The 2011 season is still eight months away and spring practice hasn't started, but here's an early glance at how the top 25 might look when Athlon's college football annuals hit newsstands in June.
Athlon's Pre-Preseason top 25 release - teams 1-10 and teams 11-20
21. Florida – Urban Meyer is retired – for now – and former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is the new head coach in Gainesville. Muschamp should bring new energy to the program, and Charlie Weis will inject some life into a struggling Florida offense. The defense has plenty of talent and returning pieces to challenge for the SEC East title, but the offense will make or break the Gators’ season.
22. Texas – The Longhorns may not be ready for a return to the national championship, but one thing is for certain – don’t expect a repeat of 5-7. The revamped coaching staff, led by new co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, should provide a spark for a lifeless attack, while the defense should remain solid under new coordinator Manny Diaz. If junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert gets a little help from the running back and receiving corps, the Longhorns could easily win eight or nine games.
23. Auburn – With the departure of Cam Newton and Nick Fairley to the NFL Draft, the Tigers could go from BCS champs to outside of the top 25 in the preseason. Coach Gene Chizik has recruited well, but in addition to Newton and Fairley, the Tigers must replace four starters along the offensive line and improve on defense. Getting to 8-4 or 7-5 is probably a realistic goal for this team.
24. Penn State – Will this be Joe Paterno’s swan song in Happy Valley? With his contract expiring at the end of 2011, there will be plenty of rumors surrounding this team throughout the season. The Nittany Lions lose running back Evan Royster, but Silas Redd is ready to assume the No. 1 role. Quarterback is a big question mark for Penn State. Rob Bolden is back with the team and will compete with Matt McGloin for the starting job. Outside of a non-conference battle against Alabama in Week 2, the Nittany Lions should be favored in each of their first seven games, likely posting a 6-1 record heading into a road date at Northwestern.
25. West Virginia – The Big East will once again be a difficult conference to predict, but the Mountaineers get the early nod as the favorite. The coaching situation will be an interesting scenario to watch, as offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen serves as head coach-in-waiting for one year. Holgorsen’s arrival should spark the offense, while Jeff Casteel is one of the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinators. Despite a couple of key personnel losses on both sides of the ball, expect the Mountaineers to be near the top of the Big East in 2011.
Just missing the cut
Arizona – With quarterback Nick Foles and the dynamic receiving duo of Juron Criner and Dan Bucker, expect the Wildcats to score plenty of points. However, the offensive and defensive lines must be rebuilt and the early schedule is brutal.
Arizona State – Dennis Erickson is squarely on the hot seat entering 2011, but the Sun Devils could enter the season as the favorite to win the Pac-12 South. Arizona State will be dangerous on offense, provided Brock Osweiler settles into the starting quarterback role.
Miami, Fla. – New coach Al Golden has talent to work with, but will the Canes get consistent quarterback play?
Missouri – Losing Blaine Gabbert is a huge blow to Missouri’s Big 12 title hopes next season, but the offense has four returning starters on the offensive line, along with a solid set of receivers for the new quarterback.
NC State – If Russell Wilson decides to return for another year in Raleigh, the Wolfpack will contend for a spot in the preseason top 25.
North Carolina – Despite the loss of several players due to suspension, the Tar Heels managed a respectable 8-5 record in 2010. Quarterback T.J. Yates must be replaced, but sophomore Bryn Renner has a lot of potential.
South Florida – The Bulls lost four Big East games last season, but three of those defeats came by seven points or less. Skip Holtz has the Bulls on the right track, but they must find improvement on offense to challenge West Virginia and Syracuse for the Big East title.
USC – The Trojans have serious question marks along the offensive line, but junior quarterback Matt Barkley is enough to keep the Trojans in contention for the Pac-12 South title.
Utah – Quarterback Jordan Wynn is out six months due to shoulder surgery, but appears on track to start the season opener in 2011. Wynn’s health will be critical to the Utes’ chances of contending in their inaugural Pac-12 season.