We are less than two weeks away from the college football season, and now those predictions everybody has been throwing up against the wall finally mean something. While it’s great to look at the schedule and talk about matchups, it’s tough to predict games months in advance.
Back in May, I had the Florida Gators finishing with a respectable 9-3 record considering the season they had a year ago. Not much has changed with the results considering Florida is pretty much the same team it was a few months ago, and the opponents are still as tough as ever.
Although with updates throughout camp and the attitude players have toward the upcoming season, it’s worth looking at these games again and throwing out a few updated predictions.
Here is how the Gators will fare in 2014.
It was a bit of a mystery who would come away with the Big 12 title in 2013, but this year it won't be.
Oklahoma and Baylor are the favorites coming off solid seasons. The Sooners' big win over Alabama set the tone heading into the 2014 season, while the Bears proved they could play with the best by winning their first Big 12 title and playing in the Fiesta Bowl.
While most focus on Oklahoma and Baylor, Kansas State could be in the running if coach Bill Snyder can use his magic to surprise as he did in 2012, with a senior quarterback and talent on the defensive end.
Other teams in the mix might be Texas, who will now be led by head coach Charlie Strong, as well as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. It’s expected that the Pokes and the Red Raiders will finish in the middle of the pack, but you never know in the wild Big 12.
A dark-horse candidate will be TCU, who will be trying to forget what occurred in 2013. Going 4-8 is almost unheard of for a Gary Patterson team, but the Horned Frogs could be a threat to be reckoned with if the offense can click right away with new offensive coordinators.
The Big 12 will be highly competitive this season for the most part and should see at least two teams advance to major bowl games at the end of the season.
With the start of the season a mere two weeks away, it seems prudent to make a few prognostications as to how Jim Mora and the UCLA football team will fare in 2014.
The Bruins' schedule is one of the more difficult ones in the entire country. Per the first AP Top 25 Preseason Poll, UCLA will face five ranked teams (Oregon, Stanford, Southern Cal, Arizona State, Washington).
Additionally, the No. 7 Bruins face a tough non-conference tilt against the Texas Longhorns in the Lone Star state. The season opener on the opposite side of the country, against an upstart Virginia squad, isn't an easy task, either.
This piece predicts how the Bruins will ultimately perform in 2014, on a game-by-game basis. Obviously, every single team on this list will suffer injuries throughout the season (to varying degrees), but predictions have been made under the assumption both teams are fully healthy.
With Notre Dame's 2014 season thrown into chaos with the announced suspension of four players, the Irish will be forced to depend on a few more new faces this season.
With the fate of starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams awaiting an academic investigation, the Irish could be even more green (pun intended) heading into their season opener against Rice.
After building a roster with successful recruiting campaigns since he arrived in South Bend, head coach Brian Kelly is better suited to play a young team than ever before. Even after losing Zack Martin, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix and Chris Watt in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, the Irish have a roster that Kelly has repeatedly called one of his deepest.
With less than two weeks until the Irish welcome Rice to Notre Dame Stadium, let's meet the new starters for 2014.
With Chuck Martin off to coach at Miami University (Ohio) and trusted assistant Mike Denbrock named the new coordinator, Kelly decided to reclaim the play-calling duties this offseason. He's also reopened his playbook, turning back to the spread-heavy concepts that helped build his offensive guru reputation.
Of course, Everett Golson had a big reason to do with that. Returning to the starting lineup after a dismissal from school that cost him the 2013 season, Golson's abilities fit perfectly in the spread. Let's look at the newcomers joining him on offense.
The most experienced of the new starters, Koyack is a three-year contributor at tight end who came on near the end of the 2013 season.
A candidate to be one of the team's captains, Koyack looks like another prototype NFL tight end, continuing a run of early draft picks that date back to the beginning of the Ty Willingham era with Anthony Fasano and continued on with John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Niklas.
At 6'5", 254 pounds, Koyack has the ability to attach to the line of scrimmage as well as flex out to create a mismatch. He averaged 17.1 yards a catch last season playing as the Irish's No. 2 tight end behind Niklas, whose early exit to the NFL opens the door for Koyack to join him in 2015.
A fairly disappointing sophomore season seemed to be salvaged during bowl season for Brown, who finished the year with his most productive game against Rutgers, making five catches in the Irish's 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory.
Brown was forced into a leadership role this spring with the academic suspension of Daniels, suddenly becoming the elder statesman in a young but talented receiving corps. That position of authority carried into the summer and fall camp, where Brown's done a great job holding onto a starting job at a very talented position.
Brown has the pedigree to be a very good player. A high school track star who scored more points individually at the South Carolina state meet than all but seven teams competing, Brown has sprinter speed and leaping ability that put him on the U.S. Junior National team.
After making 15 catches in 2013, Brown's poised to have a breakout junior season.
With Daniels' future in limbo, sophomore Corey Robinson is the next man in at outside receiver. Son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, Kelly and his staff plucked the lanky receiver—a raw stringbean playing private small-school Texas-prep football at San Antonio Christian—out of obscurity.
Notre Dame was the first offer for Robinson, but after enrolling early he showed quickly what the staff saw in him. At a listed 6'4.5" (and likely a little bit taller), Robinson only made nine catches last season, but he dazzled with a pair of velcro hands and a catch radius that make him a very large target.
Paired with Everett Golson and given the opportunity to spend a lot of time in single coverage, Robinson was set to thrive this season anyway. But if Daniels is lost for an extended period, then Robinson moves into a key role for the Irish offense.
Entering Notre Dame relatively off the radar with most eyes focused on classmate Greg Bryant, Folston took control of the running back job down the stretch and enters fall as the team's starter. A smooth, efficient running back who has also showed a knack for breaking a long run, Folston will have opportunities to make a difference both as a runner and pass-catcher.
A starter leading a committee, Folston will share carries with Bryant and Cam McDaniel, though he's got the ability to take the job over. And with Golson piloting the offense, the threat of a mobile quarterback should open up a ground game that could power the Irish offense.
One of the more amazing stories in college football, Hegarty was nearly out of the game when he suffered a stroke in November of 2012, needing heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart. The procedure put his career in jeopardy, but Hegarty recovered in 2013 and played key snaps at center when Nick Martin suffered a knee injury against BYU.
Hegarty filled in valiantly in the season's three final games and continued to play center during spring practice while Martin recovered. But while most had sophomore Mike McGlinchey starting at right tackle after playing during spring drills, Hegarty is at left guard while Steve Elmer plays tackle.
A senior with a fifth-year available, Hegarty adds a veteran body on the interior of the offensive line.
We already knew Brian VanGorder's defense was going to be young. But suspensions to key starters KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams push two new names into the starting lineup. At this point, it might be easier to tell you who returns, but let's get the introductions started.
The early-enrollee freshman has overtaken junior Romeo Okwara at defensive end, pushing his way onto the field, the first freshman defensive lineman to open the season as a starter since Anthony Weaver in 1998. Trumbetti was an Under Armour All-American last year and a 4-star recruit who chose the Irish over Florida and Michigan State, so the pedigree is there.
At 6'3.5" and 251 pounds, Trumbetti has decent enough size and has been lauded for his motor and pass-rushing skills. With multiple personnel packages, it's not as if Trumbetti will be an every-down player for the Irish, but he'll have a ton of responsibilities on his shoulders from the start of the season.
He may feel like a veteran at this point, but Jones only worked his way onto the field when Irish defensive linemen started dropping like flies last season. Originally a defensive end, Jones was the next man in after injuries took Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke off the field at nose guard.
Playing an impressive game against BYU, Jones held his own against Stanford and Rutgers, giving Notre Dame hope that life after Nix wasn't going to be too painful. Shifting into a four-man front takes some of the burden off Jones as a pure nose guard, but he'll still be asked to eat blockers and wreak havoc, something he should do fairly well.
With senior Ishaq Williams off the field on Friday as the academic investigation began, Rochell was in his place at strong-side defensive end. After playing in 11 games and making 10 tackles as a freshman, Rochell hardly looked ready to take over a starting job, but the options behind him aren't great.
That's not to say the Georgia native doesn't have promise. Kelly surprised a lot of people when he called Rochell "a beast" last week during a press conference, a declaration that wasn't made to pump the young lineman's tires but rather because the 6'3.5" 287-pounder looks like a completely different player than the one who played last season.
There's no telling how prepared Rochell is to take significant snaps, but at this point he's going to take as many as he can handle. With offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and other SEC powers coming out of high school, Rochell looked the part of a blue-chipper. We'll have to see if he's ready to play that role in 2014.
After being one of the surprises of spring football, Schmidt has solidified his place in the middle of the Irish defense. The former walk-on (who has been on scholarship for two seasons) was buried on Bob Diaco's inside linebacker depth chart in the 3-4, but he is a much better fit playing behind a four-man front.
Undersized but instinctive, quick and tough, Schmidt is more than a Rudy-like story; he's a really good football player. With Jarrett Grace still making his slow return back, Kendall Moore suspended and Nyles Morgan swimming in very deep water as a true freshman, this is Schmidt's defense to run.
If Schmidt's spot in the starting lineup is surprising, maybe Onwualu's is even more far-fetched. After starting four games at wide receiver for the Irish as a true freshman, Onwualu converted to the defensive side of the ball in the spring and began his transition as a safety before moving to linebacker.
Onwualu has packed five pounds onto his 6'1" frame after playing last season at 215. That's not enough bulk to take on offensive linemen, but Onwualu will start against teams that attempt to spread the Irish defense out, capable of covering just about anybody while also showing a toughness that allows him to do plenty of jobs.
Kelly has a reputation for flipping productive players from one side of the ball and making them better on the other. That looks to be happening quickly for Onwualu, who outbattled John Turner and Ben Councell for the starting job.
The decision to transfer to Notre Dame looks like a brilliant one for Riggs right now. (And for Notre Dame, who accepted the temporary fix.) Having already won a starting cornerback job opposite KeiVarae Russell, Riggs will ascend to the top cover corner role as long as Russell is off the field.
Starting 26 games between corner and safety over three-plus seasons (he received a medical redshirt after an early-season injury), Riggs wants to prove to NFL scouts he can make it as a cover man. He'll do more than just that for the Irish, sliding inside and out as a versatile piece of VanGorder's aggressive coverage schemes.
With or without Russell, Luke was going to play a lot of football. But with Notre Dame's top cover corner held out of practice on Friday, the Irish turn to Luke, hoping the sophomore is ready to take on a much bigger responsibility.
Luke played in all 13 games last season, seeing a lot of time in the secondary playing nickel and cornerback for Diaco. But there's little Cover 2 in VanGorder's scheme, and Luke will be asked to do much more this season than he did just dropping into his zone as a freshman.
After Kelly pushed Redfield into the starting lineup against Rutgers, the sophomore has solidified himself as the team's starting free safety. A former 5-star recruit, Redfield had a frustrating freshman season unable to work his way into Diaco's rotation at safety with the mental grind of the position holding him back.
While Kelly talked about limiting the decision-making Redfield needs to do on the field last week, the sophomore safety is ready to take ownership of the back end of the defense. Probably the most physically gifted safety the Irish have had since Harrison Smith, Redfield has all the talent in the world; he just has to play mistake-free football.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The countdown to the 2014 regular season is dwindling, and the Miami Hurricanes are preparing to take the field on Sept. 1 against new conference foe Louisville.
Blood pressure rising, excitement building and game-by-game predictions forthcoming.
As the 'Canes continue to work through a quarterback battle, now narrowed to a transfer and true freshman, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers lead a high-ceiling, low-floor Miami roster.
The following are based on the current health status of all involved teams, which is subject to change at any moment. But that doesn't mean we can't take a shot at the predictions.
Because football is great. Any disagreement? No? OK. Onward!
The Ohio State football team is gearing up for another national title run, but with the inaugural College Football Playoff on the horizon, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will be navigating a much tougher schedule in 2014.
The realigned Big Ten divisions have given Ohio State a loaded league slate, and a tougher nonconference lineup will challenge the Buckeyes early.
Can Ohio State put together its third consecutive undefeated regular season?
It was almost exactly seven years ago that Michigan, then the No. 5 team in the nation, fell victim to one of the biggest trap games ever: a Week 1 visit from FCS Appalachian State. Even the best the Big Ten has to offer can succumb to pretty apparent traps from time to time.
Could it happen again in 2014?
Michigan is no longer a top-five team, and Appalachian State is no longer an FCS program, as the Mountaineers move to the FBS as a member of the Sun Belt this season. Still, there are enough pitfalls on the schedule all throughout the Big Ten to make any coach wary of early predictions for conference titles or College Football Playoff berths.
It's safe to say that there are games, like the Mountaineers' second visit to the Big House in a couple of short weeks, that won't be sneaking up on anyone.
But where are the quagmires for 2014?
Let's hone our Jedi senses as we sniff out the trap game of 2014 for each Big Ten team.
In the grand scheme of things, preseason rankings in college football are quite meaningless. Even more than in years past, where a team is ranked (or not ranked) to begin the season has almost no bearing on its spot in the polls or standings when the year is over.
The College Football Playoff has rendered such polls almost moot, since the selection committee charged with picking teams for the first-ever four-team tournament will use its own rankings based on data completely unrelated to how FBS coaches or national media members catalog the country's best teams.
But that still doesn't mean such polls don't have a place in today's game. They're a great source of discussion and debate, as anyone who checked in on Twitter in the hours after The Associated Press unveiled its initial poll can testify to. Outside of defending champ Florida State at No. 1, it was hard to find a consensus that agreed any other team was completely worthy of its ranking.
In many cases, a team earned a preseason ranking that seems far higher than it deserves based on how it performed in 2013, the quality of the starters it has returning and how good its newcomers are expected to be. Off-the-field conditions may also impact how the 2014 season will go, and if those factors aren't taken into consideration a team can end up with the dreaded "overrated" label.
Looking at the AP preseason Top 25, here are seven teams who fit that description (listed alphabetically).
The Longhorns have to replace seven departed starters from the 2013 roster. Past the midway point of fall camp, the leaders to fill those spots are pretty apparent.
Charlie Strong must replace two starters along the offensive line, leading receiver Mike Davis, safety Adrian Phillips and All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Additionally, he must address the spots he opened up when he dismissed receiver Kendall Sanders and suspended safety Josh Turner.
Strong's work is cut out for him, but he does have some decent experience to pull from. Linemen Kent Perkins and Sedrick Flowers each have a start under their belts along with some steady reserve action. Receiver Marcus Johnson is also a no-brainer after making a few starts as a sophomore.
The rest are entering new territory, playing positions that must produce on a weekly basis.
Time flies when you're having fun. In the SEC, where football means everything, winning equates to fun.
In nine years under Miles, the Tigers' 95 wins are eight more than any other SEC program. LSU's nine Top 25 finishes are more than any other SEC program in the same span.
LSU has accumulated at least 10 wins in each of the past four seasons. However, that streak can easily be snapped as the young Bayou Bengals have a brutal schedule ahead of them.
The Tigers were ranked No. 13 in the preseason AP poll released Saturday. But rankings can mean little. If LSU can avoid losing two games this season, it will be in the mix for one of the four playoff spots.
Here is a preview of how the Tigers will fare in the 2014.
With Sunday's release of the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, we now have rankings from the media and from coaches (the Amway poll, which came out July 31) that give us an idea of which teams to expect to be this season's best.
They also give us plenty of room for debate, because while the No. 1 team is the same in both polls, there are plenty of differences. That's not surprising, considering the different voting blocs as well as the fact that the rankings came out 17 days apart.
While preseason polls are always speculative, the Amway came out before the start of training camp, and the AP debuted midway through fall practice and had the benefit of more current information—both positive and negative—to influence rankings.
Still, voters in both polls agreed on 24 of the same teams to rank among the top 25 to start the season, with 16 of those falling in the same spot in each ranking. Defending national champion Florida State opens atop both polls, collecting a combined 113 of 122 total first-place votes, Alabama is the No. 2 team in each poll.
Now that the polls are out, it's time to compare and contrast them to see where they match and where they diverge, while also speculating as to why discrepancies exist.
Charles Woodson has had an incredibly successful football career, both in college and in the NFL, but this might have been one of the best plays of his career.
During his junior season in 1997, Woodson made this incredible one-handed interception while getting a foot in bounds against the Michigan State Spartans.
Woodson finished the game with two interceptions and eight for the season, going on to win the Heisman Trophy.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
At a school made famous by high-flying offenses and prolific passing attacks, John O’Korn made the grade during his freshman season at the University of Houston.
O’Korn, a late-blooming but ultimately highly touted quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, chose Houston over home-state schools Central Florida and South Florida, as well as traditional power conference programs like Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisville, to play for second-year head coach Tony Levine.
After taking over for the concussion-plagued David Piland last season, O’Korn helped lead the Cougars to a winning season and a bowl game appearance. Houston finished 8-5 in 2013 after suffering a 41-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Expected by most to limp near .500 for the season, the Cougars rode O’Korn’s long-range passing ability, the playmaking capabilities of superstar wide receiver Deontay Greenberry and an absurdly larcenous defense to finish 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference.
Houston lost all four regular-season games by a total of 20 points, including heart-wrenching defeats against BYU (47-46) and eventual conference champion Central Florida (19-14), in which Houston had possession of the ball in the waning moments of the game. Improved play at quarterback should help the team turn close losses into wins.
O’Korn told the Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte that he’s miles ahead of where he was last year, something Cougar fans are anxious to see play out over the course of the new season:
This point last year, I didn't really know any of the plays. I had never stepped foot on the field in a college game. Just really the experience that came from last year is something that will carry me through this year and the rest of my career here.
According to Duarte, Houston’s offensive coordinator, Travis Bush, concurs.
"He doesn't walk around here like a high school kid anymore,” said Bush. “He looks like a college quarterback and acts like a college quarterback. You can see the confidence."
O’Korn wasn’t your typical true freshman quarterback. The strong-armed athlete did not come into the college game with a myriad of experience as a starting quarterback. In fact, Levine offered O’Korn a scholarship before he started a game at Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.
Still, he managed to earn the AAC’s Rookie of the Year award. He passed for 28 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards playing on mostly talent and gumption.
O’Korn told the Orlando Sentinel’s Matt Murschel that he expected to be an improved quarterback this season in almost every way:
I really don’t think I can pick out one thing. There’s just so many different things. Going into the season, I really didn’t know a whole lot. I just went out there and played and just learned as I played. I made a lot of mistakes, but when the same situations came around, I felt like I improved and I didn’t make the same mistakes. Really, I couldn’t pick out one thing, there is so much I learned and I learn now from going back and watching the film. … I just feel like I’m getting better every day.
Houston returns 19 starters this season, and it isn’t hard to imagine O’Korn leading one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Greenberry, a talented receiver, averaged over 100 yards per game, while Markeith Ambles and Greg Ward should provide O’Korn with other ways to move the ball down the field.
The Cougars also return their top two rushers from last season, Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow.
O’Korn told Duarte that he hopes to move the ball down the field faster and spread it around more:
I think you're going to see a lot faster, up-tempo offense where we spread the ball around more. We have so many weapons; it's just really ridiculous how many good players we have on this team and how many different things we can do. It definitely makes my job easier.
Meanwhile, Houston’s defense should help keep the Coogs in contention, even if the offense stalls at times. Houston returns 10 starters from a defense that led the nation in creating turnovers last season.
The Cougars are a dark-horse candidate to win the conference behind Cincinnati and returning champion Central Florida, according to the AAC preseason media poll. But with O’Korn a year older, the Cougars’ revved-up offense might just take them all the way to the top spot.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Texas A&M football team will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2014. The Aggies have enough talent on their roster to finish the regular season with a 9-3 record.
The Aggies will play nine 2013 bowl teams this season. In addition to the typical gauntlet that makes up the West division of the SEC, the Aggies will face South Carolina and Missouri from the East. The Gamecocks and Tigers won 23 games combined in 2013.
Texas A&M will also face Rice in its nonconference schedule. Rice won 10 games in 2013. The Aggies will need to have another strong offense and great improvement from their defense if they want to win nine or more games against their 2014 schedule.
This is a final game-by-game look at how their season should go in 2014.
The Texas Longhorns have had a long offseason of practices, so head coach Charlie Strong decided to give his players a break.
On Sunday, Strong made the announcement to the players that instead of practice, they'd be going bowling. Of course, the players got quite excited about the change of plans.
[YouTube, h/t Reddit]
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
USA Today released its preseason Amway Coaches Poll three weeks ago. Now, it's time to get angry at the voting media, which is clearly underrating your team and an obvious fan for that cheating rival team, in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.
It's no surprise that Florida State, the reigning national champion, is the preseason No. 1 team. The Seminoles simply have too much talent returning not to be an early favorite to go wire-to-wire in the first College Football Playoff season. Consider them the first "winner," if you will, before the season starts.
The entire AP Top 25 is listed below (first-place votes are in parenthesis):
1. Florida State (57)
2. Alabama (1)
3. Oregon (1)
4. Oklahoma (1)
5. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
9. South Carolina
17. Notre Dame
18. Ole Miss
19. Arizona State
20. Kansas State
21. Texas A&M
23. North Carolina
Who are some other winners and losers from Sunday's AP poll? The answers are in the following slides. And, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy tweets: Don't like the preseason Top 25? Don't worry, as it is guaranteed to look quite different by year's end.
Who might knock Florida State off the college football summit this year? The 2014 preseason polls shed a little bit of light on who may topple the reigning national champions.
2013 couldn't have gone much better for the Seminoles. Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, and the program won its first national title since 1999. With so many players back from last year's team, FSU sits atop both the coaches and AP polls, receiving all but nine out of a possible 122 first-place votes.
Despite being the prohibitive early favorites to repeat as champions, the Seminoles will have plenty of competition this year. Alabama, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State are all lurking lower down the polls.
You can view both preseason polls here, courtesy of ESPN.com.
Three of the teams mentioned below have arguably the strongest chances of usurping Florida State as the king of college football. They're not necessarily the best teams overall, but they've got the pieces to make the national championship in addition to a schedule that should allow them to make the final playoff.
The other two might not be title contenders, but they should play above expectations in 2014.
Contenders to Dethrone FSU
Oklahoma—No. 3 in Coaches Poll, No. 4 in AP Poll
Oklahoma is loaded across the board. The Sooners don't have one major area of weakness. The 2014 Sugar Bowl was a taste of what this team is capable of.
Then you throw in the possibility of Dorial Green-Beckham added to the passing game. According to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler, the school has filed Green-Beckham's eligibility waiver. The former Missouri Tiger made a major jump in his sophomore season, and it's realistic to expect that he'd continue improving in year three.
However, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report thinks that the Sooners are national title contenders even without DGB in the fold:
The schedule also works out well for OU. It gets Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all at home. Also, without a conference title game, the team has one less opportunity to falter before the four-team playoff.
Oregon—No. 4 in Coaches Poll, No. 3 in AP Poll
With Marcus Mariota under center and the combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in the backfield, Oregon's offense is among the best in the nation. As it seems with every year, scoring points won't be a problem for the Ducks.
You need only to look back on Florida State last year to see how much a great quarterback can lift an entire team. The Seminoles are obviously very balanced, but Winston was the difference between winning the conference and winning a national title.
Mariota is a strong contender to win the Heisman Trophy, and B/R's Matt Miller thinks he is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft:
The Ducks defense isn't what you'd consider to be elite, but their offense alone will be enough to win games.
As Grantland's Holly Anderson wrote, though, Oregon's path to the College Football Playoff won't be easy:
Back to the notion of “underachieving” for a minute: Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal.
We'll know fairly early what Oregon's ceiling is, with Michigan State in its second game and UCLA on the road in Game 6. If the Ducks pass those two tests, any doubts about their credentials will be put to rest. Stanford has been a bogey team in the past, but with the Cardinal making the trip to Eugene, Oregon will be considered the favorite for that one.
Ohio State—No. 6 in Coaches Poll, No. 5 in AP Poll
Many will likely scoff at the notion of Ohio State as a national title contender. But the biggest difference between the Buckeyes and Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU is that they don't have to navigate through the SEC.
If OSU wins the Big Ten, then it will make the final playoff. From there, anything can happen.
The Big Ten East will likely be decided in East Lansing when Ohio State meets Michigan State on Nov. 8. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes in last year's Big Ten title game and have enough coming back to win the conference again.
The biggest worry you have for Ohio State is the secondary. It wasn't an area of strength last year, and Doran Grant is the only player back this year. Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and Armani Reeves will all have to step up.
Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in the country, and in Braxton Miller, the Bucks have the kind of quarterback who can lift the entire team. Don't discount OSU too early.
Sleepers on the Rise
USC Trojans—No. 15 in Coaches Poll and AP Poll
USC hasn't struggled in recent years for a lack of talent. Between the sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush scandal and the incompetence of Lane Kiffin as a head coach, the Trojans have had too many obstacles to overcome.
But now they have a solid coach in Steve Sarkisian, and the NCAA cloud is beginning to lift over the Coliseum.
Offensively, USC was in the bottom half of the conference, finishing eighth in net yardage. That should change in 2014 as Cody Kessler improves. Javorius Allen is also one of the best running backs in the Pac-12.
Defensively, the Trojans have three studs in defensive end Leonard Williams, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su'a Cravens. This unit is good enough to win the conference.
USC does have to play Stanford and UCLA on the road, but it avoids Oregon and gets Arizona State at home.
Texas Longhorns—No. 24 in Coaches Poll, Unranked in AP Poll
As much as Mack Brown has meant for the Texas football program, Charlie Strong arguably puts the Longhorns in a better position to win in 2014. He's a great head coach and should get the best out of an underperforming team.
Strong did make sure to measure expectations for the upcoming season.
"We have everything available, and I don’t know why we can’t be successful," he said, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "There’s no reason for us not to be. Now, I can’t tell you how soon it’s going to be. Don’t hold me to that. Don’t say, ‘Ooh, coach said next year we’ll be in the national…’ We will not be in the national championship game."
While the Longhorns shouldn't be considered national title contenders, they've certainly got enough to remain near the top of the Big 12 and sneak into the Top 10.
Much will hinge on the performance of David Ash. The defense should pull its own weight, but if Ash doesn't take a step forward in his development, Texas will hover around eight or nine wins again.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Florida State will begin the 2014 season right where it left off: perched atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Seminoles received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the media-released rankings on Sunday, further confirming the defending national champions' status as preseason favorites.
Led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Florida State was considered a near lock to come into 2014 the No. 1 team in the country. Winston and Co. already received 56 of 62 first-place votes in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.
Going back to last season, the Seminoles have been atop both major collegiate polls the last four weeks. Alabama, which abdicated its throne to Florida State last season, comes in at No. 2. Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State round out the Top Five.
"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," Jimbo Fisher told Tess Quinlan of USA Today last month. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."
Neither the Associated Press nor Coaches polls are used in the new College Football Playoff system. Florida State defeated Auburn in the final iteration of the BCS National Championship Game last season. A committee of 13 people will begin releasing a weekly poll that will eventually determine the four teams given the opportunity to play for the title.
Florida State, which opens its championship defense Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State, is between a 4-1 and 11-2 favorite to repeat, per OddsShark.com. The Seminoles return more than half of their starters on both sides of the ball and have elite-level players to replace the departed.
Winston, who became the second consecutive freshman to take the Heisman, returns as a potential No. 1 pick after an offseason of turmoil. In May, video of Winston stealing crab legs from a Publix grocery store leaked on the Internet. He has also become something of a replacement for Johnny Manziel as the face of college football.
"I've matured, and I understand what it really takes to be a leader," Winston told reporters last month. "When you're out there and everyone's saying the spotlight is on you, you have to be very careful with everything you do and I feel like I'm doing a better job of that."
Meanwhile, the nation's other top-ranked team is attempting to find a replacement for its star quarterback. AJ McCarron's graduation leaves Nick Saban with question marks under center for the first time in three seasons. McCarron, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, went 36-4 as a starter and led the Crimson Tide to two national championships.
Junior Jacob Coker and senior Blake Sims are currently competing for the starting job. Coker, a Florida State transfer, is considered the favorite.
Alabama is working overall from a state of rebuilding. Only 12 starters return from last season's Sugar Bowl-losing squad, though Saban is never lacking for star power. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry may be the nation's best one-two punch at running back, while defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson should be in store for a breakout year.
"I would say the No. 1 thing would be inconsistency in performance," Saban told reporters of where his team needs to improve. "There were a lot of good things, but it wasn't all the time. And consistency in performance sort of defines success, so that's what we strive for. That's what we try to get guys to do."
Alabama and Auburn lead yet another stellar group of SEC teams. Eight SEC teams open the season with a number by their name, with five coming in the Top 13. South Carolina, LSU and Georgia are all expected to compete on that second plane of SEC competition—good enough to beat any team but not consistent enough to make a title run.
Rounding out the SEC's teams are Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies will attempt to replace Manziel with sophomore Kenny Hill, who won a quarterback battle with touted freshman Kyle Allen.
From a conference perspective, it should also be unsurprising to see the west nearly besting the south. The Pac-12 comes into 2014 with a stellar group of six ranked squads, highlighted by another strong Oregon core. The Ducks, in the second year of the post-Chip Kelly era, were considered a title favorite last season before injuries and a late collapse jettisoned them to the Alamo Bowl.
More will be expected this season, with Heisman contender Marcus Mariota returning to full health. Oregon's biggest competition should come from a burgeoning UCLA program. Quarterback Brett Hundley returns and brings with him a talented supporting cast, highlighted by all-everything freshman Myles Jack. Stanford, USC, Arizona State and Washington round out the cast.
The Big Ten has four teams, while the ACC and Big 12 tie with three. Oklahoma and Ohio State arguably round out the preseason favorites in the title picture, with each boasting a solid all-around squad led by returning stars.
Among non-major conference teams, well, there's not a whole lot to be proud of unless you want to count Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the only team not in a power conference who received enough votes to make the Top 25.
Given the recent history of major bowl crashers, that will probably look silly by the end of the season. But as it stands, the Power Five continues to reign supreme.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The hunger for a new season of college football hits a boiling point this time of year when the Associated Press preseason poll goes out to the public, but things are even more wild this year in particular thanks to the inaugural college football playoff.
Of course, the poll is controversial in some ways. It also sheds light on how those in the know feel about each of the nation's top teams in regards to the playoff.
The playoff itself is as elusive as it sounds. Four programs get in after a season that is as critical as those in year's past. This leaves the window open for Cinderellas to finally enter the national-championship picture, further showcasing the growing parity of the sport as a whole.
Below, let's take a look at the official poll and identify those teams that will survive the rough waters of the season to enter the playoff.
2014 AP Preseason Poll
Inaugural College Football Playoff Participants
Really, what's not to like about the Seminoles? Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back in the fold with a year of experience under his belt, which does much to negate the loss of household names such as Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin.
An elite quarterback trumps all in the realm of collegiate football and Winston is doing nothing short of dedicating himself to another year of improvement, as College GameDay captures on Twitter:
It helps that Winston is flanked by an elite defensive unit that ranked first in points allowed (12.1). Led by elite end Mario Edwards Jr., the Seminoles are sure to flirt with the top slot in that area once more.
Offensive tackle Cameron Erving sang Edwards' praises, and it helps to explain why NFL scouts are all over him:
"I'm not going to see a defensive end in a game that has his size and his speed," the offensive lineman said, per Natalie Pierre of Tennessee.com. "They'll either have his speed or his size. There's not going to be many guys I go against, until I go to the next level, that can even come close to how athletic and powerful that guy is."
There are two requirements for a national-title contender—an elite defensive line and a great player under center.
Suffice it to say, the Seminoles have both.
The beat goes on for Alabama.
On one hand, there is a lot of drama surrounding Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. On the other, it certainly seems like a lot of folks want to see the dynasty end and are quick to blow things out of proportion.
Take the quarterback battle between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims, for example. With AJ McCarron gone, Saban has a competition on his hands. Were this any other team, the whole "competition brings out the best in both players" narrative would ring true.
Instead, a wealth of info that has come out says the ordeal is having a negative impact on the team. Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides one such report:
The bottom line is: Until the ship actually sinks, let's not count out the Crimson Tide.
No matter who wins the gig under center, they get matchups with West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to get their wits about them to start the season. They should also have two elite backs (T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry) and one of the nation's top receivers (Amari Cooper) to lean on.
Really, an SEC title is not out of the question as long as Saban's team can get past LSU and Auburn.
The Oregon Ducks were a bit of a wild card, but the AP got this one just right.
Marcus Mariota is back for this very reason, a factoid that should strike fear into opposing fanbases around the nation.
One year after being a serious Heisman contender thanks to 3,665 passing yards and 31 touchdowns to four interceptions, Mariota will be back under center to orchestrate what is sure to be one of the country's most prolific offenses yet again—even sans De'Anthony Thomas.
Don't believe in the Mariota hype? Just ask Bleacher Report's Matt Miller what he thinks:
...Mariota is light-years ahead of where Kaepernick was at Nevada as a passer and has a much cleaner passing motion.
The Kaepernick comparison in terms of style is fitting, but Mariota's mechanics and pocket vision are more similar to those of Roethlisberger.
Mariota may be a hybrid of the two, as he's a special player with undeniable double-threat tools.
As long as he can stay healthy, Mariota will help the Ducks to run roughshod on the Pac-12. It follows similar logic to Alabama's reign of terror—until defenses can consistently slow down the Ducks' offense, there is little reason to believe it is going to happen.
Keep in mind that Oregon will not dance with USC or Arizona State this year. The path to the playoff is quite favorable.
There is nothing quite like a little disrespect to motivate a team, no?
All Michigan State did last season was run up a 13-2 record, an undefeated mark in the Big Ten and win the Rose Bowl.
Look, the Spartans lack flair. A team that loves to pound the rock and play elite defense is boring. But if the approach wins football games, it just does.
Many will point out that the defense may be weaker without corner Darqueze Dennard, but the unit is perennially one of the best, which suggests Mark Dantonio knows how to best utilize the talents on his roster.
Much hinges on quarterback Connor Cook, but as ESPN CollegeFootball points out, he improved with each repetition last season:
By most accounts, Cook has continued to travel on that upward trajectory this preseason.
A competent offense would be a nice change for the Spartans, who are already sure to have a sound defense under the watchful eye of Dantonio. In tandem, it will be enough to get Michigan State into the top four by season's end.
Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com