Who Could Take Down the Mighty SEC?
By Paul Hirsch
Since the inception of the BCS Championship Game, the SEC has been by far the dominant conference. SEC members have won seven of the 13 title games, including the last five. So the question most pundits are pondering as the 2011 college football season gets ready to start is: Which teams present the greatest challenge to the mighty SEC?
Any respectable 2011 college football preview would look first at last season’s runner-up, the Oregon Ducks. Last season the Ducks were undefeated until losing to Auburn by three in the title game. Oregon was ranked first in the country for several weeks and returns its coaching staff and most of its starters.
The Ducks, though, have serious holes to fill in their defensive line and a big early season challenge against LSU, an SEC stalwart. A bad loss to LSU at the neutral Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas would doom the Ducks from the beginning.
Oregon also plays at Stanford this year with returning All American Andrew Luck. The Cardinal charged to a 21-3 lead at Oregon last year before faltering in the second half. A further challenge is the brand new Pac-12 Championship Game this year. This adds an extra hurdle not faced before by Pacific Coast teams. If Oregon has the best record in the conference it will host that game.
If you like southern football, then you’ll root for the Oklahoma Sooners to unseat the SEC as the 2011 college football champions. Oklahoma will be without star tailback DeMarco Murray, but quarterback Landry Jones and wideout Ryan Broyles return to lead the offense.
If the Sooners can get by Florida State on Sept. 17 they will be well positioned for a serious title run. Their most challenging league game will be against Missouri, and not having a conference championship game will possibly help the Sooners go undefeated.
A popular dark horse 2011 college football preview pick this year is the Stanford Cardinal with Luck opting to comeback for another season despite being eligible for the NFL draft.
Last year’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, has moved up the road to take the reigns of the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinal also got a slight break with the Oregon game at home this year.
It will take a lot for Stanford to overcome the loss or Harbaugh plus wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin and 11 other starters, but if they can beat Oregon they could have clear sailing to the initial Pac-12 Championship Game.
Two other teams that look strong outside the SEC are Boise State and Oklahoma State.
For Boise, returning Heisman finalist Kellen Moore will lead the offense while handing the ball to tailback Doug Martin.
The bad news for the Broncos is that they have no room for error playing in a non-BCS conference (WAC), so they have to run the table and look good doing so. There is also an NCAA investigation into the Boise football program that could lead to unwanted distractions.
At Oklahoma State, the Cowboys bring back top quarterback Brandon Weeden and perhaps the top wide receiver in the country in Justin Blackmon, which ensures lots of offensive fireworks.
Last year’s Swiss cheese defense gave up about 26 points-per-game, though, which may be too much for the offense to overcome against top quality opponents.
The Regal 2011 college football preview says that Oregon and Oklahoma are the best bets to unseat the SEC for this year’s national title, with the rest of the contenders looking at more significant uphill climbs.
Still, it’s the journey that matters and this year’s college football season will have plenty of excitement and great games no matter which team ends up on top.