Will Each Top 25 Team Finish 2013 Above or Below Preseason Rankings?
It's always fun looking at where a college football team started in the polls and where it finished. It tells a lot about the voters and teams, and it gives the fans something else to rub in their rivals face.
Look, Oregon finished second in the AP poll last year, but it was USC that began the season ranked No. 1. Among other things, don't think for a second Duck fans haven't reminded Trojan fans about that.
Very few teams finish where they started in the polls. Some steadily climb up the ladder like Notre Dame, while others fall off a cliff like West Virginia. The position changes will continue this season.
Don't expect a couple of SEC programs to live up to the hype, and don't be surprised if a few Pac-12 teams exceed expectations.
Note: Rankings were provided by Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report.
25. Arizona State: Above
Arizona State is going to be the surprise team in the Pac-12. It returns eight starters from the second-best defense in the conference, a unit that also racked up 51 sacks. Offensively, quarterback Taylor Kelly and playmaking running back Marion Grice form a dangerous 1-2 punch.
The Sun Devils are one of the most balanced teams in the Pac-12. They were able to win eight games last year and should be able to top that with an experienced team and a favorable schedule. Games against USC, Washington and Oregon State are played at Sun Devil Stadium.
This team will shock a lot of people.
24. Baylor: Below
Baylor continues to make strides as a program, but it's hard to imagine it being ranked at the end of the year. The Bears play little to no defense. They were ranked dead last in the Big 12, allowing more than 500 yards on average, so having this unit return seven starters may not necessarily be a good thing.
The Bears also have a brutal schedule down the stretch that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. Three of those teams return more starters than the Bears, and all play much better defense.
Baylor will continue to be exciting and will make things interesting, but it won't win enough games to finish the season ranked.
23. Northwestern: Above
Northwestern finished last season ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1996.
The Wildcats are not a team to be overlooked. They won 10 games last season and lost two of their three games by a touchdown or less. This is a feisty team that includes 15 starters, including flashy running back Venric Mark, depth at wide receiver and eight starters from a defense that led the Big Ten (29) in forced turnovers.
Northwestern will have to continue to earn its stripes with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan on the schedule, but expect to see a few upsets from this underdog.
22. Boise State: Above
Boise State has finished ranked in the Top 20 of the AP poll for five straight seasons. Keeping that streak intact shouldn't be an issue.
If the Broncos were going to tank, it would have been last season when they lost nearly their entire team. They still managed to win 11 games and almost made a case for appearing in a BCS bowl. Seven starters return from a defense that ranked 12th in the country, and the offense has no choice but to improve with experience at quarterback and wide receiver.
Winning at least 10 games is a cinch in the Mountain West Conference. Boise State isn't going anywhere.
21. Oregon State: Below
Oregon State overachieved with nine wins last season. Expecting similar results is asking for a lot.
Even though the Beavers return 15 starters, there are questions that need to be answered. The defense should remain terrific with seven starters returning, but the offense was extremely one-dimensional. Oregon State finished with the 19th passing game in the country and 101st in rushing yards. It's hard to win games in this conference if you don't have a balanced offense.
The schedule also isn't any fun.
Their final five games are against Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon, all of whom are capable of knocking Oregon State out of the rankings in a hurry.
Nebraska's defense must improve if it is going to sneak into the Top 20 of the polls. Allowing more than 500 yards in two consecutive games is all-time bad.
The offense, however, is terrific. The Cornhuskers return nine starters from a unit that led the Big Ten last season, averaging 460 yards. That production should continue with an experienced quarterback in Taylor Martinez and a promising wide receiver in Kenny Bell.
Nebraska also has a favorable schedule that doesn't include Ohio State or Wisconsin.
As long as that defense can get back on track, Nebraska has a shot to be the second best team in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma has been a letdown the last two seasons, falling drastically below where it started in the AP Poll.
There isn't any indication that things will change.
The Sooners have quarterback concerns for the first time in forever. Their defense is also disappointing. They allowed nearly 400 yards a game, couldn't get to the quarterback and couldn't produce turnovers. Things got ugly, and there are only four starters returning from that group.
Oklahoma also has a tough schedule of Notre Dame, TCU, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
This will be a long year for the Sooners.
UCLA overachieved last season under a first-year head coach in Jim L. Mora. Now it's time for reality to put this program in its place.
The Bruins lost their workhorse in running back Johnathan Franklin. This now means that more pressure will be on young quarterback Brett Hundley.
It's the defense, however, that is the real concern with this team. The Bruins must replace every starter from the secondary. Keep in mind, this was already a group that ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 250 yards a game.
The Bruins also don't get many favors on the schedule. They play all the powerhouse teams in the Pac-12, as well as Nebraska in the beginning of the season.
Finding a way to sniff out a bowl game should be the priority this season.
17. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State finished 8-5, but three of those losses were decided by one possession. Despite playing multiple quarterbacks, they had little trouble moving the football and averaged close to 550 yards a game. This is huge, considering they are a member of a conference that plays little to no defense.
The Cowboys are a well-oiled machine offensively, and that will be good enough to compete for the conference title. The defense also made strides, finishing sixth in the conference, allowing 421 yards a game. Those numbers should improve with seven starters returning.
Oklahoma State plays Big 12 style of football better than the rest. There is also a nice schedule on tap with Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma having to travel to Stillwater.
How many times will Texas disappoint? Eventually the talent will begin to click. Why not this season?
The Longhorns return the most starters in the country with 19. That includes a loaded backfield, a senior quarterback, an entire offensive line and nine starters from a defense that has nowhere to go but up. If they can't win this season, there is no hope for the future. This is easily one of the more talented teams in the country and should win double-digit games for the first time since 2009.
Texas also doesn't really have any true road game on its schedule. Cracking the Top 15 of the polls should be a goal that is met.
TCU won seven games a year ago and has become a popular pick to win the conference now that the debut season is out of the way.
But let's pump the brakes a little bit.
The Horned Frogs still aren't sure who the starting quarterback is going to be, or if Casey Pachall can even return to form. There is also a tough road schedule that won't make things easy for this young squad. TCU begins the season against LSU and then has to travel to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
TCU has the defense to keep itself in games, but the lack of horses offensively will hurt.
LSU finished ranked 14th in the AP Poll last year and hasn't fallen below that spot since 2009. Although there isn't as much buzz around the program as there usually is, this is still an SEC powerhouse that will push the rest of the competition.
The Tigers return eight starters offensively. That means that the ground and pound running game that has beaten so many teams into submission will still be there. There is also a truckload of young talent on defense that will help keep things afloat.
LSU may not be as dominant, but it certainly isn't going anywhere. Les Miles and his players will continue to hang around in the Top 15.
13. Florida State
When was the last time Florida State met expectations?
Even last year's BCS Orange Bowl victory was bitter sweet for Seminole fans who were hoping for a national title. Expecting Florida State to possibly crack the Top 10 isn't a validation of the talent, it is more of expecting the team to run through a cupcake schedule. The two tough games are trips to Clemson and Florida. Other than that, the Seminoles should be the favorite in every game.
Florida State also has a young, athletic defense and an intriguing quarterback in Jameis Winston.
Losing more than two games would be a crime.
Devin Gardner is an upgrade at quarterback over Denard Robinson, but there is no depth behind him. There are also issues along the offensive line that add to the worries with this unit. It will only take the slightest thing to go wrong for this offense to become a disaster.
There are also concerns with the lack of pass-rush. If Michigan can't consistently get to the opposing quarterback, the defense will be in trouble. There were only 22 sacks last season.
Michigan also finishes the season with a difficult schedule including Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State down the stretch. Topping last season's record of eight victories would be considered a success.
It would take 11 or more victories for Florida to finish 11th in the polls. Good luck with that.
Until Florida can generate any type of consistent offense, expecting this program to do much of anything is a stretch. You simply can't win many games with an offense that is ranked 78th in scoring. Sure, last year was an exception, but the Gators also had an elite defense with NFL caliber players all over the place. Six of those guys are no longer on the roster, making this a much younger group.
Florida has a tough schedule and unless the offense has taken giant steps forward, expecting another Top 10 finish will only happen in your dreams.
Clemson has a chance to be extremely good. All it has to do is play the way it did in last year's bowl victory over LSU.
Sounds easy, right?
In all seriousness, the Tigers will once again have the offensive firepower that gives them a chance against anyone. The only concern is the defense. The good news is that five starters from the front seven return, and LSU was held to only 219 yards in last year's game. These are positive signs.
Clemson will be able to feast on an easy ACC schedule and should win a couple of the big matchups between Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina. Appearing in a BCS bowl is a realistic possibility.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina has been so close to turning the corner but can't quite finish the job. Now it enters the season with questions marks all over the place.
Quarterback has been an issue with this team, and nobody in their right mind would be confident in Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson. Finding a replacement for Marcus Lattimore will prove to be more difficult than most think. There are also questions on defense that includes a bunch of young players alongside Jadeveon Clowney.
The Gamecocks also have a tough beginning and ending to their schedule. There are too many concerns and questions to believe Steve Spurrier has a contender on his hands.
Louisville won 11 games last year and finished ranked 13th in the AP Poll. Even with the hype building and a household name in Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals are fighting an uphill battle with the voters.
There is a great chance this squad either runs the table or only loses a game. But who do the Cardinals play? The toughest game on the schedule is a trip to Kentucky. You could possibly throw in Cincinnati and Rutgers, but there isn't one marquee matchup that will help Louisville skyrocket up the charts.
It only takes one hiccup for the Cardinals to fall towards the bottom of the rankings, and teams with a better résumé will surpass them. The odds of either happening are pretty good.
7. Notre Dame
Notre Dame will continue to get the benefit of the doubt, because it's Notre Dame. But it will take a lot for the Irish to stay in the Top 10.
The Irish will continue to play in close games due to an offense that isn't built to score quickly. The quarterback situation hasn't been fixed and relaying on running the ball and defense will remain the recipe to success. That equals to a lot of tight affairs, and you can't possibly expect the luck of the Irish to be their side every time.
Notre Dame also has one of the toughest schedules in the country with Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC and Stanford.
The fairytale journey is soon coming to an end.
This is a solid spot for Georgia.
The offense that returns 10 starters will be one of the best in the country. It averaged 467 yards last season and has a chance to reach new levels with the perfect combination of youth and experience. The defense is a concern losing seven starters, but Georgia usually has little problems reloading on that side of the ball.
Remember, last year's team was a yard away from knocking off Alabama and reaching the title game. A lot of the key players are back.
Georgia will make another run, but how it performs early on against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU will determine its fate.
Stanford is going to be one of the best teams in the country. This is an experienced squad that returns 15 starters. It also knows how to win, as 10 games last season were decided by 10 points or less, and Stanford won eight of them.
The defense was the best in the Pac-12 and has arguably the best linebacker corps in the country. That unit gets physical with the best of them and can shut down even the most potent offenses (see Oregon game from last year). The offense should also be a little flashier with Kevin Hogan at quarterback. He's a dual-threat player who presented flashes of potential in a limited role.
Stanford doesn't have an easy schedule, but should overcome that and make a legitimate case for a BCS bowl.
Everybody should know by now what they are getting with Oregon. It will continue to be the most explosive team in the country, put up a ton of points and win majority of its games. Chip Kelly or not, the Ducks are still the team to beat in the Pac-12.
The offense won't change much with eight starters returning, and the defense should take steps forward with seven starters back. The defense includes a top tier cornerback in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and an underrated pass-rusher in Taylor Hart.
Oregon should have little trouble throwing its name in the hat for a chance to play in the big dance.
3. Texas A&M
The Johnny Manziel hype has fogged up those Texas A&M goggles. Yes, the team is exciting to watch, and most want to discover a team capable of sticking it to Alabama, but unless the Aggies improve that defense, they aren't going very far.
There is no way Texas A&M is a national championship contender with a defense ranked ninth in the SEC. Unless some of the younger guys step up and replace the seven starters who left, the defense will continue to be the downfall.
Sure, Manziel is exciting, but you need to have an elite defense to last in the SEC. It remains to be seen.
2. Ohio State
Ohio State seems to be the popular pick to play in the national championship. There is good reason with the returning players, and the lack of competition in the Big Ten.
Who is going to beat the Buckeyes? Iowa? Purdue?
There is a Heisman candidate in Braxton Miller leading the offense, and the defense is loaded with former 5-star recruits eager to prove themselves. This is far from a perfect team, but finding a squad capable of pulling off the upset is difficult.
Don't be surprised if Ohio State runs the table again.
Alabama is the best team from top to bottom.
Its quarterback is better than most, running back depth is deeper and defense is a lot more physical. It is the recipe that Nick Saban has followed for years, and he has all of the pieces in place to make another national championship run.
The Crimson Tide return a decent 13 starters from last year's squad that hoisted the crystal football.
You can breakdown the roster all you would like, but you'd be hard pressed to find an actual weakness. When you add the subpar SEC schedule, it would be a gigantic upset if Alabama isn't playing for another national championship.
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