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July 20, 2011
2011 Rivals.com Preseason 120 Countdown
Rivals.com presents its 2011 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 120.
We're starting at the bottom, and our No. 1 team will be unveiled Aug. 18 -- two weeks from the start of the season.
Then you won't see any team rankings from Rivals until early October. The reason: We will wait until enough games have been played so we can legitimately rank the teams.
The team rankings were compiled by college football writers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.
Rivals.com Preseason Top 120 Countdown for 2011
Bob Stoops and the Sooners start the season on top of our preseason 120, but Oklahoma's path to the BCS title game is not an easy one.
Alabama looks a lot like the 2009 Tide team that won a national championship. But much hinges on Trent Richardson and a new starting QB.
The Ducks, after a tough offseason off the field, could return to the BCS championship game on the field thanks to their prolific offense.
A difficult early-season schedule will be a challenge, but the Tigers have all the tools to compete for the national title if QB Jordan Jefferson delivers.
5. Boise State
This Broncos team is every bit as good as last year's team that was in the national title hunt. Can Boise reach the BCS national championship game?
First-year coach David Shaw inherited a talented roster from Jim Harbaugh, most notably QB Andrew Luck. Can Shaw keep it going at Stanford?
The Badgers entered spring practice with a big question at quarterback, but the arrival of NC State transfer Russell Wilson this summer solved that issue.
8. Florida State
The Seminoles are thinking BCS with 18 returning starters plus quarterback EJ Manuel, who has big-game experience, ready to take over.
Nebraska is poised to make a splash in its Big Ten debut, but issues loom. If they get settled, the Huskers should win the Legends Division.
10. Texas A&M
The Aggies' fortunes turned around last season when quarterback
11. Oklahoma State
This could be the kind of season billionaire alum T. Boone Pickens was hoping for when he made multimillion-dollar donations to the Cowboys' program.
12. Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer's shuffling of his staff shows that he isn't interested in settling for conference titles. He wants to make a run at a BCS title.
13. Notre Dame
Depth could be an issue for Notre Dame. But if Brian Kelly can settle on a starting quarterback, the Irish could have a special season.
At the least, this looks like a nine-win team. It's not a stretch to say the Sept. 24 game at Alabama will determine how the season will go.
Coming off an undefeated season, TCU once again has high hopes. But there are some big holes to fill for the Frogs.
16. Ohio State
Ohio State was the favorite to win an unprecedented seventh Big Ten crown in a row. Now, the Buckeyes may be playing only for pride.
17. South Carolina
For the first time in seemingly forever, big things are expected from the Gamecocks coming off of winning the SEC East last season.
18. Michigan State
The 2010 season was a breakthrough for Michigan State under Mark Dantonio. Now the Spartans are thinking Big Ten title.
Thanks to NCAA sanctions, USC is not eligible to win the Pac-12 title, but the Trojans will go a long way toward deciding who does.
20. Arizona State
This should be Dennis Erickson's strongest team since he was 10-3 in his first season at ASU. The Sun Devils are talented enough to win the Pac-12 South.
Will Muschamp brings a new staff and a new look to Florida, and there's still loads of talent in Gainesville. But depth could be an issue.
The Longhorns figure to rebound after going 5-7. But will they be merely respectable or championship contenders in the Big 12?
23. Penn State
Coming off consecutive 11-2 seasons, the Nittany Lions took a step back in 2010. But with the growing pains behind them, they could be ready to roar again.
24. West Virginia
Between the ugly departure of Bill Stewart and being placed on NCAA probation, WVU had
The Cougars finished just 7-6 last season, but they looked like a top 25 team toward the end of 2010 - and most of the players from a year ago are back.
If the Utes are competitive through October, they have a chance to make some noise
Mark Richt has had great success in 10 years as coach of the Bulldogs, but they have lost 12 games in the past two seasons and he's under the gun.
The expectations for the Hurricanes last season probably were a little too high. This
29. Air Force
The Falcons have a potent offense, led by QB Tim Jefferson, and they have designs on challenging Boise State and TCU for the Mountain West title.
Cam Newton is gone, and the defending national champion Tigers return only five starters (on offense and defense). Are they headed for a big fall?
31. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are coming off a nine-victory season, but they never have had back-to-back seasons with at least nine wins in their 116-year history of football.
32. Texas Tech
Tommy Tuberville's first season in Lubbock produced an 8-5 record. This season, the
33. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are counting on their talented line and receiving corps to make up for the lack of experience in the backfield. Replacing QB T.J. Yates is key.
James Franklin steps in at quarterback for the Tigers, replacing Blaine Gabbert, and he'll be key if they are going to make a run at the Big 12 championship.
Todd Graham inherits an experienced team, and if the Panthers adapt to the new system fast enough it could be a big season in the Steel City.
How quickly can Brady Hoke turn things aruond? Michigan isn't ready to compete for the Big Ten title, but there's enough talent on hand to return to a bowl.
37. San Diego State
Coach Brady Hoke has left for Michigan, but QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman are back to form a dynamic 1-2 punch for the Aztecs.
The Hawkeyes' schedule sets up very nicely for them. A 9-0 start isn't out of the question, which will make for an interesting finish in the Big Ten race.
The Mustangs, undergoing a revival under June Jones, might be the most talented team
It's tempting to say the Tigers will be one of this season's pleasant surprises, but not everyone is sold on coach Dabo Swinney, who is under fire.
41. Boston College
The Eagles have star power in RB Montel Harris and LB Luke Kuechly, but the lack of a passing game may cost them in the ACC championship race.
Mike Stoops has led the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl appearances, but are the Wildcats legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 South title?
USF has gone to six straight bowls, but Skip Holtz and the Bulls are still looking for a true breakthrough season and that elusive Big East title.
The Terps, who hired UConn's Randy Edsall as their new coach, may have a better team this season, but they may not finish with a better record.
Despite some key personnel losses, especially on defense, UCF has the talent to repeat as C-USA East Division champs and even as the league champ.
The Cougars were a BCS bust last season, but quarterback Case Keenum is back from injury and they should be on the prowl again.
Assuming the Golden Hurricane are as smooth offensively under the new staff as they were with the previous one, Tulsa should vie for the C-USA title.
The Wildcats are in the middle of one of their best runs in school history. How far can
The Volunteers have just eight seniors on the roster, but they have some young and talented players - and they'll be thrown right into the SEC fire.
The Middies have won at least eight games every season since 2003. Can they keep it going with a first-year QB and many new starters on defense?
The Huskies are rising under third-year coach Steve Sarkisian, but Huskies fans are concerned now that quarterback Jake Locker is gone.
52. Oregon State
The Beavers finished with a losing season for the third time since 2000, but they bounced back in a big way the other two times. Can they do it again?
53. Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles' offense is good enough to win the Conference USA championship,
54. Ole Miss
After back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories, the Rebels took a major step back last season, finishing 4-8. Ole Miss may struggle again in the SEC West.
The Warriors enjoyed their best season under fourth-year coach Greg McMackin and are poised to make another run at the WAC championship.
Ron Zook has some momentum, and he'll look to lead the Illini to back-to-back bowls for the first time since they went to five straight in 1988-92.
57. Northern Illinois
Jerry Kill left for Minnesota, but new coach Dave Doeren is a bright mind who has plenty to work with as the Huskies look to keep it rolling.
Now that their 15-year postseason drought is over, the Bears look to become a legitimate contender in the Big 12. They do have Robert Griffin III, after all.
After nearly a decade of futility, Doug Marrone has the Orange on the right track and in line to contend for a Big East championship sooner rather than later.
Despite a quarterback who hasn't played in a year, no proven running back and no games on its home field, the overall feeling at Cal remains optimistic.
Charlie Strong needed only one season to lift the Cardinals out of the malaise of the Steve Kragthorpe era, and all signs point to a return to the Big East elite.
62. Fresno State
With Boise State out of the league, Fresno State has good a chance as any team to win the WAC title this season, but the non-conference schedule is brutal.
The Wildcats have gone to a school-record five straight bowl games, but they finished with a losing record last season and lost their two best players.
64. N.C. State
The good news is the schedule isn't that difficult; a 4-0 start looks likely. But the closing five games make for a tough finish to the regular season.
65. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets have gone to 14 straight bowls, tying the fourth-longest streak nationally. Making it 15 in a row is going to require some work.
Tim Beckman has one of the best teams in the MAC. Experience abounds on both sides of the ball, but the kicking game must improve.
Jon Embree takes on the challenge of leading the program into the expanded Pac-12 and back to national prominence. That likely will require time.
Rick Neuheisel, who brought in new coordinators on both sides of the ball, needs a strong season to retain his job. The opener at Houston should be a test.
69. Kansas State
The Wildcats obviously are hoping to start and finish strong in 2011. That will require better quarterback play and dramatic improvement in run defense.
70. East Carolina
The offense is good enough to win a C-USA crown. But the Pirates have no shot at the
71. Miami University
New coach Don Treadwell has enough talent on hand to keep the RedHawks at or near the top of the MAC East. But the schedule has hurdles.
If the Wolf Pack and their new backfield can get out of a tough early-season stretch with their ego intact, it can make a run at another WAC title.
Rutgers slipped back to the Scarlet Knights of old last season. With major changes on offense and defense, no one will accuse Rutgers of standing still.
The make-or-break stretch of the season will be October. Can Purdue go 2-3 in the month? If not, it may be home for the holidays for the fourth straight year.
Four of the first six games are at home this season, and the schedule as a whole isn't that daunting. Still, getting to a bowl isn't a given by any stretch.
The Trojans should battle Florida International for the Sun Belt title. One advantage for them is Corey Robinson, the best QB in the league, returns.
Al Golden may be gone, but new coach Steve Addazio has a decent roster to work with as the Owls shoot for another winning season.
78. Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs could be the surprise team in the WAC, especially if RB Lennon Creer, a Tennessee transfer, has another big year.
79. Florida International
Mario Cristobal led the Golden Panthers to a winning record and a bowl victory last season, and they have a good chance at a repeat performance.
If the Cavaliers can sort out their quarterback situation, they can earn a bowl bid. A soft early schedule could enable UVa to get off to a 4-1 start.
New coach Paul Pasqualoni won't make many scheme changes, but could the Huskies go from the Big East championship to the cellar in the league?
Turner Gill's first season with the Jayhawks didn't go too well, and it won't get any easier this season with six straight games against bowl teams from '10.
The Bobcats' bowl hopes are fueled by one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the MAC as well as the fact that their big league games are at home.
The Black Knights have reason for optimism after earning their first bowl victory since '85 last season, but they have holes to fill if they want a return trip.
85. Western Michigan
The key for the Broncos' success will be the defense. Can it pick up where it left off in '10, when it allowed a total of 10 total in the final two games?
The Blazers had a shot to go bowling last season but lost a few games (FAU and Rice) they should have won. They should have a similar shot this season.
87. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons took a big step back in 2010, and it may take them a few years to get back into a bowl and into the hunt in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
88. Iowa State
The Cyclones have earned some big win under Paul Rhoads. Now they look to become a contender in a slimmed-down, 10-team Big 12.
The Hoosiers have been to just one bowl since the '93 season, but new coach Kevin Wilson, the former OC at Oklahoma, plans to make Indiana relevant.
90. Colorado State
The Rams should be better offensively with QB Pete Thomas leading the way, but they won't make serious progress until the defense improves.
The Blue Devils showed they can throw the ball in 2010, but they must improve their defense if they're going to make a move up the ACC standings.
Bob Toledo hasn't had a winning record in four seasons as the head coach of the Green Wave, but that may be about to change.
After a 7-6 record and a bowl victory in 2009, the Cowboys fell way back in 2010. An unsettled quarterback situation is an issue this season.
The Warhawks look like a good dark-horse pick to capture the Sun Belt title this season,
95. Central Michigan
The Chippewas took a step back in Dan Enos' first season as coach, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2005. They'll look to rebound.
96. Florida Atlantic
Howard Schnellenberger and the Owls will open up a new 30,000-seat, on-campus stadium this fall, and they hope to use that as momentum.
The Thundering Herd finished strong last season, Doc Holliday's first as coach, and a solid defense gives them lots of optimism heading into this season.
98. North Texas
Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney takes over for the Mean Green, and a .500 season is a legitimate goal in his first season at North Texas.
99. Arkansas State
Hugh Freeze, an assistant for the Red Wolves last season, is now in charge. QB Ryan Aplin could be key to any bowl hopes Arkansas State has this season.
James Franklin, who had been offensive coordinator at Maryland, takes over as coach, and he has a lot of work to do with the Commodores.
101. Washington State
A respectable showing to end the 2010 season has Cougars fans hopeful that the team can move up in the Pac-12 standings this season.
New coach Jerry Kill has been successful everywhere he's been and brought most of his staff from Northern Illinois, but a bowl this season will be tough.
Bobby Hauck had a difficult first season with the Runnin' Rebels, and this season may not be much different. There are holes everywhere.
104. Utah State
The Aggies may very well be the WAC's biggest mystery team. They could flirt with the .500 mark, especially if the new quarterback comes through.
105. Kent State
The Golden Flashes nearly wen't bowling last season thanks to their defense. But three key players are gone, so the offense has to step up this season.
The Owls have a new offensive coordinator, but the defense is going to have to make strides if they are going to get back into the bowl hunt.
107. Middle Tennessee
Even without Dwight Dasher, the Blue Raiders' offense should be good enough to contend for a top-four Sun Belt finish. Defense is the biggest concern.
108. Bowling Green
Dave Clawson took the Falcons to a bowl in 2009, but they regressed last season and could be in for more of the same this season.
The Miners have been successful under Mike Price when the offense has excelled, but only two starters return on that side of the ball.
110. New Mexico
Mike Locksley is coaching for his job this season after back-to-back 1-11 seasons. He has improved the talent level, but it hasn't shown on the field.
111. San Jose State
Freshmen played a key role for the Spartans last season, and all those youngsters should be even better as sophomores in Mike MacIntyre's second season.
112. Western Kentucky
Second-year coach Willie Taggart has done a nice job on the recruiting trail, but it won't likely show up for the Hilltoppers this season.
The Bulls won the MAC title under Turner Gill in 2009 and looked to have turned the corner. But Gill is gone and the team has regressed.
The Vandals went to a bowl in 2009 and just missed last season, but they have lost many key performers so getting to a bowl this season won't be easy.
115. Eastern Michigan
The Eagles won't move up until they get tougher on defense, but coach Ron English has improved the talent on that side of the ball.
116. Ball State
New coach Pete Lembo, who came from Elon, prefers a no-huddle, pro-style offense, so the Cardinals' quarterbacks and wide receivers have a lot to prove.
New coach Mark Hudspeth is a former coach at Division II power North Alabama, where he won a national title. He has the Sun Belt's biggest mystery team.
The Zips were winless last season until their finale against Buffalo, and it very well could be more of the same this season. But they have winnable games.
You can win in C-USA with a bad defense. But when the offense is bad, too, that's trouble. That was the Tigers in 2010. They look to reverse the trend.
120. New Mexico State
The schedule isn't overly difficult, but it won't matter unless the Aggies find a way to ignite their offense. Hopefully a large junior college class will help.