8 College Football Teams Sure to Underachieve in 2011

Preseason rankings, whether done by writers, bloggers or coaches, are incredibly flawed. As college football fans know, last season's performance or the reputation of the head coach doesn't always determine a team's fate in the upcoming season. But, without them, we wouldn't have much to discuss before the start of the season. For the sake of adding to the conversation, we've decided to select eight teams whose expectations are a bit higher than warranted. While they may have good seasons anyway, they probably won't experience their pinnacles of success.

  1. Florida State

    On the heels of four consecutive top-10 recruiting classes (according to Rivals), its first 10-win season in seven years and the rapid decline of rival Florida, the Noles are expected to recapture the glory that gradually faded over a decade. Immense expectations have been placed on the shoulders of a first-year starting quarterback. EJ Manuel had the opportunity to demonstrate his talent and physical gifts last season as Christian Ponder battled an elbow injury, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can do it consistently. It won't help that the offensive line's advancement as a unit has been slowed due to injuries during the offseason. An ACC championship is within reach, but a national championship seems far-fetched.

  2. Alabama

    As with any Nick Saban coached team, Alabama's defense is its strength. Headlined by familiar names Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and corner Dre Kirkpatrick, the unit will keep Alabama in the upper echelon of the conference; however, offense is a major concern. The departure of national championship-winning quarterback Greg McElroy and star receiver Julio Jones will hurt more than the loss of Heisman winner Mark Ingram, who will be replaced on a full-time basis by Trent Richardson. Neither AJ McCarron nor Phillip Sims has emerged as a clear-cut starter, and Saban could alternate them during the season, a strategy that typically doesn't bode well for an offense's productivity. What's more, the offensive line's pass protection was poor last season, as McElroy was the most-sacked quarterback in the conference.

  3. LSU

    Never short on talent, LSU retools and reloads each year, hoping that another Les Miles goof won't come between the team and an SEC championship. All joking aside, the difficult SEC — and SEC West specifically — are perennially loaded, enough to prevent a very good team from fulfilling its potential, which is why the loss of the Tigers' three best defensive players — Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis — is especially notable. On the other end of the ball, the offense will need to make major strides under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who will be tasked with either improving one of last season's worst starting quarterbacks in the nation, Jordan Jefferson, or prematurely introducing junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger to the best conference in the land.

  4. Stanford

    Logic aside, it's difficult to imagine Stanford ranking in the top 10 two consecutive years — after all, it's Stanford. But, if reputation merely determined the fate of each team season-by-season, then Texas, for example, would have a dozen or so national championships. Sure, the Cardinal has Andrew Luck, the best quarterback in the nation, but it has lost its head coach, defensive coordinator, top two receivers (in yards gained), and three offensive linemen from a unit that may have been the best in the nation. How frequently does a team win a conference title, let alone a national title, after experiencing a coaching change and rebuilding its offense?

  5. Virginia Tech

    Frank Beamer even questioned his team's high preseason ranking because of the number of "unproven" players they have at key positions. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans are gone, and the offensive will be anchored by Logan Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback who has been compared to Cam Newton. Of course, it's unreasonable to expect such an impact, as Newton possessed incomparable talent perfectly utilized by offensive guru Gus Malzahn. For the last several years, college football observers have predicted on multiple occasions that the Hokies would take the next step forward and win a national championship, and each time they've been disappointed. This year could be more of the same.

  6. Notre Dame

    The Irish's embarrassing home loss to Toledo last October 30th was forgotten by season's end when they won four consecutive games, including the Sun Bowl over Miami. Under the guidance of Brian Kelly, Notre Dame fans are optimistic that the surprising finish was a sign of things to come, and a nine- or 10-win season is on the horizon. In order for it to happen, the offense will need a consistently effective quarterback. Dayne Christ will anchor the position, but will he stay healthy? Will he reduce the mistakes? As Kelly continues to recruit well and the players buy into his system, the Irish will certainly improve. But it may require a couple of seasons for them to become truly relevant again.

  7. TCU

    The Horned Frogs deserve recognition for their accomplishments last season, which probably explains their preseason ranking. If you dig deeper, though, it's difficult to justify. Andy Dalton, one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and the team's leader last season, is gone and will be replaced by Casey Pachall, a former four-star recruit who also received offers from notable programs such as Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and Notre Dame. He has just nine pass attempts in his brief career, so growing pains are sure to come. On defense, the line loses its best assets, Wayne Daniels and Cory Grant. Overall, TCU returns just 10 starters from last year's Rose Bowl-winning squad.

  8. Auburn

    Essentially ranked because they're the defending champs, the Tigers enter 2011 with numerous question marks. The team was highly dependent on one player on each side of the ball, Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, who were arguably the two best players in college football. Their services will especially be missed during tough road games at South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. And it's not as though other veterans are returning to pick up the slack — eight starters are gone from both ends of the ball. Make no mistake, the Tigers will be rebuilding, even with the recent top-notch recruiting classes in place.

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