Posted on: January 25, 2012 7:48 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
San Diego State may be a new member of the Big East, but its football team just got a huge dose of Pac-12 talent. Former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz, former USC wide receiver Brice Butler, and former USC tailback Dillon Baxter all finalized their transfers to SDSU on Wednesday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, and may begin participating in off-season activities with the football team immediately.
Katz and Butler took advantage of the NCAA's transfer exemption for graduate students, as both got their degrees at their schools with eligibility remaining, and are taking their talents to SDSU for one final year without needing to sit out. Baxter's route to the Aztecs is more traditional, as he's still an undergraduate with two years of eligibility left but has to wait until 2013 to start playing ball.
Katz has a strong arm and showed flashes of promise at Oregon State in 2010, but he was beaten out for the starting role in 2011 by freshman Sean Mannion and didn't see action in the Beavers' last 10 games. He will not face a great deal of competition for the SDSU job, as rising junior Adam Dingwall is the only returning SDSU quarterback with any passes attempted in 2011; he went 0-1.
Butler was a four-star, Army All-American recruit for Pete Carroll at USC, but his playing time decreased significantly once Lane Kiffin took over and Robert Woods, Ronald Johnson, and Marqise Lee emerged as the showcase receivers for the Trojans. Butler adds much-needed depth to a wide receiver corps that only returns two players who gained more than 50 yards or three catches last season, and he will likely be a serious contender for a starting spot.
Baxter, meanwhile, was a five-star running back prospect and played as a true freshman for USC in 2010, but Kiffin buried Baxter on the depth chart this season before dismissing him from the team for the season in October so Baxter could "focus on his academics," as Kiffin said in a statement. Baxter was a YouTube sensation in high school, but aside from one absurd spring practice touchdown, he has yet to translate it into big-time success on the collegiate level. Unfortunately for SDSU, Baxter's year of ineligibility means there's still a void at running back, as Third-Team All-American sophomore RB Ronnie Hillman has declared for the NFL draft after rushing for 1711 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2011 and being named a Doak Walker Award finalist.
San Diego State begins its spring football session on February 21, and it opens its season in 2012 at Washington on September 1.
Check out the CBSSports.com conference realignment home page.
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Posted on: November 27, 2011 7:42 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 7:43 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz announced on Sunday evening that he would be leaving the school and finish his playing career elsewhere. Oregon State has already agreed to release Katz from his scholarship.
"After discussing this issue with my family I have decided to seek other academic and athletic opportunities," said Katz in a release. "I have been granted my release from Oregon State and I plan to transfer as a graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining. I have considered Corvallis home for the past four years and it's been filled with many experiences and life lessons. I want to thank all my supporters and I look forward to writing the next chapter of my story."
Since Katz will be finishing his degree at Oregon State this spring and will be pursuing a post-graduate degree, that means that as long as he transfers to a school outside of the Pac-12 he'll be allowed to play right away in 2012 and not have to sit out for a season. As for where Katz plans on transferring, there's been no indication of any possible destinations.
Katz lost his starting job at Oregon State to Sean Mannion earlier this season and finishes his career at the school with 2,722 yards passing and 19 touchdowns.
Posted on: September 14, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 6:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
It's difficult to imagine a worse start to Mike Riley's ninth season at the Oregon State helm than the one he's just endured; the Beavers fell 29-28 in Week 1 to FCS Sacramento State, then suffered a 35-0 shutout shellacking on the road at Wisconsin. So it's no surprise Riley is ringing in the changes--or that he's starting at quarterback.
Via CBSSports.com Oregon State RapidReporter Cliff Kirkpatrick, Riley announced Tuesday that previous starter Ryan Katz has been demoted to second string in favor of redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. The Beavers will not rotate the two quarterbacks, as they did against the Badgers.
"The thing that emerged with [Mannion] in spring practice and fall camp was he made really good decisions and got the ball out of his hands," Riley said. "And he’s very accurate. Those are very good qualities."
Also a good quality: outperforming the other candidate. To date, Mannion has completed 66 percent of his passes for 7.7 yards an attempt, without an interception; Katz is completing 52 percent for just 4.2 yards at attempt with one pick, despite playing most of the game against the FCS Hornets.
"It’s not a comparison of [Katz] getting worse. We thought this other guy is playing better," Riley added. "It’s not he did this or not. This guy (Mannion) kept rising and in our mind earned the right to be a starter."
The good news for Mannion and the Beavers is that he'll have two weeks to adjust to his starting assignment before his team hosts UCLA Sept. 24. The bad news is that his team likely needs every minute of the extra preparation; in addition to Oregon State's moribund play, they're beyond banged up, with starting guard Josh Andrews the latest injury casualty. Andrews will miss at least six weeks with an MCL sprain suffered during the Wisconsin loss.
So it won't be easy for Riley and Mannion to get the Beavers' ship turned around. But if they can't do it with the help of a bye week before facing what appears ot be a very ordinary Bruin squad, it might be time to start looking towards 2012 already.
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Posted on: September 10, 2011 3:31 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
WISCONSIN WON. The Badgers looked every bit of a top 10 team against an overmatched Oregon State team. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sharp and efficient leading the offense, going 17-21 for 189 yards and three touchdowns. As good as he was though, the ground game really looked good as the team rushed for 208 yards and were paced by Montee Ball who had 118 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. The Beavers struggled from the start and Mike Riley surprisingly took out starting QB Ryan Katz for Sean Mannion in the middle of the first series of the game. The redshirt freshman was solid, going 25-38 for 244 yards but that didn't result in any points.
WHY WISCONSIN WON: The defense did a great job of keeping Oregon State from running the ball, holding them to just 21 yards on the ground. In fact, the boys in red allowed only two drives longer than 30 yards all game and forced the Beavers to turn the ball over on downs both times. The ground game kept the clock moving and the offensive line protected Wilson so he had all day to throw down the field.
WHEN WISCONSIN WON: It's hard to point to one particular play that changed momentum in favor of the Badgers but they took firm control of the game after Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker booted the ball for negative four yards. Yes, it was -4 yards in the box score but it looked even worse live when you consider the wind wasn't much of a factor.
WHAT WISCONSIN WON: Brett Bielema's squad moves to 2-0 on the year and have looked the part of a Big Ten title contender. With Russell at the helm and running back's Ball and James White, the offense is clearly the strength of the team. There's still a few things to work on with the defense as they were picked apart at times on third down. They have two more cupcakes to get ready for the big showdown against Nebraska at Camp Randall on October 1.
WHAT OREGON STATE LOST: After losing to an FCS team the week before, it's not like things could get worse for Mike Riley. They were pushed around on the road and now they have a significant quarterback controversy. Yes they lost another game and look like the worst team in the Pac-12 but help could be on the way. All-purpose threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni should be back after the bye week so that should provide a boost. Still, no momentum and plenty of things to work on in Corvallis.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Four yard punts are pretty shocking to see. Negative four yard punts are, well, jaw dropping. Despite all that, Johnny Hekker still managed to average a decent 31 yard average on the day.
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: September 4, 2011 2:00 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
1. It was a rough week for the Pac-12.
The non-conference slate is usually something the Pac-12 takes pride in but Larry Scott would certainly like to forget week one of the season on the field and concentrate on expansion off of it. Record-wise, the conference did ok at 8-4. Look deeper however, and you'll see some serious flaws. Washington allowed their first ever FCS opponent to throw for 473 yards and three touchdowns on them before Desmond Trufant made a last minute interception. USC, too, held on thanks to a last minute pick and Oregon State lost to an average FCS team in Sacramento State. Rick Neuheisel's seat got warmer with a loss to Houston and, in the week's flagship game, Oregon got pushed around by an LSU team dealing multiple off the field issues. Yes other conferences struggled this weekend, and yes the Pac-12 can rebuild their reputation, but it was just not a great start to the 2011 season out West.
2. Stanford is the conference torch-bearer for now.
There's no question it will be extremely tough for Oregon to get back into the national title race given the back-to-back losses to SEC teams and the way they were manhandled in the opener. Is it impossible for them to end up in New Orleans? No, but it will be a long climb back to the top five to be in that position again. That leaves Stanford as the most likely Pac-12 representative that can make a run. They certainly have the quarterback as Andrew Luck spread the ball around to several new targets as the Cardinal rolled San Jose State 57-3. Their schedule looks even easier now too as they host Oregon and wrap up with an even more suspect Notre Dame team. They have the best player in the country and now it's their turn to lead the charge until the Ducks roll into Palo Alto for the head-to-head showdown to take it back from them.
3. Robert Woods is a special player.
After being limited throughout parts of spring practice and fall camp, it's clear that the Freshman All-American is a key cog in the USC offense. Woods caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns and simply was the Trojans' offense against Minnesota. His quarterback was pretty sharp too, as Matt Barkley completed a school-record 34 passes despite an average-at-best offensive line in front of him. There were plenty of quick passes to Woods Saturday afternoon, but his burst and ability to break tackles are a good reason why he's wearing former great Steve Smith's number. The offense trailed off in the second half but if there's one bright spot for Lane Kiffin watching the film, it's that Woods is a star.
4. Where does Oregon State go from here?
Mike Riley didn't really know what kind of team he had this year and after week one, he really might not know. The Beavers played more freshmen in a game than they have in the last 16 years and even then, it's hard to figure out how they dropped their home opener to an FCS school that was 6-5 last season. It does appear that the team has found a replacement for Jacquizz Rodgers after true freshman Malcolm Agnew rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Katz was not sharp at all, completing 50 percent of his passes with an interception before being replaced at halftime. With so many question marks, Riley and company better figure some things out quickly as they'll travel to a very impressive Wisconsin team next week.
5. Why is Oregon throwing the ball so much?
Yes LSU's defense was good and yes, it was certainly swarming anytime an Oregon player touched the ball. That still doesn't explain why the Ducks couldn't run the ball Saturday night and Chip Kelly had Darron Thomas throw it an eye-popping 54 times. That was the most attempts by a quarterback on the team in over seven years. Seven. It's just not like Kelly's team to purposefully try to establish the run early and often either. Once they got behind you can understand them going to the air but rarely has the run-pass split been like it has been against LSU (and feel free to go back to last year against Auburn too). LaMichael James was held under 60 yards on the ground for his second straight game and it appeared he never could find daylight. Whether that's because he's a half-step slower or because the rebuilt offensive line couldn't create a hole is something the coaching staff will have to figure out. Bottom line, it has to be concerning to see Thomas drop back to throw as much as he did.
Tags: Andrew Luck, Bryan Fischer, Chip Kelly, Darron Thomas, Desmond Trufant, Houston, Jacquizz Rodgers, LaMichael James, Lane Kiffin, Larry Scott, LSU, Malcolm Agnew, Matt Barkley, Mike Riley, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Woods, Ryan Katz, Sacramento State, San Jose State, Stanford, Steve Smith, UCLA, USC, Washington, Wisconsin
Posted on: June 27, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: June 27, 2011 2:50 pm
By Eye on College Football Bloggers
Occasionally the Eye on CFB team convenes Voltron- style to answer a pressing question regarding the wild, wide world of college football. This week's topic:
So Russell Wilson is transferring to Wisconsin. What does his decision mean for the Badgers? For the Big Ten race? For the Auburn team he spurned? Could it have an impact on the national title picture?Tom Fornelli: I think it puts Wisconsin right there with Nebraska in the role of Big Ten favorite, and considering the uncertainty surrounding T-Magic in Lincoln and the quarterback position there, Wisconsin may in fact be the favorite. We already know they can run the ball, and now they added a new dynamic to the offense they've never had before.
Adam Jacobi: I'd like to caution everyone from going overboard here. This will be Wilson's first year in the Wisconsin offense, and while Paul Chryst (pictured bottom right) is a solid enough coordinator to craft his offense around its strengths year to year, there's just naturally going to be an adjustment period.
Further, at what point, has Russell Wilson ever been a great quarterback? Sure, he threw the ball a lot at N.C. State, but he wasn't great at it; his passing efficiency last season ranked 62nd in the nation, right above Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz (who looked promising last year, sure, but no one's arguing he's "there" yet).
I'm willing to grant that Wilson is an upgrade over Wisconsin's returning quarterbacks, and that he makes the Badgers better than they were before. I just don't think setting high expectations on Wilson has ever been a recipe for success beyond eight or nine wins.
Chip Patterson: When Wilson exploded on the scene as a freshman in 2007, it was his playmaking ability and natural athleticism that caught his opponents off-guard and led to Wilson being named the ACC Rookie of the Year. But in 2010, it was a change in his game that helped the Wolfpack finish with their first nine-win season since 2002. Instead of scrambling to the sidelines, Wilson improved his pocket presence. He started stepping up in the pocket and hurting teams with his legs up the middle. Wisconsin doesn't need a dual-threat quarterback; it needs a competent one who will take what the defense gives the Badgers.
As Adam said, Wilson is not the most efficient passer. He also benefited last season from having a receiving corps made up mostly of tall pass catchers who could "go up and get it" when Wilson got in trouble (T.J. Graham was the only receiver on the two-deep last season under 6-foot-3). But there will be many upgrades that Wilson will get offensively in the move to Madison, most notably the availability of a dominant run game. Since his arrival at N.C. State, the Wolfpack have ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in rushing offense every single season. In 2010 Wisconsin's rushing offense ranked 12th nationally.
Wilson's addition answers perhaps the biggest question mark in Wisconsin's 2011 outlook. But his arrival also brings about new concerns, such as how his late addition might affect team chemistry or how quickly he can adjust to Paul Chryst's offense. The Badgers now become a favorite for the Leaders division, but there are still plenty of adjustments to be made before penciling them in for a return to Pasadena.
Jerry Hinnen: Well, no, it's too early to project the Badgers for a return trip to the Rose Bowl. But as I think Wilson's arrival puts Wisconsin firmly in that mix, I don't think we should undersell the importance of this decision, either. I don't know about "great" (to respond to Adam's question), and yes, he took a step back last year even as his team was taking a step forward. But in 2008 and 2009 Wilson was pretty damn good all the same: a combined touchdown-to-interception ratio of 48 to 12, a healthy 7.6 yards-per-attempt in that span, 640-plus rushing yards for good measure, All-ACC honors.
Much of Wilson's decline in efficiency can be attributed to N.C. State asking him to do too much, something we all know Wisconsin is most assuredly not going to do. The Badgers have already made the likes of Scott Tolzien and John Stocco into hyper-efficient stars, something Wilson's already proved himself more than capable of being with the Wolfpack. With the assets surrounding Wilson in Madison and the entire summer to bone up on Chryst's playbook now that he's already left his minor league baseball team, the Badger offense could be nearly as dynamic as it was in 2010.
And look at the Wisconsin schedule: no true road games until back-to-back dates at Michigan State and Ohio State in late October, and key dates with Nebraska and Penn State at home. If the Badgers can get past the Huskers and split the two October roadies, 11-1 and a second-straight BCS berth is right back in play. That's just not the case with Jon Budmayr under center, so, yeah, I think we're talking about a potentially major, national-sized impact -- maybe not crystal football major, but the next best thing.
(And as for the team on the other side of it, yes, Auburn could have used a player of Wilson's physical gifts during what looks like a rebuilding year. But as long as the Tigers have got Gus Malzahn (and two quarterbacks in Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley in their third year of his system to boot), there's only so far their quarterback play can slip; Wilson or no Wilson, they'll have bigger questions to answer than who's under center.)
Bryan Fischer: Going off what Chip said, Wilson's numbers are not the most efficient ones out there. He had to throw the ball 527 times last year, thanks in part to an inconsistent run game that had a few young running backs who tended to have trouble holding onto the ball. Toss in some wideouts that struggled and you get part of the reason he managed to only complete 58 percent of his passes last year. Still, you saw flashes of why he can be a threat with his arm and legs regardless of what talent is around him.
I still think it will take Wilson awhile to get adjusted to 1, playing football again after playing minor league baseball; and 2, Wisconsin's offense. With a big offensive line and very good running game, the Badgers won't need him to make plays right away but rather just be consistent with his play. He does hold the NCAA record for most pass attempts without an interception, and if he can take that part of his game to Camp Randall, I don't see why the Badgers won't be thinking about the Big Ten title game. I'm not ready to anoint them with Wilson coming in, but they certainly have a lot going for them now with an experienced signal-caller.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 5:20 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 5:20 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
Spring time is a time for learning. Ask any coach and you'll hear some derivative of, 'We want to get back to learning the fundamentals' at the beginning of their spring press conference. Now that spring practices have wrapped up for all of the Pac-12 schools though, it's time to figure out what we've learned from them. Here's a few things we've learned about all 12 teams (other than the fact that they're all very rich thanks to the new media deal).
What we've learned: The Ducks are still feeling out the offensive line situation, where they have to replace three of the starting five before taking on a top five team in LSU week one. Mark Asper is set at right tackle and Carson York returns at left guard but beyond that it's a few question marks. Expect the battles to start to continue with a few of the incoming freshmen to get a look once fall camp starts. Luckily the Ducks have two Heisman Trophy candidates in the backfield in running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Williams to smooth the transition as they can both hit the hole quickly with their speed. The defense seems set and will likely be better than last year's unit despite losing their leader, linebacker Casey Matthews, to graduation. Oregon still needs some receivers to step up but early enrollee Colt Lyerla figures to be in the mix early on offense.
What we've learned: Andrew Luck is good. But everybody already knew that. A few pieces around Luck still need to be ironed out though, namely at receiver and on the opposite side of the ball along the defensive line. By all indications the transition from Jim Harbaugh to new head coach David Shaw went smoothly but practices were closed so there's not a ton we can gleam from the Cardinal's spring. Luck led scoring drives on all three series he was in during the Stanford spring game and that's without running back Tyler Gaffney, who was playing baseball all spring. Having the best quarterback in college football seems to cover up a lot of holes.
What we've learned: The Sun Devils will be donning new uniforms in the fall and on top of looking pretty slick, they'll also be carrying the weight of expectations as the Pac-12 South favorite. Injuries were the story of the spring with starting corner Omar Bolden going down with a torn ACL early last year. He's expected to come back later in the season but that's a big blow on an otherwise solid and upperclassman-laden team. Wide out T.J. Simpson also injured his knee. The offensive line, an area of concern for years in the desert, appears to be at full strength and much improved.
What we've learned: Lots of injuries to deal with this spring with the Utes, who had several starters miss the spring game or spring all together. Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was one such player who didn't get a chance to go through practices under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow but he's still expected to be the starter once fall camp opens. There are several players competing at running back and the staff is hopeful after Harvey Langi, John White and Thretton Palamo all had a good spring. Palamo becoming the starter is interesting because he's a former ruby player. Utes also seemed to figure out the replacements in the secondary which was something head coach Kyle Whittingham wanted to do.
What we've learned: There's some talent at USC but the depth is... lacking. The Trojans used to be able to stock pile four and five-star talent but it was evident that Lane Kiffin is doing some rebuilding with 49 out of the 85 scholarship players from the past two recruiting classes. That also means this is a young team but there's a lot to build around in quarterback Matt Barkley and wide out Robert Woods. The defense should be better than a year ago as players grow more comfortable with the system. The secondary should be much improved in particular. With 12 players out for spring and many freshmen expected to contribute, USC still has to figure a few things out in the fall.
What we've learned: Starting quarterback Nick Foles has a talented group of wide outs but he'll have to get the ball to them quickly. While every coach in the country wants their trigger man to get the ball out quickly, Foles has to do so mainly because he'll have an entirely new offensive line in front of him. At the moment both tackles will be redshirt freshmen who haven't played a game but they looked solid this spring. Both defensive ends (who were very productive) are gone but C.J. Parrish impressed everyone coming off the edge this spring. The secondary seems to be rounding into form and Texas transfer Dan Buckner should be a nice target for Foles.
What we've learned: The Bears' practices had to be moved off campus due to construction and that's pretty fitting considering that Cal football was, well, under construction this spring. The situation at quarterback seems to be Zach Maynard over Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgeford but none of the three seems to be particularly appealing based on reports. Jim Michalczik is back in Berkeley as offensive coordinator and we'll see what tweaks he makes but Jeff Tedford will be the play caller and quarterbacks coach this year. The defense will likely be the strength of the team, especially along the defensive line.
What we've learned: Not a ton about the team that will take the field in the fall. Quarterback Ryan Katz sat out with a broken bone in his wrist and all-everything athlete James Rodgers is rehabbing from knee surgery and might not make it back in time for the opener. The offensive line returns four of five and needs to play better but there weren't any indications they did so this spring. Terron Ward seems to have emerged as the favorite to replace Jacquizz Rodgers but there are plenty of players in the mix.
What we've learned: There are plenty of issues on offense out side of the running back position but at least the defense looks better. Being relatively healthy on defense is nice for the new staff and the defensive line looks like it can provide a nice pass rush. The quarterback battle is on hold until the fall but freshman Brett Hundley showed flashes and if he gets the playbook down, could end up the starter. Injuries along the offensive line were an issue once again.
What we've learned: Keith Price is the new starter at quarterback and has the task of keeping the Huskies afloat without Jake Locker and several other starters. Chris Polk has looked good at running back and is primed for another good season if he can deal with more defenders in the box. Three starters along the offensive line needed to be replaced and some of the battles will likely continue in fall camp. Early enrollee Austin Seferian-Jenkins made an impression and figures to make an impact on offense at tight end.
What we've learned: Everything is new for the conference's newest member. First time head coach Jon Embree takes over the reigns as the program tries to reset after a down couple of years. Tyler Hansen had a good spring in the new pro-style offense and the Buffs have a listed 17 starters coming back overall that gives them some hope this year. There's a bunch of questions on defense as the team moves to a more traditional 4-3 alignment from last year's 3-3-5. The front seven seems to be ok coming out of drills but replacing both corners is still a concern.
What we've learned: There are plenty of issues on the Palouse but there's hope this spring. The Cougars are set at quarterback with Jeff Tuel and former starter Marshall Lobbestael and the offensive line seems solid coming out of the spring. The front seven was impressive this spring and should be much improved from last year with a bit of depth Washington State hasn't had. Special teams is a bit of a concern and didn't really get worked out this spring.
Tags: Allan Bridgeford, Andrew Luck, Arizona, Arizona State, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brett Hundley, Brock Mansion, C.J. Parrish, Cal, Carson York, Casey Matthews, Chris Polk, Colorado, Colt Lyerla, Dan Buckner, Darron Williams, David Shaw, Harvey Langi, Heisman Trophy, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jake Locker, James Rodgers Terron Ward, Jeff Tedford, Jeff Tuel, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Michalczik, John White, Jon Embree, Jordan Wynn, Keith Price, Kyle Whittingham, LaMichael James, Lane Kiffin, LSU, Mark Asper, Marshall Lobbestael, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Norm Chow, Omar Bolden, Oregon, Oregon State, Pac-12, Robert Woods, Ryan Katz, Stanford, T.J. Simpson, Texas, Thretton Palamo, Tyler Gaffney, Tyler Hansen, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State, Zach Maynard
Posted on: January 14, 2011 9:21 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 3:20 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason Top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).
1. Baylor - The good news for Baylor: dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III is back along with most of the offense, and while he loses starting tailback Jay Finley to graduation, Finley's backups Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi provide an intriguing balance of power and speed -- they both return. In addition, RG3 gets his top five receivers back (all of whom caught at least 40 passes this year), and three-year starting lineman Philip Baker will be the anchor at center for a mostly intact offensive line. Yes, Baylor still looks wretched at times on defense (53 points to Oklahoma and 55 to Oklahoma State aren't exactly solid efforts), so there's no telling whether the Bears' losses on that side of the ball are addition by subtraction or not, but one thing's for sure: there'll be points put up in Waco in 2011.
2. Illinois - This spot would likely go to fellow "Leader" Penn State if it weren't for the fact that PSU's replacing Evan Royster, two leading receivers, its two best offensive linemen, and there's really no telling who's starting at QB in 2011. Oh, and most of the Penn State defense -- including two of three starting LBs -- is graduating too. Contrast that with Illinois , who found a star quarterback in freshman Nathan Scheelhaase this year and returns four of five starting offensive linemen. The Illini won't miss early declarant Mikel LeShoure much with Jason Ford (who's basically a human truck) waiting to take over at tailback. The defense will definitely miss Martez Wilson and Corey Liuget on the interior, on the other hand; those guys were anchors of a stout rushing defense and their backups are unremarkable. Still, Illinois' 2011 schedule looks primed for some upsets, and nine wins is hardly out of the question. If Wilson and Liuget were returning, Illinois would probably be in Dodd's Top 25, but it's not as if no borderline-Top 25 team has ever exceeded expectations after losing two juniors to the NFL.
3. Utah - Everything's going to come crashing down once Utah joins a "real" conference, right? Maybe not. If QB Jordan Wynn recovers from December shoulder surgery in time for the season (which he should, but six months of rehab can turn into nine without the patient doing anything wrong), he'll be a third-year starter with a reasonable set of returning players. Senior wideout/returner Shaky Smithson is sure to be missed, but this is college football; so it goes. And while Utah's schedule looks daunting, it really could be worse; the Utes miss both Oregon and Stanford in inter-divisional play, and neither BYU nor Pitt should be as tough of matchups as they'd have been over the past couple years. In addition, the schedule's pretty top-heavy, and it's easily possible that Utah wins at least five of six down the stretch. Head coach Kyle Whittingham keeps proving predictions wrong by not bolting for a paycheck elsewhere, and now he's got a chance to lead his Utes into battle in a real conference and destroy the "mid-major" label that's been dogging the program -- even through multiple BCS bowl wins! -- once and for all.
4. Oregon State - Meanwhile, in the Pac-12 North, the Oregon State Beavers have a chance to make noise. Yes, Oregon and Stanford are the class of the division and should remain so for the near future, but don't sleep on the passing skills of QB Ryan Katz , especially now that he'll have his first full season as a starter under his belt. With the game slowing down for him and with Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers both returning at WR (to say nothing of Joe Halahuni coming back at TE), Katz should be able to more effectively use his NFL-caliber arm to put some points up in Corvallis. The offense will miss Jacquizz Rodgers desperately, and while deserved, his jump to the NFL will likely cost the Beavers a win or two. So while the defense struggled in 2010 and stands to lose several seniors, it may not matter in a Pac-12 with several struggling offenses and an OSU attack that should set 30+ points per game as a goal. Scheduling a road date at Wisconsin might not have been the wisest idea, though. Still, look for a push from Oregon State to hit that eight-win mark, which against a schedule like this could mean a spot in the Top 25 when it's all said and done.
5. Tennessee - Dodd ranks eight SEC teams in his Top 25 (26, really, but whatever). We're not sure all will end up ranked at the end of the 2011 season, but one thing seems clear: of the four teams he left out -- Kentucky , Ole Miss , Tennessee , and Vanderbilt -- Tennessee's the closest thing to a contender of the four. No, the SEC East shouldn't spend its entire season on fire like last year, where South Carolina took the division trophy in a five-loss season, but Florida 's going to be experiencing major upheaval and Georgia will be missing A.J. Green (again). With Tyler Bray coming off a successful freshman campaign and returning starting RB Tauren Poole and deep threat wideout Justin Hunter , we could see the Vols make some noise. On defense, the only major loss is leading tackler Nick Reveiz ; Herman Lathers made strides along with the rest of the defense down the stretch, and the secondary returns intact. If there's ever a time to make a run in the East, it's -- well, okay, it was 2010. 2011's not a bad opportunity for the Vols either, though.
Tags: 2011 College Football, 2011 College Football Sleepers, 2011 Sleepers, 2011 Top 25, A.J. Green, Baylor, BYU, Corey Liuget, Florida, Georgia, Herman Lathers, Illinois, Jacquizz Rodgers, James Rodgers, Jarred Salubi, Jason Ford, Jay Finley, Joe Halahuni, Jordan Wynn, Justin Hunter, Kentucky, Kyle Whittingham, Markus Wheaton, Martez, Mikel LeShoure, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nick Reveiz, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, Penn State, Philip Baker, Pitt, Pittsburgh, RG3, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Katz, Shaky Smithson, South Carolina, Stanford, Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Terrance Ganaway, Utah, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin