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Miami Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The countdown to the 2014 regular season is dwindling, and the Miami Hurricanes are preparing to take the field on Sept. 1 against new conference foe Louisville.

Blood pressure rising, excitement building and game-by-game predictions forthcoming.

As the 'Canes continue to work through a quarterback battle, now narrowed to a transfer and true freshman, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers lead a high-ceiling, low-floor Miami roster.

The following are based on the current health status of all involved teams, which is subject to change at any moment. But that doesn't mean we can't take a shot at the predictions.

Because football is great. Any disagreement? No? OK. Onward!

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Ohio State Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The Ohio State football team is gearing up for another national title run, but with the inaugural College Football Playoff on the horizon, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will be navigating a much tougher schedule in 2014.

The realigned Big Ten divisions have given Ohio State a loaded league slate, and a tougher nonconference lineup will challenge the Buckeyes early.

Can Ohio State put together its third consecutive undefeated regular season? 

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Big Ten Football: Every Team's Biggest Trap Game for the 2014 Season

It was almost exactly seven years ago that Michigan, then the No. 5 team in the nation, fell victim to one of the biggest trap games ever: a Week 1 visit from FCS Appalachian State. Even the best the Big Ten has to offer can succumb to pretty apparent traps from time to time.  

Could it happen again in 2014?

Michigan is no longer a top-five team, and Appalachian State is no longer an FCS program, as the Mountaineers move to the FBS as a member of the Sun Belt this season. Still, there are enough pitfalls on the schedule all throughout the Big Ten to make any coach wary of early predictions for conference titles or College Football Playoff berths.

It's safe to say that there are games, like the Mountaineers' second visit to the Big House in a couple of short weeks, that won't be sneaking up on anyone.

But where are the quagmires for 2014?  

Let's hone our Jedi senses as we sniff out the trap game of 2014 for each Big Ten team.

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The 6 Most Overrated College Football Teams in the 2014 Preseason AP Poll

In the grand scheme of things, preseason rankings in college football are quite meaningless. Even more than in years past, where a team is ranked (or not ranked) to begin the season has almost no bearing on its spot in the polls or standings when the year is over.

The College Football Playoff has rendered such polls almost moot, since the selection committee charged with picking teams for the first-ever four-team tournament will use its own rankings based on data completely unrelated to how FBS coaches or national media members catalog the country's best teams.

But that still doesn't mean such polls don't have a place in today's game. They're a great source of discussion and debate, as anyone who checked in on Twitter in the hours after The Associated Press unveiled its initial poll can testify to. Outside of defending champ Florida State at No. 1, it was hard to find a consensus that agreed any other team was completely worthy of its ranking.

In many cases, a team earned a preseason ranking that seems far higher than it deserves based on how it performed in 2013, the quality of the starters it has returning and how good its newcomers are expected to be. Off-the-field conditions may also impact how the 2014 season will go, and if those factors aren't taken into consideration a team can end up with the dreaded "overrated" label.

Looking at the AP preseason Top 25, here are seven teams who fit that description (listed alphabetically).

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Texas Football: Meet Texas' New Starters for 2014

The Longhorns have to replace seven departed starters from the 2013 roster. Past the midway point of fall camp, the leaders to fill those spots are pretty apparent.

Charlie Strong must replace two starters along the offensive line, leading receiver Mike Davis, safety Adrian Phillips and All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Additionally, he must address the spots he opened up when he dismissed receiver Kendall Sanders and suspended safety Josh Turner.

Strong's work is cut out for him, but he does have some decent experience to pull from. Linemen Kent Perkins and Sedrick Flowers each have a start under their belts along with some steady reserve action. Receiver Marcus Johnson is also a no-brainer after making a few starts as a sophomore.

The rest are entering new territory, playing positions that must produce on a weekly basis. 

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LSU Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

LSU begins its 10th season under Les Miles in 13 days, yet it seems as if it was just yesterday when he took over the Tigers for the departed Nick Saban.

Time flies when you're having fun. In the SEC, where football means everything, winning equates to fun.

In nine years under Miles, the Tigers' 95 wins are eight more than any other SEC program. LSU's nine Top 25 finishes are more than any other SEC program in the same span.

LSU has accumulated at least 10 wins in each of the past four seasons. However, that streak can easily be snapped as the young Bayou Bengals have a brutal schedule ahead of them.

The Tigers were ranked No. 13 in the preseason AP poll released Saturday. But rankings can mean little. If LSU can avoid losing two games this season, it will be in the mix for one of the four playoff spots.

Here is a preview of how the Tigers will fare in the 2014.

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College Football Preseason Rankings 2014: Comparing AP and Amway Coaches Top 25

With Sunday's release of the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll, we now have rankings from the media and from coaches (the Amway poll, which came out July 31) that give us an idea of which teams to expect to be this season's best.

They also give us plenty of room for debate, because while the No. 1 team is the same in both polls, there are plenty of differences. That's not surprising, considering the different voting blocs as well as the fact that the rankings came out 17 days apart.

While preseason polls are always speculative, the Amway came out before the start of training camp, and the AP debuted midway through fall practice and had the benefit of more current information—both positive and negative—to influence rankings.

Still, voters in both polls agreed on 24 of the same teams to rank among the top 25 to start the season, with 16 of those falling in the same spot in each ranking. Defending national champion Florida State opens atop both polls, collecting a combined 113 of 122 total first-place votes, Alabama is the No. 2 team in each poll.

Now that the polls are out, it's time to compare and contrast them to see where they match and where they diverge, while also speculating as to why discrepancies exist.

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We Remember: Charles Woodson Snags 1-Handed Interception vs. Michigan State

Charles Woodson has had an incredibly successful football career, both in college and in the NFL, but this might have been one of the best plays of his career.

During his junior season in 1997, Woodson made this incredible one-handed interception while getting a foot in bounds against the Michigan State Spartans.

Woodson finished the game with two interceptions and eight for the season, going on to win the Heisman Trophy.

[YouTube]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Houston Cougars' High Hopes Hinge on Sophomore Quarterback John O'Korn

At a school made famous by high-flying offenses and prolific passing attacks, John O’Korn made the grade during his freshman season at the University of Houston.

O’Korn, a late-blooming but ultimately highly touted quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, chose Houston over home-state schools Central Florida and South Florida, as well as traditional power conference programs like Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisville, to play for second-year head coach Tony Levine.

After taking over for the concussion-plagued David Piland last season, O’Korn helped lead the Cougars to a winning season and a bowl game appearance. Houston finished 8-5 in 2013 after suffering a 41-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Expected by most to limp near .500 for the season, the Cougars rode O’Korn’s long-range passing ability, the playmaking capabilities of superstar wide receiver Deontay Greenberry and an absurdly larcenous defense to finish 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference.

Houston lost all four regular-season games by a total of 20 points, including heart-wrenching defeats against BYU (47-46) and eventual conference champion Central Florida (19-14), in which Houston had possession of the ball in the waning moments of the game. Improved play at quarterback should help the team turn close losses into wins.

O’Korn told the Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte that he’s miles ahead of where he was last year, something Cougar fans are anxious to see play out over the course of the new season:

This point last year, I didn't really know any of the plays. I had never stepped foot on the field in a college game. Just really the experience that came from last year is something that will carry me through this year and the rest of my career here.

According to Duarte, Houston’s offensive coordinator, Travis Bush, concurs.

"He doesn't walk around here like a high school kid anymore,” said Bush. “He looks like a college quarterback and acts like a college quarterback. You can see the confidence."

O’Korn wasn’t your typical true freshman quarterback. The strong-armed athlete did not come into the college game with a myriad of experience as a starting quarterback. In fact, Levine offered O’Korn a scholarship before he started a game at Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas.

Still, he managed to earn the AAC’s Rookie of the Year award. He passed for 28 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards playing on mostly talent and gumption.

O’Korn told the Orlando Sentinel’s Matt Murschel that he expected to be an improved quarterback this season in almost every way:

I really don’t think I can pick out one thing. There’s just so many different things. Going into the season, I really didn’t know a whole lot. I just went out there and played and just learned as I played. I made a lot of mistakes, but when the same situations came around, I felt like I improved and I didn’t make the same mistakes. Really, I couldn’t pick out one thing, there is so much I learned and I learn now from going back and watching the film. … I just feel like I’m getting better every day.

Houston returns 19 starters this season, and it isn’t hard to imagine O’Korn leading one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Greenberry, a talented receiver, averaged over 100 yards per game, while Markeith Ambles and Greg Ward should provide O’Korn with other ways to move the ball down the field.

The Cougars also return their top two rushers from last season, Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow.

O’Korn told Duarte that he hopes to move the ball down the field faster and spread it around more:

I think you're going to see a lot faster, up-tempo offense where we spread the ball around more. We have so many weapons; it's just really ridiculous how many good players we have on this team and how many different things we can do. It definitely makes my job easier.

Meanwhile, Houston’s defense should help keep the Coogs in contention, even if the offense stalls at times. Houston returns 10 starters from a defense that led the nation in creating turnovers last season.

The Cougars are a dark-horse candidate to win the conference behind Cincinnati and returning champion Central Florida, according to the AAC preseason media poll. But with O’Korn a year older, the Cougars’ revved-up offense might just take them all the way to the top spot.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The Texas A&M football team will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2014. The Aggies have enough talent on their roster to finish the regular season with a 9-3 record.

The Aggies will play nine 2013 bowl teams this season. In addition to the typical gauntlet that makes up the West division of the SEC, the Aggies will face South Carolina and Missouri from the East. The Gamecocks and Tigers won 23 games combined in 2013.

Texas A&M will also face Rice in its nonconference schedule. Rice won 10 games in 2013. The Aggies will need to have another strong offense and great improvement from their defense if they want to win nine or more games against their 2014 schedule.

This is a final game-by-game look at how their season should go in 2014.  

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Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong Takes Longhorns Bowling in Place of Practice

The Texas Longhorns have had a long offseason of practices, so head coach Charlie Strong decided to give his players a break.

On Sunday, Strong made the announcement to the players that instead of practice, they'd be going bowling. Of course, the players got quite excited about the change of plans.

[YouTube, h/t Reddit]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Winners and Losers from AP Poll

USA Today released its preseason Amway Coaches Poll three weeks ago. Now, it's time to get angry at the voting media, which is clearly underrating your team and an obvious fan for that cheating rival team, in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll

It's no surprise that Florida State, the reigning national champion, is the preseason No. 1 team. The Seminoles simply have too much talent returning not to be an early favorite to go wire-to-wire in the first College Football Playoff season. Consider them the first "winner," if you will, before the season starts. 

The entire AP Top 25 is listed below (first-place votes are in parenthesis):

1. Florida State (57)
2. Alabama (1)
3. Oregon (1)
4. Oklahoma (1)
5. Ohio State
6. Auburn
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. Ole Miss
19. Arizona State
20. Kansas State
21. Texas A&M
22. Nebraska
23. North Carolina
24. Missouri
25. Washington

Who are some other winners and losers from Sunday's AP poll? The answers are in the following slides. And, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy tweets: Don't like the preseason Top 25? Don't worry, as it is guaranteed to look quite different by year's end.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Examining the Landscape of Early Top 25 Polls

Who might knock Florida State off the college football summit this year? The 2014 preseason polls shed a little bit of light on who may topple the reigning national champions.

2013 couldn't have gone much better for the Seminoles. Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, and the program won its first national title since 1999. With so many players back from last year's team, FSU sits atop both the coaches and AP polls, receiving all but nine out of a possible 122 first-place votes.

Despite being the prohibitive early favorites to repeat as champions, the Seminoles will have plenty of competition this year. Alabama, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State are all lurking lower down the polls.

You can view both preseason polls here, courtesy of ESPN.com.

Three of the teams mentioned below have arguably the strongest chances of usurping Florida State as the king of college football. They're not necessarily the best teams overall, but they've got the pieces to make the national championship in addition to a schedule that should allow them to make the final playoff.

The other two might not be title contenders, but they should play above expectations in 2014.

 

Contenders to Dethrone FSU

Oklahoma—No. 3 in Coaches Poll, No. 4 in AP Poll

Oklahoma is loaded across the board. The Sooners don't have one major area of weakness. The 2014 Sugar Bowl was a taste of what this team is capable of.

Then you throw in the possibility of Dorial Green-Beckham added to the passing game. According to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler, the school has filed Green-Beckham's eligibility waiver. The former Missouri Tiger made a major jump in his sophomore season, and it's realistic to expect that he'd continue improving in year three.

However, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report thinks that the Sooners are national title contenders even without DGB in the fold:

The schedule also works out well for OU. It gets Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all at home. Also, without a conference title game, the team has one less opportunity to falter before the four-team playoff.

 

Oregon—No. 4 in Coaches Poll, No. 3 in AP Poll

With Marcus Mariota under center and the combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in the backfield, Oregon's offense is among the best in the nation. As it seems with every year, scoring points won't be a problem for the Ducks.

You need only to look back on Florida State last year to see how much a great quarterback can lift an entire team. The Seminoles are obviously very balanced, but Winston was the difference between winning the conference and winning a national title.

Mariota is a strong contender to win the Heisman Trophy, and B/R's Matt Miller thinks he is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft:

The Ducks defense isn't what you'd consider to be elite, but their offense alone will be enough to win games.

As Grantland's Holly Anderson wrote, though, Oregon's path to the College Football Playoff won't be easy:

Back to the notion of “underachieving” for a minute: Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal.

We'll know fairly early what Oregon's ceiling is, with Michigan State in its second game and UCLA on the road in Game 6. If the Ducks pass those two tests, any doubts about their credentials will be put to rest. Stanford has been a bogey team in the past, but with the Cardinal making the trip to Eugene, Oregon will be considered the favorite for that one.

 

Ohio State—No. 6 in Coaches Poll, No. 5 in AP Poll

Many will likely scoff at the notion of Ohio State as a national title contender. But the biggest difference between the Buckeyes and Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU is that they don't have to navigate through the SEC.

If OSU wins the Big Ten, then it will make the final playoff. From there, anything can happen.

The Big Ten East will likely be decided in East Lansing when Ohio State meets Michigan State on Nov. 8. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes in last year's Big Ten title game and have enough coming back to win the conference again.

The biggest worry you have for Ohio State is the secondary. It wasn't an area of strength last year, and Doran Grant is the only player back this year. Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and Armani Reeves will all have to step up.

Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in the country, and in Braxton Miller, the Bucks have the kind of quarterback who can lift the entire team. Don't discount OSU too early.

 

Sleepers on the Rise

USC Trojans—No. 15 in Coaches Poll and AP Poll

USC hasn't struggled in recent years for a lack of talent. Between the sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush scandal and the incompetence of Lane Kiffin as a head coach, the Trojans have had too many obstacles to overcome.

But now they have a solid coach in Steve Sarkisian, and the NCAA cloud is beginning to lift over the Coliseum.

Offensively, USC was in the bottom half of the conference, finishing eighth in net yardage. That should change in 2014 as Cody Kessler improves. Javorius Allen is also one of the best running backs in the Pac-12.

Defensively, the Trojans have three studs in defensive end Leonard Williams, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su'a Cravens. This unit is good enough to win the conference.

USC does have to play Stanford and UCLA on the road, but it avoids Oregon and gets Arizona State at home.

 

Texas Longhorns—No. 24 in Coaches Poll, Unranked in AP Poll

As much as Mack Brown has meant for the Texas football program, Charlie Strong arguably puts the Longhorns in a better position to win in 2014. He's a great head coach and should get the best out of an underperforming team.

Strong did make sure to measure expectations for the upcoming season.

"We have everything available, and I don’t know why we can’t be successful," he said, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "There’s no reason for us not to be. Now, I can’t tell you how soon it’s going to be. Don’t hold me to that. Don’t say, ‘Ooh, coach said next year we’ll be in the national…’ We will not be in the national championship game."

While the Longhorns shouldn't be considered national title contenders, they've certainly got enough to remain near the top of the Big 12 and sneak into the Top 10.

Much will hinge on the performance of David Ash. The defense should pull its own weight, but if Ash doesn't take a step forward in his development, Texas will hover around eight or nine wins again.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP Preseason Poll 2014: Complete College Football Rankings Released

Florida State will begin the 2014 season right where it left off: perched atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

The Seminoles received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the media-released rankings on Sunday, further confirming the defending national champions' status as preseason favorites.   

Led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Florida State was considered a near lock to come into 2014 the No. 1 team in the country. Winston and Co. already received 56 of 62 first-place votes in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.  

Going back to last season, the Seminoles have been atop both major collegiate polls the last four weeks. Alabama, which abdicated its throne to Florida State last season, comes in at No. 2. Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State round out the Top Five.

"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," Jimbo Fisher told Tess Quinlan of USA Today last month. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."

Neither the Associated Press nor Coaches polls are used in the new College Football Playoff system. Florida State defeated Auburn in the final iteration of the BCS National Championship Game last season. A committee of 13 people will begin releasing a weekly poll that will eventually determine the four teams given the opportunity to play for the title.

Florida State, which opens its championship defense Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State, is between a 4-1 and 11-2 favorite to repeat, per OddsShark.com. The Seminoles return more than half of their starters on both sides of the ball and have elite-level players to replace the departed.

Winston, who became the second consecutive freshman to take the Heisman, returns as a potential No. 1 pick after an offseason of turmoil. In May, video of Winston stealing crab legs from a Publix grocery store leaked on the Internet. He has also become something of a replacement for Johnny Manziel as the face of college football.

"I've matured, and I understand what it really takes to be a leader," Winston told reporters last month. "When you're out there and everyone's saying the spotlight is on you, you have to be very careful with everything you do and I feel like I'm doing a better job of that."

Meanwhile, the nation's other top-ranked team is attempting to find a replacement for its star quarterback. AJ McCarron's graduation leaves Nick Saban with question marks under center for the first time in three seasons. McCarron, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, went 36-4 as a starter and led the Crimson Tide to two national championships.

Junior Jacob Coker and senior Blake Sims are currently competing for the starting job. Coker, a Florida State transfer, is considered the favorite.

Alabama is working overall from a state of rebuilding. Only 12 starters return from last season's Sugar Bowl-losing squad, though Saban is never lacking for star power. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry may be the nation's best one-two punch at running back, while defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson should be in store for a breakout year.

"I would say the No. 1 thing would be inconsistency in performance," Saban told reporters of where his team needs to improve. "There were a lot of good things, but it wasn't all the time. And consistency in performance sort of defines success, so that's what we strive for. That's what we try to get guys to do."

Alabama and Auburn lead yet another stellar group of SEC teams. Eight SEC teams open the season with a number by their name, with five coming in the Top 13. South Carolina, LSU and Georgia are all expected to compete on that second plane of SEC competition—good enough to beat any team but not consistent enough to make a title run.

Rounding out the SEC's teams are Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies will attempt to replace Manziel with sophomore Kenny Hill, who won a quarterback battle with touted freshman Kyle Allen. 

From a conference perspective, it should also be unsurprising to see the west nearly besting the south. The Pac-12 comes into 2014 with a stellar group of six ranked squads, highlighted by another strong Oregon core. The Ducks, in the second year of the post-Chip Kelly era, were considered a title favorite last season before injuries and a late collapse jettisoned them to the Alamo Bowl.

More will be expected this season, with Heisman contender Marcus Mariota returning to full health. Oregon's biggest competition should come from a burgeoning UCLA program. Quarterback Brett Hundley returns and brings with him a talented supporting cast, highlighted by all-everything freshman Myles Jack. Stanford, USC, Arizona State and Washington round out the cast. 

The Big Ten has four teams, while the ACC and Big 12 tie with three. Oklahoma and Ohio State arguably round out the preseason favorites in the title picture, with each boasting a solid all-around squad led by returning stars. 

Among non-major conference teams, well, there's not a whole lot to be proud of unless you want to count Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the only team not in a power conference who received enough votes to make the Top 25. 

Given the recent history of major bowl crashers, that will probably look silly by the end of the season. But as it stands, the Power Five continues to reign supreme. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Early Predictions After AP Preseason Poll Release

The hunger for a new season of college football hits a boiling point this time of year when the Associated Press preseason poll goes out to the public, but things are even more wild this year in particular thanks to the inaugural college football playoff.

Of course, the poll is controversial in some ways. It also sheds light on how those in the know feel about each of the nation's top teams in regards to the playoff.

The playoff itself is as elusive as it sounds. Four programs get in after a season that is as critical as those in year's past. This leaves the window open for Cinderellas to finally enter the national-championship picture, further showcasing the growing parity of the sport as a whole.

Below, let's take a look at the official poll and identify those teams that will survive the rough waters of the season to enter the playoff.

 

2014 AP Preseason Poll

 

Inaugural College Football Playoff Participants

Florida State

Shocking, right?

Really, what's not to like about the Seminoles? Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back in the fold with a year of experience under his belt, which does much to negate the loss of household names such as Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin.

An elite quarterback trumps all in the realm of collegiate football and Winston is doing nothing short of dedicating himself to another year of improvement, as College GameDay captures on Twitter: 

It helps that Winston is flanked by an elite defensive unit that ranked first in points allowed (12.1). Led by elite end Mario Edwards Jr., the Seminoles are sure to flirt with the top slot in that area once more.

Offensive tackle Cameron Erving sang Edwards' praises, and it helps to explain why NFL scouts are all over him:

"I'm not going to see a defensive end in a game that has his size and his speed," the offensive lineman said, per Natalie Pierre of Tennessee.com. "They'll either have his speed or his size. There's not going to be many guys I go against, until I go to the next level, that can even come close to how athletic and powerful that guy is."

There are two requirements for a national-title contender—an elite defensive line and a great player under center.

Suffice it to say, the Seminoles have both.

 

Alabama

The beat goes on for Alabama. 

On one hand, there is a lot of drama surrounding Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. On the other, it certainly seems like a lot of folks want to see the dynasty end and are quick to blow things out of proportion.

Take the quarterback battle between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims, for example. With AJ McCarron gone, Saban has a competition on his hands. Were this any other team, the whole "competition brings out the best in both players" narrative would ring true.

Instead, a wealth of info that has come out says the ordeal is having a negative impact on the team. Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides one such report:

The bottom line is: Until the ship actually sinks, let's not count out the Crimson Tide.

No matter who wins the gig under center, they get matchups with West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to get their wits about them to start the season. They should also have two elite backs (T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry) and one of the nation's top receivers (Amari Cooper) to lean on.

Really, an SEC title is not out of the question as long as Saban's team can get past LSU and Auburn.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks were a bit of a wild card, but the AP got this one just right.

Marcus Mariota is back for this very reason, a factoid that should strike fear into opposing fanbases around the nation.

One year after being a serious Heisman contender thanks to 3,665 passing yards and 31 touchdowns to four interceptions, Mariota will be back under center to orchestrate what is sure to be one of the country's most prolific offenses yet again—even sans De'Anthony Thomas.

Don't believe in the Mariota hype? Just ask Bleacher Report's Matt Miller what he thinks:

...Mariota is light-years ahead of where Kaepernick was at Nevada as a passer and has a much cleaner passing motion.

The Kaepernick comparison in terms of style is fitting, but Mariota's mechanics and pocket vision are more similar to those of Roethlisberger.

Mariota may be a hybrid of the two, as he's a special player with undeniable double-threat tools.

As long as he can stay healthy, Mariota will help the Ducks to run roughshod on the Pac-12. It follows similar logic to Alabama's reign of terror—until defenses can consistently slow down the Ducks' offense, there is little reason to believe it is going to happen.

Keep in mind that Oregon will not dance with USC or Arizona State this year. The path to the playoff is quite favorable.

 

Michigan State

There is nothing quite like a little disrespect to motivate a team, no?

All Michigan State did last season was run up a 13-2 record, an undefeated mark in the Big Ten and win the Rose Bowl.

Look, the Spartans lack flair. A team that loves to pound the rock and play elite defense is boring. But if the approach wins football games, it just does.

Many will point out that the defense may be weaker without corner Darqueze Dennard, but the unit is perennially one of the best, which suggests Mark Dantonio knows how to best utilize the talents on his roster.

Much hinges on quarterback Connor Cook, but as ESPN CollegeFootball points out, he improved with each repetition last season:

By most accounts, Cook has continued to travel on that upward trajectory this preseason.

A competent offense would be a nice change for the Spartans, who are already sure to have a sound defense under the watchful eye of Dantonio. In tandem, it will be enough to get Michigan State into the top four by season's end.

 

Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Analyzing Initial Top 25 Poll

After months of anticipation, the first 2014 Associated Press college football rankings list has been announced. Much like the end of 2013, Florida State's run atop the poll continues ahead of this season.

The Seminoles took the top position on the heels of winning a national championship and finishing 14-0 last year. After receiving all 60 first-place votes to close out last year, the Noles earned 57 in the initial poll for the 2014 season.

One thing FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said his team is not dealing with is pressure to perform. Fisher spoke about his team's mentality coming into the season, per Tess Quinlan of USA Today:

"There is no added pressure," Fisher said. "Our goal every year is to win the national championship. That's why we're at Florida State."

Rounding out the Top Five after FSU is a slew of programs looking to steal the crown. Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma all earned one first-place vote, but each still sit more than 100 points away from the reigning champs.

With the first-ever College Football Playoff now deciding the best team, the fight begins soon to decide which four schools will make it. Here's a look at the AP preseason college football rankings and analysis ahead of 2014.

* Full breakdown of rankings can be found here.

 

Breakdown of Top Programs

Was there ever any question who would top the initial AP poll? Reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston returns as the favorite for the award again, per OddsShark.com, and retains hopes for another title.

Not only did the Seminoles finish last season undefeated, but they also have quite a stretch of wins from 2012. ESPN Stats & Info provides a look at FSU's streak:

But the offseason certainly hasn't come without adversity for the program. Winston made headlines and was suspended from the baseball team for shoplifting crab legs, but he still comes into the season under center for the No. 1 team in the country and has a very bright outlook.

Recently, more issues have occurred in Tallahassee, though, as one of Winston's receivers will not be playing during the 2014 season. Sophomore Isaiah Jones was ruled academically ineligible and won't suit up for FSU.

After the loss of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw on offense, the need for breakout weapons is high. But as Powell Latimer of Rivals notes, Jones might not have been a presence offensively prior to being ineligible:

Moving on from the Seminoles, two programs that come in with optimism are none other than Alabama and Oregon. The two powers of the SEC and Pac-12, respectively, could be looking at special seasons despite being behind FSU in the initial AP poll.

Though Alabama comes in behind FSU in the first rankings, the Crimson Tide are the current odds-on favorite to win the title at 5-1, per OddsShark.com. For Oregon and Bama, success is nothing new for either team, as College GameDay points out:

While Marcus Mariota has Heisman hype surrounding him at Oregon, Alabama is still looking for its next leader.

The departure of AJ McCarron leaves a void at the quarterback position that has yet to be filled. With both Jacob Coker and Blake Sims hoping to win the job, Nick Saban offered his thoughts on the position battle, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com:

I do think Blake probably is playing a little faster right now. He's been in the system longer and has a better understanding, has a little more rhythm. ...

I think sometimes Jake was still trying to feel his way. He made some real significant strides this week in practice and had some really good practices. So that's still going to be a competitive situation. ...

Until someone clearly wins the job, we're not going to make a decision.

From one quarterback battle to a signal-caller that slayed the mighty Alabama last season.

Most of the hopes for the Sooners rests on the shoulders of Trevor Knight. The sophomore quarterback comes into the season as the man behind center, giving OU fans reason to believe they can compete for a national title.

At the close of the 2013 season, Knight led the offense over a stout Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. Now, with complete control of the reins, college football fans are waiting to see how he responds.

Bob Stoops, who led the Sooners to a championship in 2000, believes Knight has the talent to turn the team into a contender. Stoops spoke about his quarterback's talent, via George Schroeder of USA Today:

"He played at a pretty incredible level (against Alabama)," he said. "I expect a more consistent player along that caliber. He has that kind of talent, and obviously he showed it."

With several other teams like Auburn, Ohio State, Michigan State and others looking to crack the first College Football Playoff, the rankings are sure to change once the season starts.

For now, the top teams are set in the minds of the AP voters.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Full List of NCAA Top 25 Standings

The 2014 NCAA college football season is approaching fast, but many fans have already turned their attention to the preseason Top 25 rankings and where their respective favorite teams sit in the standings.

The frenzy around the sport was already amped up with the release of the preseason Amway coaches poll, but Sunday’s release of the Associated Press Top 25 has further fueled the anticipation for Week 1 of the college football regular season.  

Here are the full AP and Amway Top 25 polls and a breakdown of what to expect this season.

 

 

Breaking Down the Top Championship Contenders

The addition of a new playoff system has many college football fans relieved to see the outdated BCS Championship eliminated. Now the best teams in the country will have to prove their worth in a more traditional single-elimination postseason format.

Before we get to the new playoffs, there is a full regular season that must take place. College football fans love Saturdays due to the vast number of games that take place, and the long-term goal of making the postseason adds a new wrinkle to the sport.

Florida State was lucky enough to earn the No. 1 overall spot in both the Amway poll and the AP poll. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, the Seminoles have every intention of repeating as national champions with or without a playoff system.

Back-to-back championships may be the goal for Florida State, but there are several legitimate contenders who firmly believe they will finish the season in the No. 1 overall spot. With the Alabama Crimson Tide (second in both the Amway and AP polls) returning many of the program’s top players, the Seminoles' run to another title won’t be easy.

Alabama may be the program many fans consider the most likely to unseat the Seminoles, but losses to the Oklahoma Sooners (third in the Amway poll and fourth in the AP poll) and Auburn Tigers (fifth in the Amway poll and sixth in the AP poll) make the Crimson Tide look more vulnerable than at any other time over the last five years.

Another program that is always in contention is the Oregon Ducks (fourth in the Amway poll and third in the AP poll). Despite losing offensive genius Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2012 season, Oregon still possesses the same high-powered offense and unique game plan.

The strongest conference in college football has been the Southeastern Conference, but there are many SEC teams rated lower than expected. The South Carolina Gamecocks are ranked No. 9 overall in both the Amway and AP polls, the Georgia Bulldogs are 12th and the LSU Tigers are 13th.

The conference also has the Mississippi Rebels and the Texas A&M Aggies ranked in the Top 25.

While the perennial contenders will be fighting for top spots once again this season, there are also unheralded teams with deep rosters that could make a serious splash in the new College Football Playoff system.

Whether it’s the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, the No. 16 Clemson Tigers or the No. 22 Nebraska Cornhuskers (all rankings via both Amway and AP polls), fans of the sport will be focused on the potential upsets and Cinderella teams looking to make a splash this season.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2014: Easy-to-View AP and Amway College Polls

Much to the surprise of no one, the Florida State Seminoles will open the season right where it finished in 2013—at the top.

Florida State received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released on Sunday, making them the team to beat during the upcoming 2014 season.

Take a look at the poll results:

For comparison, also check out the Amway Coaches Poll, via USA Today:

It makes a lot of sense to see Florida State atop both polls. Heisman winner Jameis Winston is returning after a stellar first season in college football. He tossed 40 touchdowns and racked up 4,057 yards through the air during his freshman campaign, and he'll be looking for even more as a sophomore.

Kelvin Benjamin, one of his favorite targets last season, is now in the NFL, but he still has more weapons to play with. The Seminoles are returning a majority of their players on both offense and defense, meaning we could see a strikingly similar team.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher has the same goals this year as he did last year—win the national championship. Fisher told Tess Quinlan of USA Today that he appreciates the No. 1 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll, but his team still has to work:

We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football. That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football.

There is no added pressure. Our goal every year is to win the national championship. That's why we're at Florida State.

Another notable team in the AP poll is Oregon. The Ducks were one of the top teams in the nation last year before a pair of disappointing losses in November derailed their hopes for the national title. Marcus Mariota is back this season hungry for more, however.

Figured to be one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft, Mariota needs to improve his completion percentage this year to open more eyes in the NFL. He went from 68.5 percent completions as a freshman to 63.5 percent as a sophomore. Now a junior, it's time for the quarterback to shine.

ESPN College Football likes Mariota as a Heisman favorite:

He's already one of the most talented players in the nation, and other head coaches have recognized that:

A Heisman trophy would be just what Mariota needs to cap his stellar career and move on to the NFL.

A final team to note is Texas A&M. In the post-Johnny Manziel era, the Aggies will turn to sophomore Kenny Hill to lead the charge, as the team announced on its official Twitter account on Saturday.

The decision took months to happen, as head coach Kevin Sumlin waited for both Hill and Kyle Allen to showcase their skills:

We'll learn a lot about the Aggies when they open their season on August 28, as they'll face the South Carolina Gamecocks, No. 9 in both the Amway and AP polls.

With a bevy of quality teams this season, college football is set to usher in its new playoff system in grand form. It will be interesting to see if Florida State can maintain the top spot or if another team will rise up and take down the defending champs.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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Nebraska Huskers Release Hype Video for 2014 Football Season

The Nebraska Huskers are currently No. 22 in college football's AP poll as they look to make a push for the Big Ten title this season.

To get the fans fired up, the Huskers released this "Soon" hype video for the 2014 campaign. Nebraska plays its first game on August 30 against Florida Atlantic.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Most Underrated Teams in Coaches Poll

The 2014 college football season is less than two weeks away, but ever since this year's Amway Coaches Poll was released, fans of the sport have been in constant debates over the preseason's Top 25 teams.

While certain teams appear to be worthy of their early rankings, others begin the season holding onto Top 25 positions many analysts would deem questionable. After all, these teams have undergone plenty of changes over the offseason—some for the better and others for the worse.

Let's go ahead and focus on a few teams listed in the Coaches Poll that are deserving of a higher ranking than they were given. But first, here's another look at the preseason rankings:

 

No. 5 Auburn

Even though this is still mostly the same team that went 12-2 a season ago, earning a berth in the BCS National Championship and keeping pace with the high-octane Florida State Seminoles, the Auburn Tigers have fallen to No. 5 over the offseason.

Quarterback Nick Marshall has had a turbulent offseason, which had led to a team-imposed partial-game suspension, and the team lost elusive running back Tre Mason to the 2014 NFL draft, but this is still one of the most prolific offenses in the NCAA.

Auburn ranked first in the nation in rushing offense last season, averaging 328.3 yards per game. What makes this team even scarier this year, though, is the development of Marshall as a passer.

He's been showing significant improvement during training camp, and running back Corey Grant shared his impression during an interview with Joel A. Erickson of AL.com.

Said Grant, "Nick seems more comfortable, he's making calls that he didn't make last year or that he was having trouble with."

Marshall's ability as a passer became visible toward the end of the 2013 season. Here's a telling graphic, via College GameDay:

Expect this team to be just as prolific as it was a season ago, rendering Auburn's No. 5 ranking a little low.

 

No. 8 Michigan State

The Spartans lost some key players over the offseason; however, this is still as complete of a team as it was a year ago.

Michigan State maintained one of the nation's most dominant defenses last season, finishing third in points allowed, third in passing defense, second in rush defense and second in total defense.

While a few players—including cornerback Darqueze Dennard—will not be returning this season, the Spartans defense is comprised of many experienced juniors and seniors. There's no reason to believe this unit will take a big step backward.

On the other side of the ball, the surprising Connor Cook will resume his position as the team's starting quarterback. Last season, Cook went on a tear, completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions.

Expect Cook to take a step forward once more this season. Here's what he had to say about his offseason, via Chris Vannini of 247Sports:

He'll be joined in the backfield by Jeremy Langford, a durable running back who compiled 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

This is easily a Top Five squad.

 

No. 10 Baylor

The Bears may be a bit of a surprise here, as being ranked No. 10 to begin the season is a step up from its final 2013 ranking of No. 13. However, this team remained mostly intact over the offseason and will surely contain one of the nation's most feared offenses once more.

Last season, Baylor ranked sixth in passing offense, 13th in rushing offense and first in the nation in scoring offense—the Bears averaged a whopping 53.4 points per game.

ESPN College Football reminded us why that offense was so prolific:

As a junior, Bryce Petty threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns against just three interceptions. No stranger to getting things done in the red zone, he also scored 14 rushing touchdowns on just 94 carries.

Petty will pick up right where he left off thanks to a very talented receiving corps led by Antwan Goodley, who racked up 71 receptions for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

While running back Lache Seastrunk has departed to the NFL, Shock Linwood remains with the team and is poised to become a severe threat this season. Sharing time with Seastrunk last year, Linwood still accumulated 881 yards on 128 carries—an average of 6.9 yards—and eight touchdowns.

This team is every bit as good—and perhaps slightly better—than the 2013 version that went 11-2 and lost to the Blake Bortles-led UCF in a Fiesta Bowl shootout.

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