Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Building a perfect team in college football takes a great deal of skill and a whole lot of luck. There have been only a couple of programs over the years that could even argue perfection (1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2001 Miami Hurricanes, 1999 Florida State Seminoles, 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to mind).
There are familiar faces atop this year's list of national title contenders, but each comes with flaws that could cost that team a shot at joining that aforementioned group.
ALABAMA - Nick Saban has another loaded team looking to win its second national title in the last three years. However, while there is plenty of talent in the fold, especially on the defensive side of the football, inexperience at the quarterback position may just be the deciding factor in winning it all and playing second-fiddle.
ARKANSAS - The Razorbacks are a much improved team with plenty of talent on both sides of the football. The team did lose its star quarterback and while a playmaker like Knile Davis will certainly factor into many a game for the Hogs, it is once again uncertainty under center that may make the difference this season in Fayetteville.
AUBURN - A running theme is shaping up, as the Tigers will probably miss their signal-caller the most. Heisman winner Cam Newton had the ability to do everything in last year's magical run to the national title. He won't be the only glaring defection, as Auburn has lost key personnel on both the offensive and defensive fronts, but Newton was the straw that stirs the drink.
BOISE STATE - Losing to Nevada last year prevented the Broncos from reaching the national title game. That may have been their best chance to bust up the BCS. The team started high in the national rankings, keeping it in the hunt for most of the season. Despite returning 14 starters from last year, including savvy signal-caller Kellen Moore, the initial rankings won't be as kind to the Broncos, despite the move to the Mountain West. The Broncos will have to run the table and then hope for quite a bit of help from the teams in front of them. It isn't likely to happen.
|Nick Saban and Alabama are shooting for their second national title in the last three years.|
FLORIDA STATE - Jimbo Fisher was the right man for the job and in just his second season at the helm, has the Seminoles back in the national spotlight. The team loses a productive veteran under center in Christian Ponder, but QB E.J. Manuel should pick up where Ponder left off. The defense is starting to resemble the dominant units of the recent past and has a chance to really shine in 2011. While the team is tabbed to win the ACC and perhaps even run the table in-conference, the non-league slate could be its downfall. ULM and Charleston Southern aren't the problem, but a September date with Oklahoma and a regular-season finale at Florida could provide road blocks on the way to New Orleans.
LSU - The Tigers won 11 games last season and double-digit wins are expected once again. Les Miles has a lot to work with in Baton Rouge, with 15 returning starters. Expect the defense to be a ferocious bunch once again. The problem last season was inconsistent play by the offense. Senior Jordan Jefferson is the likely starter under center, but the team will go to Jarrett Lee or even Zach Mettenberger if need be. We will all get to see what this team is made of in the season-opener against powerhouse Oregon in Arlington. A November date with the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa also looms large.
MICHIGAN STATE - The Spartans are a loaded team that won 11 games a year ago. However, Mark Dantonio knows there is plenty of work to do following a devastating bowl loss to Alabama (49-7). The team boasts of veterans at most of the skill positions, but a lack of experience in the middle of the defense may be a problem. Replacing players like Greg Jones and Eric Gordon won't be easy and teams will attack the middle of the field until MSU proves it has adequate playmakers there. Winning in hostile environments will also be key, with road treks to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa on the docket.
MISSOURI - Back to the quarterback dilemma. The Tigers won 10 games a year ago, but a lot of that had to do with star QB Blaine Gabbert. He is now in the NFL, leaving Missouri with a huge question mark under center. To make matters worse for Gary Pinkel's squad is a murderous schedule that includes road trips to Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M and home dates with Oklahoma State and Texas. Navigating that kind of slate with an unproven commodity under center will trip up even the most talented squads.
NEBRASKA - Nebraska makes the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten this season and that will come with an adjustment period in terms of style of play on a weekly basis. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was both scintillating and frustrating at times last season as a freshman and the hope is that the Cornhuskers will get a much more reliable signal-caller this year. If Martinez isn't the man for Bo Pelini, redshirt freshman Brion Carnes may be. Still, winning the Big Ten with youth under center is not an easy thing to accomplish.
OHIO STATE - The Buckeyes have plenty of talent, although a nice portion of it won't be available until after the fifth game of the season. Jim Tressel and Tyrelle Pryor are no longer in Columbus, leaving Luke Fickell in the unenviable role of caretaker for a team that usually competes for the national crown each and every season. The NCAA may still come down with further punishment for major violations, further muddying the postseason waters for the Buckeyes.
OKLAHOMA - Loaded on both sides of the football, Oklahoma should start the season as the top team in the land. There is star power all over the field for the Sooners, whose greatest asset may be head coach Bob Stoops. If there is an area of concern (somewhat) it may be the team's vulnerability on the road the last few years. To run the table this year, the Sooners must win at Florida State, against Texas (Red River Rivalry in Dallas) and at Oklahoma State. That is easier said than done for a team that has lost focus outside of Norman at times.
OKLAHOMA STATE - The Cowboys are known for their explosiveness on offense. While the team returns stars at both QB (Brandon Weeden) and WR (Justin Blackmon), it has lost All-American tailback Kendall Hunter. Still, there shouldn't be a huge dropoff in the offensive numbers. Stopping powerhouses from churning out the yards and lighting up the scoreboard has been OSU's problem of late. If it doesn't change, the Big 12 and a BCS bowl will once again elude the Cowboys.
OREGON - There are plenty of outside influences that could derail the Ducks from getting another shot at a national title. The team has plenty of talent on offense, so running up the score should once again be commonplace in Eugene. Key losses have come on the defensive side of the ball and filling those voids is a must. The Ducks will be taken to task right off the bat, with a date with LSU in Arlington to kick off the season. The team does get USC and Oregon State at home to close things out, but a road date at Stanford could prove problematic.
SOUTH CAROLINA - While the loss of a quarterback may serve as several teams' problem this season, the return of one could be the difference in Columbia. Steve Spurrier has brought back troubled signal caller Stephen Garcia to a team loaded for a run at the SEC crown. Playmakers abound on both sides of the football for the Gamecocks, but if Garcia can't keep himself in check, the chances of BCS glory are slim.
STANFORD - Andrew Luck is as good as it gets at the quarterback position so his return to the Farm immediately puts the Cardinal in the mix for the Pac-12 and beyond. A new coach shouldn't hinder Stanford's chances, but the team may not have enough of a supporting cast, especially along the offensive line. It won't matter how great Luck is, if the guys up front can't protect him.
TCU - This team is going to be a BCS force once it makes the move to the Big East. For now though, the team is stuck in Mountain West purgatory. Last year saw the Horned Frogs run the table (13-0), including a thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Replacing Andy Dalton under center won't be easy, but Gary Patterson's squad is more than capable of another perfect season. However, perfection isn't always rewarded and regardless of what they do on the field, the Horned Frogs may be on the outside looking in at the title game once again.
TEXAS - The Longhorns always have enough talent to contend on the national level, but last year was a disaster as the team found out pretty fast that having swagger isn't enough to win ball games. Mack Brown's squad finished a miserable 5-7 overall, snapping a streak of 20 straight winning seasons for the coach (between Texas and North Carolina). If the team's play on the field can match its demeanor than Texas should be able to climb up the Big 12 ladder. However, the Sooners will only let them go so far.
TEXAS A&M - The Aggies won nine games last season in Mike Sherman's third year at the helm. The team loses QB Jerrod Johnson, but has a suitable replacement in Ryan Tannehill. There is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but until this team comes to the realization that it can not only compete with, but beat everyone on the schedule, getting to the pinnacle of the Big 12 will elude A&M.
VIRGINIA TECH - The Hokies will find a way to get the offense going, but the loss of a couple of talented tailbacks will hurt. However, not more than the loss of QB Tyrod Taylor, who matured into one of the nation's most reliable field generals. Frank Beamer has some talent under center, but it may take some time for the Hokies to hit their stride.
WISCONSIN - A month ago I would have said that quarterback was the biggest issue for this team. However, the Badgers won the Russell Wilson sweepstakes and the former NC State signal-caller will solidify the QB position for Wisconsin this year. With a devastating ground game and a good offensive line, the offense won't be a problem. The team has lost some talent on the defensive side of the ball and that coupled with the usual Big Ten gauntlet, could prove costly at some point.