Finally, we're at the end of a second iteration of the 2011 preseason college football rankings. This last group of five teams is one that largely dominated National Signing Day and used the 2011 recruiting season to recalibrate instead of rebuilding. Each of these teams could lift the BCS National Championship crystal football at season's end.
Also, while there's no suspense involved here if you read the headline, I'm counting down to No. 1, not up, in this final bit of the preseason top 25.
Previously: First Preseason Rankings | 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6
5. Florida State
Florida State's recent history is pockmarked with seasons where immense talent on the roster led to great expectations, followed by seasons of underwhelming and uncoordinated play. That shouldn't be the case anymore: with Jimbo Fisher's coaching staff leading these 'Noles, poor coaching shouldn't be an problem (or an excuse) for the 2011 Florida State outfit. The Seminoles' defense, in particular, should be fierce, with speed at nearly every position. No team has a higher ceiling, and if recruits like James Wilder and Karlos Williams can make immediate impacts, the Seminoles could be playing for a national title for the first time since they scored just a safety in a national championship game.
Pros: E.J. Manuel, fine in relief of Christian Ponder in years past, will finally step in as a full-time starter, and has both promise...
Cons: ...and questions. And there are legitimate worries about whether a single receiver will emerge as Manuel's favorite target. Also, Oklahoma looms early.
I really, really don't like using bowl performance as any sort of indicator for the following season. Bowl games are one-off contests for pride in circumstances players won't deal with the next year — the ones that return, anyway. But LSU had 288 rushing yards and got three passing touchdowns from Jordan Jefferson against Texas A&M in this January's Cotton Bowl. The Tigers held Von Miller to just one sack, and generally looked like a team that should have been playing for a national title. And they return 15 starters. If ever a team is going to ride bowl momentum, wouldn't it be just like the one locked in on Les Miles' chaos carousel to surprise us and do it?
Pros: Jefferson seemed to come of age late last year. And though the Tigers lose a number of high-profile contributors (Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis, Stevan Ridley, Terrance Toliver), there is more talent in Baton Rouge than gumbo in N'Awlins. Which, as it happens, is the site of the next BCS National Championship Game.
Cons: Steve Kragthorpe is LSU's offensive coordinator. And if the Tigers sputter early because of it, Oregon will win their season-opening tilt in Arlington.
How good Oregon can be at its best is the great question of the 2010s in college football. What Chip Kelly did last year — taking a team full of underdogs that could look like a big, brilliant high school squad at times to the precipice of a national title — might be enough to make him a legend in Eugene if he left football tomorrow. At the very least, Kelly's earned the respect of virtually every Division I recruit who wants to play offense, and has established a system and culture that seems likely to rule the Pac-12 in the immediate future. But if Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas, and so on are going deliver a national championship in 2011, they will need to be even better than the Ducks were in 2010. This is the conundrum of greatness: sometimes, the mountaintop is really just a stepping stone.
Pros: Kelly's offense getting new toys will help cover for some defensive losses, and though LSU to open and Stanford in Palo Alto will be trouble, there's no indication that Oregon's offense was completely solved by Auburn this January.
Cons: There are size concerns everywhere, and especially on defense, but that's always Oregon's Faustian bargain for ludicrous speed. And there are significantly easier openers than LSU in Arlington.
No more Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, or Marcell Dareus: for programs that haven't been as tirelessly (and shamelessly) committed to building a behemoth as Nick Saban's crimson Death Star, those would be big losses. But Alabama fans consider those openings to be ably filled, by A.J. McCarron and Trent Richardson and Jesse Williams and ... you get the point. Saban's defense will be good, his offense will be reliant on the beastly Richardson to run roughshod in the SEC, and his team will be contending for another national title. Well, unless the Harvey Updyke situation produces some cosmic retribution, anyway.
Pros: Alabama has about as much depth as the Marianas Trench in every phase.
Cons: McElroy ended his Alabama career as an underrated game manager rather than a peerless slinger, but he was still a consistently steady hand; McCarron needs to approximate that. And without Ingram, Richardson may endure more punishment than he wants.
We've seen this show before: as the rest of the Big 12 ebbs, Bob Stoops' eternally excellent Sooners find themselves perched to make a wire-to-wire run to a national title thanks to a skillful quarterback (Jason White and Sam Bradford say hi, Landry Jones), some superb supporting offensive talent (Adrian Peterson or Quentin Griffin then, Ryan Broyles now) and a defense that will cough up very few leads. But this show has ended without national championships for almost a full decade now, and Jones, Broyles, and the rest will be playing in the shadows of history all fall. They have the talent and the team to buck it.
Pros: Jones plus Broyles plus a mean offensive line, even minus former offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, should still make this a top-five offense.
Cons: Again, we've seen this show before. And losing DeMarco Murray and Mossis Madu means that the diminutive Roy Finch will shoulder much of the rushing load.