NCAA Football

What 4-Star Rico McGraw's Flip from Georgia to Alabama Means for Dawgs, Tide

Alabama added its second 4-star defensive back commitment this week Thursday, while swiping a key prospect away from an SEC rival. Cornerback Rico McGraw decided to flip his pledge from Georgia to the Crimson Tide, he confirmed to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

The 6'0", 190-pound Tennessee prospect initially committed to the Bulldogs in January. However, recent visits to Tuscaloosa and Knoxville suggested he may be open to joining another program within the conference.

His declaration Thursday ended speculation and provides Nick Saban with yet another blue-chip defender. Alabama landed former North Carolina commit Ronnie Harrison, a 4-star safety, on Tuesday.

McGraw made up his mind after substantial internal deliberations with family members.

"My mom and my parents have always thought Alabama was the best decision for me," he told 247Sports. "I finally decided to hear them out."

McGraw, a rising senior who intercepted three passes for state powerhouse Ensworth last season, adds to a 2015 class that continues to strengthen its stronghold atop 247Sports' composite class rankings. Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class, stockpiling abundant talent in the secondary.

Harrison and McGraw join a group of defensive backs that already featured 5-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and No. 2 overall safety prospect Deionte Thompson. Alabama signed a pair of 5-star cornerbacks during the 2014 recruiting cycle (Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown).

McGraw isn't the first cornerback to switch allegiances to Alabama from another SEC competitor. Montrell Custis flipped from Kentucky to the Tide in April.

Alabama's latest gain is Georgia's loss.

The Bulldogs netted a commitment from McGraw shortly after first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt arrived from Florida State. Now the former Saban assistant must search elsewhere for a solution in the secondary.

Throw in the fact that 5-star athlete Terry Godwin could also jump ship and there's a definite need for defensive secondary talent.

Godwin, who could excel at wide receiver or cornerback in college, could also end up in Tuscaloosa.

"There's been a lot of guys talking to me about my commitment and my recruitment," Godwin said at The Opening. "They're saying 'Come to Auburn', or 'Come down to Alabama' or 'We need you at Tennessee.' A lot of stuff like that. It'll come down to Feb. 2 (signing day)."

Georgia holds just two 2015 commitments from prospects definitively destined to compete in the defensive backfield. Florida products Deontai Williams and Deandre Baker—both 3-star recruits—pledged earlier this summer.

Pruitt and head coach Mark Rich must attempt to make inroads with other secondary targets in the class. In-state prospects Rashad Roundtree and Micah Abernathy present 4-star options on home turf.

Florida cornerback Tarvarus McFadden remains a prized uncommitted player but Georgia appears to be chasing at least LSU and Florida State in that pursuit. Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs adopt Alabama's approach and attempt to reel in a player currently committed elsewhere.

Georgia's 2015 class now rates 14th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. The Bulldogs are listed eighth among SEC squads.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting writer Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Previewing 2014 Fall Camp QB Battles to Watch

Not every quarterback battle was decided by the end of spring practice. Then again, what fun would that be? What would fans and media alike have to talk about?

Preseason quarterback battles are still going on all over the country as fall camp gets underway. Ideally, coaches would like to have those battles figured out sooner rather than later. The quicker one player emerges from the pack, the quicker the offense will know who to look to and the quicker it can come together. 

To be sure, some quarterback battles will bleed over into the regular season. That's unavoidable. 

Which quarterback battles will gain the most attention this August, and why? The answers are in the following slides. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

Begin Slideshow

Biggest Storylines Heading into Nebraska's Fall Camp

Nebraska begins fall camp this weekend. That means all of the questions that remained after spring practice will have a chance to be answered.

Bo Pelini will also be able to show off the changes he boasted about at Big Ten Media Days. With practice now open to the media, it will be easier than ever to see just how key storylines evolve before the first game of the season.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the Huskers' fall camp.

Begin Slideshow

NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2014: College Teams with Title or Bust Outlook

The Amway preseason college football rankings have been released and there are no real surprises at the top of the polls. 

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles are No. 1 and perennial national championship contenders, the Alabama Crimson Tide are No. 2. The Noles and Tide are just two of the teams that must have their seasons end with a title to call the campaign a success.

More than ever, these early rankings are to be seen, but not relied upon with too much confidence as it relates to college football's bottom line. 

Ultimately, the College Football Playoff Committee will decide which four teams vie for the national championship in January. Nevertheless, here's a look at the preseason Top 25:

 

Opening Amway Preseason Coaches' PollRankTeam 1 Florida State 2 Alabama 3 Oklahoma 4 Oregon 5 Auburn 6 Ohio State 7 UCLA 8 Michigan State 9 South Carolina 10 Baylor 11 Stanford 12 Georgia 13 LSU 14 Wisconsin 15 USC 16 Clemson 17 Notre Dame 18 Arizona State 19 Ole Miss 20 Texas A&M 21 Kansas State 22 Nebraska 23 North Carolina 24 Texas 25 Washington

USA Today

 

Run it Back

When a team has gone undefeated the previous season and returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, as well as several other offensive weapons and disruptive forces on the defensive side of the ball, anything short of a repeat national championship would be an epic failure.

That is, of course, the situation the Seminoles find themselves in heading into the 2014 season.

Jameis Winston is headed for his sophomore campaign and is expected to be even better than he was when he earned college football's top prize. 

Winston was already a leader for his team last season, but judging by this tweet from teammate Tyler Hunter, Winston is taking the next step in the leadership department:

The Noles' schedule features just two teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll: Notre Dame and Clemson—and both of those games are at home. As Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports states, the Noles are properly set up to repeat:

The Seminoles own arguably the No. 1 roster in college football for 2014, one of the nation’s top coaches in Jimbo Fisher, and the defending Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions.

In some respects, the new playoff format makes it easier for a team like the Noles. If they do experience one week of flounder and drop a game. It's unlikely the committee wouldn't consider them a top-four team in the nation.

Thus the Noles would still get an opportunity to defend their title in the postseason.

 

Same Ol' Bama Expectations

Every year Alabama is expected to vie for a national championship. It's one of the most automatic things in all of sports. Credit head coach Nick Saban for the team's success. 

The Crimson Tide has rarely disappointed. Because of how dominant Alabama has been, last season's berth in the Sugar Bowl was a bittersweet consolation prize..

The 45-31 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the game made it simply bitter. When a team is as good as Bama, critics expect the wins and overreact to the losses.

The team has won three of the last five national championships and despite losing A.J. McCarron and others to the NFL, Bama will still boast one of the most stacked rosters in the nation.

According to 247 Sports, Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class ever since 2010. Even then the program was ranked No. 5. Bama is set up to seriously contend for a national championship for the next four years, and there's no sign of the expectations dropping.

The Tide have already received commitments from three 5-star prospects and are currently ranked No. 1 in the 2015 team recruiting rankings.

What's new?

 

High Pressure in the Northwest

With a legitimate Heisman candidate in Marcus Mariota and returning players like Arik Armstead and star defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon is again expected to do well.

Unfortunately for Duck Nation, the program has fallen short of the lofty expectations that have accompanied a proven offensive philosophy, and a solid stream of talent over the last five years.

The key game on the Ducks' schedule again this year will be against the No. 11 Stanford Cardinal.

The last two seasons Stanford has handed the Ducks their first loss of the season when the team seemed to be sailing toward a potential berth in the national championship game.

This year, Oregon's schedule is brutal. Before the team even faces the Cardinal, it will play two top-10 squads in Michigan State and UCLA, and No. 25 Washington. If the Ducks are still undefeated by the time they play Stanford it seems almost certain that they will be amongst the top-2 teams in every poll.

Getting over the Cardinal red hump in the road may be the last impediment toward reaching the playoff bracket. Stay tuned.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does Oklahoma Deserve to Be Ranked No. 3 in Amway Coaches Poll?

The 2014 Preseason Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday afternoon, and listed at No. 3—directly above the Pac-12 favorite (Oregon) and the reigning national runner-up (Auburn)—sat Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners.

This is not altogether surprising given how OU finished last season. The Sooners snuck into the Sugar Bowl after beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, and despite entering as heavy underdogs, they took down an Alabama team that some still considered the best in the country.

Did the Crimson Tide bring their A-game to New Orleans? It's debatable. Nick Saban said he had trouble motivating his team to "play in a consolation game," per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, but the energy it played with against Oklahoma suggested otherwise. That was not a team that looked like it was sleepwalking.

Still, there's a reason Oklahoma had to sneak into the Sugar Bowl in the first place. Its full, 13-game sample from 2013 was not that of a team that should debut at No. 3 the following season, and it definitely wasn't that of a team that warrants three first-place votes.

Oklahoma has the defense of a top-three team and national title contender. Outside linebacker Eric Striker made a name for himself with three sacks against Alabama, Charles Tapper is a force along the defensive line, inside linebacker Frank Shannon is the top returning tackler in the Big 12 and Zack Sanchez heads a talented secondary after making last year's FWAA Freshman All-America team.

Oklahoma's offense, however, is a major work in progress. It has the most offensive questions of any team in the top five and arguably even the top 10 (depending on how you feel about Michigan State).

The crux of those questions is quarterback Trevor Knight, a redshirt sophomore who starred in the win over Alabama. Before that, though, he had his ups and downs, oscillating in and out of the lineup with newly converted tight end Blake Bell.

On the whole, Knight threw only 134 passes last season. He had just 1,264 total yards (455 coming on the ground). Compare this with the four quarterbacks whose teams are directly behind Oklahoma:

*Note: Knight did not take enough snaps to qualify for the official Total QBR Rankings at ESPN.com, but this is where his score would have placed.

Football is the consummate team sport.

Quarterback play is not the only thing that matters, but it is, in many cases, the thing that matters most. Knight has only played two good games in his career (the other coming against Kansas State), and this year he loses his two leading rushers, Brennan Clay and Damien Williams, along with his leading receiver, Jalen Saunders. 

Would you really take OU over Marcus Mariota's Ducks, Nick Marshall's Tigers, Braxton Miller's Buckeyes or Brett Hundley's Bruins on a neutral field? Are we sure Knight can be trusted to keep up?

Of course, Knight could easily prove all this skepticism wrong. The physical tools are there for him to do so (remember, he showed well as the scout team's version of Johnny Manziel before the 2013 Cotton Bowl). It just seems like people are chugging his Kool-Aid instead of sipping it…and that's an easy way to end up with a brain freeze.

Even FoxSports.com's David Ubben, who covers the Big 12 primarily, admitted that the Sooners seem over-ranked:

The best thing Oklahoma has going for it this season is its defense, which should give it a chance to win any game, no matter how Knight and the offense fare. But a close second to the defense is the schedule, which sets the team up well to win the conference.

Of the three other Big 12 teams that were ranked in the coaches poll—No. 10 Baylor, No. 21 Kansas State and No. 24 Texas—two come to Norman and one, Texas, will play the Sooners on a neutral field. Texas Tech and…um…TCU, I guess, are the biggest road-game threats.

Because of that schedule, and because they are a legitimate top-10 team, Oklahoma should be considered a favorite to make the College Football Playoff. It has a good chance to finish the season in the top four created by the CFP selection committee.

But this poll is not supposed to be a ranking of teams that are likely to make the playoff; it's supposed to be a ranking of the best teams in order. Placing OU at No. 3 seems like a conflation of the two.

ESPN host Dari Nowkhah helps explain the difference:

The fact of the matter is this: Oklahoma was very good, but not great, during the lion's share of last season. It was very nearly great—but still not quite there—against Oklahoma State, and then it played one truly great game against Alabama.

That it finished the season on an upward trajectory and returns nine defensive starters is important; faring well in December/January and maintaining continuity is a proven recipe for offseason hype. It plays to all of our most overreaction-prone tendencies.

But let's not forget that Oklahoma was lucky in those final games, too. Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall harped on this point in his preview of the Sooners, saying he "can't get past" the fact that OU recovered all nine fumbles during the last three games of its season.

Recovering a fumble is "almost entirely random," as Football Outsiders puts it, so even recovering five or six of nine is considered lucky. Recovering nine of nine is considered very lucky, and Connelly explains why we should be wary of Oklahoma because of it:

If Oklahoma had recovered only six of those nine fumbles, it might have cost the Sooners one of the last three games. Recover only three of those nine, and they probably lose two of three without changing any other aspect of their performance. Yes, they won each of those games by more than one possession. But on a per-play basis, they were outgained in each one -- 7.3 to 6.5 against KSU, 5.7 per play to 4.9 against OSU, and a whopping 7.9 to 5.8 against Alabama.…

If Oklahoma doesn't benefit from epic fumbles luck in the last three games of the season, then heading into the 2014 season, we're looking at them as a solid team. They're definitely ranked in the preseason, perhaps in the No. 15-20 range. We're definitely talking about their strong offensive line, their great sack rates, their potentially excellent secondary, and maybe their potential-heavy sophomore quarterback.

But we would also be talking about their wholly mediocre run defense and the fact that they must replace virtually every skill position weapon. The limitations they showed in blowout losses to Baylor (understandable) and Texas (not so much) would be the focus of our attention. But in part because of nine fumble recoveries, they're supposed to be a national title contender. It's hard for me to buy that.

The coaches poll matters even less in the post-BCS era than it did in the previous almost-decade (when it was used as an element of the BCS formula). No matter where Oklahoma—or any other team from a power-five conference—got ranked Thursday afternoon, how it plays on the field will be the thing that defines its season.

Not where it starts in the polls.

Still, it feels wrong to see the Sooners above Oregon and Auburn when they'd probably be underdogs against them on a neutral field.

Isn't that technically what these rankings should reflect?

Hopefully, all will go according to plan, and OU and Oregon can settle this dispute on the field. Before that, though, the Sooners have to prove they've fixed the problems—inconsistent quarterback play, run defense, etc.—that cost them the Big 12 last season.

The proving process starts against Louisiana Tech on August 30.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 5 Questions Everybody Wants to Ask Lane Kiffin

This weekend, we’ll see something on par with a sighting of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s the only time of the year that Alabama coach Nick Saban makes assistant coaches available to the media. The only other opportunity comes during the bowl games, when bowls traditionally mandate press conferences with coordinators.

But the start of fall camp marks Alabama’s annual media day, where in addition to a bevy of players and Saban himself, each coordinator takes questions for about 15 minutes or so at the podium at the Naylor Stone Media Suite inside the Mal Moore Athletic Facility.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will make his seventh appearance in the pre-fall camp press conference, but there’s no doubt that the attention will be squarely on new offensive coordinator and lightning rod Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin has already had a few months in Tuscaloosa to get acclimated  and put players through spring practice. But outside of a fundraiser in Mobile over the summer, Kiffin hasn’t made any public comments since being hired.

Here are five questions that everybody will want to ask Kiffin.

Begin Slideshow

Deondre Francois to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Following a long recruiting process that was whittled down to just two teams earlier this week, Deondre Francois verbally committed to the Florida State Seminoles Thursday afternoon.

Noles 247 reported the news following the announcement:

Josh Newberg of 247 Sports shared a vine of Francois sporting the FSU hat:

Newberg also revealed how Francois perceived today's commitment of Kai Locksley, another 4-star quarterback:

Francois is a 4-star player who ranks as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. The site also lists him as a pro-style signal-caller, showing his ability to throw from the pocket or create with his legs.

Prior to his decision, Francois spoke about what went into his final announcement, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required):

Right now, it's between Florida State and Auburn. It's really a no-brainer what my top two schools are. I'm probably going to commit on the 31st [of July]. I'm just going to take this week to soak everything in, call some people, talk to my family and then commit.

After that week of taking it all in, it appears the rich keep getting richer.

With Florida State adding Francois to its already strong 2015 class, it now has a chance to replace a great signal-caller with another potential star.

Leading up to Francois' commitment, one quarterback already planning to play for FSU made it clear that he planned on beating him out. De'Andre Johnson, the No. 14 dual-threat QB, according to 247Sports, told Rivals.com what would happen if Francois came to Florida State:

That triggered a response from Francois later Monday afternoon:

Oh, we should mention that Johnson was left off the Elite 11 list. Let's just say the second was another shot fired at Johnson.

Following all of the buzz, Tyler Donohue of Bleacher Report believed it would end in good news for the Tigers:

Apparently, Francois chose to embrace the drama with his commitment to the Seminoles. While nearly every quarterback battle is interesting, the one that will take place soon for Florida State could get nasty. Francois is the better prospect for now, but rankings don't always translate into great college careers. For Johnson, he will have to live up to those words after missing out on the Elite 11 while Francois made the cut.

Following in the footsteps of Heisman winner Jameis Winston won't be easy, but the Seminoles now have options. Whichever signal-caller rises to the top, many coaches would love to be in Jimbo Fisher's shoes.

Along with Francois and Johnson, the ACC powerhouse has two outstanding defensive prospects in Derwin James and Tyrek Cole in the 2015 class. Whichever quarterback takes over, the future looks bright for the 2013 national champions. 

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Elite QB Deondre Francois Commits to FSU; Meet the Future Jameis Winston

Deondre Francois is a top quarterback in the 2015 class out of the Sunshine State and has officially committed to the Florida State Seminoles.

Jimbo Fisher and his staff should be thrilled about having this stud head to Tallahassee. His athleticism and arm strength will allow for him to compete for the starting spot as soon as Jameis Winston heads to the NFL. 

How well do you think this stud will do at the collegiate level?

Watch Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee break down exactly what Francois' commitment means to FSU.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Defensive Line Will Be Urban Meyer's Best Since 2006 BCS Championship

When Urban Meyer looks back on the best defensive lines that he's coached, one in particular stands out to the Ohio State head coach.

Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, it's the same one that stands out to them, but for all the wrong reasons.

While Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin may have been the headliners, it was really Florida's D-line that led Meyer and the Gators to the 2006 BCS National Championship.

Nobody knows that better than Ohio State, who saw Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith sacked five times, held to minus-29 rushing yards and complete just 4-of-14 pass attempts in what was ultimately a 41-14 Gators victory over the Buckeyes in the national title game.

Jarvis Moss, Derrick Harvey and Ray McDonald. Those were the names that Ohio State fans heard early and often on that fateful January 2007 night in Glendale, Arizona—three players who would each go onto enjoy starting stints in the NFL.

Add in future NFLers Steven Harris, Joe Cohen and Jermaine Cunningham and it's easy to see that Meyer's 2006 defensive line was his best, as Ohio State knows from first-hand experience.

"I had an idea," Meyer responded when asked if he had an inkling that his 2006 Gators defensive line was going to have its way with the Buckeyes. "But not to that extreme."

Eight years later, that national title game remains a sore spot for some Ohio State fans, even after Meyer traded in his Florida blue and orange for scarlet and gray. But good news for the Buckeyes could be on the way, as the 13-year head coach believes that his 2014 defensive line in Columbus has a chance to challenge his 2006 unit for the best he's ever had.

"This one, if they all perform and stay healthy, could be at that level," Meyer said. "It's game-changers upfront."

Those "game-changers" include CBSSports.com's top-ranked defensive tackle for the 2015 NFL draft in Michael Bennett, a pair of former 247Sports 5-star prospects in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and arguably the most dominant freshman defensive lineman in Ohio State history in now-sophomore Joey Bosa. Rather than face the wrath of Meyer's recruiting prowess, the Buckeyes are now benefitting from it, perhaps in no place more than their defensive front-four.

The elder statesman of the group is Bennett, the lone senior who also finds himself on no less than four major preseason award watch lists. The 6'2", 288-pounder recorded 42 tackles—11.5 of which came for a loss—and seven sacks in 2013, but Meyer believes that the Centerville, Ohio, native's best football is still ahead of him.

"He played the first five or six games like an All-Big Ten player," Meyer said of Bennett's 2013 campaign. "The last half of the season he had some shoulder issues and did not play like that. This is his last call. He could be as high as an early draft pick to a free agent. That's up to him."

The same could be said for Washington, who entered last season with sky-high expectations but was ultimately replaced in the starting lineup by Bosa after suffering a groin injury in the second game of the year. Limited to situational packages upon his return, Washington never regained his starting status, but the 6'4", 288-pounder now finds himself penciled in as one of Ohio State's starting defensive tackles.

Moving Washington back inside from strong side defensive end was a move made to help bolster the Buckeyes' pass rush, but the Cincinnati, Ohio, native still has much to prove to Meyer. Washington's 2013 campaign—which included 36 tackles and two sacks—was an apparent step back in the progress of his college career, but 2014 offers him a shot at redemption.

"Adolphus is the one that hasn't played up to [his potential]," Meyer said. "If he ever gets it all figured out, he could be as good as any I've ever had. He's still a work in progress."

While Washington remains the lone question mark on—and perhaps key to—Ohio State's defensive line, Meyer knows what he has in Spence, an All-Big Ten performer as a sophomore who recorded a team-high eight sacks in 2013. Only Ohio State will be without the 6'3", 252-pound defensive end for the first two games of his junior season, as he continues to serve a suspension stemming from a failed drug test at last season's Big Ten Championship Game.

Spence, who like Bennett projects as a first round pick next spring, is a big reason why Ohio State's defensive line finds itself so highly thought of heading into 2014. But the junior will have to return to his 2013 form following his suspension if the Buckeyes' D-line is going to live up to Meyer's lofty praise.

And then there's Bosa, who Meyer said at Big Ten media days could be "the best of the bunch."

"And he's only a sophomore," the third-year Ohio State head coach also reminded reporters.

Indeed he is, but the 6'5", 285-pound defensive end hardly looked like a freshman a season ago, when he racked up 44 tackles and 7.5 sacks en route to earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors. It's rare that a freshman defensive lineman starts at Ohio State and even rarer that one makes the impact that Bosa did last year, which is why so many in Columbus are excited about his seemingly limitless future.

If Bosa can build on his already promising career, Spence can bounce back from his suspension and Washington and Bennett can find the consistency that their head coach is asking for, then the Buckeyes could be in store for a season as special as the one that Meyer's dominant Gators D-line helped wreck at Ohio State in 2006. But Bennett, the unit's unquestioned leader, isn't interested in dealing with ifs, as he'd rather see an absolute come to fruition.

"It shouldn't be a question that we're the best at the end of the season," Bennett said. "It should just be obvious."

If Bennett's right, then Meyer will have a new defensive line to put at the top of his list.

"You think about those four starters, they're all extremely highly recruited guys. They're fast, we want fast players. Now we have [new defensive line coach] Larry Johnson coaching them. That should be a real strength," Meyer said. "They have a shot to be in that same conversation."

 

*All quotes, unless noted otherwise, obtained first-hand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Aggies' 2014 Season

The Texas A&M football team will play one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2014. There are multiple games on the Aggies' 2014 schedule that could ruin their dreams of a championship season. 

The goal of every team is to win enough games to qualify for the four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the year. In order to do so, the Aggies will likely have to win the SEC title or turn in an 11-win regular season. 

That means the Aggies can only lose one game in 2014. That is a tall order while playing in the SEC West. 

There are a couple teams on the schedule that are more talented than the Aggies, and a couple that have the ability to beat the Aggies on any given day. There are teams on the schedule that, if Texas A&M were to lose to them, it would be deemed acceptable by the playoff committee. There are also those that would be considered a bad loss.

This is a look at the teams who could ruin the Aggies' season. 

Begin Slideshow

Why Auburn RB Cameron Artis-Payne Will Take the SEC by Storm in 2014

One of the dominant storylines to come out of SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, was the absence of star power like Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Tre Mason, Aaron Murray and the crop of last year's superstars.

Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne will fill that void.

The 5'11", 210-pound senior from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is one of the leaders of the Auburn running back corps heading into fall camp, along with speedster Corey Grant, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman "Roc" Thomas.

A preseason third-team All-SEC running back, according to Phil Steele, Artis-Payne started in the mix with Mason last year but took a back seat as Mason emerged during Auburn's run to the SEC title. Despite being relegated to backup status, Artis-Payne topped the 100-yard mark in two games (Arkansas State and Western Carolina) and finished the season with 610 yards and six touchdowns.

Head coach Gus Malzahn let Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant, who's more of an edge threat, sort their roles out as the season went on last year, and according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser, it's likely that Artis-Payne will slide into the 1A slot with Grant still being the home run hitter.

Lashlee told Crepea:

Cameron, he's a good all-around back. he's a good guy on first down all the way to third down. I think he is a good downhill runner and he'll be good like Tre was in the short yardage but he's leaned up a little bit and showed some quickness and agility in space. They can do a lot of the same things, but they still kind of complement each other well to where it's almost 1a and 1b and it may never change. Corey is a little more of a big-play guy, Cam is going to kinda wear on you. I think that's just probably the way it goes.

Expect big things from Artis-Payne, because he's the perfect back in the perfect system to become a star. What makes him so good?

 

Vision

For a bigger running back, Artis-Payne has remarkable vision. 

He's light on his feet, anticipates holes developing and hits them quickly, turning short gains into long gains.

Check out the highlight below from Auburn's spring game (3:09 mark). Artis-Payne takes the handoff on the zone read, sees a hole developing and is through to the second level before the defense knows what hit it.

Once he's in the secondary and in traffic, he sees the safety (12) dropping down and his wide receiver, "Duke" Williams (1), locked up with a corner outside. He cuts it outside and turns what would have been an impressive 10-yard run into a 28-yard run that set the offense up for a score.

Having that vision and awareness in traffic is huge for Auburn's offense—an offense that's predicated on taking what the defense gives it through the zone read. This vision will also help in the screen game, where running backs are counted on to set up blocks in space.

 

Power

Much like Mason, Artis-Payne packs a mean punch. 

He angles himself so well that he rarely gets hit hard, but when he does, he's capable of running over, through or with defenders on top of him.

Check out the video below of Auburn's game last year vs. Florida Atlantic. Artis-Payne again gets to the second level, sheds a linebacker in traffic and then carries four defenders inside the 5-yard line.

This is what to expect from Artis-Payne. He's a true all-around back who can handle the load between the tackles but also hit the home run if he gets the chance. He'll get plenty of chances this fall, which brings us to the next point.

 

System

Last season, Mason was a great running back in a great system. The second part of that equation remains intact. Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head coach or assistant.

Yes, starting left tackle Greg Robinson and fullback Jay Prosch are gone, but the Tigers return basically everybody else who played a role in their success on the ground last year, including four offensive linemen, H-back Brandon Fulse and 1,000-yard rusher Nick Marshall at quarterback.

It's a system that's ready-made for instant success, just as we saw last season when the Tigers rushed for 328.29 yards per game, tops in the nation. Mason got hot in that system last year, and the Tigers rode him to within 13 seconds of a national title. 

But Artis-Payne was neck and neck with the Heisman finalist as late as mid-September, and another year in that system should work wonders for his development.

It's no secret that Malzahn wants to throw more in 2014. 

"That was really probably the No. 1 priority in the spring, to be more balanced," Malzahn said. "We led the country in rushing last year. When you do that, defenses have to take some chances. We've got to do a better job this year of making them pay when they do take chances."

If that happens—and judging from Marshall's progression in the spring game and the presence of Williams alongside veteran receiver Sammie Coates—there's nothing to suggest that it won't. The holes for Artis-Payne to weave through will be even bigger.

If that doesn't scare opposing defensive coordinators, I'm not sure what will.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers for Preseason Coaches Poll

What's the biggest surprise from the first Amway coaches poll of the 2014 season?

Watch Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee break down the winners and losers of the coaches poll.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amway Preseason Coaches' Top 25 Poll: Biggest Snubs and Surprises

Auburn caught just about everyone—fans (outside The Plains) and media alike—off guard last year. The Tigers came out of nowhere to win the SEC and nearly added another BCS national championship to their trophy case.

Not surprisingly, Auburn was not ranked in last year's USA Today Sports Coaches Poll. It's hard to call it a snub, even in hindsight, given that the program finished 3-9 and winless in the SEC the year before. 

That speaks to the vulnerability of preseason polls. They're a lot of fun to dissect, but ultimately offer little more than that. They're an interesting mixture of the previous season's results with the upcoming season's expectations. 

And with the upcoming College Football Playoff, the new Amway Coaches Poll will no longer be used in determining the Top 25 like it did with the BCS. (However, it will be interesting to see if these polls rub off on the selection committee in any way.) 

Still, 62 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches casted their preseason Top 25 teams. Not surprisingly, Florida State, the defending national champs, were No. 1. Who else made the cut? Which teams surprised? Which ones were snubbed? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

College Football Rankings 2014: NCAA Preseason Top 25 After Amway Coaches Poll

On Thursday, 62 head coaches of Bowl Subdivision schools revealed their collective thoughts regarding the 2014 NCAA preseason rankings, revealing the top 25 teams of the Amway Coaches Poll.

Here's how the scoring works: Each coach submits a top 25, voting for a first-place team through a 25th-place team. A vote for first place gives a team 25 points, a second-place vote gives a team 24 points, and that trend continues down to one point for a 25th-place vote.

Last year, preseason voting wasn't exactly accurate, with a bevy of shifts ongoing throughout the season. So let's take a glance at this year's voting and see if the coaches got it right.

Florida State's No. 1 ranking shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, the Seminoles are the reigning national champions, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston will be taking the reins of the offense again this year.

While wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has departed to the NFL, this high-octane offense should continue to pose a severe threat with Rashad Greene still in the mix. This team should be expected to remain atop—or at least near the top—of the rankings throughout the season.

Although, Jon Solomon of CBS Sports tweeted a fair warning:

Despite the loss of quarterback A.J. McCarron, the Alabama Crimson Tide will begin the season ranked No. 2. Obviously, coaches seem to have plenty of faith in the team regardless of its ongoing quarterback competition between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims.

Perhaps that quarterback controversy is a reason why the team didn't record a single first-place vote. After all, Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted an interesting fact involving the competition:

Rounding out the top three is Oklahoma—the only team aside from Florida State that received multiple first-place votes.

It could be speculated that the return of Trevor Knight under center is a big reason for the team's preseason ranking. Knight had a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, completing 32 of his 44 passing attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns for a 164.6 rating.

Also, according to a tweet from Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World, this ranking isn't anything new for a Bob Stoops-coached team:

Oregon, Ohio State and South Carolina were the three other teams to receive a first-place vote.

The No. 4-ranked Ducks will be relying heavily on its fast-paced offense with the experienced Marcus Mariota under center and the speedy Thomas Tyner in the backfield. No. 6 Ohio State was a win away from a BCS championship berth last season and will aim for the big dance again with Braxton Miller at the helm. South Carolina comes in at No. 9 but will be without quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Teams that just missed out on the rankings are Missouri with 126 votes, Florida with 122 and Central Florida with 102 among others, via USA Today.

Of course, arguments over these rankings will rage on until the first games of the season reach their conclusions.

Did the coaches get it right? Let the debate commence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

The first Amway Coaches Poll has officially been released, displaying the top 25 teams heading into the 2014 season. Florida State is in the top spot coming off a national championship, but there are a few surprises heading down the list. 

What's the biggest surprise from the first coaches poll of the 2014 season?

Watch Bleacher Report lead college football writer Barrett Sallee break down the winners and losers of the coaches poll.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Georgia Bulldogs Should Have Cracked Top 10 in 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

When the season’s inaugural Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday afternoon, the Georgia Bulldogs found themselves ranked 12th.  While there’s great value in flying relatively under the radar, the Bulldogs deserve a top-10 ranking.

Obviously, the 2013 campaign did not go according to plan for  Mark Richt’s Bulldogs.  The goal was Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game, and the achieved reality was Jacksonville for the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.  Between the preseason hype and the disappointing season-ending loss to Nebraska, Georgia’s offense was ravished by injuries, and a young defense’s development was stunted.

But in college football years, that’s ancient history.  Much more relevant at this time is Georgia’s returning personnel and generally favorable schedule, which merit a top-10 preseason ranking.

 

Personnel

On the offensive side of the ball, the Dawgs return as many playmakers as any team in the country.  Todd Gurley is a Heisman candidate, and his backfield mate Keith Marshall is healthy from a torn ACL. 

They’ll be joined by two of the best freshman running backs in the country in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb (ranked third and sixth respectively at their position by 247Sports' Composite Ranking) and Brendan Douglas, who ran for 345 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013.

Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior, will be a full-time starter for the first time of his career, but as Richt pointed out a few weeks ago at SEC media days (per ASAP Sports), this isn’t a new offense for Mason:

The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season, a guy that got to watch Aaron's work ethic, to see how he ran the off‑season program, how he would organize pass skeleton and those types of things.  Just the fact that Hutson has the respect of his teammates, the confidence of his teammates and coaches, to take on that leadership role. 

And those teammates will prove invaluable in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s balanced attack.  Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will return from knee injuries of their own to aid a passing attack that returns its two leading receivers from a year ago (Chris Conley and Michael Bennett).

This offense will run the ball effectively and spread the ball around in the passing game.  It will move the chains and score points in a manner that now typifies Georgia football.

Defensively, the on-field product has to be better under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.  The Bulldogs’ season may have come off the tracks when the offense was battered by injuries in 2013, but four of Georgia’s five losses came as opponents scored more than 30 points.

There will be a transition time and learning curve as Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, but in some ways, that’s exactly what the defense needed.  As senior cornerback Damian Swann pointed out to Seth Emerson and Athlon Sports, “A lot of guys probably needed a fresh start.”

For some of those guys (like Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Shaq Wiggins and Jonathan Taylor), that fresh start will come with another program.  For others, like Swann and a front seven that is largely still intact, that new beginning comes with Pruitt, who has had a hand crafting each of the past three national champions.

All though there's still work to be done, Georgia returns plenty of experience in the secondary thanks to players Swann and safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger, who have all played significant snaps.  

The defensive line and linebackers will be led by the SEC’s leading tacklers in 2013 (Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera) and a number of capable pass-rushers, including Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ray Drew.

On both sides of the ball, this Georgia team possesses too much talent and experience to be taken lightly.

 

The Schedule

Combine that talent and experience with a generally favorable schedule, and this team is undoubtedly deserving of a top-10 ranking. 

Georgia’s out of conference slate features in-state rival Georgia Tech and an opener against Clemson, but the Yellow Jackets have come up short against Georgia in each of the past five seasons, and home field and revenge should factor into the Dawgs’ bout with the Tigers.

Within conference play, Georgia dodges Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss from the West, gets Arkansas as a non-recurring cross-divisional game and will finally get Auburn in the confines of Sanford Stadium. 

An early season trip to Columbia, South Carolina, is by far the the Dawgs’ most challenging trip.  The Bulldogs’ other road games come against a rebuilding Missouri team, Arkansas and lowly Kentucky.

 

Season Outlook

Admittedly, preseason polls are based too much on conjecture to be taken as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Last year, Auburn was not ranked heading into the season by the coaches, and the Tigers rallied to an SEC Championship and trip to Pasadena.

That being said, Thursday's poll releasing doesn't give Georgia's talent and schedule its due.

Georgia’s 2014 schedule features only two opponents—South Carolina (No. 9) and Auburn (No. 5)—ranked higher than the Bulldogs. 

The matchup with the Gamecocks will be tough on the road, particularly as a new quarterback continues to settle in and a defense begins to mold.  But, it’s a winnable game as South Carolina looks to replace one of the most productive quarterbacks in its program’s history (Connor Shaw) and the best defensive player in college football (Jadeveon Clowney).

As for Auburn, Georgia gave the Tigers all they wanted on the road in 2013.  It’s not unrealistic to think Georgia could turn a heartbreaking defeat into a victory at home in 2014.

But even if Georgia were to drop games to South Carolina and Auburn, a 10-2 record would likely merit a top-10 finish.  And while other teams—particularly Clemson and Florida—will push the Dawgs, Georgia should be favored in those battles.

If the Bulldogs handle things on the field, they’ll earn respect in the polls.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Big Ten Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

At the start of the College Football Playoff era, it is hard to make sense of the Big Ten; one of the sport's most profitable and recognizable conferences has struggled to win big games against power-five teams and has become a bit of a punchline.

At the same time, the B1G still had two teams—Michigan State and Ohio State—play in a BCS bowl last season, and both debuted in the Top 10 of this year's preseason Amway Coaches Poll, per USA Today. Wisconsin looked unchanged without Bret Bielema, and if Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa (none of which has fallen too far) can gain back some traction, that would give the league seven formidable programs.

Further complicating matters is a final bit of conference realignment, which this year introduces Maryland and Rutgers to the conference via the ACC and AAC, respectively. Both will join the newly formed East Division, which was divided from the West on a purely geographical basis (and appears to be much stronger in 2014).

But what does this all mean for the 2014 season? Will the new-look Big Ten forge a new, more-respected identity in the post-BCS college football world? And which teams are most likely to carry the banner?

Let's take a look at the odds board.

Note: These odds reflect the author's point of view on how likely each team is to make the CFP. They have not been crafted in the same way as Las Vegas lines: with the intent to draw action on certain sides. Instead, they represent how many times the season would have to be played for Team X to make the playoff once.

 

Full Odds Board 

 

The Favorite

This one is pretty close.

Unlike the Big 12 and ACC, which begin the season with either large (Oklahoma) or overwhelming (Florida State) favorites, a good case could be made for two Big Ten teams as the lead dog entering 2014.

Unsurprisingly, those are the two teams that met in last year's conference championship game, Michigan State and Ohio State. But even though the Spartans won that evening, and even though that win was not a fluke, and even though the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing this season, the safe money remains on Urban Meyer.

Now entering his third year in Columbus, Meyer has a team that is far from perfect but less flawed than his previous OSU sides. Especially if new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash can patch up the secondary (where he specializes), a defense led by a terrifying front line might become the best in the conference.

Leading that front line is a trio of All-America candidates: Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. Together they combined to put up 39 tackles for loss last season, 24.5 of which came in the second half of the schedule, once Bosa—then a true freshman—turned the proverbial corner and began to look unblockable.

Guys who weigh 285 pounds should not be able to do this:

Also returning is quarterback Braxton Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a logical favorite to repeat for a third time this season. Now a senior, his experience and his knack for conjuring plays from thin air should help an offense that lost running back Carlos Hyde, receiver Corey Brown and the majority of an offensive line that might have been the best in the country.

The Buckeyes finished No. 4 in the preseason S&P+ projections at Football Study Hall, trailing only Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. That's nine spots ahead of Michigan State (No. 13). No other Big Ten team besides Wisconsin ranked in the top 30.

It is close—and the numbers reflect that—but going with Ohio State as the preseason favorite always feels pretty safe.

 

Best Value

Northwestern won 10 games two seasons ago and started last year 4-0. Its fifth game was the Big Ten opener against Ohio State, and Evanston, Illinois—of all places—was the site of College Gameday.

The Wildcats led that game by three points, 30-27, with less than six minutes on the clock. Eventually, Hyde and the Buckeyes' offensive line became too powerful, OSU took the lead with 5:22 remaining and eventually won by 10 points, 40-30, after a meaningless touchdown on the game's final play.

That turned out to be a portent for Northwestern: both losing close games and allowing teams to score with zero seconds on the clock. The latter happened in a much-less-meaningless way at Nebraska:

And again the following week against Michigan:

All things told, the Wildcats lost seven straight games and missed the postseason in what was supposed to be a seminal year for the program. Unlike last year, they do not enter 2014 with much fanfare, and have actually found themselves in the news for off-field reasons (Kain Colter's push for unionization) instead of on-field ones.

But overlooking a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team would be unwise. Northwestern has always done better as an underdog—a role it has perpetually occupied—and injuries forced a ton of young players to see the field last season. According to Phil Steele's blog, the Wildcats return the 12th most experience in the country.

The most important returnee didn't play much in 2013, either. Running back Venric Mark, one of the most explosive scat-backs and punt returners in the country, missed most of the season with a fractured ankle but was granted a medical redshirt to return in 2014.

"He's trending to be ready to go for the season and things are moving in a positive direction," said Fitzgerald of Mark's status, per Skip Myslenski of NUSports.com.

Boy, what a boost that would be.

Together with senior quarterback Trevor Siemian (513 pass attempts since 2012), a massively underrated group of receivers and an offensive line that returns 100 career starts, Mark—if healthy—would help Northwestern field a dangerous offense. If his players can remain on the field, Fitzgerald always grooms a solid defense, too.

More than anything, though, the Wildcats have a nice schedule. Playing in the weaker West Division, they get two of their top competitors, Wisconsin and Nebraska, at home, and the one that they play on the road, Iowa, is a team they have always fared well against.

If they hold serve at Ryan Field and go 2-1 in road games against Iowa, Penn State and Notre Dame, Northwestern could enter the Big Ten Championship Game with one loss and a chance to crash the CFP.

It is likely? No. But it's not altogether unlikely, either. If you played out the season 35 times, I think it would happen at least once.

Note: For my more thorough breakdown of the Wildcats, click here.

 

Biggest Sleeper

One of these years, it'll happen. It almost has to happen.

Maryland cannot keep suffering injuries at such a disastrous clip. Two years ago, it was forced to play a walk-on freshman linebacker at quarterback, and last year—among many, many other things—it lost star receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to the same season-ending injury (a broken leg) in the same game against Wake Forest.

On paper, what the Terps return in 2014 is among the best in the conference. As Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall explicates:

Ignore everything you know about recent injuries, and see what the Terrapins return. A well-seasoned dual-threat quarterback. Starting running backs from both 2012 and 2013. The aforementioned five-star receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long), plus the three exciting receivers who thrived in their absence. Five players with starting experience on a solid offensive line. The top five tacklers on a solid defensive line. Eight of last year's top 10 linebackers. Five of last year's top six defensive backs, plus the aforementioned 2012 starter (Jeremiah Johnson). A smattering of well-touted freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Basically everybody from a top-20 special teams unit.

College football is a complicated sport to predict; there are too many factors at play. But among the things we know for near-certain are that balance and experience matter. To compete, you must have players who have already competed, and in most (but not all) cases, they must be well dispersed over every position group.

In theory, Maryland has this. It has enough potential star power, too. Diggs was the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class and has looked the part when healthy. C.J. Brown put up legit Heisman numbers in the first four games of last season. Andre Monroe had more tackles for loss (17) in 2013 than any returning player in the country other than Vic Beasley and Ryan Mueller.

The only thing holding this team back is injuries—which are supposed to be random from year to year—and a brutal schedule. The East Division is not as forgiving as the West, and cross-division games against Iowa and at Wisconsin are an unlucky draw.

Even if Maryland stays healthy and plays well all season, the schedule precludes it from reasonable CFP contention.

But this is a longshot bet; it isn't supposed to be reasonable. We don't know for sure what the ceiling on this group of players is, because they have never stayed together on the field for long enough. Why not take a shot on the unknown?

"Randy Edsall, despite what some say, is a good coach," said an opposing Big Ten assistant in the Athlon Sports 2014 College Football Preview magazine. It wasn't so long ago (2010-11) that he had UConn playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

And this team has a lot more talent than that UConn team.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Analyzing NCAA Top 25 Standings

One of the best parts of summer is the start of the college football preseason. And the release of the Amway Coaches Poll rankings, via USA Today, has the sports world buzzing about potential matchups and possible upsets.

With top powerhouses such as the Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners looking for a national title, the 2014 college football season will be even more entertaining now that there is a playoff system in place.

Here is the first Top 25 of the season and a full breakdown with analysis.

 

 

Breaking Down the Top Championship Contenders

The addition of a playoff system has shaken college football to its core, but it has created genuine excitement among fans. With the BCS drawing so much animosity, the hope is that a more classic postseason format will add intrigue to the already enthralling sport.

The road to the playoffs begins with the release of the Amway Coaches Poll.

After winning the BCS National Championship, Florida State is back again this season in the No. 1 spot. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, the Seminoles return 13 starters from last year and look to become first winners of the college football playoffs.

Winning a second-straight national championship won’t be that easy.

Florida State has serious competition in 2014. Not only are Nick Saban and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide looking to bounce back and win another championship, but the No. 4 Oregon Ducks are packed with high-powered weapons who will keep the team at the top of the polls each week.

Two teams that Alabama has come to fear over the past year are the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners and the No. 5 Auburn Tigers. After each knocked off the Crimson Tide late last season, the programs are brimming with confidence and look to translate that to success on the field.

While all of the teams mentioned could be considered serious championship contenders, there are several programs with the talent and coaching staff to make a run in their respective conferences and push for a berth in the playoffs.

Elite schools such as No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 UCLA, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 10 Baylor and No. 11 Stanford are all bringing teams with the senior leadership and raw talent to make a splash in the Top 25 rankings.

Add in the SEC teams undergoing major changes this offseason (namely No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU and No. 20 Texas A&M), and there is a cloud of uncertainty around many of the programs ranked high in the preseason poll.

With a clean slate and every team starting from the same point, there are many universities across the country looking at the playoff system as their way to get into a NCAA National Championship game.

College football fans should be ready for a wild year.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amway Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Complete Order Released

College football fans have long awaited a definitive pecking order entering the 2014 season, and now they have one, as the Amway Coaches' Poll was officially released Thursday.  

The College Football Playoff committee will ultimately decide which four teams deserve to vie for the national title at the end of the season, but this poll provides a jumping-off point. It also goes to show that there are plenty of potential championship contenders with a legitimate chance to win it all.

Some of the teams near the top of the poll will fade, while others will very much be in the mix when the season concludes. If nothing else, the Amway Coaches' Poll allows observers to get an idea of what they can expect in 2014.

Here is a full rundown of the season's first official Top 25 ranking, courtesy of USA Today.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke down the first-place voting in the poll:

 

Teams to Watch

Florida State

On the heels of an undefeated 2013 season that culminated in a national championship, it comes as little surprise that Florida State tops the initial poll. The Seminoles certainly lost some talent to the NFL in the form of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and several others. Even so, Florida State is a stacked team boasting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Quarterback Jameis Winston was labeled the best player in college football last year, and it is difficult to argue with that notion. He shined as a freshman, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns while adding another four rushing scores to his total.

In fact, perhaps no single player was more vital to his offense last season than Winston, as seen in this graphic courtesy of ESPN College Football on Twitter:

As important as Winston was, it will take more than a great season from him for the Seminoles to repeat. The coaches clearly feel as though there is enough talent in place, and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher feels the same way, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Everybody talks about Jameis and he is the best player in college football in my opinion, there's no doubt," Fisher said on ESPN's Sportscenter. "We're much more than Jameis Winston. ... We're lots more. I'm very confident in our team."

Perhaps the biggest thing working in Florida State's favor is the fact that it resides in a fairly thin ACC. The Seminoles don't figure to face many big challenges on their conference slate, which gives them a golden opportunity to potentially get back to the National Championship Game.

Florida State is the team to beat, and the rankings certainly reflect that fact.

 

Alabama

Alabama has consistently been one of the top teams in the nation throughout Nick Saban's tenure as head coach. The poll suggests that things will be no different this season, but the Crimson Tide are far from a sure thing in 2014.

After losing quarterback AJ McCarron to the NFL, Bama has been placed in the unenviable position of replacing a proven leader and winner.

It remains to be seen who will be under center when the season starts, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the presumed favorite. Whoever ultimately wins that job will be surrounded with talent in the form of running back T.J. Yeldon as well as wide receivers Amari Cooper and Christion Jones.

The offense should be explosive, but Alabama's defense wasn't as dominant last year as observers have grown accustomed to. Even Saban himself acknowledges the fact that some aspects of his team are shrouded in uncertainty, per ESPN College GameDay on Twitter:

Alabama is used to roster turnover, though, and always manages to reload due to Saban's superior recruiting ability. That is largely why the Tide have dominated many of the premier programs in college football over the past several seasons.

As pointed out by Bill Bender of Sporting News, no other team has had as much success against highly ranked teams in recent years than Alabama:

If Bama is going to qualify for the College Football Playoff, it will have to earn it in the difficult SEC. With teams like Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU hoping to reach the pinnacle of college football as well, Alabama can never afford to let its guard down.

Provided Saban's team plays up to its potential, though, it should be one of the best.

 

Ohio State

Last season Ohio State was one win away from playing Florida State for the national championship, but a final-week loss to rival Michigan State sent the Buckeyes to the Orange Bowl instead.

Ohio State is considered the class of the Big Ten once again this season, and the expectation in Columbus is that the Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff at the very least.

If they do, then it will almost certainly be thanks to the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. The skilled senior is coming off the best season of his collegiate career, as he racked up well over 3,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns. He is a major threat as both a passer and a runner, which is what makes Ohio State's offense so difficult to contain.

As good as Miller was last year, head coach Urban Meyer seems to believe that he is in position to perhaps be even better in 2014, according to ESPN.com's Brian Bennett:

If Miller improves as a passer and remains healthy throughout the season, then it is tough to bet against the Buckeyes as a national title threat. The loss of running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL could hurt, but Ohio State has plenty of depth on offense and a defense that is coming into its own as well.

The Big Ten has some solid teams, but there aren't a ton of threats to Ohio State. The Buckeyes aren't a perfect team by any means, but Miller's presence makes them a force to be reckoned with.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks Football Ticket Will Feature Scratch-and-Sniff in 2014

The Oregon Ducks just found a way to stay a step ahead of the rest of college football.

Everyone already knows about the Ducks' modern uniforms and innovative offense. Now, Oregon fans are being treated to something even crazier this year: a scratch-and-sniff ticket.

On the ticket to the team's game against Michigan State, the scratch-n-sniff part features a burger from Carl's Jr.

This scratch-and-sniff ticket definitely shows that the Ducks continue to think outside of the box and amaze us with their creativity.

[Oregon Duck Tickets, h/t Reddit and SB Nation]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages