After a thrilling final BCS National Championship Game capped off college football's magnificent 2013-14 campaign, there's nothing else to do but look ahead to the top teams of the upcoming season.
There's going to be a lot of news made between January and August, but it's never too early to take a look at how the toughest programs stack up on paper.
Without further ado, here's a sneak peek at the teams that'll open up the 2014 season.
1. Florida State
Jameis Winston will spend at least one more year under Jimbo Fisher's tutelage at Florida State after winning the national championship against Auburn. Even though guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Cameron Erving could leave for the 2014 NFL draft, FSU's roster is stacked with elite talent from top to bottom.
Interestingly enough, McCarron was quick to dismiss any notion that his Crimson Tide will suffer without him, as reported by Andrew Gribble of AL.com:
Everybody was worried when Greg (McElroy) was leaving. I heard people say Alabama was going to fall off. I'm sure one of these guys will step up and do an unbelievable job and make a lot of Alabama fans proud and the rest of our coaching staff proud.
Whoever lines up behind center for 'Bama in 2014, you can be sure he'll have plenty of help from T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the team's talented running backs.
Nick Marshall will be back, and one more year under Gus Malzahn could make him a Heisman hopeful by the time 2014 is over and done with. Additionally, he'll be playing with most of the same teammates, as running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are the only significant expected losses via the NFL draft.
4. Ohio State
As SI and CBS also reported earlier Braxton Miller will return to Ohio State next season— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 5, 2014
Given the exceptional young talent coming back on offense, Miller should have a huge season. If the Buckeyes can learn how to play defense, then this team could go all the way.
The Cardinal have a tall task ahead of them replacing stalwarts like running back Tyler Gaffney and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy—all of whom will be headed to the NFL. But head coach David Shaw has impressively built on Jim Harbaugh's excellent recruiting. This program won't have any issues replacing its stars.
Marcus Mariota made the right decision to stay in school after finishing off his 2013 campaign with a whimper. Losing big games will only help him become more formidable for the Ducks in 2014, however, and if this team can figure out a way to beat Stanford, then it could finally go undefeated.
Trevor Knight put a huge target on his back for media praise and relentless scrutiny by having the game of his young life against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The freshman phenom passed for 348 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception, leading Oklahoma over 'Bama, 45-31.
Hey, I've got total respect for Alabama, but you can't deny what we did last night. Obviously, we can play with anybody, whether it's the SEC or anyone else. And to say we can't … well, Alabama's been rolling the SEC for the last three years and we didn't seem to be overwhelmed last night. I'm done with that talk.
Oklahoma is on the rise, and if Knight continues to progress in 2014 like he did this past year, then the Sooners will be tough to stop.
Brett Hundley is coming back to school, according to Edward Lewis of Rivals.com, and he gives UCLA a shot to take down Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 this upcoming season:
#UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has announced he'll stay at UCLA another year.— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) January 6, 2014
Jim Mora has been brilliant on the recruiting trail, and he's got talent coming into the program from all across the nation.
Baylor will be in stiff competition with Oklahoma in the Big 12, but Bryce Petty gives this team a chance to win every game. This team will need to overcome the loss of key starters on the offensive line—including Cyril Richardson—but points haven't been hard to come by for the Bears the past few years.
10. Michigan State
Losing cornerback Darqueze Dennard (if he declares) and senior linebacker Max Bullough will be tough for the Spartans. These two players were arguably the best at their positions in 2013.
But the stellar play of quarterback Connor Cook toward the end of the season gives fans hope that Michigan State's offense will carry more of the load in 2014.
It'll be interesting to see what LSU's offense looks like next season without Zach Mettenberger and likely without top receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. All five offensive linemen should be back in place, meaning Les Miles could resort to a run-heavy approach once again.
But nobody should expect anything less than another 10-win season for the Tigers—a mark Miles has hit four years running.
12. South Carolina
Losing Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney is tough, but the Gamecocks will return many starters on both sides of the ball. Dylan Thompson is coming into the season with three starts under his belt already, and he should be able to run Steve Spurrier's offense smoothly from the get-go.
He'll have a couple of young pass-rushers to build around, however, in Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, and the young players in the defensive secondary should be much-improved with another year together.
The Missouri Tigers are in good hands offensively with Maty Mauk, who'll be starting at quarterback with James Franklin leaving. Mauk threw 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in backup duty in 2013, and that experience will serve him well in the season to come.
On defense, losing key starters Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Andrew Wilson and E.J. Gaines will be a huge challenge to overcome. Young players must step up for Missouri to repeat as SEC East champs.
Steve Sarkisian brings a fresh vibe to Southern California, which finished off a tumultuous 2013 season in style with a 45-20 blowout win over Fresno State.
It will be fascinating to see if Cody Kessler can keep redshirt freshman Max Brown from taking over the starting quarterback duties. But whoever starts behind center, you can bet the Trojans will lean heavily on their many talented running backs early in the year.
Running back Melvin Gordon is an intriguing early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Wisconsin will lose James White, which means Gordon will likely receive a heavier workload next season. This young man is capable of carrying the Badgers to a Big Ten Championship.
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will both be playing for NFL teams next season, meaning Clemson's offense must find a new identity. However, the Tigers will be returning many defensive starters and key offensive linemen, so not all hope is lost.
That said, it'll be shocking if Clemson wins 10 games.
18. Ole Miss
Look out, SEC offenses, when Ole Miss comes your way.
With returning defensive starters like Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Denzel Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt, the Runnin' Rebels will be formidable on the defensive side of the ball.
Whether or not the offense can win games is a question that has yet to be answered, but this program is certainly headed in the right direction under head coach Hugh Freeze.
19. Arizona State
Arizona State's offense should be explosive with returning starters quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong, who were key members of last year's team that averaged 41 points per game. However, as pointed out by Dave Bartoo, only five returning starters are coming back on the defensive side:
In particular, losing defensive tackle Will Sutton will be a huge blow for this defense.
Losing Sarkisian was brutal, but Washington rebounded nicely by signing Chris Petersen away from Boise State. It was a perfect marriage for both parties, as Petersen needed to move on.
Look for the Huskies to be formidable on defense, but the biggest key for this team's success will be whether or not running back Bishop Sankey and quarterback Keith Price can be adequately replaced.
21. Notre Dame
With the return of Everett Golson, Notre Dame's offense should be much-improved in 2014. However, this team is losing some huge pieces on defense, as Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III will both be entering the NFL next season.
And the schedule for 2014 looks brutal.
With 10 opponents that went to bowl games this past season, Brian Kelly will do well to lead his team to eight wins.
22. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are losing a lot of key starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Clint Chelf, defensive tackles Calvin Barnett, cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey.
It's hard to imagine Oklahoma State will be able to match its 2013 total of 10 wins.
Blake Bortles ditched his senior season in favor of the NFL draft, and UCF will have its work cut out to duplicate last year's success. That said, given the way this team's defense clamped down on opposing offenses this past year, the Knights will be a tough out every week no matter who they're playing.
24. Texas A&M
Without Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, the Aggies will be hard-pressed to score 44-plus points a game on offense. But the real issues facing Kevin Sumlin lie on the defensive side of the ball. Texas A&M was horrible defensively in 2013, and he's got his work cut out for him to improve.
Michigan should get better in 2014.
With Devin Gardner starting for his second straight year and running back Derrick Green coming on strong, the Wolverines should be able to move the ball consistently on offense.
Michigan's defense was young and raw last season, but many starters are returning, and they should play better together with another season under their belts.
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