Every summer, I anticipate the moment I can check out the college football preview websites, magazines, newspapers, etc. I get a chance to look at depth charts, schedules, pre-season AA's, and who the top freshmen might be. Also each summer, I release a pre-season prediction of what I think the final Top 25 poll might look like.
After several months of research, there are definitely some teams I like and don't like in 2011. This list does not rank how good I think the teams are in order, but how I think they will end up based on conference, schedule, and other factors.
A weekly top 25 poll will begin the Sunday after the 1st full Saturday of games, but until then, here is the RSM Top 25.
1. Alabama (13-0) - There is a lot of pressure on AJ McCarron as a sophomore, but they are still good enough to win the SEC and go undefeated. There are no road games against top 15 teams (Penn St, UF, Miss, Miss St, AU) and the Tide will lock up a spot in the National Title game by defeating South Carolina in the GA Dome
2. Wisconsin (13-0) - As you can see, I really like the Badgers this year. The mass exodus at OSU, along with a favorable schedule give Wisconsin a great shot to go undefeated. Camp Randall is one of the toughest places to play in the country, and Wisconsin doesn't have a true road game until 10/22. That will give new QB Russell Wilson time to get acclimated with the squad and handle back-to-back road games against Michigan St and Ohio St. The biggest obstacles are the aforementioned road games and a home date versus new Big 10 team Nebraska.
3. Oklahoma (11-1) - Like the SEC, the Big 12 has several excellent teams in 2011, but it will be very difficult to go undefeated. Throw in the Sooners road game against FSU, and there are a lot of tough teams on their schedule (Mizzou, @Ok St, A&M, Texas, @KSU). They will slip up once, which will be one too many to get them to the BCS Title Game.
4. Florida St (12-1) - The Seminoles build off a strong Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina with an ACC Title and top 5 finish. While EJ Manuel is a new starter at QB, he has experience and may be the best QB in the entire conference. The defense only has 3 new starters, but Tank Carradine may their best defender outside of Greg Reid.
5. Arkansas (10-2) - The Razorbacks get into the top 5 by winning at LSU over Thanksgiving despite not winning the SEC West. Tyler Wilson showed he is an elite passer in limited time last season, and the schedule finally sets up for Bobby Petrino.
6. Arizona St (11-2) - Another surprise team for 2011 that jumps into the top 10 after defeating Oregon in the 1st Pac-12 Title game. This team has a ton of guys back from last year, losing only 17 letter winners. They avoid Stanford from the North, and played a lot of really good teams close in 2010 (L @ Wisconsin 20-19, L vs Oregon 42-31, L @ USC 34-33). Brock Osweiler (6'8) is one of the biggest QB's in the country and was arguably the Sun Devils best QB in 2010.
7. Virginia Tech (11-2) - Although they lost to FSU in the ACCCG, the Hokies will be on the national scene for most of 2011. They have a very favorable schedule and do not play any big name out of conference opponents for the 1st time in many years (BSU, Bama, Nebraska, LSU, etc). That will give new QB Logan Thomas time to get rolling and give VT another strong season.
8. Oregon (11-2) - The Ducks will keep momentum from 2010 by defeating LSU in Dallas, but after losing at Stanford and to ASU in the Pac-12 CG, a BCS at-large bowl will be their best case scenario.
9. South Carolina (10-3) - The SEC East Champion Gamecocks will again fall in the GA Dome, but it will be another successful season for Steve Spurrier. The defense is still very talented, and play-makers Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery will provide plenty of scores.
10. Texas A&M (10-2) - Coach Mike Sherman had the Aggies playing very well at the end of 2010, despite a 17 point bowl loss to LSU. The entire offense is back, led by possible All-American RB Cyrus Gray. The defense also returns a lot, although the loss of Von Miller will hurt. Biggest hurdles will be 9/24 vs OSU, 10/1 vs Arkansas, 10/29 vs Mizzou, and 11/5 @OU,
11. Notre Dame (10-2) - Year 2 under Brian Kelly could see the Irish back in a BCS Bowl game. The schedule eases up a bit, but is still quite rigorous. Road games against Michigan, MSU, Purdue, and Stanford along with home games against USF, Navy, USAFA, and USC will determine how far ND can go. After winning their final 4 games of 2010 and Michael Floyd coming back with a veteran QB, look for the Irish to move back into the spotlight.
12. Nebraska (10-3) - The newcomers to the Big-12 won't be able to get past Wisconsin, but should escape most of their other games unscathed. Returning Taylor Martinez, Jared Crick, and Alfonzo Dennard will give the Huskers enough fire-power to make a Big splash in Year 1 in their new conference.
13. Stanford (9-3) - A lot of offensive and defensive losses will prevent the 2012 #1 pick Andrew Luck from getting Stanford in the National Title hunt. A 1st year head coach and some tough games against Oregon, ND, USC, and @Arizona will be a tough hurdle for this Cardinal team.
14. Oklahoma St (9-3) - A high-powered offense will make OSU fun to watch but some key personnel losses along with a tough schedule (@A&M, @Texas, @Mizzou, OU) will keep this Cowboy team from reaching 10+ wins like the 2010 version.
15. UGA (9-3) - If, and a big if, UGA can escape their 1st two games (BSU, USC), the schedule sets up nicely as the avoid LSU, ARK, and BAMA from the West. They have the top QB in the SEC and some needed energy around the program, which should lead to the 3 game turn-around from 2010.
16. Pitt (9-3) - The Big East champs will face another competitive Big East as USF, UConn, and WVU will all be pretty good. Pitt gets the nod with an excellent front 7 and returning starter at QB, which will help notch home wins against USF and UConn.
17. Boise St (10-2) - Boise will lose a tough game against UGA to start the season, along with another out of a tough group of match-ups (@Toledo, Nevada, USAFA, @Fresno, TCU) but keep the winning tradition going in year 1 in the MWC.
18. LSU (8-4) - A tough schedule and still offensively-challenged LSU team will lose its opener (Oregon) and finale (Arkansas) along with 11/5 at Alabama. I also don't think they escape the @MSU, @WVU, UK, UF, @UT, AU stretch without at least 1 more loss. This is a very talented team with a lot of returners, but the schedule doesn't work out nearly as well as it did in 2010.
19. Northwestern (9-3) - Although they stumbled down the stretch in 2010, the Wildcats have a ton of experience and favorable schedule in 2011. If they can go 3-2 on the road, the home schedule sets up nicely as this looks like a 9 win team with Dan Persa coming back at QB.
20. Texas (8-4) - Texas should bounce back nicely after a 5-7 2010, and 2nd year starter Garrett Gilbert will help lead the way. While they are still a bit behind OU, 2011 for the Longhorns will mean a return back to the national scene.
21. Air Force (10-2) - A lot of returners for a team that finished '10 with 4 straight wins and their only losses were by 2 @SDSU, by 5 vs Utah, by 3 to Oklahoma, and a bad blowout loss to Rose Bowl champ TCU. Road trips to ND and Boise will be tough, but USAFA gets revenge on TCU and gets to 10 wins.
22. Michigan St (8-4) - The Spartans have an elite QB in Kirk Cousins and some very good players on D, but look for them to be in the middle of the pack in the new Big-10 due to a brutal schedule that includes road games against ND,OSU, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern.
23. USC - (8-4) - Matt Barkley is an elite QB, but this program still has a way to go to get back to being a 10 win team each year. Road trips to ASU, ND, and Oregon don't help make the schedule any easier either.
24. Southern Miss - (11-1) - The Golden Eagles only lost 18 letter winners from 2010 and have a very favorable schedule. It would not be surprising to see them survive their 6 road tests and get to 12-0.
25. Kansas St (8-4) - Newcomers Justin Tuggle, Bryce Brown, and Arthur Brown are very talented players that will help a veteran KSU squad become nationally significant again.