College football is life for me. If I could go into hibernation from now until kickoff of the first games of the season, I would. This is mostly going to be my gut feeling about a team along with some schedule analysis. I'm doing them in installments of five, and I'm starting at the top because it pisses me off when people do rankings like this and start at the bottom. Nobody gives a damn about #23, start with the top five.
I dislike the Sooners but they look absolutely loaded for 2011. Oklahoma has a very favorable schedule. They play a scrimmage against Ball State before taking on Texas and they avoid two of the tougher destinations in the Big 12 (Texas A&M, Texas Tech). They have a couple tough early tests (@Florida State, vs Missouri) but they get a bye week to prepare for FSU and they don't lose in Norman. Trap game: 10/29 @Kansas State. I'm sure Bob Stoops won't overlook a game against a Bill Snyder-coached team but the players might be looking ahead to next week's game against A&M.
The Ducks lose quite a few players on the line but they return LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. They start the season with a big showdown in Dallas against LSU, but I'm more interested to see how the rest of the conference plays against Oregon. Chip Kelly's system is incredibly unique and fast, but he won't be able to trick every opponent in the Pac 12 every year. Teams will start building their defenses with stopping Oregon as priority #1 and every team will give them their best shot. Trap game: 11/5 @Washington. I know UO/UW is a big rivalry but they might get caught thinking about a trip to Stanford the following week, plus it's easier to overlook teams that you have been blowing out for years, like Oregon has been doing to Washington.
The last two times the National Championship Game was in LSU's backyard (2003 and 2007), the Tigers won it. Guess where it is this year? LSU is in a similar situation - they're a QB away from being dominant. If they can get solid play from Jordan Jefferson, they should win the SEC and possibly play for the crystal football. If not, they're looking at a Capital One Bowl appearance. LSU has a very tough schedule - as mentioned earlier, they open the season against Oregon, and they also play at West Virginia and Alabama. They get Florida and Arkansas at home but that's still one helluva schedule. But if anyone can come out of it unscathed, or with only one loss, it's LSU. Les Miles is the luckiest SOB, and by now I've become convinced that it won't ever catch up to him - his good luck will last forever. Trap game: 10/15 @Tennessee. The Vols would've beat the Tigers last year if they knew how to count to 11, and the trip to Knoxville is sandwiched between showdowns against Florida and Auburn.
4 Boise State
The Broncos lose a few key contributors but they have one of the best coaches in college football. I have no doubt they will reload and keep on dominating. Just like last year, they open the season on the opposite coast against a BCS team (Georgia instead of Virginia Tech). By this point, Boise State should be the favorite instead of the underdog for these types of matchups. After that game, they're on cruise control until a relatively tough pair of games (10/1 vs Nevada, 10/7 @Fresno State). But I think they will be motivated this time against Nevada (plus the Wolf Pack lost Kaepernick) and Fresno State will do nothing more than play a close first half. After Georgia, Boise has one game against another team who can be considered an equal - TCU, and they get them on the blue turf. I expect to see Boise playing in a BCS bowl, but like past years, they have zero shot at the NC Game. Trap game: 10/15 @Colorado State. CSU was awful last year but they can't be much worse, plus they get a bye week to prepare for Boise. To be honest, there really aren't any games on Boise's schedule that look like trap games but if someone held a gun to my head and made me pick one, this is it.
Nick Saban's squad looked scary in their bowl game against Michigan State, and I expect more of the same in 2011. They lose some stars like Mark Ingram and Julio Jones, but they still have Trent Richardson in the backfield. They also lost their QB (Greg McElroy) but that isn't too big of a deal - he was never really asked to win games, just not to lose them. The defense should be outstanding once again, and I think Saban will have them motivated to crush all opponents. No way has he let them forget what happened against Auburn last season - they won't take their foot off the throat again. Alabama has a big early season test at Penn State, but I don't think PSU has the horses to compete with Alabama for four quarters. They get Arkansas and LSU at home but they have to play at Florida and at Auburn. I'm not 100% on this, but I don't think as many teams are getting byes against Alabama as in the past. It used to be something ludicrous, like six of their eight SEC opponents getting a bye week to prepare for Alabama. Trap game: 10/15 @Ole Miss. The Rebels still get a bye before playing the Crimson Tide and this game is before a big rivalry game against Tennessee, plus Houston Nutt is due for a comeback season and a huge upset.