Here's a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25
Florida State’s BCS National Championship win is less than 24 hours old, but that just means I’m getting a late start in giving you a look at what’s ahead.
As we enter the darkness, I’ve compiled a way-too-early Top 25 projection to help us find our way to the light. Everything is subject to change with coming departures to the NFL draft, so consider it to be a rough draft.
1. Auburn Tigers (12-2, 7-1 SEC in 2013)
Gus Malzahn had one offseason to implement his system—and Nick Marshall didn’t even participate in Auburn’s spring practice. Can you imagine what this offense will look like after developing for another year and if Tre Mason returns for his senior season? It’s a scary thought.
2. Florida State Seminoles (14-0, 8-0 ACC)
Florida State will lose a lot of experience on the defensive side to the ball, but have a ton of talent to reload and Jameis Winston is back to lead an offensive unit that returns four-of-five offensive linemen and top receiving target Kelvin Benjamin.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten)
Two words: Braxton Miller. He didn’t end the 2013 campaign the way he’d have liked, but another offseason working on his throwing motion—which DID improve—with Tom Herman will make him all the more dangerous. The Buckeyes will have a lot of former four- and five-star recruits in the back seven, but little-to-no experience.
4. Oklahoma Sooners (11-2, 7-2 Big 12)
The Sooners should have one of the strongest offensive and defensive lines in the Big 12—if not the country—which bodes well for a team that vastly outplayed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
5. Stanford Cardinal (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12)
As always, Stanford will be built to win the game from the line of scrimmage and pound the football from the ground. Although Kevin Hogan will still be quarterback, there will be a lot of new names across the board for the Cardinal—but that program just seems to reload rather than rebuild lately.
6. LSU Tigers (10-3, 5-3 SEC)
Depending on the development of quarterback Anthony Jennings—and the future of a few star wide receivers—LSU could be the team to watch in 2014. The Tigers will field an NFL-caliber defensive line and are going to be back to being a force in the SEC.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2, 7-1 SEC)
It wouldn’t be a college football Top-10 ranking without the Crimson Tide, right? Nick Saban signed a deal that will earn him roughly $7 million annually, meaning Alabama should be in contention for the College Football Playoffs until he retires. It has to move on from A.J. McCarron, but will have a Saban-esque offensive line, running game and fearsome defense.
8. UCLA Bruins (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
Star quarterback Brett Hundley will be back, but will UCLA be able to block for him? The offensive line struggled to do so in 2013, and can have an opportunity to rebound with all five of the starters back. The Bruins should have one of the best secondary units in the Pac-12 with many veterans returning.
9. Oregon Ducks (11-2, 7-2 Pac-12)
Marcus Mariota’s decision to return for his redshirt junior season makes Oregon a Top-10 team by himself. Unfortunately for the Ducks, he can’t do it all. Once again, physicality along the defensive front will be a question moving forward—and it doesn’t help that Nick Aliotti is retiring.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2, 6-2 SEC)
Connor Shaw is graduating, but Dylan Thompson has proved to be an efficient passer over the last two years and should take full control of this offense. He’ll have one of the best running backs in the country to lean on, too, with Mike Davis in the backfield. The Gamecocks have to move on from Jadeveon Clowney, but will field an excellent group of linebackers.
11. Michigan State Spartans (13-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-4)
13. Wisconsin Badgers (9-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
14. Baylor Bears (11-2, 8-1 Big 12)
15. Arizona State Sun Devils (10-4, 8-1 Pac-12)
16. Ole Miss Rebels (8-5, 4-4 SEC)
17. Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4, 5-3 Big Ten)
18. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-6, 4-4 ACC)
19. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-5, 4-5 Big 12)
20. Missouri Tigers (12-2, 7-1 SEC)
21. Florida Gators (4-8, 3-5 SEC)
22. Houston Cougars (8-5, 5-3 AAC)
23. Texas A&M Aggies (9-4, 4-4 SEC)
24. Texas Longhorns (8-5, 7-2 Big 12)
25. Utah State Aggies (9-5, 7-1 MWC)
Other teams to watch: Kansas State, Michigan, Washington, Miami (Fla.), East Carolina, Oklahoma State, BYU, Clemson, Maryland, Virginia Tech.
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