The Florida State Seminoles are heading into the 2014 season with a chance to win back-to-back national championships.
Bleacher Report's college football analysts break down who might stand in the Seminoles' way on their journey to holding the brand-new CFB trophy in Arlington, Texas.
Do you think FSU will repeat in 2014?
Watch the video and let us know.
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The wait for college football is close to a conclusion, as the season kicks off this Wednesday. Until fans are given actual games to scrutinize, tearing apart the preseason AP poll will have to do.
Surely, the rankings will change frequently during the season. Last season, Florida State started with a No. 11 rank before climbing up the ladder and defeating Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.
The newly instituted College Football Playoff will add a new dose of intrigue to the procedures while stripping the AP rankings of some of their power. Nevertheless, the AP Top 25 provides a benchmark for appraising some of the nation's premier squads entering the season, even if they disprove those thoughts along the way.
Some of these early slot choices will seem foreign as soon a week from now. A few schools will receive tough litmus tests the second class comes back in session. Should they fail, the AP poll will undergo a facelift heading into Week 2.
Preseason AP Top 25
Week 2 Projections
Top Game to Watch: No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 21 Texas A&M
An early SEC bout between Texas A&M and South Carolina will set the table for each ranked squad.
Both schools watched major stars graduate to the pro level. Former South Carolina sack monster Jadeveon Clowney got selected first in the NFL draft, while the Aggies' elite passing duo of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans also earned first-round nods.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are ranked No. 9 after completing yet another 11-win season. The famed head coach relishes heading into the campaign as the top-tabbed SEC East squad.
"I think it's nice to be picked a little bit," Spurrier told The Associated Press' Pete Iacobelli. "People think we've got a chance to be pretty good, maybe that tells your players, 'Hey, we got a chance to be pretty good.'"
With senior Dylan Thompson taking the helm under center after predominantly coming off the bench, South Carolina will rely on a heavy dose of ground work. That amplifies the need for running back Mike Davis, who is questionable with a rib injury, to suit up Thursday night.
For what it's worth, the Gamecocks' leading rusher is confident he'll play:
On the other side, sophomore Kenny Hill will take over for former Heisman winner Manziel. B/R's Barrett Sallee labeled him a long shot to follow in the previous signal-caller's footsteps:
As I wrote last week, Sumlin's teams have finished in the top 11 nationally in total offense in each of the last six seasons and tops in the country twice during his time as the head coach of Houston (2008-2011) and Texas A&M (2012-present). The offense has the weapons around Hill both up front and at the skill positions for him to step in and shine from the moment toe meets leather.
Defense, however, is a bigger concern for the Aggies. They surrendered 475.8 yards per game last year, and they can't expect Hill to win a shootout against an SEC powerhouse in his first starting foray.
Look for South Carolina to humble Texas A&M and put its Top 25 standing in jeopardy. Barring a major upset to a top team, Spurrier's squad may have to wait a little longer to climb up the Top 10.
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For the past seven months, coaching changes, disciplinary challenges and position switches have defined the Georgia Bulldogs. On Saturday, the Dawgs have an opportunity to develop a reputation on the field—where they belong.
The season-opening battle with the Clemson Tigers is significant on multiple levels. From a historical standpoint, this is the final meeting of the two rivals for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the game offers new beginnings for two programs looking to replace all-time greats at the quarterback position. Perhaps most pressing for both squads, this game will leave one ranked team with a 1-0 mark and the other behind the curve.
Here's what you need to know about this game:
Time: 5:30 p.m. EST
Place: Sanford Stadium; Athens, Georgia
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Clemson Tigers Sports Network
Spread: Georgia by 7.5 per SportsBook.ag.
After perhaps the longest offseason for college football fans in quite some time, it is finally game week all across the SEC.
And, unlike most season openers at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Saturday's game could play an important role in the Auburn Tigers' drive to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and to get a spot in the first College Football Playoff.
For the first time since 1995, Auburn is kicking off the season with conference football.
The Arkansas Razorbacks will be looking for a program-changing upset after dropping 11 straight conference games, including all eight in 2013. Traditional football-minded Bret Bielema has fueled the fire of this growing SEC West rivalry in recent months with a wide range of comments on Auburn and Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native who once held the offensive coordinator job at the program.
Auburn, on the other hand, will take on the unfamiliar task of being a sizable favorite in a conference game while dealing with the indefinite suspensions of starting quarterback Nick Marshall and starting cornerback Jonathon Mincy. The Tigers have a few gaps in the depth chart to fill from last season's storybook season, and this season opener will go a long way in how the opening half of their brutal schedule will shake out.
Before we get to the breakdown of this SEC West showdown, here is all the basic info for the Tigers' and Razorbacks' season opener:
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 30
- Time: 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. local)
- Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
- TV: SEC Network
- Radio: Razorback Sports Network, Auburn IMG Sports Network
- Spread: Auburn -20.5, according to AL.com's Danny Sheridan
It’s finally here. At long last. Game week.
When Georgia State and Abilene Christian kick off Wednesday night in the Georgia Dome, the 2014 FBS college football season will officially begin. It’ll kick into higher gear on Thursday and hit its stride on Saturday with games spread throughout the weekend.
Fans across America are anticipating the season and looking forward to seeing just how their favorite team’s 2014 season will unfold. We’re here today with a look towards just that.
While this is far from a perfect process, we’ve taken a look at every Power 5 conference team and tried to project their 2014 records.
We looked at the team’s 2013 record, their returning starters, any changes in the coaching staff and of course their 2014 schedule to determine how 2014 will unfold. Will there be some surprises? Some flops? Sure. It’s an imperfect method, but this is a baseline for just how 2014 will progress for all 65 Power 5 conference teams, as well as Notre Dame.
Week 1 of the 2014 college football season continues Wednesday when Abilene Christian squares off against Georgia State on ESPNU, but fans are already studying the preseason NCAA rankings and polls to determine this year’s contenders and pretenders.
The release of the Amway Coaches and the Associated Press Top 25 polls has college football fans ready for the beginning of the season, and the wait is almost over. For the hardcore fans who have been yearning for the sport all year, it’s good to finally have excitement on Saturday again.
Here are the preseason polls and full analysis of the teams to watch.
Breaking Down the Top 25
The top team in both polls is the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, and the program deserves the honor. With Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston looking to improve in his sophomore season, Florida State could be even more dangerous this season, despite losing several key players to the NFL.
The Seminoles may be the consensus No. 1 overall team in the rankings, but the Alabama Crimson Tide have crashed the party and sit at No. 2. With a long track record of success and national titles in three of the past five seasons, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will look to take advantage of the College Football Playoffs and bring another title back to Tuscaloosa.
Both the AP and Amway Coaches polls have the Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners ranked in the top four, but Oregon is No. 3 in the AP Poll and Oklahoma is No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll. While the two voting processes couldn’t agree, both teams deserve the honor of being in the top five and will have to earn the right to move up through elite play on the field.
One program in serious trouble is Ohio State. The school was considered a potential national championship contender by both rankings, but a season-ending injury to star quarterback Braxton Miller, via Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, will likely have the Buckeyes sliding out of contention within a few weeks.
While both polls have differing opinions on Ohio State and Auburn (fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll and sixth in the AP Poll), the two lists are identical from UCLA at No. 7 to Notre Dame at No. 17. The teams with the most potential in this span are the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, No. 11 Stanford Cardinal and No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers.
The two polls are very similar in the final eight positions as well. While the order is a bit different, each lists top programs such as Mississippi (No. 18 in AP and No. 19 in Amway), Texas A&M (No. 21 in AP and No. 20 in Amway) and Arizona State (No. 19 in AP and No. 18 in Amway) in its latter ranks.
The only real discrepancy is at No. 24. While the AP has Missouri there, the Amway Coaches Poll has given Texas the benefit of the doubt and slipped them in ahead of Washington.
With plenty of elite teams in the hunt to make the College Football Playoffs (and several unranked programs like the Florida Gators looking to prove doubters wrong), the 2014 season looks to be one of the most exciting in years.
*Stats via CFBStats.com.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
It's game week! After months of waiting, the 2014 college football season is only days away, which means there's just enough time for one more preseason poll to get you prepared for the year ahead.
The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.
Each voter has made their preseason rankings based on offseason observations and coverage, taking into account personnel changes, injuries and the schedules each team is set to face. Our voting team will submit new ballots at the end of each week of play, with each subsequent poll coming out not long after the final game on Saturday night (the exception being opening week, when the poll will be released after the Miami-Louisville game is over on Labor Day).
Just like the Associated Press and Amway polls, teams earn 25 points for a first-place vote down to one point for being picked 25th. The points are tallied, and then teams are ranked according to their point totals.
Scroll through to see our preseason rankings. Then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
The 2014 college football season opens this weekend, and it will start with a bang as a number of Top 25 schools will face off against elite competition.
For many powerhouse programs, Week 1 is a time to beat the snot out of a FCS team or simply schedule an overmatched opponent to ease into the season. But with strength of schedule playing a bigger role in the wake of the first College Football Playoff, some schools have opted to open up with bowl-season-like matchups.
While some of the nation's best teams will open up with an easy one, matchups like Wisconsin-LSU and Florida State-Oklahoma State mean that Week 1 will have serious championship implications.
Here's a look at all of the Top 25 matchups, with an emphasis on the games you simply cannot afford to miss.
Week 1 Schedule, Odds and Predictions
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark. Multiple game lines are still to be determined.
No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 South Carolina
If any singular game this season will make your subscription to SEC Network worth it, chances are it's the first live contest the network will ever show.
The 21st-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will open up the post-Johnny Manziel era with a doozie on the road, traveling to face Steve Spurrier's No. 9 South Carolina squad. Williams-Brice Stadium is sure to be rocking for a Thursday night affair that seemingly kicks off the college football season.
The Gamecocks have a seasoned quarterback with big-game experience in Dylan Thompson, and three straight 11-win seasons have helped the media to select South Carolina as the favorite to make its second ever SEC title game appearance.
Kenny Hill takes over the offense for the Aggies, and a deep cupboard of talent around him along with stockpiled recruiting classes have gotten Texas A&M into the Top 25 entering the season. But Manziel had to be magnificent just to keep the Aggies afloat last season, as defensive woes became a big problem in 2013.
South Carolina might be without star rusher Mike Davis as he's questionable with a rib injury, according to The State (Columbia, South Carolina). But even if Davis can't go, Thompson's command of the offense and the ability of backup Brandon Wilds will be enough to grind out a win at home—though closer than the line suggests.
Prediction: South Carolina wins, 27-20
No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia
It doesn't pack quite the punch that last year's epic encounter did, but Georgia and Clemson enter 2014 with similar expectations that will alter dramatically based on Saturday night's outcome.
After last year's 38-35 victory at home, Dabo Swinney's No. 16 Tigers will head south to Sanford Stadium to try to repeat history in a hostile environment against one of the SEC's elite.
Although Mark Richt's squad enters on the cusp of the Top 10, the Bulldogs are coming off a season to forget. An unprecedented amount of injuries helped Georgia to stall to an 8-5 record, losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl after lofty preseason expectations.
Should Georgia's offense stay healthy, it should have no problem getting back to 10 or 11 wins. Hutson Mason is a future star if his play late last year and offseason growth are any indication. Todd Gurley is among the best running backs in the nation, and a number of other speedsters who missed time last year are healthy and ready to go.
Clemson's strong defense will make up for the loss of Tajh Boyd much of the season, but the Tigers won't be able to contain Georgia's offense at the end of this one.
Prediction: Georgia wins in OT, 27-24
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
The 2014 Florida State Seminoles have boasted a "Dallas to Dallas" motto entering this season, meant to signify their aspirations of playing in the CFP championship game in Dallas and defending their national title. It will start in Dallas on Saturday, when they take on Oklahoma State in a neutral-site clash.
Jameis Winston returns to Florida State coming off his Heisman Trophy campaign a year ago, and Jimbo Fisher has plenty of offensive weapons to negate the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Devonta Freeman.
The top-ranked Seminoles only played three ranked foes in the regular season last year, and only two are on the slate entering 2014—Clemson and Notre Dame. Although it's not a ranked Cowboys team they will face, it could prove to be one of Florida State's toughest tests on the road to its title.
But even one of its toughest tests won't truly be that much of a test. Mike Gundy returns just 12 starters, two of which are kickers, and even Gundy's best repair job in 2014 won't make his Cowboys serious contenders against the champs in Week 1.
Prediction: Florida State wins, 45-13
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The Florida Gators begin their football season with what should be a painless matchup against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday. It’s your typical opening-week cupcake game that allows teams to warm up for the tough conference schedule that is soon to come.
Florida returns seven starters on both sides of the ball and hopes to be one of the more improved teams in the country, while Idaho has 15 starters returning and has nowhere to go but up after winning just one game last season.
Certainly not the flashiest game of the opening-week schedule, but it sure beats harping on last season’s failures over and over.
Let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchup.
As far as tests go, Sunday's season-opening tilt with Utah State is ideal for a Tennessee Volunteers team filled with newcomers.
Though scheduling a mid-major game against the upstart Aggies and dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate Chuckie Keeton could be considered a "no-win" situation for the Vols, it's actually just the opposite.
This game is exactly what UT needs.
It's enough of a test to where the Vols can't sleepwalk. A victory can give a growing team confidence heading into a grueling, season-long gauntlet.
Also, with Oklahoma and Georgia on the September schedule, lining up against a potentially dynamic offense will help UT prepare more than it would against a pair of cupcakes.
Keeton and his teammates may see the game as a showcase on a national stage that would help put USU on the map. But it's also a coming-out party for a group of Vols intent on erasing a miserable recent stretch of football.
"The one thing about football is it's not what they do, it's what you do," A.J. Johnson told UTSports.com's Brian Rice. "We have to come out focused and worried about us and getting the job done."
With that much inexperience thrust into key roles, UT has plenty of concerns. But there's palpable excitement, too. The practice pads are about to come off. It's finally game week.
Date: Sunday, Aug. 31
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vol Network, NewsTalk, Sirius/XM 91
Spread: Tennessee by 6.5 points, according to OddsShark.com.
The waiting and anticipation are nearly over. The 2014 college football opener is mere days away, and plenty of great matchups dot the schedule to kick off the new year.
With the new four-team playoff, the incentive for Big Five schools to schedule tough nonconference schools has only grown. Playing the Georgia Southerns and Savannah States of the world isn't going to cut it anymore.
As a result, what was arguably the best regular season in American sports gets that much better, and the margin for error is even smaller. The top teams in the country can't afford to use Week 1 to work out the kinks. If they go in with that mindset, their national title hopes will be over before they had a chance to gain steam.
The stakes couldn't be much higher this early in the season for the six teams below.
Games to Watch
Texas A&M Aggies at South Carolina Gamecocks
With all due respect to the ability of Kevin Sumlin, it's fair to say that the Texas A&M offense remains a major question mark heading into the season. You can't lose players as talented and important as Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans and not expect some drop-off.
Of course, Jadeveon Clowney is a big loss for South Carolina. Even if he struggled to find consistency in 2013, the attention he demanded from opponents' offensive lines opened up gaps for his teammates.
In total, the Gamecocks are replacing three defensive linemen and two cornerbacks on the defensive side of the ball. That's why it's imperative that Mike Davis and the South Carolina running game eat up the clock and wear down what should be an improved Aggies defense.
Texas A&M will hold its own inside Williams-Brice Stadium, but South Carolina's ability to consistently get positive on the ground will be the difference.
South Carolina 31, Texas A&M 23
Clemson Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs
Speaking of big losses on the offensive side of the ball, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd combined to throw for 6,926 yards and 60 touchdowns last year.
Clemson won this matchup 38-35 last year, but the Tigers were playing at home and had the duo of Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd threw three touchdowns, and Watkins had six receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Cole Stoudt looks like a good quarterback, but it's a bit unrealistic to expect him to weave the same kind of magic Boyd did against UGA last year.
The good news for the Tigers is that the front seven that constantly pressured Murray will be even stronger. Vic Beasley could have a Clowney-like impact for Clemson's defense.
This year's meeting shouldn't be the shootout that last year's was, with Georgia likely relying more heavily on the running game. And why not? Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against the Tigers last year.
"It's a huge challenge," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables of stopping Gurley, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier. "They know what they're doing and they do it well. They're very aggressive in how they run the football—they run it downhill. They attacked us, had us on our heels at times last year. They'll physically try to impose their will on you and they'll be very persistent about it."
Gurley and Keith Marshall will be up to the task. The real question for Georgia is whether Hutson Mason and the passing attack can divert Clemson's attention away from the running game. The absence of Malcolm Mitchell will make that task a bit more difficult.
You could make a strong argument for either team, but Georgia has home-field advantage. Couple that with the departures of Boyd and Watkins, and you get a close Bulldogs win.
Georgia 20, Clemson 17
Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers
LSU and Wisconsin are strikingly similar in terms of style. The Tigers and the Badgers will rely on their running games to cover up questionable passing attacks. Neither team is going to beat you through the air.
According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tanner McEvoy will get the start Saturday, which is arguably the tougher matchup for LSU. His mobility makes him a great fit for Wisconsin's offense and will give the Tigers another headache defensively.
Gary Andersen apparently had McEvoy's speed in mind when opting for the redshirt junior, per ESPN.com's Travis Haney:
LSU's front seven was solid if unspectacular last season, and it will have its hands full against the combination of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Few teams will run the ball better this season than Wisconsin. The Badgers have two very talented running backs and a fantastic offensive line opening holes at the point of attack.
Having Clement and Gordon should also allow McEvoy to ease into the starting role without having to do too much against what will be a tough secondary.
In terms of personnel, LSU arguably gets the edge. The Tigers simply have more talent than Wisconsin. With that said, talent doesn't always win out; otherwise, you'd never see any upsets.
The Badgers will get the surprise victory in a defensive struggle.
Wisconsin 17, LSU 13
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On Labor Day Monday, Sept. 1, the Miami Hurricanes look to redeem themselves against the Louisville Cardinals following an embarrassing finish last season.
The programs squared off in December during the Russell Athletic Bowl, where since-departed Teddy Bridgewater manhandled the 'Canes en route to a dominating 36-9 victory.
Since then, Louisville officially joined the ACC, raising the stakes for both teams as they attempt to open the year with a crucial conference victory. ESPN will carry the matchup, which is scheduled to kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Both teams have a couple keys to victory and important players to watch in what will be an exciting finale to Week 1 of the 2014 college football season.
Just one short week ago, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes were preparing for the 2014 season and a potential run at the first-ever College Football Playoff.
With a dynamic group of playmakers on offense and NFL talent across the board on defense, the Buckeyes still have the talent to compete for a Big Ten title.
Can Meyer and Ohio State bounce back from Miller's injury? Here are five bold predictions for the Buckeyes' 2014 season.
Ohio State Will Have a Top-25 Pass Defense
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Ohio State is its pass defense, which was shredded by opponents regularly during the 2013 season. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 268 passing yards per game, which ranked No. 110 out 123 teams nationally.
This season, it won't be so easy to pass on Ohio State.
The fast and aggressive defense will surge under the direction of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. With the Buckeyes abandoning their zone defense for more dynamic press coverages, opposing quarterbacks will have a much tougher time getting the ball down the field.
Doran Grant, Vonn Bell and a host of young and hungry defensive backs will fuel a Top-25 pass defense.
J.T. Barrett Will Win the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year Award
The last two quarterbacks to start as freshmen at Ohio State—Terrelle Pryor and Miller—went on to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.
J.T. Barrett will continue the trend.
After struggling this spring, Barrett has made huge strides this fall to move ahead of Cardale Jones on the depth chart. Meyer and the coaching staff have confidence in Barrett to lead the team, and even some of the Buckeyes' top defenders have high praise for the young quarterback.
“Just smart decisions, makes the hard throws, makes the easy throws, controls the offense, controls the huddle," Grant said of Barrett, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "You can tell, even when we’re speeding it up, he has everything controlled, everybody’s getting set and it’s go time.”
The Buckeyes expect Barrett to be a distributor a la Kenny Guiton, which could lead to some big numbers. That will be especially true as Barrett triggers Meyer's offense.
Noah Spence and Joey Bosa Will Combine for More Than 20 Sacks
Ohio State's defense will be anchored by two standout defensive ends in Noah Spence and Joey Bosa.
In 2014, the two will terrorize opposing quarterbacks and combine for more than 20 sacks.
Bosa and the rest of the Buckeyes' defensive line will have to operate without Spence for the first two games of the season as he finishes serving his three-game suspension.
When the rising junior returns, Ohio State's defensive front will boast three potential first-round NFL draft picks. With studs such as Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt on the interior, most teams won't be able to double Bosa and Spence.
The two big-time defensive ends will have big years for the Buckeyes.
Dontre Wilson Will Eclipse 1,100 Total Yards
Needing playmakers to step up in the wake of Miller's injury, Dontre Wilson's role in the offense will be even more pivotal for the Buckeyes.
The speedy all-purpose back out of DeSoto, Texas was used mainly as a decoy in 2013, but that will change in a big way this season. Wilson secured the starting H-Back spot in March, more commonly known as the "Percy Harvin position," so he'll see a lot of touches as the Buckeyes look for the big play.
Wilson will deliver. As a receiver in the slot who will motion into the backfield five times a game, Wilson will finish the season with more than 850 receiving yards and 250 rushing yards.
Ohio State Will Win the Big Ten
Even without Miller, Ohio State will win the Big Ten.
A tough non-conference slate will help the Buckeyes adjust without their star quarterback. Maryland and Rutgers will serve as tuneup games for Ohio State's prime-time matchup against Penn State—a game the Buckeyes will win 34-24.
The Buckeyes' only loss of the season will come against Michigan State. The Spartans will have the inside track to the Big Ten title game in the final week of the regular season, but Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions will spoil their run in Happy Valley.
Ohio State will clinch the East Division with a 31-24 victory over Michigan. A week later, Meyer will win his first Big Ten title when the Buckeyes defeat Wisconsin 28-25.
Because of its late loss, Ohio State will not be one of the four teams selected into the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes will be picked to play Georgia in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Under Charlie Strong, the Longhorns are going to be a completely different team. They will be tougher, more physical and more motivated than they have been through the past four lackluster seasons.
Fall camp is now almost entirely in the books, and the Horns come off as a running team that will lean on its front seven to do most of the work on defense. That means huge seasons for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, while making defensive end Cedric Reed a candidate to become the Defensive Player of the Year.
Strong and the fanbase would certainly be happy with those results, but the true goal is to pile up numbers in the left-hand column. To do that, the team will have to pull off an upset during the early-season gauntlet.
Strong was hired to do just that, and getting it done will be just one of his great accomplishments in his first season.
LSU head coach Les Miles is not afraid of challenges in season openers. The Tigers' matchup against powerful Wisconsin in the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff is further proof of that.
The Tigers will play a ranked, nonconference opponent at a neutral site to start the season for the fourth time in the past five years. Miles has never lost a season opener and is undefeated against ranked, nonconference opponents in the regular season.
Wisconsin's Gary Andersen had a solid first year in Madison. The Badgers went 9-4 and continued their offensive rushing prowess. But Andersen undoubtedly benefited from a below-average Big 10 and went 0-3 in games decided by one possession or less.
LSU enters 2014 ranked No. 13 and Wisconsin sits at No. 14 in the preseason AP Top 25. The evenly ranked teams will play in one of the most heavily anticipated opening-week matchups in college football.
What You Need to Know
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Place: NRG Stadium; Houston, Texas
Spread: LSU by 4.5, via Vegas Insider
Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com, LSU Sports Information, and Wisconsin Sports Information. Recruiting informations provided by 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.
Every college football game carries some level of importance for every team. But for those vying for one of the four coveted berths in the new College Football Playoff, the stakes are even higher this season. There are several Big Ten teams that are contenders in 2014, and there are a number of games that seem to loom on the 2014 schedule when it comes to possible playoff implications.
In just a few short days, the 2014 college football season gets underway. Not only are we finally getting back to honest-to-God football, but we're also entering a new era with the introduction of the College Football Playoff this season. So as teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin (as well as a few others) get geared up to make their cases to the playoff selection committee, we're going to take a look at which games on the upcoming 2014 schedule could have the biggest impact on the decision-making process.
Ohio State's national championship hopes took a hit last Tuesday when the school announced senior quarterback Braxton Miller would miss the season with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes will turn to former Elite 11 quarterback J.T. Barrett to step up for the injured Miller.
On the recruiting trail, OSU has dual-threat signal-caller Joe Burrow committed. So there isn't a reason to panic when looking toward the future of the program. The 3-star is an in-state prospect that put up PlayStation type numbers to the tune of 3,732 yards passing and 47 touchdowns to go with 589 yards rushing and nine more scores as a junior.
Burrow is a talented athlete, but Ohio State will continue to actively recruit 4-star athlete Torrance Gibson. Gibson is one of the most athletically gifted prospects in the Class of 2014. He is dangerous when plays break down, and he has to improvise. This summer he took part in the Elite 11 Finals in Beaverton, Oregon, and he seems to be serious about improving as a passer.
On Sunday afternoon, Gibson completed 7-of-11 pass attempts for 298 yards and five touchdowns in his team's 49-23 rout of Palm Beach Gardens (Florida) Dwyer in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Head coach Urban Meyer and Gibson could be a lethal combo in the Big Ten for years to come. The 6'4", 200-pound lefty from Plantation (Florida) American Heritage School has similar ability to former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL first-round pick Tim Tebow. Gibson will be in Columbus for the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game on September 6. Expect his visit to get the red carpet treatment.
When asked what Gibson plans to take from the visit, he told me following his game: "I want to go up there and have a good time with all of the recruits. The last time I was there, I liked it. I'll get a chance to see Braxton. He is real cool and we have a good bond. We joked a lot when I was up there last time. I look up to him, and we have the same ability on the field, so there's a connection."
Gibson said Arizona and Oklahoma were in his top three. Both schools want him at quarterback, and that is the only position he wants to play at the next level. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him as a 55 percent lock to Ohio State.
Gibson added, "Ohio State is my clear leader. I like the offense they run, I really like everything. I know it's cold, but it's cold in the NFL too. The most important thing is they want me a quarterback, not athlete."
The 4-star field general said Ohio State is his only planned official visit. Without trips set up to Norman or Tucson, it's safe to say the Crystal Ball could be changed to 100 percent before his announced commitment date of October 20.
5-star Cornerback Kendall Sheffield Schedules Unofficial Visit
Standout cornerback Kendall Sheffield out of Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall is heading to Arlington, Texas, this weekend for the Top 15 matchup of Wisconsin-LSU. Sheffield will be on hand to watch the Bayou Bengals. Although he doesn't have a top five, Sheffield is considering the Tigers along with Alabama and Texas A&M.
Sheffield told me, "LSU offered me when I was in 10th grade. I have a good relationship with secondary coach Corey Raymond. I went to LSU's camp and their spring game. Plus my favorite cornerback is Patrick Peterson. Coach Raymond reminds me of that too."
Earlier this month, Sheffield attended a scrimmage in College Station. He told 247Sports Recruiting Insider Brian Perroni (subscription required) he liked what he saw, putting the Aggies in good shape with Alabama firmly in the picture.
"I've been building a great relationship with Coach McKinney. I feel very comfortable with Texas A&M and their staff," explained Sheffield. "My family likes that it's close to home, but there isn't any pressure to stay close to home."
Sheffield affirmed that everyone is even at this time. Track is a big part of Sheffield's recruitment, similar to Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown in the Class of 2014, who both signed with Alabama, respectively. Sheffield is a state champion in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. "Track is important to me, but at the end of the day I'm going to college as a football player," Sheffield noted to Bleacher Report.
The fleet-footed corner plans to announce at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando.
Auburn Going After a Pair of 5-stars from Florida
The Tigers kick off SEC play on Saturday against Arkansas. Auburn will be without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, who is suspended for the regular-season opener. Currently, War Eagle sits comfortably at No. 9 in the 247Sports team rankings. Auburn may be making a move on 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey, according to 247Sports Recruiting Insider Keith Niebuhr.
I spoke to Ivey's head coach, Rick Darlington of Apopka (Florida), over the weekend, and he feels Auburn and Florida are neck and neck. "Right now those are the top two. Someone will have to make a great run to get ahead of those two," stated Darlington. "I'm not saying he couldn't go somewhere else either. I know LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes loves him. Alabama and Florida State are in his top five, and everyone wants to go to those places. He wears Nebraska shirts when he works out. With Auburn, they have done a great job building relationships with Tez. Florida has a new staff in there, but they are a good program too."
Ivey is the prototypical tackle prospect, but the thing that stands out is his ability to learn and grow on and off the field, according to Darlington.
"Tez is playing strong guard for us right now because that's where we need him to win," boasted Darlington. "He has grown as a player, but what I'm most proud of is the work he puts in. He doesn't miss a rep in practice and is first in sprints. This summer he was invited to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour in Baltimore. He missed it because he chose to go the Bahamas to play soccer with orphans. That's the kind of person he is."
Auburn is also looking to make a big impression on 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II this weekend. Toliver is taking an official visit to The Plains on Friday. The Tigers are hoping a strong showing could give the LSU recruit something to think about. Toliver's teammate Jeffery Holland is high on Auburn and Florida. If they can somehow flip Toliver, expect Holland to follow.
U.S. Army All-American Tarvarus McFadden Keeping It Close to Vest
Over the summer, Plantation (Florida) American Heritage cover man Tarvarus McFadden was busy with trips to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour and The Opening. His recruitment was put on the back burner a bit. Now that the season has kicked off, McFadden is having a tough time trimming his options down.
The 6'3", 198-pounder told Bleacher Report following his game on Sunday, "I don't really have a top five. The schools that I'm considering are Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and UCF. I may go up to Ohio State for an official visit on September 6 with Torrance, but I haven't set up anything."
McFadden took an unofficial visit to Florida State over the summer, and he enjoyed his trip to Tallahassee. "It was a great visit. I really enjoyed it a lot," said McFadden. "I talk to Coach (Sal) Sunseri, Coach (Charles) Kelly and Coach (Bill) Miller. Really I talk to all of them."
So what if Gibson commits to Ohio State? Will that help the Buckeyes?
"We've joked about it from time to time. However, only will time tell," remarked McFadden. "Right now I don't have a decision date, but I want to do it soon. I can't keep waiting."
Speedy Flanker Christian Kirk Talks Top Six
Earlier this month, Scottsdale (Arizona) Saguaro split end Christian Kirk took to Twitter to announce his top six of Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas A&M, UCLA and USC. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has the Aggies trending, with a 74 percent chance he commits to A&M.
Kirk said he doesn't have a leader and everyone is even. When asked if he feels better about a certain staff or campus, he said: "Right now I feel comfortable with all the staff members at the schools in my top six. Same with the campuses. I'm deciding in late November or early December. The biggest factor in my decision is offensive scheme and how I fit in."
I like the fit for Kirk at A&M in its wide-open spread passing attack. He is the ideal slot receiver with superb lateral cutting ability and soft hands. If Kirk opts for College Station, he could team up with fellow Arizona natives Kyle Allen and defensive end Qualen Cunningham. Allen is the second-team quarterback, and a future Kirk-to-Allen pitch-and-catch battery could be the next Manziel-to-Mike Evans combo at Kyle Field.
Does the appeal of playing with a highly touted quarterback like Allen appeal to him, or is there family pressure to stay closer to home?
He told me emphatically, "My family hasn't pressured at all. With Allen being at A&M, it doesn't necessarily help them. However, he's a great QB, so it's just a bonus that he is a good friend of mine."
Clemson vs. Georgia Recruiting Impact
On Saturday, Clemson and Georgia will meet in Athens for a marquee SEC vs. ACC contest. The game will be a big one for college football fans, but the ramifications in recruiting may be bigger.
Clemson has always recruited Georgia well, and this year is no different. Suwanee (Georgia) North Gwinnett offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt is the headliner of the Tigers class. Clemson also has pledges from Peach State standouts Austin Bryant, Shadell Bell and Zach Giella.
Ryan Bartow of 247Sports says a Georgia win could help slow the Tigers, but not by much because of the value Clemson has placed on recruiting the state.
"A Georgia win could help with a guy like Albert Huggins. Huggins grew up a big fan of Georgia, but he has only been there once," noted Bartow to Bleacher Report. "He has been to Clemson several times, and it seems like everyone around him wants him to go to Clemson."
Head coach Dabo Swinney has made the state of Georgia a priority for his staff. Swinney has made a strong effort to lay pipeline in the fertile ground of the state.
"Clemson has always had success in Georgia. They always should too. Clemson is only 20 miles from the Georgia border. What they've done since Jeff Scott took over as the recruiting coordinator is put four coaches in the Atlanta era," added Bartow.
"(Brent) Venables has Cobb County. Mike Reed has Fulton County. Marion Hobby has DeKalb County and Tony Elliott has Gwinnett County," Bartow continued. "They also have Robbie Caldwell covering Middle Georgia. Danny Pearman has Valdosta and southwest Georgia, and Scott has southeast Georgia. So in total, [they have] seven coaches dedicated to the area. They treat it like it's in-state, and they need to do that. Georgia is the fourth biggest producer of Division I talent."
Huggins is down to Clemson and Georgia. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him 92 percent leaning toward Clemson. Georgia is hoping to reverse the trend on Huggins and make a push with a win over Clemson to start the season.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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Following a battle that stretched throughout the last several months, true freshman Brad Kaaya has been named the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes. Kaaya beat out senior transfer Jake Heaps for the position.
Miami coach Al Golden spoke about the decision to put Kaaya under center for the season opener, per the Associated Press (via ESPN):
As I told him, he's our quarterback. He's not a freshman quarterback. He's the University of Miami quarterback. [...]
It was a tight battle. It was a battle that none of us could have foresaw at the end of June or the beginning of July or maybe even the beginning of camp. I'm excited about that position. ... But right now, Brad nudged out Jake, and he's our quarterback.
Kaaya came to Miami as a 4-star prospect and the seventh-best pro-style quarterback in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and he immediately made an impact. The West Hills, California, native arrived on campus in May and took over the starting position in that length of time.
In the final season of his high school career, Kaaya registered 3,853 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, six interceptions and a rushing score. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports offers his take on the freshman:
The decision might come as a surprise with Golden even admitting no one could have foreseen this conclusion. But after a strong showing in camp, a lot will be expected of the young signal-caller.
As for Kaaya's actual opponent for the season opener, he will have to take on Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in their first game as an ACC program. With the matchup coming on Monday, Sept. 1, all eyes will be on Kaaya to see how he responds.
If Kaaya can get past the Cardinals, he will have a few weaker opponents in Florida A&M and Arkansas State, both home games for Miami. But with Nebraska and a tough slate against programs like North Carolina, Duke and Florida State on the schedule, Kaaya's job will not be easy.
After finishing 9-4 last season, Kaaya takes over for a program that is trending in the right direction. But in order to keep that trend going, the Canes will have to rely on the young quarterback to shine after the departure of Stephen Morris.
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The Texas A&M football team will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, on August 28 to take on the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Aggies and Gamecocks will play a close game that will be decided in the fourth quarter.
The season-opening meeting between Texas A&M and South Carolina will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Aggies enter the game ranked No. 21 and looking to improve on their 9-4 record in 2013.
This will be the first game ever televised on the SEC Network. The contest has major implications on the SEC title race as neither team can afford to start off conference play at 0-1.
Both teams will be attempting to replace program-defining stars from their 2013 squad. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were both selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
A national television audience will get to watch two Top 25 teams square off in a game that will help shape the 2014 SEC race. This is a look at how the two teams match up with each other.