Wednesday, July 20, 2011

KD's Top 10 College Football Games for 2011

Sorry for the brief hiatus the past two days, we should be back on track now. It's better late than never, but my Top 10 College Football Games of 2011 are finally here. Obviously college football rivalries happen with pretty much weekly regularity, and a few of them happened to make my list. That being said, you won't see a game like Michigan vs. Ohio State on the list, as I tried to pick the best games that will occur this year, meaning that both teams should be good and that the game will have significant bearing on the BCS standings. I don't see Michigan vs. Ohio State fitting those characteristics this year.

Now, after reviewing my games, it's pretty tough to determine an exact 1-10 order. Obviously teams records will change and may knock the game down slightly in the rankings, but on paper, prior to the season these are the marquee matchups. I've listed them in the order that they will occur on the calendar from earliest to latest. I've listed the teams, their ranks, game date, location, and will have a rundown of each team. I'll list a key player to watch on each team as well, and if it is a rivlary game, you'll have the moniker associated with it, or one cleverly made up by yours truly. Here we go.

Please note these rankings reflect ESPN's Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top 25 rankings as published January 11, 2011 to keep consistent with my prior college football articles. That, and rankings haven't been released yet.

1) #3 Oregon vs. #4 LSU
Date: September 3rd
Location: Cowboys Stadium, Dallas Texas
Moniker: The NCAA Probe Bowl

Preview: Just yesterday, LSU got hit with a year's probation and sanctions for recruiting violations centered on former junior college recruit Akiem Hicks and former assistant D.J. McCarthy. Oregon is currently being probed by the NCAA for the recruitment of LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk, and their relationships and financial dealings with Will Lyles and Baron Flanery. Oregon's high-powered offense will matchup with LSU's retooled defense in a Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown. LaMichael James will be suspended for the matchup due to an altercation with his girlfriend last year, so the Ducks will have to rely on Darron Thomas and Kenyon Barner. LSU has some quarterback issues, and Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will probably both see time, so expect the Tigers to rely on the running of Spencer Ware.

Key Players: I'll have to go with Barner and Ware here. Both of them should carry their teams in this game. Barner is a dynamic weapon as a kick returner, running back, and they've put him in the slot and out wide at times. He should see action all over the field. Ware, a converted quarterback is a pounder at 5'11" 225lbs, and he'll see a lot of work.

Predicted Winner: I like LSU's defense and their ability to grind the clock in this game to slow down the Ducks. Without LaMichael James, the Tigers will be able to key on Kenyon Barner, and Oregon's top two receivers from last year are both gone. The SEC takes this one.

2) #1 Oklahoma at #7 Florida State
Date: September 17th
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahasse, Florida.
Moniker: The Trail of Tears Game

Preview: These two teams have hooked up in an inter-conference matchup the past two years. Oklahoma has more talent coming back than any other team in the country; they have 29 players with starting experience returning, but it centers around two guys: QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles. Expect Oklahoma's offense to put up yardage and points through the air. Their defense should be fine, although the passing of the late Austin Box will hurt them in the middle. The Noles are looking to replace Christian Ponder at QB, but they have a slew of talented running backs and E.J. Manuel does have some starting experience. The Noles defense, in particular their outstanding CB tandem of Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid will be tested early and often in this matchup.

Key Players: For Oklahoma, I'll go with ILB Tom Wort. He'll be pressed into starting action again with the loss of Box, and the British Import will have to be on his toes against the Noles ground game athleticism of E.J. Manuel. For the Noles, I've to take Manuel. He'll have to grow up fast as this is each team's second game of the season, and Oklahoma has far more players and plays in place than the Seminoles do.

Predicted Winnner: Oklahoma won this matchup last year in Norman 47-17, and it's hard to not take them again here. Florida State won't have Christian Ponder, and Oklahoma simply has too much firepower for the Noles. Even though it's in Chief Osceola's back yard, the Sooners are too much in this contest.

3) #2 Alabama at #23 Florida
Date: October 1st
Location: The Swamp (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), Gainesville, Florida
Moniker: SEC Bare-Knuckle Game

Preview: While it's not a traditional rivalry game for Florida like they have againts Georgia or Florida State, nor Alabama with Auburn, these two teams were at the zenith of college football in the 2000s. They met in the SEC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, with each team winning it once and moving onto the National title. Florida will have to replace Urban Meyere with Will Muschamp, who will instill a more traditional offense for the Gators. Alabama will have to deal with losing Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and Greg McElroy on offense. Alabama has plenty of talent coming back, and their defense should be very good as some key guys decided to return. Florida lost a lot in the secondary via the draft and Janoris Jenkins getting kicked out of school. This is Alabama's toughest early season test, and it could derail their National Championship aspirations.

Key Players: For Alabama, a lot of this season hinges on RB Trent Richardson's ability to shoulder the full load at RB. For the Gators, give me head coach Will Muschamp. This is Florida's big test this year, and Muschamp, a former Saban assistant with LSU and the Miami Dolphins, will have to figure out which QB to go with to take on the best coach in College Football.

Predicted Winner: I'll take the Crimson Tide in a closer game than what many will be expecting.

4) #19 Nebraska at #12 Wisconsin
Date: October 1st
Location: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
Moniker: The Big 10 Intra-Squad Scrimmage Game

Preview: This game will be quite confusing as Nebraska and Wisconsin's uniforms are nearly identical, save for their helmets. Okay, so my made up moniker isn't great, but even the teams are pretty similar. Both have big lines, solid defenses, like to run the ball, and now, with Wisconsin's addition of QB Russell Wilson, both teams have outstanding quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez and Russell Wilson should both be very fun to watch. Both can throw, both are very mobile, and they both make good decisions, and despite the tradition of both teams, I don't think this will be the type of plodding, low-scoring game Big 10 fans are accustomed to.

Key Players: I'll stick right with Martinez and Wilson here. Both teams will have solid defenses, though each squad will have a significant amount of graduated and drafted talent to replace, so I think this game could be a higher scoring affair. Whichever QB makes fewer mistakes will win the game.

Predicted Winner: Badger fans will be jumping around in Madison as they have a more reliable running game to go with the outstanding game Russell Wilson brings to the table.

5) #10 Ohio State at #19 Nebraska
Date: October 8th
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
Moniker: The Big 10 Blue Bloods of College Football Game

Preview: In what would've been the first game back for Jim Tressell, Terrelle Pryor, and the rest of the suspended Buckeyes, the Ohio State team will look a little different. I can't imagine them going 5-0 in the stretch of games prior to this one, and they'll be going into a very hostile environment for the first time on the season. Nebraska comes into this game off a road trip to Wisconsin, which in my scenario, they will lose, so this has the makings of a great game for two of the blue bloods of College Football. This should make for the start of an interesting inter-division rivlary in the Big 10, however, the Leaders and Legends names are just completely stupid. Fail.

Key Players: For Ohio State, they'll be getting back Daniel "Boom" Herron, their best runner who can help take the pressure off of whomever their QB is at this juncture. Herron runs hard for his size, and is probably Ohio State's best weapon offensively as DeVier Posey will be making his return as well. For Nebraska, give me DT/DE Jared Crick. He played with Ndamukong Suh, and he's very good in his own right against both the run and pass.

Predicted Winner: Score one for Big Red and the Huskers here. Ohio State is in disarray and it'll be just the first game back for the suspended players still on the roster. Inexperienced QB play in this environment? Ain't gonna happen Buckeyes.

6) #4 LSU at #2 Alabama
Date: November 5th
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Moniker: The Saban Bowl

Preview: In what could be the game the determines the SEC West's representative in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers battle the Crimson Tide in a huge battle. LSU won the most recent battle in 2010 winning 24-21, but Alabama leads the all-time series 45-24-5. The Saban Bowl might be the best game all season this year. Alabama will have a high-powered running attack and a stout defense, much like LSU, so this could be that type of low-scoring, plodding game (yes, even in the SEC) that traditional football fans like me love. I think the Crimson Tide will have more overall talent, and if QB A.J. McCarron develops well, they should be the better team as long as Trent Richardson is still healthy.

Key Players: A pair of linebackers here. For Alabama, I'll give you Dont'a Hightower, and for LSU I'll give you Karnell Hatcher. Both inside backers will have to be on their games to stop Trent Richardson and Spencer Ware as a lot of the offense will come on the ground in this battle.

Predicted Winner: Hard to go against the Tide at home. I think their defense is better, and they'll have revenge on their minds after losing in Baton Rouge last year.

7) #3 Oregon at #9 Stanford
Date: November 12th
Location: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, California
Moniker: The Pac 12 QB Battle

Preview: There's two potential Heisman candidates playing in this game with Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's LaMichael James. This game could potentially be a knockout for a BCS Championship Game representative. Stanford's lone loss last year was to the Ducks and Andrew Luck came back for another year to graduate with his recruiting class and to make a run at a Pac 12 title. Luck will have to carry the Cardinal this year as he's losing some talent on offense, most notably Ryan Whalen and Owen Marecic, along with 3 starters on the O-line. Oregon, if they get past LSU in their opener, will have this game marked as the only contest between them and back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

Key Players: Luck and Oregon QB Darron Thomas will be the key factors in this matchup. The Cardinal will be at home, in probably their biggest home game in a long time. Thomas will have to lead the Ducks attack into hostile territory, but it should make for a very exciting game to watch.

Predicted Winner: I'll take Andrew Luck and Stanford in a revenge game here. Stanford is pretty underrated, and if there's a next Peyton Manning, it's Andrew Luck.

8) #8 Arkansas at #4 LSU
Date: November 25th
Location: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rogue, Louisiana
Moniker: The Battle for the Golden Boot

Preview: Tyler Wilson takes over the reins at QB for the Razorbacks after Ryan Mallett graduated. The Hogs have a lot of talent coming back with Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson at RB, Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and Colbi Hamilton coming back at receiver. Wilson played very well in spot duty last year, including a 300 yard game. He also played well in the Spring Game and has some Razorback fans already comparing him to Ryan Mallett. LSU will have been through the wringer coming into this game having played Oregon, Florida, Auburn, and Alabama, so this is the last hurdle in their season, and they could be really banged up.

Key Players: Wilson and Jordan Jefferson, the two QBs in this game, will be the key. Arkansas will probably be able to put up some points on the LSU defense, so it'll be up to Jefferson to keep the Tigers in the game. LSU kicked a ton of field goals last year in the redzone, so they'll really need to convert touchdown opportunities in this game to keep pace with the Hogs.

Predicted Winner: I'll go with an upset here and take the Razorbacks despite them having to go into Death Valley. I think they just have too much talent on offense and can outscore LSU in the end.

9) #2 Alabama at #17 Auburn
Date: November 26th
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama
Moniker: The Iron Bowl

Preview: Alabama nearly wrecked Auburn's National Championship season last year, but Cam Newton powered the Tigers comeback. In Tuscaloosa. Auburn nearly derailed Alabama's perfect season in 2010, in Auburn. So, something's going to give here. Obviously, without Cam Newton, Auburn's going to be lacking on offense a little bit. This game is Alabama's last hurdle to the SEC Championship Game, so it could be for all the marbles for the Tide. Last year's freshman phenom Michael Dyer will have to take up a bigger work load along with Onterio McCaleb. If Trent Richardson is still running hard, he'll be on his way to a potential Heisman campaign.

Key Players: Michael Dyer and Trent Richardson. This rivalry game has been pretty close the past few years, and I expect no different this year even though the Crimson Tide have more total talent. Richardson and Dyer are both big backs who run hard, and will have to produce in this game to keep the chains moving and put points up on the board.

Predicted Winner: Roll Tide. Alabama's going to be too strong for the Tigers this year, but I expect the game will be closer than most people think. It's a pure hatred game here, and if recent history is any indicator, it should be very entertaining to watch. At the very least, it's a good way to work off your turkey hangover the day after Thanksgiving.

10) #1 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State
Date: December 3rd
Location: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Moniker: Bedlam

Preview: We close out the Top 10 Games of 2011 with Bedlam. The rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is a long-running one that dates back to the Big 8 Conference with the Sooners dominating the all-time series with an 81-17-7 record, including 8 straight wins since 2002. In fact, OK State's last two wins came in 2001 and 2002 when Oklahoma was ranked 4th and 3rd respectively while the Cowboys were unranked. This year figures to be different as both teams could potentially be in the top 10 and this could be the game that determines if Oklahoma's going to head to the BCS Championship Game. Oklahoma State has a deadly QB - WR combo of its own in Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, but they'll have to replace the departed Kendall Hunter in the ground game. I'd expect this to be a shootout with Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles on the other side.

Key Players: Blackmon and Broyles. Perhaps two of the best three receivers in College Football, with respect to the outstanding Alshon Jeffery, these two should light up the scoreboard. Pay special attention to Blackmon especially, as he absolutley abused Nebraska's Prince Amukamara last year, and in my opinion, will carry a higher grade than Georgia's A.J. Green did when he enters the NFL Draft.

Predicted Winner: It's hard to buck history here, so I'll have to take the Sooners in a wild shootout in Stillwater. And if I were a betting man, I'd bet on Oklahoma to take on Alabama in the BCS National Chamipionship Game, which would be one heck of a matchup for all College Football Fans.

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