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2014 Preseason College Football Top 25

We are a little more than two months away from the start of the college football. So I decided to present everyone with my college football preseason top 25. Through the coming weeks, I will preview the ACC, American, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC conferences.  Keep in mind, this top 25 poll isn’t necessarily the order I believe each team will finish at the end of the 2014 season. These are just my top 25 teams heading into the 2014 season.

 

1. Florida State Seminoles 

Heisman Trophy Award Winner Jameis Winston and FSU surprised everyone last season by winning their third national championship. Despite losing several key starters from the last year’s team, Florida State has more than enough talent to make another run this fall. The biggest question is at offensive line because the Seminoles have very little experience depth there. The schedule is the biggest reason Florida State will probably be in the first ever college football playoff. If you analyze their schedule, I don’t see a regular season game that the Seminoles could lose. Unless Florida or NC State pulls off a huge upset, I fully expect Florida State to be 12-0 heading into the ACC Championship Game.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma-Spring Game

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Quarterback Trevor Knight had the game of his life in the Allstate Sugar Bowl when he destroyed the Alabama Crimson Tide defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight and the 15 other returning starters will try to carry that momentum into the 2014 season.  With eight starters back on a defense that allowed 5.4 yards per play in Big 12 games last season, Oklahoma should have one of the best defenses in college football. The schedule sets up favorably for the Sooners as their toughest road games are against Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU.

NCAA Football: Oregon-Spring Game

3. Oregon Ducks

A late-season knee injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota derailed Oregon’s national title hopes last season. He and the Ducks are back for one more run at a national championship. Joining Mariota is an experienced supporting cast, including five returning starters on the offensive line. Leading the defense is future first-round pick cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Oregon has gotten close to returning to the national championship game the last few seasons, only to lose a game late in the season. This year’s Stanford/Oregon game is in Eugene, so advantage goes to the Ducks. Oregon just has to be wary of the upset bug that has plagued them the last few seasons.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Spring Game

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama’s 2013 season ended on a down note with back-to-back losses to Auburn and Oklahoma. But the Crimson Tide are loaded once again and are poised to make another championship run. While Alabama will have a new quarterback in Jacob Coker, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry return to create the nation’s number one backfield duo. There are questions on defense at linebacker and in the secondary as Alabama will have to replace a number of key starters. The Crimson Tide might not be the odds on favorite to win a national championship, but they certainly have enough talent on offense and defense to contend in 2014.

NCAA Football: Auburn-Spring Game

5. Auburn Tigers

Auburn engineered the biggest turnaround in college football last season as they went from a 3-9 record in 2012, to 12-2 and an SEC Championship in 2013.  The arrival of coach Gus Malzahn had a lot to do with the success of the Tigers in 2013, but so did junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are huge losses on offense, but Auburn has a lot of talent returning. Marshall’s go-to receiver Sammie Coates returns and should be one of the biggest deep ball threats in 2014.  Junior college transfer receiver D’haquille Williams was impressive in the spring game as he caught five passes for 88 yards with one touchdown. The biggest thing working against Auburn in 2014 is their schedule. Not only do they play in the toughest division in the SEC, Auburn also has crossover games against two of the top teams from the SEC East – South Carolina and Georgia. Also the Tigers have a non-conference road trip to Kansas State and away games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss and Alabama. So the road to another SEC Championship will be very challenging for the Tigers.

NCAA Football: Ohio State-Spring Game

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

Head coach Urban Meyer won his first 24 games at Ohio State before ending the 2013 season on a two-game losing streak. Ohio State will be a slight favorite to win the Big Ten in 2014. Quarterback Braxton Miller returns and he will be surrounded by a number talented players, including running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Devin Smith. The Buckeye arguable have the best defensive line in college football, but there are questions at linebacker and in the secondary. A trip to East Lansing in early November will be a huge test for Ohio State, but the rest of the schedule is pretty favorable. Considering the stigma of the Big Ten conference and their weak schedule, the Buckeyes would probably need to go undefeated to reach the four-team college football playoff.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Baylor vs Central Florida

7. Baylor Bears

The Baylor Bears are coming off its first outright conference championship in 34 years. The Bears return one of college football’s top offenses, with quarterback Bryce Petty and a receiving corps that is loaded with talent. Only four starters return on a defense, so they have some questions there. The losses on defense shouldn’t keep Baylor contending with Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship in 2014. The Bears do play the Sooners and Longhorns on the road this season, but the rest of the schedule is very favorable. So there’s no reason why the Bears shouldn’t win at least 10 games once again.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Virginia Tech vs UCLA

8. UCLA Bruins

Jim Mora has the UCLA Bruins going in the right direction. The team has won 19 games the last two seasons, the most since 1997-98 when the school claimed 20 victories in two seasons. With 15 returning starters, the Bruins are most people’s (not saying mine) favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2014. Quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the nation’s best players and even with the linebacker Anthony Barr leaving, the UCLA defense figures to be one of the best in the Pac-12.  While UCLA has one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, three of their toughest games are at home.  USC, Stanford and Oregon all visiting the Rose Bowl during the regular season, so that’s could be enough for UCLA to win the Pac-12 South. They just have to beat Arizona State in Tempe.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State-Spring Game

9. LSU Tigers

The LSU Tigers have won at least 10 games in the last four seasons. The 2014 version of the Tigers return 12 starters from last year’s 10-3 team and should be a contender in the SEC West once again. LSU’s biggest question heading into the season is who’s going to be their starting quarterback?  Sophomore Anthony Jennings struggled in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and in the spring game and he is being pushed by true freshman Brandon Harris. Both Jennings and Harris are different quarterbacks from last year’s starter Zack Mettenberger as they are both can use their feet and make plays on the move. LSU has to replace a number of key players who left early for the NFL Draft. There’s still enough returning talent and experience to be among the best units in the SEC. The schedule isn’t easy, but when is it ever? They kickoff the season against Wisconsin in Houston, Texas and have to travel to Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. The Tigers do get Ole Miss and Alabama at home, their two biggest challengers in the SEC West.

NCAA Football: Stanford-Spring Game

10. Stanford Cardinal

Head coach David Shaw has guided Stanford to three seasons of at least 11 wins and back-to-back Pac-12 titles. If the Cardinal are to three-peat as Pac-12 champions, they will have to fill a few holes on the offensive line and defense.  Quarterback Kevin Hogan will be throwing to one of the Pac-12’s best receiving corps. To say Stanford’s schedule is tough would be an understatement. The Cardinal will have to travel to Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. If the Cardinal were to win 11 plus games, they will no doubt be one of the four teams in the first college football playoff. My guess is Stanford takes a bit of a step back in 2014.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Stanford vs Michigan State

11. Michigan State Spartans

The Michigan State Spartans are coming off one of the schools best seasons, winning 13 games, the 2013 Big Ten Championship and finishing No. 3 in the final AP poll. Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford return to a MSU offense, which should be better than it was in 2013. The Spartan defense must replace stars like Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen. The positive for Michigan State fans is the team has one of the best defensive end duos in the country in reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun and fourth-year starter Marcus Rush. Michigan State’s schedule is certainly difficult as they have road games at Oregon and Penn State. The good news is three of the Spartans toughest Big Ten games (Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State) are all in East Lansing.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Arizona State vs Texas Tech

12. Arizona State Sun Devils

A lot of people might of forgot this, but the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South last year, finishing with a 10-4 overall record and a 8-1 in Pac-12 play. Head coach Todd Graham has a prolific offense led by quarterback Taylor Kelly. The question is can the Sun Devils replace defensive stars Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Robert Nelson, Osahon Irabor, and Alden Darby. With only two returning starters on defense, expect the Sun Devils to try and outscore the opposition. ASU has USC, Washington, Oregon State and arch-rival Arizona all on the road. Circle Sept. 25 match-up with UCLA on your calendars as that game could be for the Pac-12 South title.

NCAA Football: South Carolina-Spring Game

13. South Carolina Gamecocks

Head coach Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks are coming off the best three-year stretch in school history, winning 33 games and finishing in the top-10 in the final Associated Press poll three consecutive years. As good as the Gamecocks have been, they have yet to win an SEC Championship. With all the questions among the SEC teams, this could finally be the year the Gamecocks win their first SEC conference title. Quarterback Dylan Thompson will take over full-time and he is a more than capable replacement for last year’s starter Conner Shaw. Running back Mike Davis returns after rushing for 1,183 yards with 11 touchdowns last season. South Carolina’s biggest questions are on defense, where they have to replace Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarters and Chaz Sutton.  The secondary will also have to replace cornerbacks Vic Hampton and Jimmy Legree.  Georgia, Texas A&M and Missouri all have to visit Williams-Brice Stadium. The bad news is the Gamecocks have to visit Auburn and Florida. Despite that, South Carolina is the favorite by many to win the SEC East.

NCAA Football: Georgia-Spring Game

14. Georgia Bulldogs

After a season riddled with injuries, Georgia is expected to challenge for the SEC Championship again in 2014. Quarterback Hutson Mason gained valuable experienced late last season after Aaron Murray’s injury. The offense should benefit from a healthy Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at running back and Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver. Georgia’s defense is a big concern under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. While Ramik Wilson, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd all return, the secondary is very young and inexperienced. The Bulldog’s schedule is pretty favorable. Other than the South Carolina game in Columbia, there really isn’t a tough road game on the schedule. Rivals Clemson and Auburn will present challenges, but both are in Athens. The Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville as always will be a key match-up for both teams.

NCAA Football: Capital One Bowl-Wisconsin vs South Carolina

15. Wisconsin Badgers

Despite Wisconsin only returns eight starters in 2014, the expectations are high in Madison. The Badgers have a lot of questions to answers including at the quarterback position. Will the quarterback be last year’s starter Joel Stave, who missing much of the spring with a shoulder injury, or former junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy? McEvoy, who redshirted at South Carolina in 2010 and then transferred to Arizona Western Junior College in 2011, started three games at safety for the Badgers last season. He moved back to quarterback this spring and looked impressive in the process. Whoever starts at quarterback will have the luxury of playing with two dynamic running backs in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clements and an experienced offensive line. Wisconsin has one of the easier schedules in the Big Ten. The Badgers play Rutgers and Maryland, and Nebraska visits Madison. Wisconsin catches a huge break by not playing Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan. Yes, there’s a road trip to Iowa, but Wisconsin is the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten Western Division in 2014.

NCAA Football: Ole Miss at LSU

16. Ole Miss Rebels

The University of Mississippi football program is on the rise. With the personnel losses at LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Auburn, the Rebels have a chance to win the SEC West for the first time in school history. Injuries played a huge role in last year’s 8-5 record, but improving depth and health will help this team in 2014. Quarterback Bo Wallace should cut down on his mistakes in his third season as a starter. Ole Miss needs Laquon Treadwell to become Wallace’s go to guy in their offense. The Ole Miss defense is expected to be among the best in the SEC.  Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State all visit Oxford, so that’s a huge plus. The Oct. 25 matchup against LSU could go a long way in determining if Ole Miss is a pretender or a contender.

NCAA Football: Southern California-Spring Game

17. USC Trojans

New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has a lot to be optimistic about in 2014. The Trojans return 14 starters from a team that went 10-4 last year, in spite of a mid-season coaching change. Sarkisian hired a good coaching staff around him and inherits a team capable of winning the Pac-12 South. Quarterback Cody Kessler improved as 2013 progressed, and receiver Nelson Agholor is capable of being an All-American in 2014. With eight starters returning on defense, the Trojans have the potential to be the best in the Pac-12. The schedule isn’t easy with trips to Stanford, Arizona and Notre Dame, but USC figures to be right in the mix for the Pac-12 South.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame-Spring Game

18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

After reaching the BCS title game in 2012, Notre Dame had a bit of a step back in 2013, finishing 9-4. The Fighting Irish return only nine starters, but quarterback Everett Golson returns. With Golson’s returning, and running back Greg Bryant looking great in the spring, expect their offense to score more than the 27.2 points a game that they averaged last year. The defense is in a bit of transition with a new coordinator Brian VanGorder and the loss of defensive linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. As usual the schedule is difficult as the Irish play at Florida State, at USC, at Arizona State and are home against Stanford. Notre Dame could finish with 10 wins, Notre Dame could finish with seven wins. It just depends on how will their defense plays early throughout the season.

NCAA Football: Washington at UCLA

19. Washington Huskies

Former head coach Steve Sarkisian, turned the Huskies from one of college football’s worst teams, to a respectable team that won nine games in 2013. Despite that, the Huskies never challenged Oregon or Stanford for the top spot in the North. New head coach Chris Petersen is regarded as one of the best coaches in the nation, but he inherits a Washington team with question marks at quarterback and running back. Both the offensive and defensive lines are intact. If Peterson can find playmakers on offense, the Huskies could be one of the Pac-12 sleeper teams in 2014. The Huskies should be 4-0 before playing Stanford on Sept. 27. in Seattle. Road games at Washington State, Arizona and Oregon won’t be easy. Assuming Washington wins two of those previous mention road games, they have the potential to win 10 games this season.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Iowa vs Louisiana State

20. Iowa Hawkeyes

Just when it seemed that head coach Kirk Ferentz was on the hot seat, the Hawkeyes rebounded from a disappointing 4-8 record in 2012 to finish 8-5 last season.  Returning on offense is last year starting quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, and leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Iowa’s biggest questions are in the secondary, where the team has to replace three of  its four starting positions. The Hawkeyes also have to replace three starting linebackers who combined to start 100 games and recorded nearly 1,000 tackles.  The Hawkeyes won’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State in 2014. Another positive is Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska all coming to Kinnick Stadium, so there is reason to believe Iowa can win the Big Ten West in 2014.

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-Cincinnati vs North Carolina

21. North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina has a plethora of weapons on offense. Quarterback Marquise Williams figures to be the starter after leading UNC to four wins in its final five games last season.  The offensive line lost their top two performers from a unit that was shaky to begin with. If UNC is going to contend for an ACC Coastal Division title, they will have to improve immensely on defense after finishing last in the ACC in rushing defense last season, allowing 182 yards per game. The Tar Heels have more than enough talent to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs. I like the Tar heels slightly better than the Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies because of Williams and their weapons on offense.

NCAA Football: Florida-Spring Game

22. Florida Gators

After the Gators finished with an embarrassing 4-8 record finish last season, their worst campaign since going winless in 1979, head coach Will Muschamp enters the 2014 season on the hottest coaching seat in the country. Muschamp hired former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to resurrect the Gators’ awful offense. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is now healthy after a season ending injury a season ago. Roper will run a system that features more shotgun snaps, which is more to Driskel’s strengths. Running back Kelvin Taylor emerged in the second half as a feature back who can thrive in open space. Leading rusher Mack Brown also returns, so he along with Taylor will take pressure off of Driskel. Despite last year’s 4-8 record, The Gators have a lot of talent. With everyone healthy Florida will double its win total in 2014.  The Gators have to play Alabama and LSU in crossover play, but Missouri and South Carolina, two of its main contenders in the SEC East come to The Swamp. If the Gators can beat either Alabama or LSU, it is possible the team could win the SEC East in 2014.

23. Texas Longhorns

With a lackluster 16-11 conference record the last three seasons, Mack Brown decided resign in December. Charlie Strong was hired from Louisville with the goal to return Texas to the ranks of the Big 12 elite. Strong inherits a lot of talent and should be able to get the most out of the talent, unlike the previous coaching staff. Quarterback David Ash (63 percent passer, 30 TDs, 18 INTs in 21 starts) missed the last week of spring football after having surgery to repair a fractured left foot. Ash has to prove he is 100 percent recovered from concussion issues from last season. Running back will be a strength as seniors Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and junior Johnathan Gray all return. The Texas front four is the strength of the defense, led by defensive end Cedric Reed (10 sacks in 2013) and defensive tackles Malcolm Brown and Desmond Jackson. The schedule is not forgiving early as Texas will face BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma all before November. I would be surprised if the Longhorns surpassed the eight wins they had a season ago, but the talent is certainly there.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson

24. Clemson Tigers

In the last three years, the Clemson Tigers have 32 games, which is the best stretch in school history.  The team will have to rebuild on offense with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there’s enough returning on both sides of the ball to expect another top-25 team. New quarterback Cole Stoudt has experience, and the defense is loaded with talent. Defensive end Vic Beasley is back after recording 23 tackles for a loss. Grady Jarrett also returns and he and Beasley could make up the ACC’s best defensive end duo. The opening game is at Georgia, the finale against South Carolina and the Tigers play 2013 ACC Champion Florida State on the road, but Clemson has enough winnable games on the 2014 slate to win nine games.

NCAA Football: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl-Michigan vs Kansas State

25. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder’s Wildcats finished 8-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play last season. Most of Kansas State’s key starters return in 2014, including quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats have to find a new running back and replace standout safety Ty Zimmerman, but this team should be in the mix for a spot among the top-four teams in the Big 12 this year. Kansas State biggest problem could be their schedule. They are on the road at Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. The Wildcats have enough talent to exceed last year’s win total, but the schedule could prevent Kansas State from doing so.

 

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