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Sooners exit spring as No. 1 team

College Football Top 25
My sincerest apologies for the lateness of this year's post-spring Top 25. We had every intention of trotting out this sucker during the first week of May, but someone had other ideas.

That someone is little Maggie Staples, who was supposed to join us on May 10. Instead, she decided she wanted the diamond to be her birthstone and ran a fullback dive out of the womb in the last week of April. So I've been on paternity leave the last few weeks.

Since I'm anatomically incapable of feeding the newborn, I was tasked with making sure our toddler son didn't try to stuff his infant sister -- whom he still believes is a stunningly lifelike action figure -- into the basket where he keeps his Hot Wheels. This led me to watch even more toddler-themed television than usual.

Normally, I would have pondered these questions in early May:

* Which SEC West team -- Alabama or LSU -- should be ranked higher? And what about Arkansas?

* How much should Ohio State's off-field issues and suspensions affect the Buckeyes' ranking?

* Should I assume the 2010 Texas season was an anomaly and rank the Longhorns?

Instead, I pondered these questions:

* If Franklin's friends are named Bear, Badger, Fox and Beaver, why isn't Franklin named Turtle?

* Little Bear's father (Father Bear) wears a three-piece suit to go to his job as a fisherman. So why doesn't his kid wear pants?

* How can Toot and Puddle, two otherwise humble pigs, afford lavish vacations to nations on six continents? And how is it that they never complain about getting stranded in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas or Salt Lake City? I refuse to believe Pocket Hollow International Airport has that many direct flights. (My first question was answered when I saw the episode in which Toot goes to Mexico for four weeks. Clearly, he and Puddle are drug smugglers.)

* Does Sir Toppam Hatt lie awake at night worrying that the engines on the Island of Sodor will one day unionize? They seem to crave only coal and praise of their utility, but that Peter Sam seems like a rabble-rouser.

So please excuse me if I accidentally rank Ming Ming from Wonder Pets ahead of Oklahoma. It's just the sleep-deprivation talking. Besides, everyone knows Ming Ming won't crack the top five until she learns the true value of teamwork.
 
1
Oklahoma Sooners
2010 record: 12-2 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 15 (eight offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles, WR Kenny Stills, LB Travis Lewis, S Tony Jefferson

Spring star: LB Corey Nelson

Spring recap: There will be plenty of time later to discuss all aspects of Oklahoma's team. For now, send your thoughts and prayers to the family and teammates mourning Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box, who died last week after he was found unresponsive at a friend's house.
 
2
Oregon Ducks
2010 record: 12-1 (9-0 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 11 (six offense, five defense)
Key returnees: RB LaMichael James, QB Darron Thomas, OT Mark Asper, CB Cliff Harris, S John Boyett, S Eddie Pleasant

Spring star: TE Colt Lyerla

Spring recap: With new starters at receiver and on the offensive line, Oregon's offense slowed down a bit in the spring. Oregon's defense, which must replace most of its front seven, didn't seem to take a step back at all. This is probably because of coordinator Nick Aliotti's "line change" substitutions, which allowed the Ducks' backups to play almost as many snaps as the starters. That's good news for Oregon, because we know the offense -- still led by tailback LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas -- will be up to speed by September.

Oregon's defense limited Oregon's potent offense to one touchdown in the spring game.
Peter Read Miller/SI
 
3
Alabama Crimson Tide
2010 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 16 (seven offense, nine defense)
Key returnees: RB Trent Richardson, OL Barrett Jones, C William Vlachos, OT D.J. Fluker, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont'a Hightower, S Mark Barron, CB Dre Kirkpatrick

Spring star: LB Trey DePriest

Spring recap: Normally it's tough to rank a team with an unsettled quarterback situation this high. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban opted to let the competition between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims stretch through the summer, and Saban has said he would be comfortable playing two quarterbacks even after the season begins. It's a testament to how much talent Alabama brings back on defense that the identity of the quarterback doesn't matter as much. It will be tough to score on a group that includes linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower and an intact secondary that might include four NFL first-rounders. Besides, the new quarterback will take snaps from one of the nation's best centers (William Vlachos) and receive protection -- at guard or tackle -- from future All-America Barrett Jones. He'll also get to hand off to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. To whom will he throw? That's a fine question that Duron Carter -- the son of Cris Carter who began his career at Ohio State and comes to Alabama as a JUCO transfer -- would like to help answer. So given the support system, McCarron and Sims are set up to succeed. Besides, the last time the Crimson Tide had a first-year starter at quarterback, they won the national title.
 
4
LSU Tigers
2010 record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)
Returning starters: 15 (eight offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Jefferson, WR Reuben Randle, WR Russell Shepard, LB Ryan Baker, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Morris Claiborne

Spring star: DT Anthony Johnson

Spring recap: We should probably worry when LSU fans go into a season happy. Last month, readers were furious when a headline in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate dared to suggest Jordan Jefferson had cemented his place as LSU's starter. The readers who complained had hoped transfer Zach Mettenberger would beat out Jefferson, who never could get the offense rolling in coordinator Gary Crowton's final season in Baton Rouge. Steve Kragthorpe is in charge of the offense now, and LSU should move the ball plenty on the ground with Spencer Ware, who ran for 102 yards on 10 carries in LSU's Cotton Bowl annihilation of Texas A&M. As with Alabama, the defense should give the offense a bit of a cushion. Defensive end Sam Montgomery is back after missing most of last season to injury, and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu should make the loss of Patrick Peterson easier to bear. Early enrollee Anthony Johnson is the latest monster to roll off the LSU interior defensive assembly line, and he'll add depth to an already impressive group.
 
5
Stanford Cardinal
2010 record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 11 (five offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Andrew Luck, RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Chris Owusu, OT Jonathan Martin, LB Shayne Skov, S Delano Howell

Spring star: TE Zach Ertz

Spring recap: The Cardinal have to replace three offensive linemen and two defensive linemen, so this will be a test of former coach Jim Harbaugh's recruiting. It seemed as if Harbaugh was building a program that could reload, but we won't know if he did until the new starters take the field. Quarterback Andrew Luck will enter the season as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, and usually that kind of pressure only brings trouble. But being the Heisman favorite at Stanford is different than being the Heisman favorite at Oklahoma or Florida. As college football megastars go, Luck will lead a fairly under-the-radar existence. That can only help the Cardinal.
 
6
Texas A&M Aggies
2010 record: 9-4 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 17 (nine offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray, RB Christine Michael, OT Luke Joeckel, LB Garrick Williams, LB Damontre Moore

Spring star: LB Donnie Baggs

Spring recap: In March, I sat in the Texas A&M players' lounge with safety Trent Hunter. I asked Hunter about his team's ceiling. Hunter pointed out the window at the breathtaking view of Kyle Field's steep stands. "What can't we do?" Hunter replied. "Kyle Field doesn't have a roof on it." Well said. The Aggies bring back a ton of talent from a team that seemed to figure out how to win important Big 12 games late last season. But did they really learn? They'll find out in September when Oklahoma State comes to College Station.
 
7
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2010 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning Starters: 14 (nine offense, five defense)
Key returnees: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, OT Levy Adcock, S Markelle Martin, LB Shaun Lewis

Spring star: OT Michael Bowie

Spring recap: I wrote my way-too-early Top 25 before the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft, so I ranked the Cowboys No. 18 on the assumption that quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon would turn pro. But I also wrote that if both came back, Oklahoma State would skyrocket in the rankings. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken replaced Dana Holgorsen this offseason, and Weeden helped his new coach learn the offense. That collaboration should make for a smooth transition -- and an offense almost custom-made for the rocket-armed Weeden.
 
8
South Carolina Gamecocks
2010 record: 9-5 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Alshon Jeffery, C T.J. Johnson, DE Devin Taylor, S DeVonte Holloman, CB Stephon Gilmore

Spring star: OG A.J. Cann

Spring recap: Quarterback Stephen Garcia remains suspended, but until he misses an actual game, we'll assume Garcia is on the same double-secret probation he's been on since his arrival in Columbia. Regardless of whether Garcia or sophomore Connor Shaw plays quarterback, South Carolina has the SEC's best returning receiver (Alshon Jeffery) and one of the conference's best running backs (Marcus Lattimore). Meanwhile, coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense could be interesting. It's too early to anoint freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but junior defensive end Devin Taylor seems on the verge of a breakout season. In the secondary, 6-foot-1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore could be one of the SEC's top defenders if he can cut down on busted plays. What's more, South Carolina got the best schedule draw in the SEC: No Alabama. No LSU. Florida comes to Columbia. The Gamecocks go to Georgia, Mississippi State and Arkansas, but given their talent, they should be the favorites in the SEC East.
 
9
Florida State Seminoles
2010 record: 10-4 (6-2 ACC)
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: RB Jermaine Thomas, OT Andrew Datko, OT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes

Spring star: QB E.J. Manuel

Spring recap: Because I'm doing this poll a little later than usual, I've gotten a chance to see how many of my colleagues ranked teams after the spring. Some of them really love the Seminoles. Top-five love, even. Jimbo Fisher is building something special in Tallahassee, but I'm not sure Florida State is back to late-90s, baddest-team-in-the-universe mode. Yet. That day doesn't seem far off, though. Fisher has spent the past few years working FSU's offense back into shape, but the hallmark of those late-90s Seminoles teams was an athletic, almost vicious defense. The coaching staff has spent the past few years stockpiling the same type of players Mickey Andrews used to unleash upon the world, and second-year coordinator Mark Stoops now has a deep(ish), athletic group that should be able to hang with elite offenses. The names Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Lamracus Joyner, already well known to recruitniks, probably will become more familiar to a mainstream audience this season.
 
10
Boise State Broncos
2010 record: 12-1 (7-1 WAC)
Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, S George Iloka, DE Shea McClellin, DT Billy Winn

Spring star: WR Geraldo Hiwat

Spring recap: Last year seemed like Boise State's best chance to crack the national title game, but it's easy to forget how many of the Broncos contributed as freshmen. It feels as if quarterback Kellen Moore and defensive tackle Billy Winn have been in college long enough to be doctors, but they still have one year to go. The Broncos bring back their entire front seven except for defensive end Ryan Winterswyk, and Moore and tailback Doug Martin will lead an offense that must find a way to replace receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Boise State will need an undefeated record plus chaos to reach the BCS title game, but the core of this group has won enough games to know that remains a possibility.
 
11
Ohio State Buckeyes
2010 record: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 13 (eight offense, five defense)
Key returnees: QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Boom Herron, WR DeVier Posey, OT Mike Adams, C Mike Brewster, DE Nathan Williams, LB Tyler Moeller

Spring star: LB Etienne Sabino

Spring recap: Surprised the Buckeyes didn't drop more? With everything swirling around the program now, it's difficult at first blush to believe Ohio State could compete for the Big Ten title. But ask yourself this: Which Big Ten program is better? If Ohio State had a settled coaching situation and if five of its best players weren't suspended for the first five games, it wouldn't be a stretch to rank the Buckeyes No. 1. The decision to make linebackers coach Luke Fickell the interim coach during Jim Tressel's five-game suspension was a wise one. Fickell, an up-and-comer who probably should already be a head coach, has the respect of the team. If things get bumpy early -- on-field because of a depleted lineup or off-field because of Tressel's NCAA trouble -- Fickell won't lose the locker room. This team has plenty of talent. Mike Brewster might be the best center in the country. Tight end Jake Stoneburner is an intriguing weapon as a pass-catcher. Redshirt freshman tailback Rod Smith could be a breakout star with starter Boom Herron suspended. Even if Tressel doesn't return to the sidelines -- a distinct possibility, given the history of the NCAA violation of which Tressel stands accused -- the Buckeyes are in good hands in 2011.
 
12
Nebraska Cornhuskers
2010 record: 10-4 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Jared Crick, DE Cameron Meredith, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard

Spring star: WR Jamal Turner

Spring recap: Welcome to the Big Ten, Cornhuskers. For your first conference game, you get to visit Camp Randall Stadium for a night game. For your second, you get to face an Ohio State team returning some of its best players from suspension. But the folks in Big Red country probably aren't worried about that right now. The Bubba Starling watch is on. Will the star quarterback from Gardner, Kan., come to Lincoln to play football, or will he take a fat signing bonus and hit the diamond after he gets selected in the first round of next month's Major League Baseball draft? I'm rooting for Nebraska here, because, frankly, I enjoy typing the name Bubba. If they want to remain optimistic, Nebraska fans probably should avoid watching Boston Red Sox games. The last time a Huskers quarterback recruit faced this scenario, Carl Crawford picked baseball.

Bubba Starling Profile
Source: SI
Bubba Starling, a top baseball and football prospect, talks to SI.com about choosing between the two sports he loves.

 
13
Arkansas Razorbacks
2010 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Returning starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: RB Knile Davis, WR Greg Childs, WR Joe Adams, WR Jarius Wright, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, S Tramain Thomas

Spring star: DT Robert Thomas

Spring recap: Though it seems as if Tyler Wilson has the inside track, Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino has yet to name a starting quarterback. Wilson will compete with Brandon Mitchell throughout the summer for the privilege of throwing to perhaps the nation's most talented group of receivers. With Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright catching the ball and Knile Davis running it, Arkansas should challenge the elite defenses it will see in the SEC West. The Hogs should be better on defense, too. Unfortunately, they face a brutal schedule. They play at Alabama and face Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, in consecutive weeks, and they close the regular season with a Black Friday visit to Baton Rouge.
 
14
Michigan State Spartans
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, G Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, CB Johnny Adams

Spring star: WR/CB Tony Lippett

Spring recap: The Spartans were last seen curled in the fetal position as Alabama rolled over them in the Capital One Bowl, but hopefully that loss provided some lessons for a group that could once again compete for the Big Ten title. Kirk Cousins is back at quarterback, and linemen William Gholston and Jerel Worthy will help lead a defense that must replace ballcarrier magnet Greg Jones at linebacker. Perhaps most intriguing is redshirt freshman Tony Lippett, who impressed coaches as a receiver and as a cornerback in the spring.
 
15
TCU Horned Frogs
2010 record: 13-0 (8-0 Mountain West)
Returning starters: 11 (five offense, six defense)
Key returnees: WR Josh Boyce, RB Ed Wesley, LB Tank Carder, LB Tanner Brock

Spring star: QB Casey Pachall

Spring recap: Looking back at the Top 25 I put out in January, I felt I was expecting too much of a TCU team that lost 26 seniors. But while I think it would be presumptuous to start the Horned Frogs in the top 10, I also have faith in their ability to reload. Coach Gary Patterson went 6-6 when he took over the program in 2001. He then won double-digit games in seven of the next nine seasons. He has earned the benefit of the doubt.
 
16
Wisconsin Badgers
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 11 (five offense, six defense)
Key returnees: RB Montee Ball, RB James White, C Peter Konz, LB Mike Taylor, CB Antonio Fenelus, S Aaron Henry

Spring star: CB Devin Smith

Spring recap: Back in January, I wrote that the most painful loss for a Wisconsin team that produced two first-round draft picks (Gabe Carimi and J.J. Watt) might be quarterback Scott Tolzien. This spring, that certainly seemed to be the case. But last week, news leaked that former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson -- who might be the most sought-after free agent in college football history -- might be interested in playing his final year of eligibility for the Badgers. That would be an instant aerial upgrade for an offense that should already be great on the ground with backs James White and Montee Ball. Of course, Wilson -- who is playing minor league baseball this summer -- is also looking at several other schools. One is South Carolina, which has its own quarterback issues.
 
17
Missouri Tigers
2010 record: 10-3 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 15 (nine offense, six defense)
Key returnees: WR T.J. Moe, TE Michael Egnew, DE Brad Madison, LB Zaviar Gooden, S Kenji Jackson

Spring star: DE Kony Ealy

Spring recap: The Tigers have been consistently good for a while now, and even the loss of quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive end Aldon Smith shouldn't produce a huge drop-off. James Franklin won the starting quarterback job in spring practice, and he'll have two reliable targets in receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew. Even without Smith, Missouri should be able to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith are a formidable tandem, and redshirt freshman Kony Ealy adds even more speed off the edge.
 
18
Auburn Tigers
2010 record: 14-0 (8-0 SEC)
Returning starters: Six (three offense, three defense)
Key returnees: RB Michael Dyer, TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, OT Brandon Mosley, DE Nose Eguae, CB Neiko Thorpe

Spring star: WR Trovon Reed

Spring recap: The defending national champs lost their game-changing quarterback, their unblockable defensive tackle and most of their offensive line. The other powers in the SEC West lost far less. That doesn't mean the cupboard is bare on the Plains. Last season was so outrageous -- in every aspect -- that it didn't even seem like a big deal that Michael Dyer broke Bo Jackson's school record for rushing yards by a freshman. That is a big deal. The return of Dyer, change-of-pace speedster Onterio McCalebb and tight end/fullback Philip Lutzenkirchen should give offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn some ammunition. The question for the Tigers is whether the defense will be good enough to give them a chance against some of the monsters on their schedule.
 
19
Virginia Tech Hokies
2010 record: 11-3 (8-0 ACC)
Returning starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key returnees: WR Danny Coale, WR Jarrett Boykin, OT Blake DeChristopher, LB Bruce Taylor, S Eddie Whitely, CB Jayron Hosley

Spring star: QB Logan Thomas

Spring recap: Quarterback Logan Thomas barfed his way through his first spring game at Virginia Tech. That's not a figure of speech; Thomas had a nasty stomach bug and vomited several times during the 2010 spring game. His memories of 2011 will be much better. The 6-6, 245-pounder looked smooth and in command of the Hokies' offense. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer shook up his offensive staff this offseason, stripping offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring of his play-calling duties and handing them to quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. The Hokies have owned the Virginia Tech Conference (see, I keep my promises), but this seems to be a move to get Virginia Tech to the next level. Of course, with the upgrade in progress in Tallahassee, the Hokies may have to improve just to maintain their current perch.
 
20
West Virginia Mountaineers
2010 record: 9-4 (5-2 Big East)
Returning starters: 12 (eight offense, four defense)
Key returnees: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, OT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DB Julian Miller, CB Keith Tandy

Spring star: WR Tyler Urban

Spring recap: Yes, the coaching situation is awkward. Bill Stewart remains the head coach, but offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will take over in 2012. The chemistry between those two could help determine the course of the season. And this could be a very good year for the Mountaineers if Holgorsen works the same magic he worked at Houston and Oklahoma State. Quarterback Geno Smith could be a dark horse Heisman contender, and receivers Tavon Austin, Ivan McCartney and Stedman Bailey could put up huge numbers. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will have to make do with a physically smaller group than he had in 2010, but if Holgorsen's offense does its job, opponents won't be able to grind it out against the Mountaineers. We'll know by September's end how good West Virginia is. The Mountaineers go to Maryland on Sept. 17 and host LSU on Sept. 24.
 
21
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2010 record: 8-5
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: QB Dayne Crist, WR Michael Floyd, OG Trevor Robinson, DE Ethan Johnson, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta, S Harrison Smith

Spring star: DE Aaron Lynch

Spring recap: Notre Dame made such great strides at the end of last season that this doesn't feel like a typical throw-the-Irish-in-the-poll-and-maybe-they'll-be-better-for-a-few-weeks pick. Linebacker Manti Te'o is the kind of elite defensive player Notre Dame has lacked for years, and it seems as if the coaching staff has upgraded the talent around him. Aaron Lynch, an early enrollee defensive end, impressed his coaches. So did Louis Nix, a 340-pound sophomore nose tackle. If the Irish really are better on defense, they can make a BCS bowl. Because offense hasn't been the problem.

Notre Dame's BCS chances
Source: SI
Will an influx of defensive talent improve Notre Dame's BCS prospects this season? Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel debate.

 
22
Mississippi State Bulldogs
2010 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Returning starters: 15 (eight offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, OG Quentin Saulsberry, DT Josh Boyd, CB Corey Broomfield

Spring star: LB Cameron Lawrence

Spring recap: The SEC West was so loaded last season that the best Mississippi State team in years finished fifth. The SEC West is so loaded this year that another good Bulldogs team is going to be pegged as the fourth- or fifth-best team in the division in the preseason. Mississippi State pushed Auburn and Arkansas to the limit last season, and the Bulldogs bring back quite a bit from that team. Coach Dan Mullen has said the quarterback job is open, but incumbent Chris Relf has done everything necessary to keep the position. Geoff Collins, who replaced co-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz when Diaz went to Texas, will earn his paycheck in his first season in Starkville. Much of the Bulldogs' defensive success will depend on how Collins replaces three departed starters at linebacker.
 
23
Arizona State Sun Devils
2010 record: 6-6 (4-5 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 17 (nine offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, RB Cameron Marhsall, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali

Spring star: DT Will Sutton

Spring recap: Without even playing a game and through sheer bad luck, the Sun Devils seem on their way to becoming this year's Jevan Snead Memorial Trendy Pick That Doesn't Live Up To Expectations. On April 2, All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden tore his ACL in a non-contact drill. The senior will likely miss the season, which is a huge blow for a team expected to compete for a title in a wide-open Pac-12 South division. But maybe Arizona State can avoid the Snead Trophy. Quarterback Brock Osweiler, a former Gonzaga basketball recruit, seems ready for his first full season as a starter. Meanwhile, Gerrell Robinson seems capable of catching a lot of passes from Osweiler.
 
24
Maryland Terrapins
2010 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Danny O'Brien, RB Davin Meggett, DT Joe Vellano, DT A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate

Spring star: WR Ronnie Tyler

Spring recap: Ralph Friedgen's ouster at Maryland upset so many people because the Terrapins were on the upswing. Now it's up to Randy Edsall, who took Connecticut from I-AA to Big East champion, to continue the progress Friedgen made last season.
 
25
Utah Utes
2010 record: 10-3 (7-1 Mountain West)
Returning starters: 11 (six offense, five defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Wynn, WR DeVonte Christopher, OT Tony Bergstrom, LB Brian Blechen

Spring star: DT Star Lotulelei

Spring recap: Offensive coordinator Norm Chow has returned to his alma mater, but will he return to the kind of offensive production he inspired at USC at the turn of this century? He has a solid quarterback in Jordan Wynn -- who missed spring practice after shoulder surgery -- and two good receivers in DeVonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn, so that's a good start. Head coach Kyle Whittingham will make sure the Utes stay solid on defense, but it will be interesting to see if the newest member of college football's elite club has the depth to stay consistent against an AQ-conference schedule.
 
Just missed the cut: Georgia, Florida, Texas, Miami, Louisville
 
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