One Great Season
The only good thing that comes from the days following the official end of the college football season is looking eight months ahead to the start of the next season.
Certainly NFL early defections, a few more coaching hires and next month's National Signing Day — such an overhyped occasion that we now capitalize it — will have their collective impact, but knowing what we know right now, here are the very early Top 5 teams for the 2011 season:
5. Ohio State — Folks in Columbus are thankful for the early enrollment of Braxton Miller, who should challenge Joe Bauserman to carry OSU through September during Terrelle Pryor's suspension. Dan Herron and Devier Posey also will be out for five games, but the Buckeyes are one of those teams whose backups fill in nicely. Look for them to take a 5-0 record into Lincoln for Pryor's return in October.
4. Oklahoma State — Had I published this Top 5 on Tuesday like I was planning, Mike Gundy's crew wouldn't have been in it. But now that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon both announced they'll be returning, look for the Cowboys to challenge OU again in the South. I know Texas A&M is getting plenty of early 2011 love in this division, but the Weeden-to-Blackmon combo will be unstoppable.
3. Oregon — This lofty ranking tells more about Chip Kelly's system than it does about those who return. Because the Ducks are losing many key people on both sides of the ball. But quarterback Darron Thomas is back, as are some of those waterbug play-makers who will continue to light up the scoreboard. One of them is a guy named LaMichael James.
2. Alabama — Remember how last offseason all we could talk about were the heavy losses the Tide suffered on defense? Well, nine of those guys are coming back, and they actually weren't too shabby in 2010. Alabama's defense will be outstanding as a new quarterback gets his legs while handing off to Trent Richardson frequently.
1. Oklahoma — Landry Jones will be a surefire Heisman short-lister, not only because he's got almost two full years of starting under his belt, but because NFL-ready wideout Ryan Broyles is returning as well. Stud linebacker Travis Lewis also announced he's putting the draft on hold, so this Sooners team will be loaded with elite talent, as well as 16 returning starters.
Teams to watch: Texas A&M, LSU, Boise State, Stanford, Florida State