It’s never too early for a preseason top 25, right? Most people think preseason polls are bad for college football. Hell, I think they need to make more of them. They give us something to talk about, but you have to wonder how they will affect the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Related: Early SEC West Predictions 2014
Now that players have declared for the NFL Draft and the coaching carousel is slowing down, we can make more accurate projections looking ahead to next season. FSU returns a loaded roster, and they enter as college football’s favorite to land a spot in the four-team playoff. Yes, playoff. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?
We’ll go through the top 10 teams, and then list 11-25 at the bottom. Let’s get it…
Related: Early SEC East Predictions 2014
1. Florida State Seminoles
FSU returns Heisman winner Jamies Winston and a hoard of NFL talent, as well as its head coach, Jimbo Fisher, who keeps stockpiling talent in Tallahassee. Yes, FSU plays an easy conference schedule, but key games against Louisville and non-conference Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida will test this team’s will. If they are going to lose, it may be one of those four, maybe Clemson or maybe Miami. Still, with just one loss, FSU could still be a lock for one of the four spots in the playoff.
Related: SEC’s 9th best BCS Championship Team
2. Auburn Tigers
Gus Malzahn nearly completed the biggest turnaround in college football with a national championship. You think he can coach? Nick Marshall is one of the handful of returning SEC quarterbacks in 2014, and although Tre Mason is gone, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne should pick up the slack. I would like the passing game to develop more this spring, but the biggest reason I like Auburn is the defense. Ellis Johnson’s unit is going to be one of the strongest units in the conference, because they return a lot of talent at every position. With Malzahn’s offense lighting it up, the defense only needs to be in the top half of the SEC.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Yes, Alabama lost two straight games to close out the season, but they are going to be loaded with talent once more. AJ McCarron and CJ Mosley are the toughest players to replace, and it looks like Jacob Coker will step in and win the starting QB job. Lane Kiffin will coordinate the offense, but Nick Saban has some deficiencies with his defense stopping hurry-up offenses. Also, Saban knows his defense has to get bigger and better at cornerback, or the secondary will struggle again. You have to love the overall roster, but developing key positions on both sides of the ball will be the difference in getting into or missing the four-team playoff.
Related: Alabama’s new QB
4. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford, not Oregon, is the class of the Pac-12, and Stanford, like Oregon, has to replace its defensive coordinator. David Shaw is an outstanding head coach who picked right up where Jim Harbaugh left off, winning two Pac-12 Championships in two of three seasons. They have concerns along the offensive line, but returning seven starters on defense is great news. The schedule looks tough next year, but Stanford is one of the early favorites to jump into the four-team playoff, especially after they bully Oregon…again.
5. Oregon Ducks
Any time any team’s starting quarterback returns it will pay dividends. Yes, Oregon isn’t as physical as they would like, but QB Marcus Mariota returns as a Heisman favorite. The Ducks do have to replace six defensive starters and RB De’Anthony Thomas, as well as defensive coordinator Nick Allotti. Oregon will have a great offense, but replacing that many starters as well as the coordinator on defense is somewhat concerning. Still, I think they are worthy of a top five team.
6. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans are close to taking over the Big Ten with their nasty defensive play, and the Big Ten Championship reminded us that defense still wins championships. Mark Dantonio has this program ready to compete for a national championship, and they didn’t lose any underclassmen to the NFL Draft. Although some key components graduate on defense, the Spartans will be strong once again, even returning QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
So much for the 2013 rebuilding year. The Sooners finished the season 11-2, and they topped it off with beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. If that Trevor Knight shows up for an entire season, look out. Oklahoma is continuously one of the more overrated programs, and they’ll enter into the top 10 for 2014. Like other teams, Oklahoma loses key pieces, but nine starters return on defense. The Sooners could find their way into the 2014 playoffs, if that Trevor Knight shows back up.
8. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia returns 17 starters next season, including beast RB Todd Gurley. Ten of 11 starters return on defense, and the Bulldogs made the best offseason assistant coaching hire in DC Jeremy Pruitt. The key questions for Georgia will be replacing three offensive linemen and Aaron Murray. The good thing is QB replacement Hutson Mason received invaluable experience replacing Murray at the end of 2013, and it was better to struggle then than it will be against Clemson and South Carolina to start 2014. Georgia could be one to watch.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
You can go ahead and write South Carolina down for 11 wins next season. Yes, Connor Shaw is gone, along with Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, but there is young talent returning everywhere, especially in the backfield with RB Mike Davis and WR with Shaq Roland. I love the makeup of the Gamecocks’ team and program and the direction it’s heading, but replacing Connor Shaw could prove more difficult than initially perceived. Senior Dylan Thompson takes over the reins of the offense, and he’ll have to improve if Carolina wins an SEC Championship.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
Following their undefeated 2012 season, Urban Meyer now knows the gap between Ohio State and the rest of the elite-caliber teams. Braxton Miller returns, along with a slew of talent, but the Buckeyes must get much better on defense, particularly in the secondary. OSU allowed 34 or more points in four of the last five games of 2013, and Meyer poached Arkansas DC Chris Ash to help them improve. He also hired former Penn State coach and ace recruiter Larry Johnson. But the Buckeyes have to replace four offensive linemen, and that could spell trouble.
11. UCLA Bruins
12. Baylor Bears
13. Wisconsin Badgers
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys
15. Missouri Tigers
16. LSU Tigers
17. Arizona State Sun Devils
18. Clemson Tigers
19. Washington Huskies
20. USC Trojans
21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
22. Ole Miss Rebels
23. North Carolina Tar Heels
24. Texas Longhorns
25. Louisville Cardinals
Just outside: Texas A&M, Florida, Michigan, Iowa
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