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Tag:A.J. Green
Posted on: August 8, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-SEC team

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As part of CBSSports.com's season preview, we offer one blogger's choices for preseason All-SEC.
Our team includes 11 players on either side of the ball, because any more is cheating.

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Murray, rSoph., Georgia.
A 24-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio would be damn good for any quarterback. For a redshirt freshman in his first year on the job playing without the benefit of a strong running game, it was downright outstanding. (And, in fact, made him the most efficient underclassman quarterback in the country.) Murray should emerge as the conference's clearcut best passer as a sophomore.

Also watch for: Mississippi State's Chris Relf, the conference's best rushing quarterback and option operator; Arkansas's Tyler Wilson, like all Bobby Petrino pupils a 300-yard day waiting to happen; and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Murray's biggest competition for first-team honors if he can eliminate the backbreaking turnovers that have plagued his career.

RUNNING BACK

Trent Richardson, Jr., Alabama.
Boasting arguably the nation's best combination of power and speed at the position, Richardson should find himself carrying the lion's share of the load for a Tide offense that's never shied away from pounding out wins on the ground--and will shy away even less in 2011 with an unsettled passing game and ruthless defense.

Marcus Lattimore, Soph., South Carolina. The league's near-unquestioned leader in yards-after-contact, Lattimore's ruggedness and stamina sometimes overshadowed his other stunning gifts: his Mark Ingram-esque balance, surprising acceleration, and maybe the best pair of hands for a back in the SEC. Maybe the nation's best all-around back.

Also watch for: pretty much everyone, given even the SEC's least-heralded backs (like, say, Tennessee's overlooked Tauren Poole) have the potential for a 1,200- to 1,300-yard season. But we'll spotlight Arkansas workhorse Knile Davis, a good bet to finish as the league's top rusher despite the Heisman candidates above.

WIDE RECEIVER

Alshon Jeffery, Jr., South Carolina.
The league's leading receiver in 2010 by nearly 400 yards, there are sea urchins that could tell you Jeffery belongs here. A consensus preseason All-American and first-round lock, don't be surprised if he walks away with this year's Biletnikoff Award.

Greg Childs, Sr., Arkansas.
We're five selections in now and have yet to break ranks with preseason consensus, but we're not going to in this slot, either; at an NFL-ready 6'3", 215, Childs was step-for-statistical-step with Jeffery last season before an injury cut things short. Expect him to make up for lost time in 2011.

Also watch for: Childs' Razorback teammates Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, either of which could top 1,000 yards themselves; Tennessee sophomore home-run threat Justin Hunter; and junior Emory Blake, who could see a massive statistical bump as the No. 1 receiver in Auburn's more aerial-friendly offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C William Vlachos, Sr., Alabama.
The senior leader of what shapes up as the conference's best offensive line, Vlachos will have a shot at the Rimington Trophy.

OT Barrett Jones, Jr., Alabama.
After two years at guard, the All-SEC performer and All-American candidate moves to tackle for 2011.

OT Bobby Massie, Jr., Ole Miss.
Senior teammate Bradley Sowell could fit in this slot, but we like the immensely talented 6'6", 315-pound mauler to take another big step forward, especially in the run game.

OG Alvin Bailey, rSoph., Arkansas. Speaking of steps forward, Bailey started all 13 games in 2010, earned freshman All-American honors, and should be the focal point of an improved Hog ground game.

OG Larry Warford, Sr., Kentucky. The future pro was named second-team All-SEC a year ago and preseason All-SEC this year by both the media and coaches--not an easy thing to do at Kentucky.

Also watch for: Sowell, for one. But every SEC team has at least one player or two with all-conference potential. Perhaps the most likely candidates not listed above are at Georgia, where center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn could put an end to the Bulldogs' years of line underachievement in their senior seasons.

TIGHT END

Orson Charles, Jr. Georgia.
No other returning tight end in the league was close to his 26 receptions for 422 yards last year--and with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, Charles's role in the Bulldog offense should only expand from here.

Also watch for: Auburn's Phillip Lutzenkirchen, also due to see a numbers spike thanks to other receivers' departures. And if Florida jack-of-all-trades Jordan Reed sticks to TE, expect an impact from him as well.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Jake Bequette, Sr. Arkansas. In collecting seven sacks a year ago, Bequette emerged as the most explosive performer in the Hogs' highly-underrated front seven.

DE Devin Taylor, Jr., South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished a quiet third in the SEC last season in rush defense, due in large part to Taylor's 13 tackles-for-loss (tops among returning linemen) and 7.5 sacks.

DT Malik Jackson, Sr., Tennessee. It won't be easy for the talkative Jackson this season--he's the Vols' only returning starter in the front seven, and he's already missing two weeks of practice with a knee injury--but no returning SEC tackle was as disruptive in 2010.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Soph., Florida. Part of Urban Meyer's famous five-star haul in February 2010, Floyd collected 6.5 tackles-for-loss despite only starting two games and has reportedly been unblockable in recent Gator practices.

Also watch for: the nose tackles in either Alabama's or Georgia's 3-4 schemes--Josh Chapman in Tuscaloosa, and Kwame Geathers or Johnathan Jenkins in Athens. Ole Miss end Kentrell Lockett is in his sixth year and could lead the league in sacks if healthy. And the early reports are that megarecruits Jadeveon Clowney (at Carolina) and Anthony Johnson (at LSU) are as good as advertised.

LINEBACKERS

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Sr. Alabama.
Seven sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago, and those numbers should only improve as Nick Saban makes him the cornerstone of a more-dedicated Tide pass rush.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, Jr. Alabama. Hightower's rusty 2010 return from an ACL injury doesn't merit inclusion here, but his experience -- combined with the expected return of the athleticism he flashed a freshman All-American in 2008 -- certainly does.

MLB Danny Trevathan, Sr., Kentucky. We're fudging the formation a bit with two inside 'backers and just one OLB, but it's worth it to make room for the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago.

Also watch for: the excellent tandem of Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin at Arkansas, or Chris Marve at Vanderbilt, or LSU's underrated Ryan Baker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB Tyrann Mathieu, Soph., LSU.
Teammate Morris Claiborne has received most of the preseason love, but Mathieu came on like gangbusters at the end of his freshman season -- culminating in an MVP performance at the Cotton Bowl -- and should be ready for an all-conference season.

CB Casey Hayward, Sr., Vanderbilt. The Commodores' disappointing 2010 wasn't Hayward's fault; his 17 passes defended led the SEC, and his six interceptions placed him second.

S Mark Barron, Sr., Alabama. His All-American status overrates him ever-so-slightly -- it's possible to get deep on Barron occasionally, if not frequently -- but no defensive back in the league (and maybe the country) has a better nose for the ball or knack for the game-changing play.

S Robert Lester, Jr., Alabama. Two Tide safeties might feel like overkill, but there's not really any arguing with numbers like these: an SEC-high eight interceptions, 12 passes defended, 52 tackles, and the Tide's league-best opposing passer rating of just 103.56.

Also watch for: Tennessee's Janzen Jackson, now that he's reportedly reported to camp in great shape after his layoff; Claiborne, obviously; Razorback safety Tramain Thomas; Georgia corner Brandon Boykin; and oh, fine, Stephon Gilmore. We don't think netting two pass breakups and three picks for a Gamecock pass defense ranked 97th in the country adds up to being an All-SEC player, but we're in the minority.

SPECIALISTS

P Drew Butler, Sr., Georgia; PK Blair Walsh, Sr., Georgia.
We wish the Bulldog specialists the best of luck in their 11th year in Athens. (No, we refuse to believe the pair of them have only had four years of eligibility each.)

Posted on: June 3, 2011 2:45 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:54 am
 

CBS College Football 100, No. 37: Isaiah Crowell

A special weekend breakout entry for the CBSSports.com College Football 100. You can read the rest of Nos. 40-31 here.

37. ISAIAH CROWELL, running back, Georgia.



Entering 2010, you could find the occasional pundit (and more than the occasional fan) who'd tell you Mark Richt was on the hot seat. Clearly, they were a year early; any SEC coach (Vanderbilt's excepted) who's legitimately on the hot seat doesn't go 6-7 with losses to a miserable Colorado team and a Conference USA opponent and retain his job. Richt did.

But if he wasn't on the hot seat then, another year spent wallowing in mediocrity, another year losing to Florida, another year spent saying "wait 'til next year" has assured that Richt is most definitely on the hot seat now. Any fewer than, say, nine wins and at least a runner-up finish in the SEC East, and there's no way even a measured, patient program like Georgia will be able to bring him back. And so it's only natural that with his job in jeopardy like never before, Richt is spearheading his team's turnaround with ... a freshman?

Almost: freshmen, if we're being technical, the so-called "Dream Team" of primarily in-state prospects that gave Richt his strongest recruiting class in years and seemed to singlehandedly restore momentum to the program. But even the five-star likes of defensive end Ray Drew and defensive back Malcolm Mitchell won't be expected to become the centerpieces of the Bulldog defense overnight. Isaiah Crowell, though? No, he's not even on campus yet. But the true freshman running back from Columbus (Ga.) is no doubt already the foundation on which much of Richt's offensive plans are being laid.

Just ask him:
“Heavily,” Richt said on ESPNU when asked how Crowell would be used next fall. “I expect him to come right in and compete right away. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him running that rock in the dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do.”
For a publicly conservative-by-nature coach like Richt, an admission like that is tantamount to declaring Crowell the unquestioned starter ... and that was on Signing Day. Clearly, Richt believes Crowell to be the game-changer at tailback the Bulldogs haven't had since Knowshon Moreno departed, and he expects him to be that player from Day 1.

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But Richt almost has no choice to believe that, because the Bulldog offense needs him to be that player from Day 1. Aaron Murray put together a sensational freshman season at quarterback, but last season proved there's only so much he can do (even with the likes of A.J. Green around) without playmaking help elsewhere at the skill position. And with Green gone, the offensive line talented but in flux, the best remaining receiving target tight end Orson Charles, and Washaun Ealey finally exiled, Crowell looks to be far-and-away Murray's best bet to get that help. He might even be his only bet.

There's plenty of evidence, though, that Crowell is a bet that'll pay off in spades. Like current Heisman candidates Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore, Crowell arrives at Georgia not only with consensus five-star approval from the recruiting gurus but the honor of being the most sought-after SEC running back in his class. (Alabama and Auburn both fought tooth-and-nail for Crowell, to no avail.) At 5'11" and a solidly-built 210 pounds, Crowell already has the frame to deliver 25 carries a game and the power and speed to make those carries count.

In short, Crowell has both the opportunity and the talent to do for the Bulldogs exactly what Lattimore did for South Carolina last season. If he lives up to the hype, there's no reason Richt can't ride him right past a forgiving schedule (with no Alabama, LSU or Arkansas out of the West and no road game more difficult than Tennessee) all the way to Atlanta. If he doesn't? Most likely, someone other than Richt is patrolling the Bulldogs' sideline in 2012.

The guess here is that Crowell delivers, and the "Dream Team" momentum carries Richt into 2012 and beyond. But either way, Crowell enters 2011 as the most important true freshman in the SEC ... and possibly the country.

Posted on: April 29, 2011 1:45 pm
 

SEC dominates first round of NFL draft

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The SEC has been dominating the college football landscape for quite a while now, as the conference has been the home of the last five national champions. So it's not exactly surprising that during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, more players who called the SEC home during their college career were taken than any other conference.

In fact, nearly a third of the players taken on Thursday night were SEC players. There were 32 picks, and 10 of them were from the SEC, including five of the first six picks. The only non-SEC player taken in the top six was Texas A&M's Von Miller, who went to the Denver Broncos with the second pick. Other than that there was a distinct SEC flavor, with the state of Alabama being able to lay claim as the best college football state in the country. Auburn saw Cam Newton go to Carolina with the first pick, while Nick Fairley went 13th to the Detroit Lions.  Then there was the Crimson Tide, who basically had their own table in the green room, and everyone who sat at it -- and even one player who didn't -- heard their name called on Thursday night.

Marcell Dareus (#3 Buffalo), Julio Jones (#6 Atlanta), James Carpenter (#25 Seattle) and Mark Ingram (#28 New Orleans) all gave Nick Saban some valuable face time on television last night. Elsewhere in the conference, Georgia's A.J. Green (#4 Cincinnati), LSU's Patrick Peterson (#5 Arizona), Florida's Mike Pouncey (#15 Miami) and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod (#32 Green Bay) were drafted as well.

Here's a look at selections by conference in last night's first round (both Nebraska and Colorado still counted for the Big 12).

  1. SEC - 10
  2. Big 12 - 8
  3. Big 10 - 6
  4. Pac-12 - 3
  5. ACC - 3
  6. Big East - 1
  7. MAC - 1

That's it. While it was a great year for the Big 12, what's somewhat surprising about the eight players drafted from the conference is that Missouri had two, Colorado had two and Baylor had another two. Not exactly your classic Big 12 powers. In fact, Oklahoma and Texas combined for none of the picks last night. Which can be looked at two ways. You might say that it's because neither school produced any top talent last season. I prefer to think of it as neither school lost any of its top talent this year.

There's a reason a lot of people think Oklahoma will start the year at #1 after all.

Then there was the Big 10, who had six picks, but it should be noted that all six players drafted from the Big Ten last night were lineman, whether offensive or defensive. Surprise! The Big Ten didn't have any top talent at the "skill" positions. Still, if you're a skilled defensive lineman in high school right now, there are worse places for you to play than the Big Ten, as Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, and Iowa all sent members of the defensive line to the NFL last night.

Then, in other not-so-surprising news, we see that the Big East had only one player taken in the first round last night. The same amount as the MAC, which was the only non-BCS conference to be noticed last night, as Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson went to the Jets with the 30th selection. The one Big East player to be taken was Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin to Kansas City at 26, which came as a bit of a surprise as most grades on Baldwin saw him as being an early to mid-second round pick.

Of course, this isn't the end of the NFL Draft by any means. There are still three days and six rounds left to get through, and who knows what the numbers will look like by Sunday night? More importantly, the true measuring stick of the conferences success on the pro level won't be known for years. It's not the amount of players you funnel into the league, it's the players who last on the next level and succeed that really tell the story.

Though that's not going to stop the "S-E-C!" chants.

Posted on: April 27, 2011 12:07 pm
 

SEC ref: no 'borderline' unsportsmanlike flags

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Aside from possibly Cam Newton (in locales outside of East Central Alabama, anyway), there's nothing college football fans despise more than an unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with the game on the line. There's not a fan alive who wouldn't prefer officials keep their flags in their pocket whenever possible, and given the emotion, competitiveness and spectacle of a big college football game, it's almost always possible to let a touchdown celebration to go unpunished.

Which is why the NCAA's decision to potentially make those penalties even more damaging in 2011 -- by making them a live ball foul when committed before the whistle, thus able to take an otherwise legitimate touchdown off the board -- has already become the most criticized, most hated rules change in recent memory.

But one SEC official says the furor is going to be much ado about nothing. Speaking to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the SEC's John Wright assures fans the zebras aren't going to deploy the nuclear unsportsmanlike option unless they have to (emphasis added):
Wright ... says conference officials won’t be “nitpicky.”

“If somebody turns a flip or flips a bird at somebody, a team should be penalized,” he said. “But if somebody does something borderline, we will not call it. Everybody in the stadium will know (that it was an unsportsmanlike act) if we call it.

“The way we have been told (by the SEC), these things have to jump out at you. If a guy stands over somebody and beats his chest, we know that’s a foul.”
SEC supervisor of officials Steve Shaw echoed Wright's statements, saying the league has made those calls a point of offseason emphasis and that "we don't want to be too technical" when applying the rule.

But we already knew the SEC doesn't like overzealous unsportsmanlike flags. Remember A.J. Green getting penalized for this in the dying minutes against LSU?



The league subsequently admitted the call had been blown, but by then the Bulldogs had already lost. And even if the SEC is doing its best to prevent needless unsportsmanlike calls, what about the leagues whose officials have been responsible for this ...



... or this* ...
 


If there's any silver lining to this collection of horrors, it's that even in 2011, none of these flags would have negated the touchdowns in question. But that lining doesn't remove the giant black cloud that suggests that given the power to unnecessarily alter the score over perceived unsportsmanlike conduct, some official somewhere will.

So we appreciate Wright's reassurances. But until/unless we actually reach the end of the 2011 season without some new outrage perpetrated by this rule, we're going to continue believing this to be a terrible, terrible idea.

*Incidentally, this was the officiating decision which Lou Holtz would later decry as a "shavesty of justice." Just so you know.

HT: DocSat.

Posted on: March 10, 2011 1:42 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Georgia

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia , who begins spring practice today.


Spring Practice Question: Is the Bulldog offense ready to make a push up front?


Entering 2010, the biggest reason Georgia was supposed to be the biggest challenger to two-time defending SEC East champion (and heavy 2010 favorite) Florida was, not coincidentally, their biggest players. Led by veterans like bookend senior tackles Clint Boling and Josh Davis, the Bulldogs boasted the nation's most experienced offensive line . With highly-regarded (and well-compensated) OL coach Stacy Searels leading the unit, the line was believed to be the SEC's best.

Entering 2011, things are very, very different. That line fell far short of the advance hype, with the Bulldogs finishing a disappointing 10th in the SEC in rushing (ahead of only Vanderbilt and Tennessee), doing nothing special in pass protection, and even seeing Searels juggle the lineup late in the year. Though the line wasn't the only problem, it also did precious little to help as Georgia scored 12 points or fewer three times (all losses) and finished a mediocre 56th in the country in total offense. Following the disappointment, Boling, Davis, Trinton Sturdivant (who eventually replaced Davis) and guard Chris Davis all graduated. Searels accepted the same position at Texas. And the advance hype will almost certainly move on to some other team this offseason.

But that doesn't mean it's too late for the Georgia line to get Mark Richt to another SEC title game. For starters, there's still plenty of talent on hand even after the departures, starting with senior center Ben Jones (pictured, a 2009 All-SEC pick before being overlooked last year), 325-pound senior guard Cordy Glenn, and junior guard Kenarious Gates, another player who ascended to the starting lineup late in the year. After seemingly tuning out Searels last year, the Bulldogs will have a new voice in their ears in new coach Will Friend. And maybe most importantly of all, the remaining Bulldogs will have the sting of last year's failures -- rather than an offseason of praise -- fueling them. If Georgia's spring practice shows that the line is enjoying the proverbial addition by subtraction and looks poised to make good on the hype a year late, the rest of the SEC should look out.

Previous Spring Primers
Why? Because if the Dawg line falls into place, everything else on the offense should, too. Aaron Murray was arguably the nation's best freshman quarterback in 2010 and could be the SEC's best signal-caller as a redshirt sophomore. Even with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone, players like Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, and Rantavious Wooten -- not to mention future NFL tight end Orson Charles -- give the Bulldog receiving corps plenty of potential. And maybe most importantly of all, though he won't be in for spring, incoming tailback recruit Isaiah Crowell could deliver a Marcus Lattimore- like impact for an offense that spent 2010 crying out for a game-changer in the backfield.

Add all of that to a defense that seems certain to improve in the second year of Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, in a division that's as wide open as any in the SEC's recent memory, and the tools are there for Richt to forge a championship season out of even the miserable ashes of 6-7. But they won't do much good without a huge step forward from the offensive line, and that's where Bulldog fans' primary focus ought to be this spring.

Posted on: March 10, 2011 12:58 pm
 

Georgia LB: former teammates were "cancerous"

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A whole host of explanations have been floated over the past few months for Georgia's 6-7 disaster of a 2010 college football season, from a shoddy temporary weight room to bad fourth quarter luck to poor coaching from Mark Richt and his staff to plain ol' "not that good."

But few of those explanations have carried the kind of force that junior linebacker Christian Robinson's does. Speaking with Chris Low, Robinson blamed the 2010 collapse on a lack of leadership in no uncertain terms (emphasis added) :
“We’re holding each other accountable and have the right kind of attitude,” Robinson said. “I think we’ve eliminated some people maybe that were cancerous , whether it was people who graduated or might not be here anymore. We’ve become a team of guys that want to be here and want to do well for Georgia.”
Obviously, that's some awfully strong (and not particularly sensitive) language Robinson's wielding. But is he wrong? The reason there's been so much speculation regarding Georgia's season is because in some ways, it defied explanation; for a team with supreme talents like A.J. Green, Justin Houston and Clint Boling to go under .500 with their freshman quarterback generally excelling and the Bulldogs statistical profile perfectly intact (UGA finished fourth in the SEC in both yards per-play and yards per-play allowed) doesn't make much sense.

So the leadership void is as good an explanation as any. And if Robinson's correct that that void has been filled, Georgia could find themselves returning to the conference title conversation in a hurry.

Posted on: January 17, 2011 1:31 pm
 

Big blow for UGA as Justin Houston declares

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

If the nationwide trend this offseason has been for premium-grade junior talent to surprisingly come back to school -- see Andrew Luck, Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, etc. -- no one told the SEC.

Just ask Georgia, who over the weekend lost outside linebacker-slash-pass rush specialist Justin Houston to the draft just ahead of the deadline . Houston joins the Bulldogs' A.J. Green in forgoing his senior season in Athens and is projected as a late first-round pick in the latest CBSSports.com mock draft .

For a player custom-made for the NFL's predominant 3-4 defense -- just ask NFL-trained Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose 3-4 schemes made Houston a 10-sack terror off the edge, not to mention a  Nagurski Trophy finalist -- the decision to come out couldn't have been too difficult. (We won't be surprised if Houston winds up looking like a steal if he does go as late as currently projected.) But it won't make it any easier for Mark Richt or Bulldog fans to stomach; between Houston's departure and the graduation of seniors Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble, Grantham's linebacking unit will have to be almost entirely rebuilt.

Unfortunately for Richt, after the 6-7 disaster of 2010, he may not be able to afford to wait for that rebuilding job to pay dividends. He paid Grantham good money to come to Athens from the Dallas Cowboys, and now Grantham will have to earn it. With major improvement required to keep Richt employed and now neither of the Bulldogs' best players from 2010 available in 2011, there won't be any time to waste.

Posted on: January 14, 2011 9:21 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 3:20 pm
 

5 Up: Potential 2011 sleeper teams

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).

So earlier today we named five that are in his Top 25 that might slip out or could otherwise disappoint, and right now we'll name five more teams we think can crack that Top 25 next season. Without further ado (and in no particular order):

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.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com