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February 12, 2011
The underclassmen declaration period is over, National Signing Day has passed and the first teams open spring practice Wednesday.
Seriously -- spring practices get under way Wednesday.
That means it's time for our pre-spring preseason top 25.
Rivals.com Pre-Spring Practice Top 25
Buzz:: Nine starters return on both sides of the ball for the Sooners. A key is the return of WR Ryan Broyles, who forms a dynamic pass-catch combination with QB Landry Jones. OU snapped its five-game BCS losing streak with a win in the Fiesta Bowl. It would surprise no one if the Sooners were to play for the national title next January.
Buzz:: Alabama is replacing is quarterback, its tailback and its best wide receiver. Still, there is ample talent on hand -- especially on defense -- and if the new quarterback (most likely A.J. McCarron) proves to be a solid game manager, the Tide will be fine.
Buzz:: The Ducks will have a lot of skill-position talent on hand, including Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James. But for them to return to the national title game, rebuilt lines on both sides of the ball will have to come through.
Buzz:: The Tigers have to throw the ball better than they did in 2010; if that happens, they could play for the national title. New offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe's main job is to find a consistent quarterback. Forget game to game; Jordan Jefferson had problems with consistency from play to play last season.
5. Ohio State
Buzz:: The Buckeyes will be missing five key players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games of the season. How much of an impact is that going to have? Despite the suspensions, the Buckeyes again will be the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Buzz:: Coach Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL, and he will be missed. Both lines will undergo a makeover, and that could be problematic. But QB Andrew Luck returns, and that's great news for the Cardinal. Harbaugh turned the Cardinal into a confident bunch. Will they retain that confidence without him?
7. Florida State
Buzz:: The Seminoles look to have regained their footing under coach Jimbo Fisher. Next up: dominating the ACC as they did in the 1990s. The Seminoles still have a ways to go to reach that level, but they will go into the 2011 season as the clear favorite in the league.
8. Boise State
Buzz:: The Broncos have put the WAC in their rear-view mirror and now look to start a run of dominance in the Mountain West. QB Kellen Moore is back, but his receiving corps has to be rebuilt. The Broncos open with a game against Georgia. If they win that, an unbeaten season looms.
9. Oklahoma State
Buzz:: The Cowboys had defensive issues last season, but their offense was prolific enough to render most of those problems moot. They should be prolific again this fall with the return of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon. The new coordinator is Todd Monken, who arrives from the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. The defense remains a question.
Buzz:: The Huskers have moved to the Big Ten, and they should immediately contend for the league crown. DT Jared Crick decided to stay for his senior season and that's a big plus for a defense that must rebuild the secondary. Offensively, there could be some issues. For one, the passing attack has to get a whole lot better.
11. Texas A&M
Buzz:: For the first time in a while, the Aggies will head into a season with a lot expected of them. QB Ryan Tannehill leads what should be an extremely productive offense, thanks to a plethora of skill-position players and a line that returns intact. Ultimately, it's the defense that will decide the Aggies' fate. It made strides under first-year coordinator Tim DeRuyter in 2010, but more improvement is needed.
12. Michigan State
Buzz:: The Spartans were one of the nation's biggest surprises last fall, and they should be solid again this fall. The offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten, and if the linebacker corps can be revamped, the defense will be good enough for the Spartans to again challenge for the league title.
13. South Carolina
Buzz:: The Gamecocks won the SEC East last season, their first title of any kind since 1969, and they are going to head into the 2011 season as the division favorite. In RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery, coach Steve Spurrier has two of the nation's best offensive players. The quarterback spot bears watching, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has some work to do with his secondary.
14. Virginia Tech
Buzz:: The offensive backfield is undergoing a makeover, and quarterback is a potential trouble spot. But the offensive line has a chance to be the best in the ACC, and the receiving corps is a good one. The Hokies were surprisingly lax against the run last season, and the first priority for defensive coordinator Bud Foster is to make sure his troops are more physical this season.
15. Notre Dame
Buzz:: The Irish caught fire down the stretch, even playing with a backup quarterback. LB Manti Te'o leads a defense that actually should be good, and WR Michael Floyd's decision to stay in school provides a huge boost to the offense. Four starting offensive linemen are back, too.
Buzz:: Record-setting QB Ryan Mallett and both starting offensive tackles are gone, but the Hogs should be fine. RB Knile Davis is a star on the rise, and you figure coach Bobby Petrino will lean on Davis more than on QB Tyler Wilson. The defense returns eight starters.
Buzz:: TCU has proved it can reload defensively; this time around, the Horned Frogs need to show they can reload on offense. There will be a new quarterback, a revamped offensive line and a rebuilt receiving corps. Some key guys are gone off the defense, too. Add it all up, and TCU isn't the favorite to win the Mountain West in its final season in the league.
Buzz:: The Badgers have some holes to fill on offense and defense, but a big offensive line and a productive rushing attack seem to be constants in Madison. RBs Montee Ball and James White form a dangerous 1-2 punch. Defensively, some new playmakers must emerge after with the early departure of DE J.J. Watt.
19. Arizona State
Buzz:: The Sun Devils were snakebit last season; they finished 6-6, but easily could have been 10-2 (four of their losses were by a combined nine points). Coach Dennis Erickson has 20 starters back. A big key is consistency at quarterback, and Brock Osweiler could unseat incumbent Steven Threet at the position.
20. West Virginia
Buzz:: Despite a somewhat messy coaching "search" -- new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen also is a one-season coach-in-waiting -- the Mountaineers look as if they will be the class of the Big East. Some key parts have to be replaced on defense, though.
Buzz:: The Longhorns were the nation's biggest underachievers last season, finishing 5-7. There are six new assistants, including new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Talent isn't the issue; that's available in abundance. But the Longhorns need to play much smarter and with a chip on their shoulder. It would help if they could run the ball effectively.
Buzz:: QB Blaine Gabbert decided to turn pro a year early, and that hurts. Still, the Tigers will have an experienced offensive line and a solid front seven on defense. With the departure of two teams, the Big 12 is down to 10 teams, and Mizzou looks to be -- by far -- the best team left from the old North Division.
Buzz:: Florida won eight games last season but was hugely disappointing anyway, especially on offense. New coach Will Muschamp brought in Charlie Weis to run a pro-style offense, and Weis first has to find a competent quarterback. The biggest problem with the defense last season was the lack of a pass rush, and the Gators need some playmakers to emerge in the front seven.
Buzz:: The Bulldogs staggered to a 6-7 finish and coach Mark Richt resides squarely on the hot seat. QB Aaron Murray returns, and if there's a coach counting more on a quarterback than Richt is on Murray, we don't know who it is. Georgia needs some receivers to step up and for a feature back to emerge. Defensively, linebacker looms as a big problem.
25. Mississippi State
Buzz:: These Bulldogs went 9-4 last season, and for the first time in a long time, big things are expected this season. The Bulldogs have 15 starters back, but they lost their two best offensive linemen, their best defensive linemen and all three starting linebackers.
(NOTE: Team capsules written by David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.)