The Oregon Ducks open up the 2014 campaign in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium against the South Dakota Coyotes.
While this game will mostly amount to a preseason affair for the Ducks, it will be an important first step, as the Ducks have to get ready to face the Michigan State Spartans, the defending Rose Bowl champions, in Eugene on September 6.
South Dakota finished 4-8 last season in the Missouri Valley Conference and are 51-point underdogs heading into Eugene. The Coyotes know they’re coming to Eugene to be used as a punching bag, but so did Appalachian State when they played Michigan in 2007. You can never be 100 percent sure of anything. That’s why they play the game.
If all goes according to plan, however, the Ducks will be up by five or six touchdowns by halftime and will rest their starters for next week’s big game. As for this one, here’s everything you need to know:
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 30th
- Time: 7:30 PM Pacific Time
- Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, OR)
- TV: Pac-12 Networks
- Spread: Oregon is a 51-point favorite over South Dakota, according to 5dimes.eu.
It's almost hard to remember a time when the SEC wasn't the dominant conference in college football.
But with a host of conference teams undergoing a transition of key personnel, and Florida State returning its national championship core, might the SEC's power be on the wane?
Don't be so sure.
"It's interesting to me that we are always the basis of comparison,'' SEC commissioner Mike Slive told Bleacher Report. "To me, [that] is the sincerest form of flattery.''
Slive makes a compelling case. Consider the following facts:
• The SEC has won seven of the last eight national college football championships.
• A record eight SEC teams are in the preseason AP top 25, five in the first 13.
• In the latest recruiting ratings, eight SEC teams ranked among the top-25 classes and six were among the top 10.
On the other hand, six—No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU, No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 24 Missouri—of the conference's eight ranked teams head into the season with new starting quarterbacks. Gone are Alabama's AJ McCarron, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, Georgia's Aaron Murray, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Missouri's James Franklin.
Compare that with the school that broke the SEC title run. Florida State returns as the consensus No. 1 pick in the polls with Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston leading the way.
Or glance out West, where the increasingly powerful and confident Pac-12 has starting QBs returning to 10 of its 12 teams, including a pair of Heisman contenders in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.
For its part, the SEC has hardly blinked at the upheaval it faces under center. Rather, the conference has shifted its recruiting focus toward building a league dominated by an elite class of running backs.
Go through the rosters of the elite SEC teams and you will see depth charts loaded with quality backs such as Todd Gurley at Georgia and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama. Watch what happens at LSU when five-star freshman running back Leonard Fournette blasts through holes opened by a veteran offensive line.
Who is to say the mighty SEC will not turn itself from a conference of QBs into a conference of running backs?
Who's to say that Gurley, for example, won't emerge not only as the leader of the Georgia offense but as a Heisman front-runner? Or that Fournette doesn't burst on the scene as the latest highly-touted freshman who can lead a team into contention for the national championship?
Still, the SEC's talent drain at quarterback has more than a few foreseeing a change in the game's on-field power structure.
"I guarantee there are a lot of teams in the SEC that aren't Alabama that wish they were Nebraska, wish they were Michigan, wish they were Ohio State," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said at Big Ten media day last month. Pelini has had coaching stints in the SEC and Big 12 as well as the Big Ten. "Don't talk to me about the SEC...You know, the whole SEC isn't Alabama, it isn't LSU, it isn't Georgia. Let's talk about certain teams...There are some teams in the SEC that are trying to bridge the gap to be us. Everybody wants to lump the whole SEC into one category. Let's not go there."
But even Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said this summer at the Pac-12 media days that the SEC "should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it and they've done it." Another enviable recruiting class won't hurt, nor will a sparkling new SEC television network, which promises to pour the kind of money into SEC schools that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already seen with their networks.
Slive also notes that the conference's success is wider than what happens on Saturdays.
"It's great to be known for football, but people don't think about the other sports," Slive said. "A Final Four in men's basketball. We won in baseball. We won in softball. We won in golf. We won seven national championships last year. We average six or seven national championships a year. In many ways we are in the midst of a golden age in the SEC.
"And we have changed the culture. We have become very diverse. We had never had a minority coach. Now it's reached the point where it is not even a story. Before, many stories in the SEC were off the field. Now the focus is on championships."
Still, Slive conceded that it is unlikely that any conference will be able to repeat the SEC's string of seven consecutive national championships in football. "I often think of that record in same category as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. It's just one of those records that will never be broken."
Johnny Football, Part 2
Is Texas A&M sophomore Kenny Hill the 2014 version of Johnny Football?
Check out these stats from Hill's prep days at Southlake Carroll High School. In his final two seasons at Carroll, Hill passed for 5,305 yards and 45 touchdowns and ran for 2,305 yards and 46 scores on the ground. That's 7,710 total yards of offense and 91 TDs, which would be a good total running against a scout team, much less the 5A competition Carroll (which also won a state title in Hill's junior season) faced.
And in keeping up with the Johnny Football reputation, Hill had some problems this spring with local authorities in Aggieland, as he was arrested for a public intoxication charge.
For now, the incident is being considered an aberration and he has settled into his new role. His pedigree suggests he is ready. His father, Ken, is a former major league pitcher. And Carroll has a history of producing college signal-callers, previously sending Todd Dodge to Texas and Greg McElroy to Alabama. The school has won eight state titles in nine trips to the championship game and also can claim three high school national championships.
Bad omen for Seminoles?
Here's the hope for Florida State opponents who are counting on the Seminoles not repeating as national champions. In the 64 preseason polls conducted by the Associated Press, only 10 teams that have started No. 1 finished the year as national champions. Also, the last four No. 1 AP preseason choices didn't finish in the top seven in the final polls.
Winds of change
The SEC is not alone in replacing key talent at quarterback.
Look at the Associated Press Top 25.
No. 5 Ohio State and No. 16 Clemson have quarterback questions. Notre Dame, which is now dealing with academic issues, will also go into the season with a question mark at QB in Everett Golson, who is coming off a year's absence because of academic reasons.
Let's cut to the chase this season and take a closer look at the QBs residing in the top 10:
1. Florida State: Winston returns, which has the Seminoles as the overwhelming pre-season No. 1 pick.
2. Alabama: AJ McCarron is gone after a remarkable 36-4 record as a starter and two national championships. Replacing him with one person will be difficult, which is why Tide coach Nick Saban has watched a battle between FSU transfer Jacob Coker and fifth-year senior Blake Sims. Saban is expected to make a decision this week, but he really has three games—West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss—to find his primary QB. And truth be told, Alabama is good enough to win without a dominant QB.
3. Oregon: If he stays healthy, Mariota could get the daily double that Winston achieved last season—a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
4. Oklahoma: Trevor Knight is a rising star who blossomed in the Sooners' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama last season. He is the reason OU is in the Final Four discussion.
5. Ohio State: That sound you hear is of the Buckeyes' national championship hopes crashing after Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder last week in practice and was declared out for the season. Redshirt freshman JT Barrett will be the starter against Navy this week. He is no Braxton Miller. Still, the schedule is soft enough (see below) to carry their hopes into November.
6. Auburn: Nick Marshall returns. He was good enough to get the Tigers into the national title game a year ago and he is good enough to keep the Tigers in the mix until at least the Iron Bowl rematch with Alabama.
7. UCLA: The Bruins look like a top-10 team, and Brett Hundley is a prime reason. Hundley passed on a chance to enter the NFL early. Will it pay off for the Bruins?
8. Michigan State: Defense, defense, defense, plus a solid running game. What's missing? A star QB. Connor Cook is a middle-of-the-pack talent, but he has come up with some clutch plays in crucial games (against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and against Stanford in the Rose Bowl).
9. South Carolina: One of the biggest questions for the Gamecocks on offense is whether Dylan Thompson can step in for Connor Shaw, who was the winningest QB in Gamecocks history.
"He's a fifth-year player," coach Steve Spurrier told a group of reporters when asked about Thompson at the SEC media gathering last month. "We believe he's a very good player; he has chance to lead us to a big season."
10. Baylor: Bryce Petty was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year last season thanks to an amazing 4,200 yards 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also ran for 14 TDs. It's little wonder the Bears are regarded as the main threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12.
Not the Power Five
The newly-minted College Football Playoff system may end some of the debates surrounding what team truly is best, but that's largely a Power Five conference problem. For those in the non-Power Five conferences, the new system means their chances to reach one of the two bowl semifinals will be extremely difficult.
That means, going into this week's season openers, the team with the most to lose is Central Florida, who must get through an extremely tight window if it hopes to be the first non-Power Five team to since Cincinnati in 2009 to finish the season among the top four teams in the nation.
UCF represents the American Athletic Conference, which, along with the Mountain West, Conference USA, the Mid-American and the Sun Belt, will place its highest-ranked team in either the Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowls this season.
Technically, the best team from any of those conferences is still eligible to make into the football Final Four games in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but the odds of that happening right now are astronomical.
In the AP preseason poll, UCF was the highest-ranked team among the non-Power Five, finishing just outside of the top 25. Marshall, who finished 32 in the preseason vote, is C-USA's best bet and Boise State, at No. 41 is the Mountain West's highest-ranked team. Neither the MAC nor Sun Belt has a ranked team.
Boise State has name recognition, but the Broncos have fallen off the top-20 ladder in the last few years. Coach Chris Petersen bolted to Washington and the five Boise losses last season would have been a four-year total a few seasons ago
That leaves UCF, which has some intriguing credentials. The Knights are coming off a 12-1 season in which they made their first BCS appearance, beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In three of the past four seasons they have won 10 or more games.
But...they enter this season with zero margin for error, which means that Saturday's opener against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland is a "must-win" game. And so is a road game two weeks later against No. 24 Missouri, the defending SEC East champion.
Come out of those two games 2-0 and UCF will be a front-runner to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. But that's about it. The rest of the schedule and the AAC's status as a second-tier league will prevent a climb beyond the last rungs of the top 10.
With no conference championship game to use as a boost and no wins against any teams ranked in the top 25, UCF cannot surpass any Power Five conference teams, even a team with one loss.
Conventional wisdom says you can't win or lose championships before Labor Day, but in the case of UCF, a loss in August against Penn State will seal the Knights' fate, as well as the chances of all the other non-Power Five conferences teams.
Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling
Who you play matters. That's why the Buckeyes can remain a contender for the Big Ten title and national championship despite the loss of QB Braxton Miller. It's also why Ole Miss may turn out to be a dark horse possibility for the Final Four playoff. While Ohio State will avoid a trio of tricky Big Ten West teams—Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin—Mississippi will not see the SEC East. That means no dates with Georgia, Florida or South Carolina. Winning through those schedules is no sure thing, but the opportunity to surprise many is there.
How deep is the recruiting pool at Florida?
The Gators went 4-8 last season, which put coach Will Muschamp on a very warm coaching seat. Is it warranted?
Consider this: Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer is projected to be the starting QB at N.C. State, and Tyler Murphy, who graduated from Florida in December, but had a year of eligibility remaining, will be the starting QB at Boston College this fall.
That's a lot of unutilized talent for a job that wasn't exactly held by Tim Tebow. Jeff Driskel was awarded the job in spring after missing the last eight games last season following a broken right fibula against Tennessee.
You've got to be kidding
1. North Texas won nine games with a run-heavy offense and a bruising defense and posted a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Texas Bowl last season, a success quotient which has earned the Mean Green a startling nickname: The Stanford of Conference USA.
2. Only at Notre Dame. New top-of-the-line jerseys by Under Armour went on sale for $199 in the bookstore, which is the highest price of any jersey at retail.
3. The UCF-Penn State game in Dublin on Saturday might be postponed or cancelled because of a volcano eruption in Iceland, 900 miles away. The volcano could spread volcanic ash into the atmosphere, which could curtail flights to Europe, and keep both schools home.
4. The Atlanta Falcons announced that they will sell alcohol-infused cupcakes at games in the Georgia Dome this season. Can such sales for Georgia Dome college games be far behind?
Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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No one knows for sure* how the College Football Playoff selection committee will function, especially with regard to its treatment of the SEC.
Will what's widely regarded as the nation's best conference be given precedence by these subjective rankings? Will it matter that an SEC athletic director (Arkansas' Jeff Long) is sitting at the head of the table? Will an SEC team with one or two losses rank higher than, say, a Big Ten team with zero or one, respectively?
There's no way to find out the answers until the first CFP rankings are released in October, but regardless of the new system, we do know that the SEC will play a factor in the national-title discussion—and a big one at that. There are too many good teams for it not to.
But not every SEC game is created equal. Upsets such as Tennessee over South Carolina last season will inevitably pop up and throw a wrench into the standings, but looking ahead at the schedule, there are games that stick out for having near-certain CFP implications.
So, in preparation for the upcoming season (two days and counting!) we have ranked these games accordingly. The broad metric we used to determine the rankings was "how certain is this game to affect the playoff picture—regardless of which team wins?"
Make sure to circle these dates on your calendar.
*No one knows for sure how the committee will work…but of everyone out there guessing, Bleacher Report's Sam Chi probably comes the closest.
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.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
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.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
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.
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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.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
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.