College Football News is a great site for projections and they do the super-early stuff to keep us football junkies happy year round. One of their latest pieces is the top-five non-AQ teams going into the 2011 season. They have Houston first, which seems a bit optimistic in my opinion.
Predicted finish: 11-1.
Most Difficult Game: Southern Miss in likely Conference USA Champ Game.
Predicted Finish: 11-1.
Most Difficult Game: at Baylor.
3. Southern Mississippi
Predicted Finish: 10-2.
Most Difficult Game: at Virginia.
4. Boise State
Predicted Finish: 10-2.
Most Difficult Game: Georgia in the Georgia Dome.
Predicted Finish: 9-3.
Most Difficult Game: @ South Carolina.
Central Florira, BYU, San Diego State or Air Force could easily be on the list instead of Navy since they lost Ricky Dobbs as their starting quarterback. Navy always has the potential to be good with their triple-option-offense, but not sure if they will be top-five good within the non-AQ's.
Southern Miss also could be exchanged for any of the teams mentioned above, and the Golden Eagles are on this list partly due to their pedestrian schedule, but most likely because they return highly touted players such as quarterback Austin Davis who passed for 3,103 yards and 20 touchdowns and return 2,349 of 2,611 rushing yards with the overall leader being Kendrick Hardy who racked up 903 yards.
Back to the list, I can make an argument that Houston could be number one, but for me I find it difficult placing three teams ahead of Boise State. Case Keenum is on schedule with his rehab and while article says Houston has a revamped defense which Houston hopes will be improved, but we will not know until the season gets going.
Also, to say their most difficult game is in the C-USA title game -- which they are not guaranteed to appear in -- yet they have a regular season loss seems odd, even if that is their toughest game. Wouldn't that team they lose to be the toughest opponent? Houston's toughest game that they will for sure be playing in is either in their season opener where they host UCLA or when they play SMU on Nov. 16, also at home.
As for Boise State, they have the experience by returning 14 starters and the most important positions are back with quarterback with Kellen Moore, running back Doug Martin and offensive lineman Nate Potter. Potter and Moore are projected as top-five NFL prospects at their respective position. Boise does lose wide receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis to the NFL and that is the Broncos glaring concerns going into the 2011 season, but Boise may have already found their star receiver this spring in Geraldo Hiwat. ESPN's Bruce Feldman had Hewitt at the number four spot in Feldman's list of top 10 spring breakout players:
Hiwat, a 23-9 long jumper in high school, has tried to follow the lead of his departed teammates: "What I learned from Austin and Titus was that during the game, you can see things you don't see in practice," Hiwat told Jason Chatraw. "You work hard and practice hard, but games are just a whole different environment. Austin was really good at showing me how to find soft spots in the zone to get open. Titus was gifted with speed, but he analyzed the guy defending him and figured out a way to beat him during the game. He would give me tips on what to look for in a defender and show me how to beat him."
It is still spring so take that for what it is worth, but with a quarterback like Kellen Moore throwing the ball any receiver can look good.
As for TCU, they do lose a ton of talent namely quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receivers Jimmy Young and Jeremy Kerley. The heir apparent to Dalton is former four-star recruit Casey Pachall who is now a redshirt sophomore. TCU does return their top three rushers in Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James; so expect the Horned Frog offense to be run-heavy early on. As for defense, TCU lost three-fourth's of their defensive backfield and returns only four total defenders. The TCU defense is always fine under Gary Patterson, so the concern should be minimal.
Saying TCU's toughest game is at Baylor has to be a joke, right? Baylor has Robert Griffin III who TCU handled easily last year by limiting the dual-threat quarterback to only 164 yards passing and 21 yards rushing. In defense of Griffin he was still recovering from a torn ACL last year, and he should be 100 percent this fall. Even if Griffin is at full strength, the games at Boise State and against BYU at Cowboys Stadium are more difficult games to TCU.
Here is my top five:
1. Boise State
5. Central Florida
Feel free to enter your own top five non-AQ list in the comments.