Anyone in the NFL who thinks an offseason can’t get worse than a lockout should be grateful they aren’t Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, Butch Davis, or anyone from USC, Oregon and Miami. In retrospect, the NFL’s biggest public relations issue besides the lockout was a loud-mouthed linebacker. Could be a lot worse, right? Unfortunately, there was no such luck for the college game.
Now that most of these problems have been or are in the process of being sorted out, publications like Sporting News have named their Top 25 teams for the 2011 season. Let’s pretend the only thing that matters in college football is the games. There certainly have been some major conference shakeups, coaching changes, and team rebuilding projects, but as SN’s Matt Hayes puts it, “there is some semblance of order: the SEC still rules all.”
Perennial powerhouse Florida may still be trying to return to form and defending champs Auburn has only six returning starters, but the SEC is still poised to capture its sixth straight BCS national championship. LSU is SN’s number one team for next season, followed closely by Nick Saban’s Alabama squad. Teams like Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi State are good enough to also be in the fray. Buckle up SEC fans; the road to a prestigious bowl game won’t be smooth.
Then there are the Big Ten and Big 12, two conferences that basically just took part in the ultimate Freaky Friday-esque body swap: the former now has 12 teams and a conference title game while the latter dropped from 12 to 10 teams and decided to get rid of its conference title game. Nebraska is looking to make a splash during its first year in the Big Ten, while Oklahoma and veteran quarterback Landry Jones will try to live up to SN’s number two overall ranking and maintain its Big 12 dominance
Most Big Ten stories will probably be drowned out by the attention-sucking vortex that is Ohio State. A school that once was viewed as a shining example of what any program should aspire to be has been devastated by a rule-breaking quarterback, lying coach, and an athletic director/president willing to throw both of them under the bus. No matter what the Buckeyes do they will be bigger news than anything a possibly much more fascinating team (Like, say, Boise State) does because of all the stigmas surrounding them. Ohio State will become the Terrell Owens of college football, a media circus that isn’t worth the hype.
Speaking of Boise State, this will be its first season in the Mountain West after leaving the WAC. As usual, the Broncos will be heralded as BCS busters. They are number six on SN’s list and boast a Heisman trophy candidate in quarterback Kellen Moore. Hayes claims “there are whispers of a national championship in Boise,” and those fans may be justified. Who knows, this could finally be their year.
Less glamorous conferences like the ACC and Big East are aiming to put their names in the conversation as well. The ACC’s Florida State is right behind Boise in the rankings and looking to rekindle their rivalry with Miami, another school ready to get back into contention. The turtles of Maryland are riding momentum created last season by fired coach Ralph Friedgen, but it will be up to replacement Randy Edsall to keep it going. In the Big East, both Pitt and West Virginia have new coaches – Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen respectively – after indiscretions got their predecessors fired. Watch for the Backyard Brawl between these two teams to be particularly heated.
The Pac-10 is now the Pac-12 with the additions of Colorado and Utah. BYU has become an independent, Texas has its own Longhorn Network. Joe Paterno is getting tackled by his players…so much has changes! One thing is for sure: anyone who thinks soap operas have died should look no further than our nation’s collegiate learning institutions for a show that no writer could script better. Daytime Emmys, take notice.