Since my first preseason college football rankings, National Signing Day has come and gone, leaving us with a better sense of the recruiting winners and losers for the 2011 offeseason, and giving me plenty of information with which to redo the rankings.
"Who would beat whom on a neutral field?" is the central question here; feel free to call me an idiot in the comments.
Previously: First Preseason Rankings | 25-21 | 20-16
Unlike a number of teams in this top 25, Wisconsin has an asset in the form of its identity. The Badgers will run it and run it and run it and then throw when they have to; it's a stubbornly retrograde philosophy, but it's been successful since Barry Alvarez and shows no signs of falling off under Bret Bielema. But it's unreasonable to expect the Badgers not to fall off a little from their Rose Bowl form of 2010. Wisconsin will be replacing quarterback Scott Tolzien and defensive end J.J. Watt, but must also repour the concrete for its offensive line, as multiple starters depart.
Pros: Running game should be buoyed by playmakers James White and Montee Ball.
Cons: Tolzien, while occasionally erratic and frustrating, provided an above-average baseline that the next Badgers QB will have to match or better.
14. Notre Dame
Since at least the Brady Quinn Era, the Irish have had far more problems on defense than offense. Brian Kelly's new system proved that trend would continue into another regime: despite cripping injuries that turned a promising Dayne Crist-helmed offense with Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph galloping through defenses into a M.A.S.H. unit that featured I Don't Know Who That Is (Tommy Rees, Nate Montana) at quarterback and Who Is He? (Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert) at wideout, Notre Dame's offense was decent. And it should only get better under Kelly, barring another rash of injuries. But the defense is improving, too (9.75 points per game allowed over a final four-game stretch that included USC, Miami, and Utah), and Notre Dame fans should be excited about what it will do with the infusion of pass rushers in a loaded recruiting class.
Pros: Floyd might be the best receiver in college football, and potential all around him (plus a healthy Crist) could make for a legendary season.
Cons: Tough schedule, as always, will challenge a young team early and often.
13. South Carolina
The Gamecocks return their three most important cogs on offense in quarterback Stephen Garcia, running back Marcus Lattimore, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. They add the nation's best recruit in Jadeveon Clowney on defense. And they gave national champion Auburn 1.5 good games last season with a team that was only marginally different from what this one (which loses a bit of defensive talent that Clowney might cover for) will be. Sometimes, rankings seem pretty easy.
Pros: Lattimore and Jeffrey are in the top three in the nation at their positions.
Cons: Garcia has experience, but Steve Spurrier's never been reluctant to pull starters. And with the able-armed Connor Shaw waiting in the wings, don't be surprised to hear "quarterback controversy" about the situation in Columbia.
12. Oklahoma State
Another team with a high-profile quarterback and wide receiver tandem returning, the Cowboys will miss Dana Holgorsen's play-calling and Kendall Hunter's consistency, but should have the firepower to light up the Big 12 with Brandon Weeden tossing to Justin Blackmon. Blackmon should be nigh uncoverable, but Okie State will need him to be: the defense that struggled at times (51 points conceded to Nebraska, 47 to Oklahoma) won't be making a massive improvement.
Pros: Offense is not an issue. And the Bedlam Game is in Stillwater for the second straight year.
Cons: Defense is.
Another case of the positive effects of having a consistent identity, the Horned Frogs should be their typical rock-ribbed selves on defense despite the loss of a number of significant contributors on defense; they always are under Gary Patterson, and it's hard to see this young defense led by Tank Carder being far off from great. Offense is a more pressing concern: improved recruiting means that the highly touted Casey Pachall can take the torch from outgoing quarterback Andy Dalton, and that Ed Wesley will be the reliable horse in the running game, but it's exceedingly hard to replace a player as simultaneously dangerous and reliable on the outside as Jeremy Kerley, and while Josh Boyce had a stellar freshman year in 2010, it's hard not to think some of that came thanks to opponents matching Kerley up against their best cornerbacks.
Pros: If you believe in Patterson, you have to believe the defense will be very good.
Cons: Dalton, despite his faults, will be missed. And when Boise State is on the schedule in the regular season, starting a relative newbie at QB is not the ideal situation.