The Southeastern Conference has won the past five national titles. Will it be six in a row?

Alabama (No. 2), LSU (No. 4) and six other league teams are ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 Poll, but all of them are looking up at No. 1 Oklahoma. The Sooners are loaded on both sides of the ball and ready to live up to the hype, something they're accustomed to as they have been the top team in the preseason poll more times (10) than any team in the country. Even more important, they'd like to add to their record total of weeks at No. 1 during the regular season (98 and counting). 

Find out more about the Sooners, Tide, Tigers and all the top teams and players right here. And be sure to check back weekly to follow along with the stats and storylines right here at NCAA.com.
 

Electrifying Playmakers

Justin Blackmon
Oklahoma State
Jr. | WR | 6-1 | 211

Blackmon had 20 receptions in 2009 before exploding onto the scene last year when he posted record-setting numbers from start to finish. He was second nationally in total receiving yards (1,782) and easily outdistanced the field with 148.5 receiving yards per game while adding 20 TD catches. Even with a new offensive coordinator this fall, Blackmon's numbers shouldn't change much from 2010 when he set the national record for consecutive 100-yard games. If he is consistent, he'll be in the Heisman race.  

LaMichael James
Oregon
Jr. | RB | 5-9 | 185

Key Notes:
• 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finailst
• Led the nation in rushing with 1,731 yards (144.3 ypg) and second with 21 TDs

Ryan Broyles
Oklahoma
Sr. | WR | 5-11 | 187

Key Notes:
• Fred Biletnikof Award finialist in 2010
• Led the nation with 131 catches and was third in receiving yards (1,622) and yards per game (115.9) 

Andrew Luck
Stanford
Jr. | QB | 6-4 | 235

Key Notes:
• Passed chance at No. 1 spot in 2011 NFL Draft to return this fall
• Third nationally in passing efficiency (170.6) while connecting for 3,338 yards and 32 TDs

Chris Polk
Washington
Jr. | RB | 5-11 | 214

Key Notes:
• Posted 1,415 rushing yards, the third-highest total by a sophomore in 2010
• Also added 9 touchdowns
• Was his second consecutive 1,000-yard season

Marcus Lattimore
South Carolina
So. | RB | 6-0 | 231

Key Notes:
• 2011 preseason All-American
• Second among freshman with 1,197 rushing yards and 17 TDs in 2010
when he was national freshman of the year

 

In the Trenches

Quinton Coples
North Carolina
Sr. | DE | 6-6 | 285

After playing defensive tackle last year, Coples moves back to his natural defensive end position for 2011 where he is a presason All-American and an honors award candidate as one of the nation's top linemen. He tied for 16th nationally in sacks per game (0.77) and his 10.0 sacks ranked fifth in the country among defensive tackles. A first-team All-ACC pick, Coples also added 15.5 tackles for loss and 59 total tackles to go along with a team-high 12 quarterback hurries.

Jared Crick
Nebraska
Sr. | DT | 6-6 | 285

Key Notes:
• Preseason All-American for second consecutive year
• Had 9.5 sacks and 17.5 TFLs  last year to go along with 70 tackles

Brandon Jenkins
Florida State
Jr. | DE | 6-3 | 258

Key Notes:
• 2011 preseason All-American
• Tied for third nationally with 13.5 sacks as a sophomore
• Also added 21.5 TFLs and 63 total tackles

Kheeston Randall
Texas
Sr. | DT | 6-5 | 295

Key Notes:
• 2011 preasason All-American
• Had 39 tackles, 13.0 TFLs and two blocked kicks
• Anchored D-line as Horns ranked sixth in total defense

Nate Potter
Boise State
Sr. | OT | 6-6 | 300

Key Notes:
• 2011 preasason All-American
• Helped Broncos rank second nationally last year in total offense (521.3 ypg) and scoring offense (45.1 ppg)

William Vlachos
Alabama
Sr. | C | 6-1 | 294

Key Notes:
• Candidate for Rimington Award as one of nation's top centers
• Helped Bama offense rank 22nd in total offense (444.1 ypg) last season

 

Defending Interests

Vontaze Burfict
Arizona State
Jr. | LB | 6-3 | 252

Considered one of the hardest hitters in the country, Burfict's first two years in Tempe were outstanding and he's primed to take it to another level in 2011. A freshman All-American in 2009, Burfict exploded last year with 90 tackles including 54 solo stops, 8.5 tackles for loss, three PBUs and two forced fumbles. He had 10 or more tackles five times and more than one-third of his tackles were against top-15 opponents, leading to him being named the league's defensive MVP by at least one publication.

Tank Carder
TCU
Sr. | LB | 6-3 | 237

Key Notes:
• 2010 first-team All-American
• Had 60 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and 5 PBUs
• Key PBU and three TFLs in Rose Bowl win

Luke Kuechly
Boston College
Jr. | LB | 6-3 | 235

Key Notes:
• All-American and Nagurski Award finailst in 2010
• Led country in tackles (183) and average (14.1 tpg)
• Reached 300 career tackles in 23rd game

Travis Lewis
Nebraska
Sr. | LB | 6-1 | 220

Key Notes:
• 2010 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year
• Third nationally in total tackles with a school-record 152 stops, including 84 solos

Jayron Hosley
Virginia Tech
Jr. | CB | 5-10 | 171

Key Notes:
• 2010 All-American
• Led nation with nine interceptions (110 yards) in 2010 and added eight PBUs 
• Broke 43-year-old school INT record

Brandon Taylor
LSU
Sr. | S | 6-0 | 194

Key Notes:
• Posted 44 tackles and five pass breakups despite missing last four games of season with a foot injury
• Also had a fumble recovery and 4.0 TFL

 

The Special Ones

Cliff Harris
Oregon
Jr. | CB/PR | 5-11 | 165

Harris is suspended for at least the season opener against LSU after being cited for excessive speed and driving with a suspended license during the summer. Assuming he gets back on the field, he will again be the most exciting return man in the nation. A 2010 first-team consensus All-American special teamer, Harris was second nationally with 18.8 yards per punt return with four TD returns. On defense, Harris led the country with 23 passes defended, including 17 pass breakups and six interceptions.

Grant Ressel
Missouri
Sr. | PK | 6-2 | 190

Key Notes:
• One of nation's most accurate kickers, hitting 43 of 46 FGA and 84 of 86 PAT in last two years 
• Career-long 50-yarder vs. Miami (Ohio) last year

Drew Butler
Georgia
Sr. | P | 6-2 | 214

Key Notes:
• Guy Award finalist and All-American in 2010
• Averaged 44.5 yards per punt with • Downed 19 punts inside the 20 and 14  of at least 50 yards

Nick Williams
Connecticut
Jr. | KOR | 5-10 | 183

Key Notes:
• Led nation with 35.3 yards per return on 17 KOR
• Had a pair of TD returns including a 95-yarder vs. Pitt and 100-yarder vs. Rutgers 

Greg Reid
Florida State
Jr. | PR | 5-8 | 185

Key Notes:
• Set single-season team record with 724 kickoff return yards, including a long of 55 yards
• Also brought back a 74-yard punt return for a TD

Eric Page
Toledo
Jr. | KOR | 5-10 | 180

Key Notes:
• Only MAC player to earn major All-America award in 2010
• Led nation with three KOR TDs and  third in return average (31.1) 

 

Keep an Eye on These Programs

Oklahoma
Key Players (Yr., Pos., 2010 stats):  Offense -- Ryan Broyles (Sr., WR, 1,622 receiving yards, 14 TDs), Landry Jones (Jr., QB, 4,718 passing yards, 38 TDs), Kenny Stills (So., WR, 786 receiving yards, 5 TDs). Defense -- Demontre Hurst (Jr., CB, 50 tackles, 11 PBUs), Travis Lewis (Sr., LB, 109 tackles, 3 INTs), Tom Wort (So., LB, 66 tackles, 6.5 TFLs).

Noting the Sooners:  Old rival Nebraska is gone and Texas may not be the Texas of 2005, but the top-ranked Sooners will not have an easy road to New Orleans. OU is loaded on both sides of the ball, especially in the trenches, which will come in handy against top-ranked teams like Florida State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

Oregon
Key Players (Yr., Pos., 2010 stats):  Offense --
Kenjon Barner (Jr., RB, 551 rushing yards, 6 TDs) LaMichael James (Jr., RB, 1,731 rushing yards, 21 TDs), Darron Thomas (Jr., QB, 2,881 passing yards, 30 TDs). Defense -- John Boyett (Jr., Sr., 78 tackles, 5 INTs), Cliff Harris (Jr., CB, 33 tackles, 23 passes defended), Eddie Pleasant (Sr., S, 65 tackles, 5.0 TFLs).

Noting the Ducks:  The Ducks have the physical pieces to make another run to the championship game. The question is can they keep focused away from off-field distractions long enough to get through a tough Pac-12 North Division? LaMichael James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner who should again be a Heisman Trophy finalist, will lead the explosive offense one more time. 

LSU
Key Players (Yr., Pos., 2010 stats):  Offense --
Jordan Jefferson (Sr., QB, 1,411 passing yards, 7 TDs), P.J. Lonergan (Jr., C, Rueben Randle (Jr., WR, 578 receiving yards, 5 TDs). Defense -- Ryan Baker (Sr., LB, 87 tackles, 11.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks), Karnell Hatcher (Jr., LB, 64 tackles, 2 passes defended), Tyrann Mathieu (So., CB, 57 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 7 PBUs).

Noting the Tigers:  LSU, which ended last season on a high note with a romp against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl 41-24, is strong and deep as ever on defense, but the big difference is that it has experience and talent on the offensive side this year. Tiger fans hope that's enough to push them through a loaded SEC gauntlet that includes seven other ranked preseason teams.  

Florida State 
Key Players (Yr., Pos., 2010 stats):  Offense --
EJ Manuel (Jr., QB, 861 passing yards, 4 TDs), Bert Reed (Sr., WR, 614 receiving yards, 2 TDs), Chris Thompson (Jr., RB, 845 rushing yards, 6 TDs). Defense -- Nigel Bradham (Sr., LB, 98 tackles, 5.0 sacks, Nick Moody (Jr., S, 79 tackles, 4.0 TFLs), Greg Reid (Jr., CB, 64 tackles, 14 PBUs).

Noting the Seminoles:  Long known for its offensive playmakers, the Seminoles will rely heavily on the defense, which returns three on the line and the whole secondary from the 2010 squad that reached the ACC title contest for the first time in five years. It was a good start for coach Jimbo Fisher following legend Bobby Bowden, but fans are already clamoring for more.

South Carolina
Key Players (Yr., Pos., 2010 stats):  Offense --
Stephen Garcia (Sr., QB, 3,059 passing yards, 20 TDs), Alshon Jeffery (Jr., WR, 1,517 receiving yards, 9 TDs), Marcus Lattimore (So., RB, 1,197 rusing yards, 17 TDs), . Defense -- Antonio Allen (Sr., LB, 70 tackles, 10.5 TFL), Stephen Gilmore (Jr., CB, 79 tackles, 3 INTs), DeVonte Holloman (Jr., LB, 69 tackles, 3 PBUs).

Noting the Gamecocks:  With two of the SEC's most dynamic players on offense -- RB Marcus Lattimore, a Heisman contender, and WR Alshon Jeffrey -- coach Steve Spurrier has the parts to put up points. With seven starters returning plus the No. 1 overall recruit in the country in DE Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks hope to find more consistency while challenging for another spot in the SEC title game -- and more. 

 

Top Contests to Follow in 2011

Will Auburn repeat? Will Oklahoma live up to the hype? Will the 2011 national champion be undefeated? Entering the season, no one has those answers, but what fun is that anyway? The fun lies in following along every week as teams aim for a chance to play for all the marbles in the Louisiana Superdome in January. Here are our picks for the top games each weekend through the end of the regular season:

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Sept. 3 -- LSU vs. Oregon ... Crazy good non-conference matchup means one team will be playing catch up the rest of the year.

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Sept. 10 -- Alabama at Penn State ... Does JoePa have one more magic moment left in his bag of tricks in Happy Valley?

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Sept. 17 -- Oklahoma at Florida State ... Preseason No. 1 Sooners get tested early as they travel South for the toughest non-conference road contest we could find. 

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Sept. 17 -- Ohio State at Miami (Fla.) ... Embroiled in controversy during the offseason, the Buckeyes and Canes will be happy to get away from it on Saturdays. 

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Sept. 24 -- Arkansas at Alabama ... Three weeks in and the key SEC matchups begin. Then again, all SEC matchups are key when you play in the toughest league around.

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Oct. 1 -- Nebraska at Wisconsin ... Huskers are a natural fit for the Big Ten, but face a brutal schedule starting with a night game at Camp Randall.

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Oct. 8 -- Ohio State at Nebraska ... Cornhusker faithful have sold out Memorial Stadium for every game since 1962 (311 and counting). This may be the most anticipated ever. 

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Oct. 15 -- South Carolina at Mississippi State ... Ol' Ball Coach has playmakers on both sides of the ball. Now they need to be consistent, especially on the road.

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Oct. 22 -- Auburn at LSU ... It's good to be king until you have to hit the road to play in Death Valley, especially a year after LSU allowed 440 rushing yards. 

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Oct. 29 -- Stanford at USC ... Trojans aren't going anywhere this year becuase of a postseason ban, but that doesn't mean they aren't trying hard to be the spoiler.

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Nov. 5 -- Texas A&M at Oklahoma ... Sooners have to mess with Texas every year, but this year it's the Aggies who are the state's representative to oppose an OU league title. 

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Nov. 5 -- LSU at Alabama ... Grass may taste better at home for the Tigers if Bama is still stinging from last year's three-point setback after an LSU fourth-down conversion.

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Nov. 12 -- Oregon at Stanford ... High-profile games don't dot the Pac-12 schedule, but this one could be as hyped -- and entertaining -- as any in the regular season. 

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Nov. 12 – TCU at Boise State ... Broncos wanted to get in the BCS business. It'll be easier with a win here at home, no matter the color of their uniforms.

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Nov. 19 -- Ohio State at Penn State ... The winner still has to go through Wisconsin but it'll be one step closer to representing the Leaders Division in the first Big Ten title game.

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Nov. 25 -- Arkansas at LSU ... A gutsy fourth-down call by Arkansas gave the Hogs a win last year at home. Will more plays to be made on the road?  

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Nov. 26 -- Notre Dame at Stanford ... Most years, there's a big underdog in this game. This season will be no different except that it's the Cardinal who's favored. 

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Nov. 26 -- Auburn at Alabama ... The Tigers came away with a one-point win at home last year on the way to the national title. Is there some turnabout in the Tuscaloosa air?

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Dec. 1 -- West Virginia at South Florida ... The Bulls have a number of talented transfers but are they enough to put a crimp in the Mountaineers' holiday plans?

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Dec. 2 -- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State ... Bedlam for a BCS berth? Yes, please. This matchup on the Cowboys' home turf could be as big as any in the series in a long time.

 

School New Coach Replaced
Arkansas State Hugh Freeze Steve Roberts
Ball State Pete Lembo Stan Parrish
Colorado Jon Embree Dan Hawkins
Connecticut Paul Pasqualoni Randy Edsall
Florida Will Muschamp Urban Meyer
Indiana Kevin Wilson Bill Lynch
Kent State Darrell Hazell Doug Martin
Louisiana-Lafayette Mark Hudspeth Rickey Bustle
Maryland Randy Edsall Ralph Friedgen
Miami (Fla.) Al Golden Randy Shannon
Miami (Ohio) Don Treadwell Michael Haywood
Michigan Brady Hoke Rich Rodriguez
Minnesota Jerry Kill Tim Brewster
North Carolina Everett Withers (i) Butch Davis
North Texas Dan McCarney Todd Dodge
Northern Illinois Dave Doeren Jerry Kill
Ohio State Luke Fickell (i) Jim Tressel
Pitt Todd Graham Dave Wannstedt, Michael Haywood #
San Diego State Rocky Long Brady Hoke
Stanford David Shaw Jim Harbaugh
Temple Steve Addazio Al Golden
Tulsa Bill Blankeship Todd Graham
Vanderbilt James Franklin Robbie Caldwell
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen Bill Stewart
(i) – Interim head coach
# -- Haywood replaced Wannstedt following the season but then was fired two weeks later after being arrested. He was then replaced by Graham.

 

Moving Up the Charts

Records are made to be broken, right? While no one will be making a run at the most glamorous FBS record – career touchdowns, held by, you guessed it, Travis Prentice (78) of Miami (Ohio) – there are a few that could be in danger by year’s end. Among the potential new career leaders are:

Case Keenum, QB, Houston – After a strong 2009 campaign, Keenum entered 2010 with some Heisman hype but a season-ending injury in the third game of the year against UCLA derailed his attack on the record book. He’s back this fall and has a pair of records in sight. Keenum enters 2011 with 13,586 career passing yards. After throwing for more than 5,000 yards in each of his last two full seasons, Keenum, who already ranks fifth in the record book, is expected to eclipse the career passing yardage mark of 17,072 set by Timmy Chang of Hawaii. Along the way, he should also top the mark Graham Harrell set for career touchdown passes when he tossed 134 for Texas Tech. Keenum has 107 TDs to his credit (only 44 interceptions), including tossing 44 touchdowns in each 2008 and 2009.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma – The top receiver on the top-rated team in the country is back for his senior season, one that should end with at least one national record. Playing in one of the most wide receiver-friendly leagues in the country, Broyles has build an impressive resume that has him closing in on the career receptions mark currently held by Taylor Stubblefield (Purdue, 316). Only five players have reached the 300-reception plateau, but Broyles already has 266 on the books, including an amazing 131 grabs last year. With at least 46 catches each of his first three years, Broyles should reach the receptions mark and could easily race past it. If he produces a similar season to last year, he may also catch Trevor Insley (Nevada), who owns career receiving yards record at 5,005. Broyles has 3,429 receiving yards entering the season, meaning if he matched his 1,622 yards from 2010 he’d grab the title late this fall as Oklahoma is fighting for a spot in the BCS championship game.

Philip Welch, PK, Wisconsin – Welch may not set a national record this year, but he’s still likely to join an elite list. The Badger placekicker comes into 2011 with 315 career points. After scoring at least 98 points in each of his first three seasons – and with a new, proven QB and the same thundering ground game to give the offense a little more power – Welch should be in position to become just the 12th player in NCAA history to score at least 400 points in a career, including only the sixth kicker. (Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) holds the scoring record at 468 points) Welch is one of three players – all placekickers – to enter the fall with at least 300 career points, joining TCU’s Ross Evans (304) and Georgia’s Blair Walsh (303).

 


It's not every day that a college player elicits a standing ovation from his peers, coaches, media and fans, but Kirck Cousins' speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon was unlike few given by athletes in recent years. Watch it again as the Michigan State quarterback makes people take notice of more than just his prolific arm. Along with Cousins' speech, more videos from preseason conference media days are available, including exclusive NCAA.com interviews.

 

All photos courtesy of respective school athletic departments.