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Playboy’s 2011 Pigskin Preview
  • August 10, 2011 : 20:08
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Even before taking office, President Obama publicly pondered college football’s Bowl Championship Series. “I’m fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other,” he said. “Get eight teams, the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion.” Not exactly ­Lincolnesque, but he made his point.

Now even Republicans are lining up to help rid the nation of the incomprehensible BCS. Utah senator Orrin Hatch has called for a Department of Justice investigation. He told reporters, “Frankly, there’s an arrogance about the BCS that just drives me nuts.” Former representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, chimed in: “Who elected these NCAA people? Who are they to decide who competes for the championship?” Congressmen from Idaho and Georgia voiced their displeasure with the BCS when the Boise State Broncos and the Georgia Bulldogs were denied shots at the national championship. Former University of Utah president Michael K. Young summed it up neatly: “Championships should be decided by competition, not conspiracy.”

While the BCS continues to defend its turf, Obama is likely to bring it up again during his 2012 reelection campaign. We hope he does. But for now, enough politics: Let’s take a look at the best teams as we kick off the 2011 season.


1. OKLAHOMA
With Nebraska gone to the Big Ten and Texas seemingly vulnerable, there’s no reason to believe the Sooners will be stopped from winning their fifth Big 12 title in the past six years and marching into the BCS championship as the number one team in the nation. ­Eighteen starters return from last year’s 12–2 squad, including quarterback Landry Jones and ­Playboy All America receiver Ryan Broyles. Expect Roy Finch to step in for departed 1,000-yard rusher ­DeMarco Murray. PREDICTION: 12–0

2. BOISE STATE
The Broncos ranked second in the nation in offense and fourth in defense last season. Moving to the Mountain West Conference this year will provide some upgraded competition, plus there’s a season-­opening game against ­Georgia in Atlanta. If the Broncos get past the Bulldogs and the TCU Horned Frogs toward the end of the season, they could finally get a shot at their first national title game. Fourteen starters return from last year’s 12–1 team, including senior QB Kellen Moore, who led the Broncs to an overall 38–2 record in the past three seasons and has passed for 10,867 yards and 99 touchdowns. PREDICTION: 12–0

3. OREGON
The only team Oregon couldn’t beat last season was Auburn in the BCS championship game (22–19). And that had an awful lot to do with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who went on to become the number one pick in the NFL draft. Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas is back after totaling more than 3,000 yards of offense last year. LaMichael James, ­Playboy All America and a Heisman Trophy finalist, is back too. Coach Chip Kelly’s dazzling option-spread attack will again be the game plan. With all that offense, where’s the vulnerability? On defense, where five of last season’s front seven have to be replaced. PREDICTION: 11–1

4. STANFORD
The Cardinal lost coach Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers in the off-season. However, what it didn’t lose was ­­Playboy All America quarterback Andrew Luck, who in all likelihood passed up a chance to be the number one pick in this year’s NFL draft to return to school. Also returning: Playboy All America tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. The selection of David Shaw, Stanford’s offensive coordinator for the past four years, as coach should make the transition ­easier. PREDICTION: 11–1

5. LSU
The Tigers won 11 games last year without the benefit of a strong passing attack. They did it with a combination of rushing and a tenacious defense led by cornerback Patrick Peterson. With nine returnees, the offense will again rely on the running game. Peterson left early for the NFL, but coach Les Miles has seven starters back on defense, plus a boatload of talented underclassmen ready to make their mark. LSU’s opener against Oregon on September 3 at Cowboys Stadium in Texas will provide a supreme early test. PREDICTION: 10–2

6. ALABAMA
Most teams wouldn’t bounce back after losing players like quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram (a Heisman winner) and wide receiver Julio Jones—all now in the NFL. But then most teams don’t have coach Nick Saban gathering blue-chip talent by the bushel. Playboy All America running back Trent ­Richardson is a worthy successor to Ingram, while A.J. McCarron looks likely to take over for McElroy under center. Bama’s offensive line returns nearly intact, and the defense returns all but one starter. The devastation from the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa will provide the Tide with extra motivation to succeed. PREDICTION: 10–2

7. OKLAHOMA STATE
Evidently Mama let some of her good football-playing sons grow up to be Cowboys. Oklahoma State’s lineup features Playboy All America Justin Blackmon, who won last year’s Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in the nation. Good receivers need good quarterbacks; senior Brandon Weeden was named first-team All–Big 12 last year. There are 14 other returning starters and high expectations. The last regular-­season game on December 3 against Oklahoma promises to be a corker. PREDICTION: 10–2

8. SOUTH CAROLINA
Coach Steve Spurrier has finally pushed the level of South Carolina football from good to great. The Gamecocks won the Eastern Division of the SEC last season and promise to be even better this year. Playboy All America wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, formidable quarterback ­Stephen Garcia, running back ­Marcus ­Lattimore (National Freshman of the Year last season) and Playboy All America cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be all over the highlight reels. ­PREDICTION: 10–2

9. FLORIDA STATE
hile the departure of longtime coach Bobby Bowden may have been an emotional blow to some die-hard Seminole fans, there’s little doubt that successor Jimbo Fisher has improved team discipline and injected new energy into the recruiting process. There are swarms of good players on this team, especially ­Playboy All America defensive end Brandon Jenkins. Nearly everyone returns on offense except graduated quarterback Christian Ponder. His role falls to redshirt junior E.J. Manuel. Fisher expects him to be up to the challenge. PREDICTION: 10–2

10. TCU
Gary Patterson, last year’s ­Playboy Coach of the Year, has lots of holes to fill if the Horned Frogs are to make their fifth top 10 finish in the past seven years. However, Patterson has demonstrated the ability to reload while continuing to win. Sophomore Casey Pachall will take over for Andy Dalton at quarterback. Both sides of the line will miss big bodies, especially offensive tackle Marcus Cannon. The good news is that Playboy All America linebacker Tank Carder decided to return for his senior season after breaking up what would have been a game-tying two-point pass play in TCU’s win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. PREDICTION: 10–2

11. MICHIGAN STATE
The Spartans can repeat as Big Ten champions provided they fill some holes on defense and successfully negotiate tough road games at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and new Big Ten member Nebraska. Not an easy task but then winning nine consecutive games after coach Mark Dantonio was sidelined by a mild heard attack wasn’t easy either. The studs on offense are quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Edwin Baker. The defense is built around Playboy All-America tackle Jerel Worthy. PREDICTION: 10-2

12. TEXAS A&M
Don't be surprised to see the Aggies at the cusp of the Top 10. After all, they return a good part of the squad that beat conference big boys Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas last year. Running back Cyrus Gray is a beast plus they return Christine Michael who was A&M’s top runner until suffering a broken leg last season. Biggest shoes to fill are those of departed linebacker Von Miller. PREDICTION: 9-3

13. NEBRASKA
Just when third-year coach Bo Pelini thought he had figured out all the game plans needed to conquer Nebraska’s Big 12 opponents, he finds himself reviewing film of Big Ten teams. The old rivalries with Oklahoma and Texas are dead; new ones with Ohio State and Penn State look on the horizon. Nebraska is well-equipped to win early and often in the Big Ten. Fleet-footed quarterback Taylor Martinez is only a sophomore. Two-time Playboy All-America Jared Crick anchors the defense. PREDICTION: 9-3

14. AUBURN
The Tigers without Cam Newton just won’t be the same even though coach Gene Chizik is very high on junior quarterback Barrett Trotter. Newton was that rare breed of player who was gifted enough to will his team to victory, something he accomplished on more than one occasion last season. The Tigers will also miss defensive tackle Nick Fairley, another Tiger departed for the NFL. Three-fourths of the offensive line must be replaced and there are some question marks in the defensive backfield. However, Chizik has recruited well. Potential will have to translate into performance to justify our ranking. PREDICTION 9-3

15. VIRGINIA TECH
Four-year starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor is gone as are running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, both of whom left school early for the NFL. However, coach Frank Beamer knows how to reassemble talent, how to adjust game plans and how to motivate, something he showed in spades last season after the Hokies dropped their first two games and then ran off 11 consecuative wins. Beamer is high on sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas. Running back David Wilson has a chance to be a dynamic player and Playboy All-America Jayron Hosley is a lock down corner. PREDICTION: 9-3

16. NOTRE DAME
Where Charlie Weis failed, Brian Kelly will succeed, not as a matter of football acumen but of personality. In his second year as head coach, Kelly is already assembling the pieces required to put Notre Dame back into the elite teams of college football. If wide receiver Michael Floyd is reinstated after his DUI issues and subsequent suspension, the Irish will have 10 returning starters on offense. Best player on defense will be linebacker Manti Te'o. PREDICTION: 9-3

17. MISSOURI
For some reason, the Missouri Tigers continue to fly under the radar. Coach Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to 40 wins in four seasons and sent several players to the NFL including last year’s quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Pinkel will replace Gabbert with sophomore James Franklin but the rest of Mizzou’s offense return intact. One defensive end, Aldon Smith, has also moved on to the NFL but Jacquies Smith on the other end of the D-line returns. PREDICTION: 9-3

18. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Former coach Sylvester Croom laid the foundation. Second-year coach Dan Mullen, formerly offensive coordinator at Florida, is building the house. Quarterback Chris Reif is a perfect fit in Mullen’s intricate offensive schemes. If three junior linebackers come through, MSU will score more points than their opponents most of the time. PREDICTION: 8-4

19. WISCONSIN
The Badgers have lots of holes to fill but a cupboard full of talented replacements ready to make their mark. Sophomore Jon Budmayr will likely take over qb duties from graduated Scott Tolzien. His favorite target will be wide receiver Nick Toon. Wisconsin will continue to rely on its rushing game and a stubborn defense. PREDICTION: 8-4

20. ARKANSAS
Bobby Petrino may be known as a guru of the passing game but with the early departure of quarterback Ryan Mallett the Razorbacks will look to running back Knile Davis as their major source of offense. David will likely total even more than the 1,322 yards he rambled for last season. Junior Tyler Wilson will replace Mallett. PREDICTION 8-4

21. FLORIDA
Will Muschamp, in line to be Mack Brown’s successor at Texas whenever the head coach decided to step down, made his own decision not to wait and instead took over as the Gator’s coach after Urban Meyer resigned for the second time, the first resignation a year ago lasting only 24 hours before Meyer reversed himself. Despite a disappointing season last year for Florida, Muschamp has big shoes to fill. However, Florida is rich in football talent, both as a state and as a school and Meyer didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare. Success this season will depend in large part on the play of quarterback John Brantley who so far has been more potential than performance. PREDICTION 8-4

22. ARIZONA STATE
Coach Dennis Erickson is in the envious position of coaching a team with 20 returning starters from last season. Everyone returns on offense except place kicker Thomas Weber. The defense loses a couple of defensive linemen but returns Playboy All-America linebacker Vontaze Burfict and shut down corner Omar Bolden, both of whom are good enough to play in the NFL some day soon. PREDICTION: 8-4

23. TEXAS
Until last season’s 5-7 debacle, Mack Brown never had a losing season at Texas since he took over in Austin in 1998 or a losing season since turning North Carolina around in 1990. Losing doesn’t sit well with Brown who made numerous changes in his coaching staff and recruiting procedures during the off season. However, when a big ship drifts off course, it may take a couple of seasons to get it back on track. Much this year will depend on sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert who was a disappointment last season. The best two Longhorns are linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. PREDICTION: 8-4

24. NORTHWESTERN
The Wildcats had seven wins under their belts and were in the final stages of beating Iowa last season when quarterback Dan Persa tore his Achilles tendon on a non-contact play. With the undersized but overperforming quarterback out, Northwestern suffered three losses including an embarrassing pummeling by in-state rival Illinois. Good news for the Cats‹Persa is 100% percent recovered and coach Pat Fitzgerald signed a 10-year contract extension. PREDICTION: 8-4

25. GEORGIA
The Bulldogs looks to recover from a disappointing 6-7 season last year that ended with a thud in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with a 10-6 loss to Central Florida. Coach Mark Richt, entering his 11th season in Athens, thinks the 3-4 defense installed last year will begin paying dividends this season. Returning cornerback Brandon Boykin is the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard kickoff returns. Quarterback Aaron Murray should improve in his second season even without the talents of graduated flanker A.J. Green. Georgia has the best kicking tandem in the nation with Playboy All-America punter Drew Butler and place kicker Blair Walsh who's made 138 of 139 points after touchdown. PREDICTION: 8-4

?. OHIO STATE
The darker side of human nature raised its ugly head in Columbus this offseason. Five players sold rings and other memorabilia to a tattoo shop owner in return for cash and discounts. Coach Jim Tressel, instead of reporting the infractions, looked the other way. Was he trying to protect players naively putting a few bucks in their pocket? Was he trying to protect OSU’s reputation and their chance to play in a BCS game? Or was the Buckeye program under Tressel's watch out of control? Whatever the case, Tressel lost his job and approximately 3.5 million dollars of future earnings. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of five players suspended for five games for their part in the scandal, then dropped out of school and declared himself eligible for the NFL supplemental draft. Former player and assistant coach Luke Fickell has been named interim coach for this season as Buckeye fans wait to see if even more shoes will drop. In the meantime, there are still some good football players on this team.

read more: sports, football, magazine, college football, issue september 2011

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