A quick look at ten, Top 25 polls all have one thing in common and that is the defending national champions from Florida State University, led by Heisman Trophy winner and star quarterback, Jameis Winston remain the team to beat in college football 2014.
As you might expect Alabama has many supporters that feel they will win the first ever college championship playoff, when all is said and done. But there is a long way from spring practice to January 2015 when the title will be won.
The state of Florida is well represented in the polls with FSU, Miami, UCF and the University of Florida all ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Now that we have early NFL departures and recruiting class evaluations out of the way, we can re-rank teams accordingly and let the debating begin!
1. Florida State Seminoles
There is no real argument as to why Florida State isn’t the favorite to defend its national championship belt. Heisman-winning quarterbackJameis Winston is back for his redshirt sophomore (and likely his final) season, and returns six other offensive starters alongside him. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for a pay raise with Georgia—which is a huge loss considering just how good the Noles’ defense was in 2013—but there is so much talent on this side of the ball that it can win games by itself.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
This could be the year of the Bob Stoops. BUT: only if he gets the Trevor Knight that ripped Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl, rather than the one that was mildly inconsistent throughout the season and benched for human wrecking ball Blake Bell. I believe it will be the former. Oklahoma’s offense is going to be nasty—nasty good—and is downright loaded on defense, with by far the Big 12’s best (on paper, at least). The Sooners have a tendency of performing below of expectations, but there’s definitely enough here in place to earn a preaseason bid to the College Football Playoffs.
3. Auburn Tigers
I shudder at the thought of an entire offseason for Nick Marshall to study Gus Malzahn’s offense and understand the X’s and O’s as the incumbent quarterback. Auburn bids adieu to running back Tre Mason—who accounted for 28.2 percent of the team’s offensive yard output—but I have a feeling Malzahn won’t have trouble making a quick plug-and-fit in this system. Seriously, this offense is going to be unreal.
4. Oregon Ducks
Minus the retirement of vastly underrated defensive coordinator Nick Allioti, Oregon’s offseason was filled with great news. Back is dual-threat wonder quarterback Marcus Mariota, who at one point was considered at top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Back is starting center and the anchor of the offensive line, Hroniss Grasu. Back is one of the top cornerbacks in the country, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. And as long as the Ducks can finally beat Stanford—which looks almost imminent at this point—back will be their chances of a national title appearance.
5. Michigan State Spartans
While Michigan State certainly has the talent to fill voids from what could be considered the best defensive unit in college football, it’s going to take more than an offseason to replace such production. Still, quarterback Connor Cook developed into a dangerous passer throughout the season and will have plenty of weapons at his dispense to run through a favorable 2014 schedule.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s nearly impossible to replace someone like AJ McCarron, who leaves Tuscaloosa with the most wins as a starting quarterback in school history. Florida State transfer (and Jameis Winston’s backup) Jacob Coker looks to be the man for the job, and if he can even be a shell of McCarron in his first year as a starter, Alabama will undoubtedly contend for the SEC title. Again.
7. UCLA Bruins
Like Mariota, quarterback Brett Hundley’s decision to return for another year of college ball automatically makes UCLA a championship-caliber team. He’ll have some help, too, with 15 other starters back on the roster, including nine on offense and what could possibly be the best offensive line in the Pac-12. The Bruins should have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country, but the difference between first and second place will rest on the defense’s shoulders, which loses four members of its fearsome front seven, including All-American linebacker Anthony Barr.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes
The real Big Ten Championship Game will come on November 8 in East Lansing when Ohio State takes on Michigan State. The Buckeyes have to rebuild a senior-led offensive line and find a suitable replacement for monsterback Carlos Hyde, and neither come easy for Urban Meyer. The good news is that Braxton Miller will be back (once he heals from a minor surgery) and if his passing game is just a little better, OSU should have a real shot to knock off the Spartans—and any other opponent that is next on its schedule.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
Connor Shaw had finally started looking like the quarterback we all thought he could be just in time for him to graduate. There might not be a better situation in the country in terms of replacing a great starter under center than the one in Columbia with rising senior Dylan Thompson. He doesn’t have the same capabiltiies as a dual-threat, but is head-and-shoulders better as a downfield passer and knows how to control the offense. South Carolina is my favorite to win the SEC East, but only if coach Steve Spurrier can find someone willing to fill the role left by Jadeveon Clowney. Teams will be able to throw the ball on what will be a very young Gamecock secondary, so a disruptive pass rush is absolutely required for a successful campaign.
10. LSU Tigers
Les Miles will be forced to use a lot of underclassmen in 2014, but that could be an advantage—LSU brought in the fourth-best recruiting class in February, which features running back Leonard Fournette, who is already making noise as a dark horse Heisman candidate. With Zach Mettenberger gone and a quarterback competition brewing, it’s likely that the Tigers will rely heavily on its running game and a young, but extremely talented/athletic defense. But what else is new?
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
12. Baylor Bears
13. Ole Miss Rebels
14. USC Trojans
15. Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
16. Georgia Bulldogs
17. Wisconsin Badgers
18. Missouri Tigers
19. ECU Pirates
20. BYU Cougars
21. Michigan Wolverines
22. Arizona State Sun Devils
23. Navy Midshipmen
24. Central Florida Knights
25. Florida Gators