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College Football Rankings 2014: B/R's Top 25 Post-NFL Draft Announcements

Jeff BellCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2014

College Football Rankings 2014: B/R's Top 25 Post-NFL Draft Announcements

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    FSU QB Jameis Winston
    FSU QB Jameis WinstonDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    It's time for everyone favorite topic: college football preseason rankings (the eight months in advance edition)!

    If the goal was to find some sort of consensus as to which 25 teams belonged in the post-NFL draft announcements version of the Top 25 for 2014, let's just say we might be here until the start of the actual season.

    But we love sports because of the debates they provide. If you're reading this, you're most likely a year-round college football junkie, which also means that not seeing your team in an ideal spot will cause your blood to boil and your face to redden at such injustice.

    Not to worry, though, because this subjective exercise often results in plenty of laughter and embarrassment when the season begins, and teams either rise or fall in the rankings in dramatic fashion, making the list you're about to read look downright silly.

    All that said, here is a very early look at Bleacher Report's Top 25 for the 2014 college football season following the recent slew of NFL draft announcements from non-seniors.

     

    On the outside looking in: Texas, Texas Tech, Louisville, Duke, UCF, Oklahoma State, Washington.

    Note: All stats via CFBStats.com. You can find a list of all early entries for the 2014 NFL draft here.

25) Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State coach Bull Syder
    Kansas State coach Bull SyderRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    After an impressive victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Kansas State enters the offseason with plenty of momentum.

    The Wildcats' biggest reason for optimism moving forward is quarterback Jake Waters, who came on strong in the latter stages of the 2013 season. Waters finished the year with nearly 2,500 yards passing and 18 touchdowns to go along with more than 300 yards rushing and another six scores.

    Though Bill Snyder's team loses running back John Hubert, it welcomes back wide receiver Tyler Lockett, one of the Big 12's best. Oklahoma and Baylor will likely enter the season as favorites to win the conference, but the Wildcats could be primed to surprise.

24) Arizona State Sun Devils

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    QB Taylor Kelly
    QB Taylor KellyDonald Miralle/Getty Images

    The Arizona State team that was pushed around and bullied by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl was not the same team we're predicting we'll see at the start of the 2014 season.

    Consider the year that unheralded quarterback Taylor Kelly had: over 3,600 yards passing with 28 touchdowns to go along with more than 600 yards on the ground. As Kelly enters his third season as a starter, expect his poise and maturity level to be at an all-time high.

    This ranking would be higher if not for the loss of linebacker Carl Bradford, a physical beast who roamed the middle of the field in 2013. But running back D.J. Foster and wide receiver Jaelen Strong both return to the offense, which shouldn't have any trouble putting up points next year.

23) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
    Notre Dame coach Brian KellyJoe Raymond/Associated Press

    No matter where Notre Dame lands in the rankings, fans aren't going to be happy. There's the contingent of Fighting Irish supporters that typically think the team deserves to higher, and then there are those who don't want to see them ranked at all.

    Part of the reasoning for the Golden Domers' inclusion here is the return of quarterback Everett Golson, who should bring back some dynamic playmaking ability to the position. But this is a team that beat BYU, hung with Stanford and then beat Rutgers to end the season.

    Replacing Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt will be a massive challenge for the defense, but the Irish should be hopeful for a big season in 2014.

22) Ole Miss Rebels

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    QB Bo Wallace
    QB Bo WallaceJim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Aside from an Egg Bowl loss to Mississippi State, Ole Miss was a team that played very much to script in 2013. The Rebels beat up on the teams they were supposed to take care of, lost to some of the SEC's best and snatched an upset victory over LSU.

    The most significant loss of the offseason was wide receiver Donte Moncrief, but it might be muted a bit with the return of freshman Laquon Treadwell, who had over 600 yards receiving in just his first season.

    Finally, there's quarterback Bo Wallace, who, in a league that had several outstanding quarterbacks, managed to have a great season with over 3,300 yards through the air and 18 touchdowns. With a bowl victory over Georgia Tech to end the year, look for the Rebels to head into spring and fall camp with high expectations.

21) Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin
    Texas A&M coach Kevin SumlinJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    A lot of folks seem to be high on Texas A&M right now, which is understandable given the amount of talent coach Kevin Sumlin has amassed in College Station.

    But the losses suffered thus far in the offseason are significant. There's wide receiver Mike Evans and former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, two players who provided the majority of the offense this past season.

    Then there's the issue of a defense that gave up over 32 points per game. The bright side is that it can't really get worse, but the Aggies will need major improvements on that side of the ball to help whoever wins the quarterback job get off to a solid start.

20) North Carolina Tar Heels

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    QB Marquise Williams
    QB Marquise WilliamsStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Forget everything you thought you knew about North Carolina in football, because the Tar Heels quietly became one of the best teams in the second half of the 2013 season.

    Larry Fedora's squad won six out of its final seven games, and it returns five of its top six pass-catchers as well as quarterback Marquise Williams. Freshman running back T.J. Logan also returns after rushing for over 500 yards and and four scores in just nine games.

    So while, in the past, North Carolina has often been the team that people are high on before it crumbles, 2014 looks to be different.

19) Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
    Iowa coach Kirk FerentzAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Iowa Hawkeyes were big winners in the early entry sweepstakes, as left tackle Brandon Scherff, one of the nation's best, decided to return for another season. Add that to another year in the system for quarterback Jake Rudock and running back Mark Weisman, and you can see why this team is in good shape.

    In the Outback Bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz's team took LSU to the limit before falling 21-14. The defense will be salty once again, and if the offense can become even a little more explosive, this is a team that could challenge in the Big Ten.

    The Hawkeyes will also have the benefit of missing Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the regular season, which could result in two or three more victories.

18) Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    RB Ameer Abdullah
    RB Ameer AbdullahEric Francis/Getty Images

    Nebraska is one of the teams that makes you scratch your head and think, "Where the heck does it belong in the preseason rankings?" There were blowout losses to UCLA and Iowa and an ugly defeat to Minnesota, but there was also the season-ending victory over Georgia.

    The difference between the Cornhuskers being ranked and unranked is the return of running back Ameer Abdullah, who had nearly 1,700 yards rushing on the season. Even if the quarterback position sees little or no improvement, Abdullah will be a guy who can consistently move the chains against anybody.

    On defense, watch for lineman Randy Gregory to gain national attention after tallying 16.5 tackles for loss and almost 10 sacks in 2013. The Big Ten conference could be back on the rise next year, and this Nebraska team is a major reason why.

17) USC Trojans

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    QB Cody Kessler
    QB Cody KesslerEthan Miller/Getty Images

    USC is yet another team that seems to either be ranked way too high or way too low before the games begin, but we think No. 17 is just right. The Trojans were hit hard by early draft entries, losing center Marcus Martin, defensive tackle George Uko, safety Dion Bailey and wide receiver Marqise Lee.

    But Steve Sarkisian's team returns a stable of running backs led by Javorius Allen, a rising quarterback in Cody Kessler (who may have to fend off super-freshman Max Browne) and wideout Nelson Agholor, a dynamic playmaker in the open field.

    On defense, tackle Leonard Williams should take over former Arizona State Sun Devil Will Sutton's spot as the Pac-12's most-feared interior lineman. Add to the mix what should be another solid recruiting class, and these Trojans look poised to contend alongside UCLA in the South Division.

16) Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson celebrates an Orange Bowl victory
    Clemson celebrates an Orange Bowl victoryChris Trotman/Getty Images

    You know Clemson has a wealth of credibility when it loses its star quarterback, its top two pass-catchers and its best cornerback and still deserves consideration for a spot in the Top 25.

    That's a testament to the kind of depth coach Dabo Swinney has built in his club, as a No. 16 preseason ranking assumes that untapped talent will be unveiled shortly.

    Defensive end Vic Beasley will return as the anchor of perhaps the entire team, and if the offense can power through early-season struggles, the Tigers will remain contenders in the ACC.

15) Missouri Tigers

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    Quarterback Maty Mauk
    Quarterback Maty MaukKevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    It's not often that a team will lose its senior quarterback and starting running back and look even better heading into the next season. But it's not often that a signal-caller like Maty Mauk is waiting in the wings, either.

    Mauk replaced an injured James Franklin partway through the season and looked like a seasoned veteran in leading his team to several blowout victories. A narrow loss to South Carolina was his only poor performance, but he still ended up with 11 passing touchdowns and two interceptions on the year.

    Add in 229 yards rushing, and we're perhaps looking at the next great dual-threat quarterback in college football.

    The defense may struggle after losing key players like Kony Ealy, but wide receiver Dorial-Green Beckham is just coming into his own, and if Mauk's play this past season was a sign of things to come, the Tigers are just getting started.

14) LSU Tigers

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    LSU head coach Les Miles
    LSU head coach Les MilesKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The LSU Tigers were once again decimated by players leaving early for the NFL draft, but haven't we seen this before? And hasn't Les Miles worked his magic and kept the Tigers competitive?

    Even with the losses, you can expect LSU to stay nasty on defense and physical on offense behind running backs Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. There's also this Leonard Fournette guy fans seem to be, oh, just a bit excited about.

    Quarterback Anthony Jennings showed promise after senior Zach Mettenberger was injured, and if he can continue to develop throughout the offseason, the Tigers will remain a threat in the SEC West.

13) Baylor Bears

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    QB Bryce Petty
    QB Bryce PettyMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Anything is possible when you return a quarterback who threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns, which is exactly what Bryce Petty did for Baylor in 2013.

    His top target, Antwan Goodley, is also returning after posting over 1,300 yards receiving and 13 scores. One concern heading into 2014 may be the defense, which loses talent at every level.

    But the Bears shouldn't have any problems scoring next year, and if the offense can avoid the small droughts that resulted in losses to Oklahoma State and UCF, another 10-win season will be on the horizon.

12) Wisconsin Badgers

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    RB Melvin Gordon
    RB Melvin GordonDavid Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Running back Melvin Gordon alone makes Wisconsin a dangerous team next season, but the Badgers' schedule might be the biggest reason we're putting them so close to the Top 10.

    Start with a game against LSU, which is a chance to make an early statement. Having an experienced quarterback in Joel Stave should help in the raucous environment, though the Tigers will likely have a decided edge in crowd noise.

    After that, Wisconsin won't see Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State in the regular season, so the possibility of reaching 10 or 11 wins looms large.

    Stave's top four pass-catchers are all departing, so the difference between another decent bowl game and a trip to the initial College Football Playoff might lie in finding playmakers on the outside to help offset what Gordon will be doing on the ground.

11) South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Quarterback Dylan Thompson
    Quarterback Dylan ThompsonL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    After an impressive victory over Wisconsin to close out the season, South Carolina heads into 2014 with plenty of optimism. Quarterback Connor Shaw is gone, but backup Dylan Thompson has more experience than your average second-stringer and he's shown flashes of great play in the past.

    After the medium-sized question mark at quarterback, you have a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Mike Davis and two outstanding wide receivers in Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd.

    The defense loses some beef up front in Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, so finding a way to slow down some of the power-rushing attacks in the SEC will be of utmost importance. But if Spurrier can get his offense up to speed early on, the Gamecocks will be contenders yet again.

10) Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia head coach Mark Richt
    Georgia head coach Mark RichtDave Tulis/Associated Press

    Give credit to Georgia head coach Mark Richt for leading his team to eight wins despite a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball. One of those players, running back Todd Gurley, only a missed a few games but should arrive for the 2014 season ready to dominate.

    His backfield mate, Keith Marshall, will also be back, giving the Bulldogs perhaps the best one-two punch in the nation. The biggest question will obviously be the play of quarterback Hutson Mason, who was forced into action late in the season, but the ground game should help him along.

    A young defense also gets a year older and, more importantly, healthier. Junior wideouts Chris Conley and Michael Bennett return as the top targets in the passing game as well.

9) UCLA Bruins

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    QB Brett Hundley
    QB Brett HundleyStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The UCLA Bruins are more than just "on the rise" at this point—they're legitimate contenders in the Pac-12. And with a few breaks here and there, Jim Mora's team could be headed to the first College Football Playoff.

    The reason for hope begins and ends with quarterback Brett Hundley, a dual-threat dynamo with a monster arm. The biggest problem for the offense has been finding dominant playmakers to complement Hundley, but the unit suffers no significant losses aside from Xavier Su'a-Filo on the offensive line.

    On the defensive side of the ball, linebackers Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt will be gone, but young studs Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes look like future All-Americans at their respective positions. If Hundley takes the next step forward in his development, UCLA will be neck-and-neck with Stanford and Oregon for the title of best team in the Pac-12.

8) Ohio State Buckeyes

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    QB Braxton Miller
    QB Braxton MillerStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There's a lot of talent the Ohio State Buckeyes will need to replace from their 2013 squad, most notably running back Carlos Hyde, four of the five starting offensive linemen and defensive standouts Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby.

    But the return of the dynamic Braxton Miller at quarterback means that anything is possible for Urban Meyer's club when college football resumes next fall.

    The first step to getting better will have to come from the defense, which allowed more than 34 points in the two losses to end the season. But Miller will also have to become a more reliable passer. If that happens, there's no reason we shouldn't see the Buckeyes back in the conference title game.

7) Stanford Cardinal

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    QB Kevin Hogan
    QB Kevin HoganStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Stanford has built a reputation of hard-nosed play, led by its intimidating defense, but 2014 could be challenging for the Cardinal after they suffered several losses on both sides of the ball.

    From the linebacking corps, David Shaw's team will be without Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Then there's Josh Mauro and Henry Anderson departing from the trenches and both Cameron Fleming and David Yankey leaving the offensive line. Running back Tyler Gaffney, the go-to player on offense, is graduating.

    With so many players leaving from a team that made it to a second straight Rose Bowl, not to mention the departure of defensive coordinator Derek Mason, the onus will be on quarterback Kevin Hogan to take a big step forward in his development as a passer. Fortunately for him, he'll have his top five receiving targets back, led by wide receiver Ty Montgomery.

6) Oklahoma Sooners

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    Head coach Bob Stoops after the Sugar Bowl
    Head coach Bob Stoops after the Sugar BowlKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    All throughout the 2013 season, the Oklahoma Sooners appeared to be an OK team with better days ahead, especially after getting stomped on by rival Texas. The result in bowl season? A Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama and a crazy amount of momentum moving forward.

    The majority of it came from the outstanding play of quarterback Trevor Knight, who lit up the Crimson Tide defense for well over 300 passing yards and four touchdowns. Just a freshman, it feels like Knight has all the potential in the world, and he's finally ready to show it.

    On defense, Eric Striker will be a name to remember after he wreaked havoc on a normally stout Tide offensive line. If Knight can prove that his bowl game effort wasn't simply a flash-in-the-pan career game, these Sooners will be in contention for a national title in 2014.

5) Oregon Ducks

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    QB Marcus Mariota
    QB Marcus MariotaRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Few people realized just how special Marcus Mariota was until he arrived at the Alamo Bowl fully healthy and proceeded to pile up over 130 yards through the air and on the ground in the first half.

    His abilities are the biggest reason the Oregon Ducks are ranked so high, but a veteran offensive line will make a big difference too. Add in returning tailbacks Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, and the offense should be just fine, even after losing Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas.

    The real questions pop up when you begin to look at the defense, which loses Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikippi up front, not to mention three of the four starters in the secondary. If new defensive coordinator Don Pellum can get improved play from his linebackers, the unit should be okay.

4) Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban
    Alabama head coach Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It's hard to know what to make of Alabama after consecutive defeats to end the season. The loss to Oklahoma was particularly embarrassing considering Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight was able to do to the Tide what he couldn't against anyone else: dominate.

    Still, Nick Saban remains the head coach and the defense reloads with a number of highly touted players. The Tide will be tough to score on and tough to stop on the ground, at least if running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have anything to say about it.

    But Alabama is also moving on without quarterback AJ McCarron for the first time in what seems like forever. It isn't the clear-cut favorite that it has been in preseasons past, but perhaps that will benefit a young club looking to regain its status as the best team in the country.

3) Auburn Tigers

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    QB Nick Marshall
    QB Nick MarshallJeff Gross/Getty Images

    The loss of Tre Mason to the NFL was a huge blow to Gus Malzahn's offense, but if he can take a squad from three wins to the brink of a national title in year one, imagine what's in store for year two.

    What's more, quarterback Nick Marshall returns as an experienced signal-caller who won't be intimidated by anyone or any place.

    Putting the Tigers at No. 3 means we're banking on Marshall improving during the offseason and for the defense to take another step forward. If the offense somehow improves, it's hard to imagine anyone stopping it.

2) Michigan State Spartans

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    QB Connor Cook
    QB Connor CookJonathan Moore/Getty Images

    Perhaps we're jumping on the Spartans bandwagon a bit too prematurely, but after a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, 2014 is shaping up to be something special.

    Start with the fact that quarterback Connor Cook has established himself as a legitimate passer in an offense that desperately needed someone to step up. Running back Jeremy Langford, who tallied over 1,400 yards and 18 scores, is returning, as are three of the team's top four receivers from 2013.

    Clogging up the middle of the defense is Shilique Calhoun, and behind him are playmakers at every level. The Spartans will be tested early on at Oregon, but if they can escape Eugene with a victory, they'll be in great position to secure a bid to the College Football Playoff.

    The biggest key for coach Mark Dantonio's team will be finding a rhythm early and not forcing the defense to bail out the offense all the time.

1) Florida State Seminoles

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    Quarterback Jameis Winston
    Quarterback Jameis WinstonJeff Gross/Getty Images

    The defending national champions are No. 1 on our way-too-early Top 25 for 2014, as it should be. In fact, barring a complete decimation on both sides of the ball, teams that hold the title belt should have the right to defend it from the top.

    That's exactly what Florida State will be doing, though putting it atop the rankings isn't some symbolic gesture; this team is just really, really good.

    Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns at quarterback, 1,000-yard receiver Rashad Greene will be back and the defense should remain filthy.

    Now, Florida State enters the year not as the team everyone predicts won't be able to live up to its ranking, but as the team everybody wants to knock off. Winston and the Seminoles aren't going to surprise anybody in 2014, which should make for yet another fantastic season of football.

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