Starting the season outside of the Top 25 is never a good omen, but that hasn’t stopped teams in the past from making a meteoric rise through the ranks. It should be no different this year, as, outside of a few rock-solid programs at the top, there is room for movement within the AP poll.
Let’s take a look at the complete preseason college football rankings and then highlight three teams that should make their way into the Top 25 rather soon.
Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU is poised for a breakout season and is in perfect position to make waves, as the program is sitting just outside of the Top 25 before the season.
The schedule is quite favorable toward the team making a drastic and rapid leap forward, as the school hosts No. 23 Wisconsin on Sept. 14 before traveling to Stanford on Sept. 21. No. 24 USC visits Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 28, and then the squad travels to Dallas for a neutral-site showdown with the No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Where will ASU finish the year ranked inside?
If ASU is able to win out during that four-game stretch, it should move from the cusp of the polls to the top.
Don’t call it improbable either. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is returning and is hoping to capitalize on an excellent sophomore campaign under first-year coach Todd Graham, who is also back for another run.
Tight end Chris Coyle will be one of Kelly’s top targets. The 6’3”, 222-pound behemoth is quite athletic and is capable of making big plays. He caught 63 passes for 769 yards and five touchdowns last year and should be in line for much more in 2013.
The defense isn’t shabby either, with lineman Will Sutton leading a group that returns eight starters and may feature a number of All-Pac-12 studs when all is said and done.
Michigan State Spartans
Sparty may have lost a few big-name players—such as star running back Le’Veon Bell—but the team is far from decimated.
Seven starters are returning on the defensive side of the football, which was one of MSU’s biggest strengths in 2012. The Spartans D ranked atop the Big Ten for the past two years and is an early favorite to pull off a hat trick in that department.
Pat Narduzzi, the defensive coordinator during the stretch, was recently promoted to assistant head coach, indicating that the Spartans could be even more focused on defense this year.
You are looking at the recipe for a Top 25 rise when you factor in that the Spartans have received a ton of votes in the AP poll and don’t face anything but cupcakes until the Sept. 21 showdown with Notre Dame. That should give this group plenty of time to get clicking on offense and find a way to simply pound the rock behind their big offensive line.
Penn State Nittany Lions
This beleaguered program shocked the world by putting together a respectable 8-4 record in 2012 after being rocked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Head coach Bill O’Brien contemplated an NFL offer after the great success of his lone season in Happy Valley, but he opted to return to continue rebuilding the Nittany Lions. PSU fans should be ecstatic, as O’Brien got the most out of this patchwork team and helped his players gel into a respectable force.
While true freshman Christian Hackenberg may struggle under center, he’s a highly touted recruit who could make a huge impact fast. Hackenberg is currently listed as a co-starter, which means O’Brien might decide to yank him at a moment's notice for Tyler Ferguson.
It’s not the most efficient system and it isn’t great for a signal-caller's confidence, but it could end up winning PSU some games it would otherwise lose in the event that its young quarterback is melting down.
This gamble could pay dividends, and we’ll get our first chance to see if it does when Penn State takes the field against Syracuse on Saturday.