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August 6, 2011RRS publisher Chris Level, managing editor Aaron Dickens and associate editor Michael Graham each give three fearless predictions about the 2011 football season.
1. New starter at right guard. It seems like we've talked all summer about the fact that Texas Tech returns all five starters on the offensive line and how big of a deal that is. But what if those five aren't all starters when the Red Raiders open the season Sept. 3 against Texas State? It would surprise some, but not me.
Matt Moore has always subscribed to the philosophy of getting his best five linemen on the field at the same time, regardless of position. Even though he returns all five starters from a year ago, his approach will not change.
If I'm Deveric Gallington, I'd play well and push hard in August because Terry McDaniel will get snaps at right guard. Gallington frustrated Moore at times last season because of his inconsistency and when you combine that with how McDaniel emerged this spring at left tackle, you get the makings of a pretty good competition.
If McDaniel plays like he did in the spring and Gallington plays like he did last fall camp, then you'll see a new starter at right guard for the opener.
2. Oklahoma State will underachieve. The Cowboys will begin the season ranked No. 8 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll and while I think Mike Gundy's squad will be good, I'm not buying top ten good.
I just haven't heard enough about how much they will miss Dana Holgorsen and Kendall Hunter, because they'll miss them a lot. From being around Dana as long as I was, I know first-hand how good he is with his play-calling, in-game adjustments and ability to motivate. While it sounded interesting to some at the time, I'm not so sure that the idea of Brandon Weeden teaching the offense to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken is in any way a good thing.
And take a look at their schedule. Brutal. Trips to Austin, Lubbock, College Station and Columbia isn't conducive to landing a spot in the BCS when you also factor in home games against Arizona and Oklahoma. I just don't see it.
Holgorsen and Hunter were too good, plus the Pokes had an easier schedule last year.
3. Watch out for Arizona. I'm going to be keeping an eye on former Texas Tech assistants and staff members Seth Littrell, Robert Anae, Dave Nichol and Dave Emerick out in Tucson because even though Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the Pac 12 South I think the Wildcats will contend for the division title.
I just can't get too excited about USC right now because at some point the harsh reality of those sanctions will sink in and cause some to quit caring as much as they normally would have.
Arizona State? Utah? Colorado? UCLA? For the most part I see coaches about to get fired or coaches that are brand new.
You could've included Mike Stoops in that group a year or so ago but not after taking UA to three consecutive bowl games. Nick Foles is an NFL talent and Anae is very impressed with his group even though he has five new starters to deal with. If Arizona can survive September they'll be fine -- games against Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon won't be easy but it's all downhill after that.
As they say out in Tucson, "Bear Down."
1. Leon Mackey will live up to the hype. I know Red Raider fans, you have been burned by highly-ranked junior college prospects before -- from Chauncey Clark to Marquis Johnson to Ofa Mohetau to Brandon Sesay to Myles Wade, you have endured a string of can't miss JUCO transfers that ended up completely whiffing.
That won't happen with Mackey.
Will he be the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, like Mickey Okafor suggested at Big 12 Media Days? I'm not sure if I'm willing to go that far yet, but he'll finish the season as a consistent starter and one of the highlights of the team's defense.
2. Texas will post another disappointing season. Continuity is key in college football, and I don't see much of it right now in Austin -- two new coordinators, an unsettled quarterback situation and no proven offensive playmakers.
I think the Longhorns will be fine defensively under Manny Diaz; just like last year, UT should field one of the better defensive units in the conference. Offensively? I'm not so sure.
Bryan Harsin has a great pedigree and put up great numbers at Boise State, but Boise State is kind of a unique, insular situation. I think the Broncos' success over the years has had more to do with the way that football program is run from the top down than scheme or play-calling. Look at Dan Hawkins or Justin Wilcox, both had great resumes coming out of Boise but didn't or haven't parlayed that into success at their later stop(s).
3. The streak ends at five. The SEC enters 2011 having won the last five BCS National Championships. That streak will be over at the end of this season.
LSU has a brutal schedule, Alabama doesn't have a quarterback and South Carolina can't rely on Stephen Garcia. Arkansas has a very manageable schedule, but road dates at Alabama and LSU will likely serve as the Hawgs pass-fail test this fall.
The SEC is still the toughest conference in the country, and odds are its champion would beat the champion of any other conference four times out of five, but I just don't see a team emerging from the SEC with fewer than two losses. Meanwhile, Oklahoma should be the class of the Big 12, Nebraska or Wisconsin could navigate through the Big Ten relatively unscathed and Oregon should be dominant in the new-look Pac-12.
I think come Jan. 9, the date of the BCS National Championship Game, the SEC will find themselves playing the role of bystanders.
1. Tech will finish with a top 75 defense. The Red Raiders are coming off a year where their defense ranked No. 114 out of 120 teams, averaging 456 yards allowed per game.
Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 defense with its four-man front and nickel-like secondary will going to help Tech tremendously, well enough to move up into the top 75 defenses in the nation.
Last season, the No. 75 defense was Navy and that squad allowed almost 60 yards less a game, 390.
Look at Tech's personnel. The Red Raiders have a rejuvenated defensive line and experience across the linebacker and secondary corps. There's enough there to believe Tech can make a big leap in the defensive standings and build toward a big 2012 season.
2. Oklahoma will win the BCS National Championship. The Sooners have no weaknesses on paper.
They have a Heisman contender at quarterback in Landry Jones, a hotshot receiver in Ryan Broyles and a running back in Roy Finch that eases the pain of losing now-Dallas Cowboy DeMarco Murray.
Their defense will be improved from last season and that's a scary thought for any OU opponent.
If Oklahoma can defeat Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., it should give the Sooners early separation from the pack that can be sustained by running through the Big 12 schedule and not having to play a Big 12 Championship game.
Oklahoma is clearly the class of the Big 12, and will be further helped by a relatively favorable schedule. The Sooners get Missouri and Texas A&M in Norman, and Bob Stoops has had a lot of success against rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater, where Bedlam will be played this year.
3. Alabama running back Trent Richardson will win the Heisman. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck seems to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
He's not going to win. Neither is Landry Jones. The honor will go to all-everything running back Trent Richardson out of Alabama.
Luck will be a victim of a Stanford team that won't live up to the hype and Heisman voters have a tough time differentiating good players from good teams. Meanwhile, Alabama will go undefeated or have just one loss until facing Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.
There's arguably nothing more exciting than watching an SEC running back in space from a player-watching standpoint.
Richardson has the size, strength and athleticism to make highlight reel plays out of what looks like normal, small gains. In the SEC, you can't win a championship without a standout back and Alabama has that.
With Heisman winner Mark Ingram out of the Crimson Tide picture, Richardson is the guy.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma can -- and will -- win games when Jones isn't at top-notch form.