2011 NCAA Football Major Conference Preview
The 2011 college football season does not kick-off for over two months, but the debate on which teams will come out on top in each of the six major conferences is in full swing. There have been a few shake ups this year with the Big 12 losing Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the newly expanded PAC-12. Utah also joined the PAC-12 from the Mountain West.
Starting with the ACC, its looks like a three-team race to win the conference title this season between Florida State at +150, Virginia Tech at +250, and Miami at +350. The Seminoles finished the 2010 regular season at 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the conference, but lost to the Hokies 44-33 in the ACC title game. Quarterback E.J. Manuel takes over for Christian Ponder and the Florida State defense returns eight starters from last year’s squad. Virginia Tech returns 13 starters from last year’s team that finished 11-3 overall and Miami returns 13 starters as well.
The Big East is shaping up as a battle between West Virginia at +175 and a much better South Florida team that is the second favorite at +250. Pittsburgh is actually ranked higher than the Bulls in most preseason polls but is listed as the third favorite at +500 to win the conference. The Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing 9-4 campaign in 2010 but return eight starters on offense including QB Geno Smith. South Florida went 8-5 last year and is expected to improve upon that record with a solid defense that is bolstered by the return of six starters.
Ohio State’s fall from grace in the Big Ten has opened the door for its newest member, the Cornhuskers at +150 to claim the title. The ageless Joe Paterno has his Penn State Nittany Lions as the second favorite at +250. Nebraska finished its final season in the Big 12 with back-to-back losses to Oklahoma in the title game and Washington in the Holiday Bowl, but returns 13 starters from last year’s team. Penn State will most likely go with sophomore QB Rob Bolden as its starter as the youthful Lions will look to improve upon last season’s 7-6 record.
The Cornhuskers’ exodus from the Big 12 has opened the door for perennial football odds favorite Oklahoma at +250 and Texas A&M at +350 to win that conference’s title. The Sooners have been picked by many as one of the top teams in the country and the odds-on-favorite at +375 to win a national title. They return 16 starters from last season including QB Landry Jones. The Aggies are loaded with talent as their entire starting offense remains intact from last year with the exception of QB Jerrod Johnson, who split time with Ryan Tannehill.
The favorite to win the PAC-12 this season at +175 are last year’s losing team in the BCS Championship, the Oregon Ducks. They will most likely be pressured by Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinals at +250 along with the Utah Utes who are also listed at +250. Oregon lost four starters on offense, but it still has QB Darron Thomas and Heisman Trophy hopeful RB LaMichael James. Luck has already been anointed as the No.1 pick in next year’s NFL draft and should have Stanford in the thick of things all season long. Utah returns just 12 starters from last year’s team that went 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the MWC.
It looks like it could be Alabama’s turn to represent the SEC in this year’s BCS title game as the Crimson Tide are the favorite to win the ultimate power conference at +170. Right on their tails will be Florida at +175. Alabama is once again loaded, especially on defense where it returns 10 starters from a unit that was ranked third in the nation in points allowed. The Gators will have a new head coach with the retirement of Urban Meyer, but return eight starters on offense including RB Chris Rainey, who is poised for a breakout season.
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