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Casey’s Call: 2011 College Football Preview

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Trent Richardson (credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images), Andrew Luck (credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Trent Richardson (credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images), Andrew Luck (credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Casey Keefe
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The college football season is back, and not a second too soon.

This year’s race to the BCS title is wide open. I know that’s one of those overused clichés, but this year it rings truer than ever.

Alabama enters the season as the best team in the land but there are several talented and capable teams nipping at their heels. The road to New Orleans is certain to be a crazy and unpredictable one.

Keefe’s Top 10

1. Alabama (2010: 10-3) – I know most people are very high on the Oklahoma Sooners this season, as am I. There’s no doubt in my mind that they are the second best team in the country…right behind the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

Yes, the Tide have questions at quarterback as well the wide receiving core, but overall the offense will be just fine thanks to running back Trent Richardson and their veteran offensive line. Where the Tide will be downright unstoppable is on defense where they return 9 starters.

The defense is what let Nick Saban’s club down in their 3 losses last year. I’m confident that unit won’t be a problem this year. As a matter of fact, the Tide defense is probably the single best unit in the entire country. They will be the biggest reason why ‘Bama will go undefeated en route to yet another national championship.

2. Oklahoma (2010: 12-2) – The amount of talent and experience the Sooners will be bringing to the table is downright scary. The defense will be nasty as always, but the offense will be out-of-this-world good.

Featuring 2 legitimate Heisman candidates, QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles, I wouldn’t be surprised if this offense averages 50 points a game. Plus, as good as the Big 12 is, it certainly isn’t as hellish of a conference as the SEC. That’ll help secure Oklahoma a BCS title game spot. It seems to me that we’re destined for an Oklahoma-Alabama title game… We would all be lucky if that turns out to be the case.

3. Oregon (2010: 12-1) – I could understand some people thinking I’m crazy to put the Ducks this high. They’re losing so many impact players from their defense, none bigger than Casey Matthews. Throw in the fact that they’ll be thin on the offensive line where they’ve lost 3 starters…how can I possibly rank them #3?

Four reasons: 1. RB LaMichael James, 2. QB Darron Thomas, 3. HC Chip Kelly, and 4. tons of big game experience… That said, their season opener against LSU will go a long ways towards either making or breaking their season.

4. Oklahoma State (2010: 10-2) – The Cowboys are this high for one reason and one reason only…the deadly combination of quarterback Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. They’ll have some early kinks to iron out on defense, but Weeden and Blackmon will keep them alive in any situation thrown their way.

5. LSU (2010: 11-2) – The Tigers return a lot of experience from a year ago. Les Miles has been slowly by slowly building his next “great team”. Some thought last year would be that “return to glory” type club, but it was not to be. One major factor of the 11’ Tigers will be the influence and genius of Steve Kragthorpe… He was originally hired as the OC, but unfortunately Parkinson’s disease has relegated him to just coaching the quarterbacks.

Even though the offense won’t be running through him, his influence will no doubt spread to the entire unit and the Tigers will be better for it. The bar fight a few weeks back that involved QB Jordan Jefferson might be the best thing of all that could’ve happen for the Tigers. Jefferson, who had originally been named the starter, has been suspended indefinitely along with linebacker Joshua Johns… Jefferson is a terrible quarterback who would’ve no doubt kept LSU from accomplishing any one of their goals. He’s that bad… If Miles is smart, he’d keep JJ out permanently in favor of Jarrett Lee.

6. Boise State (2010: 12-1) – The Broncos’ hopes of a national championship came to a crashing halt last season in a crisp night under the Nevada sky. Yes, Chris Petersen’s club will be without star wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, and will be entering a new (and tougher) conference–but Kellen Moore returns, and any team with Moore at quarterback stands a chance in my book.

7. Wisconsin (2010: 11-2) – The Badgers are coming off a phenomenal 2010 campaign, but they do face the uphill task of replacing several key players…John Clay, Scott Tolzien and Gabe Carimi just to name a few. But Wisconsin fans have all the right to be confident that their head coach, Bret Bielema, can whip these Badgers into shape quite quick.

8. Notre Dame (2010: 8-5) – How could you not love the masterful job Brian Kelly did with the overachieving Irish last season. The vibe hasn’t been this pleasant and upbeat in South Bend in seemingly an eternity. Returning 17 starters to a successful and established system will lead to Irish eyes smiling once again… Kelly made the right move going with Dayne Crist at QB over the youngster, Tommy Rees.

9. Stanford (2010: 12-1) – The Cardinal were special last season for two reasons…head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck. They return one of them, Luck, who is a flat-out game changer. With the plethora of starters returning on offense and defense, Stanford will be right in the mix of things, even with Harbaugh gone.

10. Texas A&M (2010: 9-4) – The Aggies are sure to be one of the most talented and experienced teams in the country. They might be BCS-good, but I don’t see them competing for a national championship. We’ll quickly see how they hold up playing against a brutal schedule in a tough conference.

Heisman Hopefuls

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:

Very rarely do you see a talent as seasoned and special as Luck pass up a $22 million paycheck, which is what he surely would’ve gotten had he entered himself into the NFL Draft. Some look at it as risky to forgo being the #1 pick and return to college, knowing you can’t improve your stock any further. But it’s obvious, Luck just simply does not care…which is very refreshing in a way. His on-the-field persona is just as likable as his off-the-field one. He has all the tools…strength, accuracy, smarts–you name it, he has it. As far as the Heisman goes—it’s his to lose.

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon:

Oregon will be focused on the ground game more than ever, which is music to James’ ears. He has proven since day one that he can produce big-time numbers week after week no matter how stiff the competition. James was right in the thick of the race the past two seasons…this may be the year he finally gets over the hump and takes home the trophy.

3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State:

Moore’s best chance at the trophy may have been last year, but I think he’ll still have a say in the ’11 race when it’s all said and done. He is losing his two best receivers (Austin Pettis & Titus Young) but will have more than enough talent around him to put up his typical monster numbers.

4. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma:

Jones is a grizzled veteran, powered by a cannon arm. He leads what will be the most talented offense in the country. His best friend, both on and off the field, Ryan Broyles, may be his ticket to the Heisman. Look for the tandem to hook up for 1,500+ yards and 20+ touchdowns. If Jones can keep the interceptions down, he’ll have a shot in New York.

5. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma:

As I mentioned above, Broyles is sure to have a monster year. I don’t see any way he and Jones can be contained on a weekly basis—they are too good. It’s that simple. With all due respect to Justin Blackmon, Broyles is the best wide receiver in the country. Does he have a chance at the hardware? Hell yeah.

Heisman Honorable Mentions

- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

- Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

- Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon

BCS Predictions

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Boise State – winner: Boise State

Orange Bowl: West Virginia vs. Florida State – winner: West Virginia

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Stanford – winner: Stanford

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon – winner: Oregon

BCS Title Game: Alabama vs. Oklahoma – winner: Alabama

Big East Quick Hits

- West Virginia is the best team in the Big East. After some coaching drama they wound up with former Oklahoma State OC Dana Holgerson who will help improve the offense immediately. The strength of the team however will be the defense–a unit that I believe will be one of the 10 best in the nation.

- It’ll be strange not to see Dave Wannstedt roaming the Pitt sidelines. He got the axe after a miserable tenure with the Panthers. Old Tulsa coach Todd Graham takes over–but only after Mike Haywood (Pitt’s original choice) was fired after being arrested on a domestic violence charge.

- Skip Holtz seems to be building something special down in South Florida. But this season will fall completely on the shoulders of quarterback B.J. Daniels. He has all the talent in the world, but can he cut down on the dumb mistakes and turnovers he’s prone to?

- The big story out of Connecticut is the cowardly departure of head coach Randy Edsall who took his talents to Maryland. Old-timer Paul Pasqualoni takes over for the Huskies who return 16 starters–none of which are named Jordan Todman or Robbie Frey, which will be a problem.

- Louisville has more question marks than a Spanish version of the SAT’s. They lose a lot of players from a bad team. I guess that can be either good or bad. We’ll see.

- I’m not expecting much from the Cincinnati Bearcats. They were unbelievably sloppy last year allowing 28 points per game and turning the ball over left and right. I doubt this season will be much different.

- I believe Doug Marrone is the right man for the job up in Syracuse. It’s going to take some time but I think he’ll slowly but surely get things turned around for the Orange. However, don’t expect more than 6 wins this season. Just focus on showing up at home for a change.

- Rutgers was a mess last year–and will continue to be a mess. So much for overtaking the college football scene in the northeast. Rutgers won’t be sniffing a bowl game this season.

Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN

Do you agree that Rutgers won’t go anywhere this season? What’s your Top 10 look like? Let Keefe know below…

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