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February 13, 2011

Biggest surprises in pre-spring top 25

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: We have released our pre-spring top 25 for next season. Which team is the most notable omission and which team on the list do you have the most questions about?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
The most notable omission is defending national champion Auburn. The Tigers lose Cameron Newton, Nick Fairley, Darvin Adams, Josh Byrnes, Lee Ziemba and several other excellent players, so it makes sense that they wouldn't be ranked high. But to go from undefeated national champion to unranked raises eyebrows, especially with running backs like Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb still around. I would have expected Auburn to surface somewhere between 20th and 25th, which is where they started (22nd) last season. I have the most questions about Wisconsin. The Badgers lose All-Big Ten QB Scott Tolzien, All-America linemen Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, All-America TE Lance Kendricks, explosive WR/return man David Gilreath and All-Big Ten DE J.J. Watt, their best defensive player. Plus, their schedule will be more demanding than it was last season.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think Utah should be in the top 25. The move to the Pac-12 will be a step up in competition from the Mountain West, but I think the Utes are ready. Plus, I don't think the Pac-12 South Division is that tough. Utah will welcome new coordinator Norm Chow, an offensive icon who could take this inconsistent attack to another level and bring out the best in QB Jordan Wynn, who is coming off a shoulder injury. The defense always is stout. I have serious questions about Stanford. Is this really a top-10 team? I think not. Yes, I know that QB Andrew Luck is back. He will be the Heisman front-runner and face of college football. But the departure of Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers is huge. He was a true cult of personality. Harbaugh brought mojo and swagger to the program, and new coach David Shaw lacks that aura and pizzazz. On top of that, Stanford must replace three starting offensive linemen and seven defensive starters.

David Fox's answer:
For the most notable omission, I'm picking BYU to return to top-25 status, where it finished for four consecutive seasons before 2010. The Cougars were in a transition year last season in the two most important areas -- quarterback and the coaching staff. Bronco Mendenhall has completed his staff overhaul, which began midseason when his defensive coordinator was let go. At quarterback, Jake Heaps was most impressive against lesser competition, especially against UTEP in the bowl game, but Heaps will be better as a sophomore and will start doing damage against more legitimate defenses. Meanwhile, it's tough not to be skeptical of Michigan State at No. 12, two spots higher than where the Spartans finished this past season after being dismantled by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. They face two major losses in LB Greg Jones and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, plus Ohio State is back on the schedule -- in Columbus, no less -- with other road trips to Nebraska and Iowa.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think Penn State is going to bounce back and be a top-25 team next season. Granted, the Nittany Lions don't have an established quarterback, but the pieces are in place elsewhere. The secondary should be the best in the Big Ten, and it will play behind what should be a solid defensive front seven. The receiving corps has potential, as do the tailbacks. The offensive line will be fine. That puts it all on the quarterbacks, and I don't think Penn State is going to have mediocre quarterback play two seasons in a row. As for a team that might be overrated, I'm far from sold on Michigan State. Everything broke right for the Spartans this past season. Last season's offensive line had three fifth-year seniors who started. The two best linebackers were seniors, as were two of the starters in the secondary. I don't think Michigan State is going to collapse. But I don't think there's any way it's going to win 11 games again; I think the Spartans are more along the lines of an eight-win team. I also have questions about Missouri, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State, but not as many as I have about Michigan State.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I don't see any major oversights in the top 25, but you certainly could make a case that BYU deserved mention. BYU rebounded from a dreadful start to win five of its final six games last season. The Cougars have a promising young quarterback in Jake Heaps and one of the nation's top offensive tackles in Matt Reynolds. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has overhauled his coaching staff over the past 12 months, and the Cougars open the 2011 season with a grueling four-game stretch that includes trips to Ole Miss and Texas plus home games with Utah and UCF. But if the Cougars adapt to the new coaches and get through those first four games with at least a split, they have an excellent shot at cracking the national rankings by the end of the season. The ranked team that has the most question marks is Florida. Who is the Gators' quarterback? How much better will the offense get? Will there be any growing pains for new coach Will Muschamp? How effectively will new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis work with Muschamp? I wouldn't be completely surprised if Florida's a top-10 team. I also wouldn't be completely surprised if the Gators are 7-5 again.



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