.

Ok St- I can see them being very dangerous this year if their defense steps up to around #30 in the nation. Beyond the soft schedule, Kendall Hunter returns this year no? I watched him when he was healthy and he is very impressive. If he remains that way this year and the line looks impressive they could surprise a lot of people. Problem with them is, they remind so much of Michigan State that it is almost funny. They play awesome against those they should beat but when its time to drop trouser snake it appears to be cold in the water.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

no matter the weapons they have on offense, notre dame is still god awful on D, especially in the secondary.

 

maybe that's why brian kelly is there, to teach them how to outscore peolple and maybe win that way,.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

RoweTrain's picture

Kendall Hunter was actually selected by the 49ers in this years' draft.  They're new back this year Joseph Randle should be pretty decent however. 

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

offense, no one stands out on defense. even when i talk with ND fans they can't name anyone they're high on.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

RoweTrain's picture

I was actually making reference to Okie State.  ND can get bent haha.

Bucksfan's picture

Really?  All the ND fans I know pimp Manti Te'o as if he's a lock for the Butkus.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I probably know the only grounded ND fans then.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

BuckeyeMark's picture

Notre Dame ... returning to glory since 1934.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

the return to the return to the return to glory!

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

misread, sorry.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

Kurt's picture

I think people should watch out for West Virginia as a sleeper more than Okla St.  Stewart's gone, Holgorsen has the reins on the offense and WVU's defense is in good hands with Casteel.  They'll have an interesting date with LSU in Morgantown...

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

but do they have any more wepons?

 

devine is gone and he seemed to be the last guy  that they had left with any sort of game-breaking ability.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

Kurt's picture

True, but Geno Smith.  I wonder if Holgorsen might be able to pull a Malzahn with Newton trick.  He's worked with average qb talent, and put up huge numbers.  Given a talent like Geno Smith how good can he make the whole team?

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I've never been impressed with Geno.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

NoVA Buckeye's picture

notre dame at 9-3 is considered BCS worthy...? note: OVERRATED.

 

Everyone here thinks Va Tech would crush Ohio State under any given circumstance (lol)

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

AcrossTheField11's picture

Va Tech has been and always will be the poor mans tOSU. 

Time and change will surely show how firm they friendship... O-HI-O.

iball's picture

I like the 11-15 projection. No pressure. I just don't see our schedule a being THAT tough. Miami was laughable last year, there another one of those "any year now" teams that just don't ever impress. 

At Nebraska has to be my biggest concern. How is the newbie not chomping at the bit to knock off the conferences premier program??

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Absolutely. I love the no expectations from the media business. Then our guys can really "shock the world" like their twitter profiles repeatedly state

 

gwalther's picture

If no one's noticed, Miami has a bye week to prepare for us, and I don't like it. Could be an L that results in a massive amount of shit talk from ESPN commentators. We're replacing a ton of starters and have a new head coach, we shouldn't set the expectations too high for this year.

9-3 should be considered a successful season. Start preparing your minds for it now.

Class of 2008

cal3713's picture

Personally, I think Mike Gundy has done a spectacular job at OkSU.  Sure, he's had some crazy moments, but the guy has really done a good job with the program.  They're dangerous and competitive, and lose many top prospects to OU and Texas.

Irricoir's picture

Speaking of top 20 teams. Did LSU pay for a crappy service or were they paying for something other than what LYLES publicly provides? This guy's videos are like hitting "shuffle and produce" from files on recruits from the last 4 years.

http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/6788501/willie-lyles-sold...

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

gwalther's picture

REGARDING OKLAHOMA STATE:

They take a trip to Texas A&M on September 24th, which is another scary road game.

Don't discount the Aggies, especially at Kyle Field. And also especially after they choked away the game at Ok St. last year because their previous quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, threw 5 interceptions. Jerrod also had a similar outing against Arkansas, otherwise the Ags could've beaten them.

Speaking for myself, I expect an L from Oklahoma State that game, and think the Aggies are the not-so-Dark Horse to win the Big 12 Championship. They also have TU (Texas, for those unfamiliar with the derogatory initials) at home.

 

Class of 2008

German Buckeye's picture

Isn't it rather nice to talk about football for once?