The initial college football preseason rankings were released Thursday, with the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide headlining at No. 1 in the USA Today college football coaches poll.
However, some of the teams in the initial Top 25 are being slightly underrated at this early juncture. While the Crimson Tide and No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes were rather predictable choices for the top two slots as last year's only undefeated teams, there are several surprises in the maiden release.
Let's take a look at some of the teams who should use these early rankings as motivational fuel to ascend to greater heights during the 2013 season.
Note: Complete preseason poll was obtained from ESPN.com.
No. 13 LSU Tigers
It's somewhat surprising the Tigers are not among the five Southeastern Conference teams ranked in the Top 10.
Head coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis are among the most proven commodities in college football.
However, the biggest addition may be play-caller Cam Cameron, whose complex schemes should give the Tigers more creative latitude in the passing game. A lot of how well the aerial attack operates is on QB Zach Mettenberger, though.
The senior signal-caller possesses prototypical size and a huge arm, but he hasn't quite lived up to the hype.
But the Tigers have a deep stable of running backs at his disposal, even without the indefinitely suspended Jeremy Hill.
Chavis makes the defense consistently elite, and although the team lost talents like Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter and others to the NFL, LSU is never short on playmakers on that side of the ball.
Opening the year against No. 20 TCU should give the Tigers a quality win right off the bat, and the first big test will come on the road against fifth-ranked Georgia, who didn't have to face the Tigers in 2012.
No. 17 Michigan Wolverines
Although the Buckeyes are coming off an undefeated season, there is reason to believe the Wolverines could wind up as the Big 10's best team this time around.
Denard Robinson will go down as one of the most electric players in Michigan history, but he was not the type of quarterback to run the pro-style offense promoted by head coach Brady Hoke.
It's a different story with Devin Gardner taking over under center. Not only does Gardner possess magnificent athleticism, but he's also just beginning to find his footing as a passer. When he took over for Robinson late last year, he had been playing receiver much of the time.
With a more established role as a starting quarterback, there's no telling how good Gardner can be given his arm strength and naturally solid mechanics.
Plus, he'll likely have top recruit Derrick Green serving as his workhorse—or at least as a very prominent contributor.
Another encouraging sign is that the Wolverines gave up just 19.8 points per game last season—20th in the country—and didn't lose any players in any of the seven rounds of the recent NFL draft.
The loss of emotional leader Jordan Kovacs should be supplemented by top-notch safeties Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill, who should vie for playing time as freshmen, and a very deep secondary.
Combine that with a stellar linebacker corps, which will only be bolstered by Jake Ryan's likely midseason return from an ACL injury, and this could be a dangerous team down the stretch.
No. 21 UCLA Bruins
Even with the loss of prolific running back Johnathan Franklin, this Bruins team should be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-10.
The main reason is the presence of quarterback Brett Hundley. He will only be a sophomore, but he showed the poise of a veteran in his first year as starter in throwing for 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 7.8 yards per attempt and hitting on 66.6 percent of his throws.
What's concerning is the departure of dynamic defensive end Datone Jones, whose relentless energy allowed him to serve as a catalyst for the Bruins defense. Last year, UCLA was 85th in the nation in pass defense (h/t NCAA.com) and should only get better in that regard.
The unfortunate retirement of safety Dietrich Riley makes the secondary shakier.
There is hope, though. Blue-chip recruit Eddie Vanderdoes should make a huge, immediate impact on the defensive line after being granted eligibility following a commitment controversy, per Ted Miller of ESPN.com.
With an even more confident Hundley commanding the offense behind improved blocking, his throwing prowess should open up lanes for the ball-carriers who crack the backfield rotation. Hundley himself is a threat to run too.
Head coach Jim Mora orchestrated quite a turnaround in his first year, though it will prove to be a bit difficult to sustain that success.
Early road games against Nebraska, Stanford and Oregon will show just what the Bruins are made of—and their resolve could surprise some doubters who have them ranked this low.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!