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Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIAugust 27, 2013

Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll

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    The 2013 college football season kicks off Thursday night, and it's definitely time for a Bleacher Report Official Poll. The interminable wait between January and August is finally over, and the next few months will yield yet another national champion.

    The voters have spoken, and here is Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll.

    Poll voters (in alphabetical order): Chris Bello, Adam Biggers, Eric Bowman, Carter Bryant, Phil Callihan, Alex Callos, Andrew Coppens, Bill Eichenberger, Michael Felder, Trenise Ferreira, Sean Frye, Kyle Kensing, Ben Kercheval, Sanjay Kirpalani, Marc Kohn, Adam Kramer, David Luther, Jonathan McDanal, Lafe Peavler, Max Rausch, David Regimbal, Patrick Runge, Barrett Sallee, Alex Sims and Carl Stine.

    Each voter submitted an individual Top 25, and every first-place team was given 25 points. The second-place team received 24, and so on with the 25th-place team earning one point. The teams are ranked in order according to total points (first-place votes are in parentheses).

    *All schedule information is from FBSchedules.com, and all times are Eastern. All strengths of schedule are via Phil Steele. All returning-starter numbers are also from Phil Steele.

Others Receiving Votes

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    Arizona State Sun Devils: 42 points

    Oregon State Beavers: 34 points

    USC Trojans: 31 points

    Michigan State Spartans: 29 points

    Ole Miss Rebels: 12 points

    BYU Cougars: Six points

    Northern Illinois Huskies and Kansas State Wildcats: Five points each

    Cincinnati Bearcats: Three points

    Fresno State Bulldogs: Two points

    Vanderbilt Commodores and Virginia Tech Hokies: One point each

25. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Poll Points: 45

    2012 Record: 8-6

    Strength of Schedule: No. 69

    Season Opener: Massachusetts Minutemen, Saturday, Aug. 31, at noon.

    Wisconsin has a new head coach, and it's Gary Andersen from the Utah State Aggies. With one of the medium-strength schedules (69th in the country), the Badgers have a great shot at making their fourth Rose Bowl in a row, especially with Andersen's defensive chops.

    The Badgers return 15 starters, including their quarterback. This puts them near the head of the class when it comes to on-field experience (only 23 teams have more coming back).

    Whenever Andersen gets his Utah State-quality defense installed at Wisconsin, the Big Ten is going to have to recognize the Badgers as a premier team. If not, then this streak of titles will just keep rolling.

24. Miami Hurricanes

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    Poll Points: 47

    2012 Record: 7-5

    Strength of Schedule: No. 60

    Season Opener: Florida Atlantic Owls, Friday, Aug. 30, at 8 p.m.

    Miami has two major difference-makers on the 2013 roster: Stephen Morris (QB) and Duke Johnson (RB). They are experienced offensive studs who will carry the Hurricanes to a potential ACC title in 2013.

    That's not even scratching the surface of their experience, though. Miami returns an FBS-leading 19 starters from the 2012 squad who would have been in the conference championship if not for a self-imposed postseason ban.

    These kids are ready to get their stadium filled again, and they have the staff (both on and off the field) to get that done. An ACC title is much more than a pipe dream for The U.

23. Baylor Bears

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    Poll Points: 48

    2012 Record: 8-5

    Strength of Schedule: No. 22

    Season Opener: Wofford Terriers, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 7:30 p.m.

    Baylor returns running back Lache Seastrunk, a potential Heisman winner. The quarterback is new, but the Bears have repeatedly replaced starting quarterbacks over the past few seasons. Bryce Petty is just the next one in the bloodline.

    He's expected to perform at a record-setting level, and Art Briles and Co. are more than capable of coaching that kind of talent. (Both Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence broke at least one school record apiece.)

    Baylor returns 13 starters this fall, and that's plenty for this coaching staff to work with. Cyril Richardson, Petty and Seastrunk will lay the groundwork for success, and there's a host of potential All-Americans in Waco.

    The Bears are easily capable of beating anyone on their schedule, and 2013 should be one of the most interesting seasons in Baylor history.

22. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Poll Points: 87

    2012 Record: 10-3

    Strength of Schedule: No. 45

    Season Opener: California Golden Bears, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 10:30 p.m.

    The Wildcats caught some teams by surprise last season, but they followed that up by winning even after everyone started taking them more seriously. What's worse for the rest of the conference is that Northwestern returns 15 men from that glorious group.

    Running back Venric Mark will be the 1,000-plus-yard headliner of the offense again, and you can bank on the Wildcats upsetting at least one title contender on the slate this fall. Keep a watchful eye on senior quarterback Kain Colter, who went 101-of-150 last season for 872 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

    If the 'Cats can work him out through the air more and keep the ball in their possession, there's no limit to what this squad can accomplish in the Big Ten.

21. UCLA Bruins

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    Poll Points: 135

    2012 Record: 9-5

    Strength of Schedule: No. 21

    Season Opener: Nevada Wolf Pack, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 10 p.m.

    UCLA has a lot going for it in 2013. Quarterback Brett Hundley returns as a sophomore (with 12 other starters) to lead the offense with much more experience. The Bruins are missing tailback Johnathan Franklin, which is a big hit, but Hundley should be able to use his arm to work them out of that tight spot.

    The season opener against Cody Fajardo and the Nevada Wolf Pack is going to be rough, though. The Bruins are more than capable of winning, but Nevada is just talented enough to take UCLA by surprise.

    The Bruins cannot afford to be rusty after the first quarter of the opener, but the Rose Bowl is a reasonable goal regardless of what happens in that match.

20. Boise State Broncos

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    Poll Points: 142

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 91

    Season Opener: Washington Huskies, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 10 p.m.

    Boise State beat Washington in the 2012 postseason, but the Huskies have had an entire spring and summer to fixate on this game. This season opener will be one of the best, because the teams are evenly matched.

    Boise returns six players on offense and seven on defense. While that leaves a lot of holes, it's also an even distribution of experience. If quarterback Joe Southwick can find his rhythm, fans may not even notice that the other players are missing at all.

    Look for Boise State to win almost every game it plays, again. The Broncos will fall short of the national title, but a BCS bowl is always an option when it comes to the boys in blue.

19. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Poll Points: 188

    2012 Record: 10-4

    Strength of Schedule: No. 66

    Season Opener: Wyoming Cowboys, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m.

    Taylor Martinez returns to lead Nebraska on another trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. Whether that's successful or not, the 'Huskers have more than a fair shot at the BCS bowls. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nebraska will qualify for the postseason by Week 8 (a bye week and a possible loss to UCLA stand in the way of guaranteeing that by Week 6).

    Nebraska brings back 13 players from its 2012 starting lineup. With that many chess pieces missing, there is reason for concern, but when you have Martinez leading your team, things never look all that bad.

    If Nebraska can protect Martinez and let the complex plays develop, the 'Huskers are heading for a January bowl.

18. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Poll Points: 191

    2012 Record: 7-6

    Strength of Schedule: No. 17

    Season Opener: LSU Tigers, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 9 p.m.

    TCU leads the season off against LSU, but that game is winnable for either team. Even with that 50/50 shot in Week 1, the Horned Frogs should still be contenders in a conference that has more question marks than national title hopes.

    TCU has 15 men from the top of 2012's roster coming back. With that kind of experience, the Horned Frogs are ready to meet or exceed expectations in 2013. However, the Frogs need to keep their noses clean so that they can all play football at the same time.

    If everyone stays out of trouble, the main concern is deciding on a quarterback. Trevone Boykin and Casey Pachall each have merit, but one has to emerge as the unquestioned leader of the team.

    Head coach Gary Patterson has reportedly decided who his starter will be against LSU, but that's not an iron-clad contract that can't be overturned based on performance.

17. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Poll Points: 216

    2012 Record: 10-3

    Strength of Schedule: No. 2

    Season Opener: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m.

    Oklahoma has to replace its starting quarterback, as do many of the other teams in the Big 12. The Sooners have Bob Stoops at the helm, though, so things should be OK (at worst) in Norman for 2013.

    Oklahoma has a tall hill to climb, but the Top 25 is a reasonable bet for the Sooners. It's merely reasonable, because the Sooners return just 11 starters from last season. With half the team gone, this year could get out of control quickly.

    The season opener against Kolton Browning and the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks will give fans an immediate idea of what to expect from Oklahoma and brand-new starting quarterback Trevor Knight this season.

16. Michigan Wolverines

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    Poll Points: 230

    2012 Record: 8-5

    Strength of Schedule: No. 29

    Season Opener: Central Michigan Chippewas, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 3:30 p.m.

    Michigan's Devin Gardner looked good during the spring game, but there's no way to know completely whether that was because of him or the Wolverines' defense until the season starts.

    Based on what Gardner has shown at the end of 2012 and during the offseason, Michigan should get close to the Big Ten Championship Game. Combine that with the Wolverines' 12 returning starters, and you have the perfect recipe for a dark-horse Big Ten contender (because nobody will expect them to be great).

    Michigan has a lot of questions to answer, but the Wolverines don't have to kick off against the reigning national champion this time. That by itself is evidence for a better year than 2012.

T-14. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Poll Points: 286

    2012 Record: 8-5

    Strength of Schedule: No. 32

    Season Opener: Mississippi State Bulldogs, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 3:30 p.m.

    Oklahoma State has a great chance of winning the Big 12, since it is one of the few teams returning any sort of quarterback situation. The Cowboys are among the top teams in the conference, and this may be their year.

    There aren't many teams on their schedule who could knock them out of contention, even if their quarterback slots weren't as full. The 'Pokes return almost two-thirds of their starting lineup (14 of 22), and that includes whichever quarterback makes the grade.

    As of right now, Mike Gundy says Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh are both qualified. He has made it clear that he doesn't have a backup quarterback on his roster yet. That sets Oklahoma State up for success in spite of eight missing point men.

    However, the Big 12 is still not an easy conference, even when it's down.

T-14. Texas Longhorns

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    Poll Points: 286

    2012 Record: 9-4

    Strength of Schedule: No. 15

    Season Opener: New Mexico State Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m.

    Texas is entering the season at full health, and the Longhorns are banking on David Ash looking like he did against Oregon State in the final minutes of the Alamo Bowl. If that Ash shows up, then Texas is staring right at a potential undefeated season.

    The odds that it happens are relatively low, but odds are merely opinions in mathematical form. They don't actually affect the outcome of games.

    Here's some math that does affect outcomes: 19-of-22. That's how many starters Texas has coming back. Anyone who called for Mack Brown's head last season needs to pay close attention to what happens in 2013.

    If his 19 returners stay completely healthy and Texas still misses out on the conference title, then the school should probably get rid of Brown. However, all that experience could add up to a national championship...just food for thought.

13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Poll Points: 318

    2012 Record: 12-1

    Strength of Schedule: No. 13

    Season Opener: Temple Owls, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 3:30 p.m.

    Notre Dame is coming off a stellar season that ended with the Irish in the national championship game against Alabama. After that semidisappointing year, the Irish are at it again.

    They'll end up in the Top 25, even if they don't come as close to a national championship this time around. Players like Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert were game-changers, and seven other starters left with those two.

    The biggest question facing the Irish now is about Tommy Rees. He was brought in to lead a game-winning drive more than once last season. Can he get everything together and exceed expectations?

    With Everett Golson gone for the 2013 season, that's exactly what needs to happen. The break-in game against Temple will be an excellent opportunity to gauge whether the Irish belong in or out of the Top 10.

12. Florida Gators

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    Poll Points: 332

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 1

    Season Opener: Toledo Rockets, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 12:21 p.m.

    The Florida Gators are another SEC team coming off a crushing defeat in the 2012 postseason. They lost to the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl. If Florida can find its groove on offense, then this ranking is going to be completely justified.

    Florida is bringing back just 11 of its starters from last season, and that's a problem. Especially since 14 Gators signed with NFL squads this offseason. Perspective: Florida lost NFL talent that wasn't even starting in college. That's a ton of skill to replace.

    If the offense can't get the job done this fall, the job isn't going to get done. Toledo will provide the perfect opportunity for Florida to prove itself. The Rockets are underrated, and they are easily good enough to expose a lucky team for what it is.

11. Florida State Seminoles

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    Poll Points: 359

    2012 Record: 12-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 64

    Season Opener: Pittsburgh Panthers, Monday, Sept. 2, at 9 p.m.

    Florida State may have lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but the spring game showed that the Seminoles have more than their fair share of skilled players left. The 2013 season could see them claw their way into the national conversation yet again.

    Florida State returns only 10 starters this fall. While there is clearly talent coming to the program, FSU put an FBS-leading 11 players into the NFL just through the draft.

    That's good for recruiting, but it means that precious little of the perceived talent has proved itself on the field. Florida State is a bit of a gamble at this point, but the Seminoles are still among the strongest in the ACC.

10. Louisville Cardinals

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    Poll Points: 404

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 98

    Season Opener: Ohio Bobcats, Sunday, Sept. 1, at 3:30 p.m.

    Louisville is near the top of the rankings because Teddy Bridgewater is the returning starter at quarterback. Hakeem Smith's presence in the secondary helps, but Bridgewater is the face of the program.

    Louisville has the talent to make it through its schedule undefeated, but so do a lot of teams in a lot of conferences. It takes more than talent and stats on paper to win games.

    The Cardinals are bringing back 15 starters from 2012 as the core of the squad in '13. Considering that squad took down a then-No. 3 SEC unit in the Sugar Bowl last winter, things are looking good for Louisville.

    If you throw in one of the most favorable schedules in the nation (at No. 98), this could be the first (and only) American Athletic Conference BCS title representative in history.

9. LSU Tigers

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    Poll Points: 407

    2012 Record: 10-3

    Strength of Schedule: No. 16

    Season Opener: TCU Horned Frogs, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 9 p.m.

    LSU is coming off a disheartening loss to the Clemson Tigers, but that won't stop Les Miles and John Chavis from fielding one of the most entertaining offenses and suffocating defenses in the country.

    If Zach Mettenberger can get his head on straight and quarterback to his potential, LSU could be this season's dark horse for the national title. If not, then the Tigers will have to settle for being one of the 25 best teams in the country.

    With 13 starters returning, LSU is in better condition than half the teams in the country, and the coaching staff bumps the Tigers' status up a notch. LSU has a lot to overcome, but Miles and Chavis have been doing exactly that for quite a few seasons now.

    The season opener against TCU will tell LSU fans everything they need to know about their team. A win over the Horned Frogs would mean a 10-win season for the Tigers.

8. Clemson Tigers

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    Poll Points: 449

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 55

    Season Opener: Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m.

    The quarterback duel between Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd should be more than worth the wait, but it's also going to carry national implications. The loser will leave the game with its eyes on the scoreboards all across the country.

    Clemson returns 13 starters, including Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and that stacks up well against Georgia's 13. Clemson is good enough to light up Georgia's depleted defense, and this could turn into another 2012 Baylor vs. West Virginia quickly.

    Ultimately, Clemson will still be in the driver's seat for the ACC title even if it loses to Georgia. The season opener is all about national title hopes.

7. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Poll Points: 450

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 28

    Season Opener: Rice Owls, Saturday, Aug. 31. at 1 p.m.

    UPDATE Aug. 28, 2013: As reported by Sports Illustrated via TexasAgs.com's Billy Liucci, Johnny Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the season opener vs. Rice.

    Texas A&M has the reigning Heisman winner on its offense, along with two of Clay Matthews' cousins on the line of scrimmage. Whether or not Johnny Manziel lives up to expectations, he'll have an hour and a half to make his decision on each play, assuming he does play.

    Whether Manziel performs at Heisman level again in 2013, the Aggies have enough talent to make the Top 10 handily. That's a lot to say about a squad that returns just 10 starters.

    There is really an embarrassment of riches over in College Station, but the defense is suspect. With just four starters coming back, Texas A&M may not be able to stop the SEC offenses. This season will be feast or famine for the Aggies.

    From the votes, they are expected to feast.

6. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Poll Points: 496

    2012 Record: 11-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 14

    Season Opener: UNC Tar Heels, Thursday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m.

    South Carolina is making a run at the SEC title game again in 2013. If the stars align perfectly, the Gamecocks can end up undefeated national champions. Until the stars actually start aligning, though, there are other favorites from the SEC standing between South Carolina and the No. 1 spot in any poll.

    South Carolina returns 12 starters, but Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw are two of them. In fact, seven are coming back on the offensive side of the ball, so the scores that the Gamecocks put up should look relatively similar to those from 2012.

    While the defense will have to adjust quickly, Clowney will ensure that opposing quarterbacks have very little time to get settled in. South Carolina has a great shot at the SEC title game, though the No. 14 SoS is not going to make that any easier.

    First thing's first, though: The Gamecocks have to concentrate on a highly talented UNC team who could derail any hopes of a national championship on opening night.

5. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Poll Points: 536

    2012 Record: 12-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 23

    Season Opener: Clemson Tigers, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m.

    Georgia leads the season off with a make-or-break game against the Clemson Tigers. The winner of this game will control its own destiny for the national championship. Of course, with 11 (or 12) more games between them and that title, anything can happen.

    Georgia starts the season off this highly, because many voters expect them to contend for a third-straight appearance in the conference championship game in December. With Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, that's not a stretch at all.

    Those are just three of Georgia's 10 returning offensive starters (three returning on defense). Yes, the defense is a concern, but a nearly 100 percent complete offense is a rare commodity in college football, regardless of the era.

    Georgia can turn in enough points to make its own defense almost irrelevant. If that defense even finishes in the top 40, look for Georgia in the SEC title game and the national championship.

4. Stanford Cardinal

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    Poll Points: 546

    2012 Record: 12-2

    Strength of Schedule: No. 8

    Season Opener: San Jose State Spartans, Saturday, Sept. 7, at 11 p.m.

    Stanford is one of the best teams in the Pac-12, and the Cardinal have proven themselves by earning three BCS bowl berths in a row from 2010 to 2012. Heading into 2013, the conference is getting a little more muddled, but the top tier is still Stanford and Oregon for the time being.

    Stanford brings back eight offensive and seven defensive starters from last season's Pac-12 championship team. It would be a surprise to see those 15 kids lose more than one game.

    The season starts against the San Jose State Spartans, who took the Cardinal to the wire in 2012. It may not be the most heavily hyped opener of the season, but you'd be doing yourself a favor if you tuned in for at least a quarter.

3. Oregon Ducks

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    Poll Points: 558

    2012 Record: 12-1

    Strength of Schedule: No. 58

    Season Opener: Nicholls State Colonels, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

    Oregon is the other team at the top of the Pac-12. Even with the coaching change over the offseason, the Ducks show up as the favorite to win the conference.

    Oregon has achieved success over the past few years, but the Ducks have failed to capture that elusive national title. Yet again, this could be their year. With 15 returning starters, including Colt Lyerla (TE) and Marcus Mariota (QB), everything points to success for the Ducks.

    There is a concern at head coach, but it isn't a big one. If Chip Kelly turns out to have been the key to victory for Oregon (like Bobby Petrino was at Arkansas), then things could get bad in a hurry in Eugene.

    The bottom line is that Mark Helfrich is nothing like John L. Smith. Helfrich was a top-notch offensive coordinator, and he's intimately familiar with the system in Eugene. Oregon should still win 10 games without breaking a sweat.

    The season opener against Nicholls State will definitely give the Ducks a quick 1-0 start to 2013.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Poll Points: 580 (1)

    2012 Record: 12-0

    Strength of Schedule: No. 67

    Season Opener: Buffalo Bulls, Saturday, Aug. 31, at noon

    Ohio State ended 2012 as the only undefeated team in the FBS, and was rewarded with a single first-place vote here. While the Buckeyes didn't play a bowl game, therefore avoiding a risk that others took, don't dock them many points for that. Going undefeated during the regular season is still nearly impossible.

    The Buckeyes return more than half the team, with 13-of-22 coming back, but the losses on defense are immense (only four returners there), especially with Johnathan Hankins no longer suiting up.

    Ohio State does return nine on offense, and that kind of experience will bring fantastic results. Expect to see the dropped passes, missed routes and general lack of rhythm from 2012 disappear by mid-September.

    An Ohio State offense firing on all cylinders should scare anyone. If the Buckeyes play to their potential all season, they will absolutely scare whatever opponent lines up against them in the national title game.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Poll Points: 624 (24)

    2012 Record: 13-1

    Strength of Schedule: No. 40

    Season Opener: Virginia Tech Hokies, Saturday, Aug. 31, at 5:30 p.m.

    Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and three of the last four, and the Tide received 24 first-place votes in this poll. Regardless of what happens throughout the season to lower Alabama's ranking, there is little doubt which team belongs at No. 1 in any preseason poll.

    Don't forget about Alabama's 13 returning starters, either. There are concerns on defense, but seven of the 11 starters are coming back on that side of the line. The concerns are minimal.

    On offense, the number basically doesn't even matter (six), because Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and AJ McCarron are three of them. McCarron will endure some growing pains due to the new bodies on the offensive line.

    It will be a while before he has the kind of time to thrown the ball that he had last season. He'll figure it out quickly, or the Tide will not be No. 1 for long...no pressure.

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