Ranking the Top 10 College Football Teams to Watch in 2014

Zach GillilandFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 College Football Teams to Watch in 2014

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    Florida State and Auburn will be among the nation's best next season.
    Florida State and Auburn will be among the nation's best next season.Harry How/Getty Images

    I know the college football season just ended, but this silent period gives us a chance to look forward at the teams that we should pay attention to.

    This list is made up of the 10 best teams looking ahead to next season. Teams are on this list because they are the ones I feel have the best chance at making a title run.

    I know what you’re thinking, “It’s January”. Other factors like recruiting, suspensions and coaching changes could alter the outlook at any moment. For now though, this is how the top 10 looks for 2014.

Close, but Not Top 10: Honorable Mentions

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    Charlie Strong will try to get Texas back into the national picture.
    Charlie Strong will try to get Texas back into the national picture.Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

    Texas

    The Charlie Strong era will begin in Austin, Texas next season, but the road to glory certainly will not be an easy one.

    The Longhorns’ non-conference games include BYU and UCLA, not to mention Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State within Big 12 play.

    David Ash and rising sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will battle for the starting quarterback position.

    Texas will be a good team next year, but with the tough schedule, I’m not so sure they can make a run at the playoff.

     

    LSU

    The Tigers will welcome in a new starter at quarterback next season.

    Anthony Jennings played in the Outback Bowl for an injured Zach Mettenberger. Jennings did not play very well in that game, throwing for only 82 yards.

    Questions about the quarterback position is the reason LSU does not make the list, but the Tigers’ other playmakers will be enough for them to have a solid season. They also have a strong recruiting class coming in, including highly recruited quarterback Brandon Harris and the top overall prospect Leonard Fournette.

     

    USC

    This is another team with a new head coach with Steve Sarkisian as their guy.

    The Trojans played very well in their bowl game against Fresno State, and Cody Kessler brought smiles to the faces of USC fans, throwing for four touchdowns.

    The Trojans also have another guy at quarterback that might get playing time; former 5-star recruit Max Browne. Browne should likely give Kessler good competition this offseason.

    The reason USC doesn’t make the list here is questions regarding Sarkisian’s ability to lead this program back to prominence. Southern Cal has the players, I’m just not sold on Sarkisian yet.

     

10. Michigan State

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    Jeremy Langford will be among the best running backs in the nation next season.
    Jeremy Langford will be among the best running backs in the nation next season.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The Spartans surprised everyone this season, winning the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. Their defense gave opposing quarterbacks nightmares, only giving up 13.2 points per game to opponents.

    Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford helped lead this bruising offense. Langford rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, while Cook threw for 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

    Michigan State has a tough schedule in 2014, so it will not be an easy road for them.

    The second week of the season they go to Eugene to play an Oregon team that will likely be ranked high. Later in the season, they have Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State at home. The Oregon-Michigan State game should be very exciting with two totally different styles battling it out. Oregon runs the spread option look that relies on speed, while Michigan State wants to out-tough their opponents and run it down their throat.

    The Spartans certainly have some tough games with Oregon and Ohio State, but they should be a team to watch for because they bring back Cook and Langford.

9. Baylor

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    Bryce Petty will look to lead Baylor to another season of offensive records.
    Bryce Petty will look to lead Baylor to another season of offensive records.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Art Briles did a heck of a job with Baylor in 2013. The Bears won the Big 12, but lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Central Florida.

    Next year’s schedule doesn’t present many challenges for Baylor.

    They play at Oklahoma and at Texas, but have Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home. Last year’s squad owned the best offense in the nation, led by quarterback Bryce Petty. He accounted for 46 touchdowns last season in Briles’ offense.

    Petty decided to come back for his senior season, so this Baylor offense should be among the best in the country again.

    The Bears will be a team to watch because of the high-octane offense. Petty may enter the Heisman talks if he has another good year, and Baylor may enter the playoff picture depending on how they play in the two big road games.

8. Oklahoma

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    Knight had a career night against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.
    Knight had a career night against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Oklahoma surprised everyone in the sports world when they took down the mighty Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Trevor Knight played the game of his career, and the Oklahoma pass rush was unstoppable.

    Now they just have to play that well against the Big 12.

    As good as the Sooners were last year, they lost games to Texas and Baylor. Baylor was a tough game, but they had no business losing to Texas.

    I really like Oklahoma’s chances next season, mainly because of their schedule. They have a non-conference game against Tennessee early in the year, but that game is at home. Other games include Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. If Knight and the defense play like they did against Alabama, then Oklahoma could be a scary team next year.

7. Stanford

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    Kevin Hogan will attempt to get Stanford over the hump this season.
    Kevin Hogan will attempt to get Stanford over the hump this season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Stanford was close to going all the way last year, but losses to Utah and Southern Cal held them back. This group showed what they were capable of by beating Oregon, now they just need to take care of the games they’re supposed to win.

    Kevin Hogan will be back next year to try and lead his team to the playoff at the end of the season. Hogan had a good year last season, throwing for 2,630 yards and 20 touchdown passes.

    Stanford’s toughest games next season are USC at home, at Notre Dame, at Oregon and at UCLA. This will be a good team next year, but the three road games are the reason they are toward the bottom of my list.

6. UCLA

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    One team that I think will really surprise people next year is the UCLA Bruins. Led by Brett Hundley, this should be a very productive offense.

    Last season Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and also rushed for 748 yards. He had 33 total touchdowns, while only tossing nine interceptions.

    The rising junior shows his athleticism in this video from the USC game. He was quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Linebacker Myles Jack played both ways towards the end of the season and added a solid running option, going for seven touchdowns on the season.

    Next season, the Bruins’ toughest tests are Texas, Oregon, Southern Cal and Stanford. UCLA will have a good chance at winning three of those four games because of how scary the offense will be. I think UCLA has a very good shot at making the playoff, which will take four teams.

5. Ohio State

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    Ohio State had the championship game spot pretty much locked up until they lost to Michigan State in the conference title game. In the Orange Bowl, they fell to Clemson, 40-35, in a thriller.

    Next season, they will be without power back Carlos Hyde, but Braxton Miller will return to school.

    Miller is one of the most exciting players in the game. He can get by as a solid passer, but he can really hurt defenses with his legs. In this video versus rival Michigan, Miller shows that his running ability must always be accounted for by defenses.

    I expect the Buckeyes to have another solid rushing attack next season. The defense should also be much improved with youngsters like Vonn Bell and Joey Bosa having more experience.

    Their toughest game is at Michigan State, but besides that, they have Virginia Tech and Michigan at home.

    They also play on the road versus Penn State. If the Buckeyes get past Michigan State, I think they will run the table and go undefeated because of the weak schedule.

    This is the reason why they are near the top of my list. The only challenge for them is the Spartans, but with Michigan State losing a couple of key players on defense, anything can happen.

4. Oregon

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    Mariota will be among the top Heisman contenders next season.
    Mariota will be among the top Heisman contenders next season.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Oregon, like others on this list, will have one of the top offenses in the country next season. Marcus Mariota coming back for another season was a great present for Ducks fans.

    Oregon has the same problem that Stanford has had. They lose games they’re supposed to win, and that ends up keeping them out of the national title picture. Last season, they lost to Arizona 42-16 and also got beat by Stanford.

    This season, the Ducks will need to find a way to stay focused all season and not let those trap games ruin their chances.

    With Mariota leading that offense, I don’t see many defenses standing in the way of his Heisman campaign. Next season they have Michigan State and Stanford at home and play UCLA on the road.

    Those will all be tough games, but I think they can get past Michigan State. If they find a way to win one of the other two, their chances at a national title will be very good.

    They are high on my list because of Mariota and the fast-paced offense. I see them losing one game next year, so they are definitely a team to watch.

3. Alabama

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    Nick Saban will need to do another good coaching job next season, as he will have a new quarterback.
    Nick Saban will need to do another good coaching job next season, as he will have a new quarterback.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama is so high on my list because, come on, it's Nick Saban. He lost the Sugar Bowl to a team he should have beaten and also lost to Auburn, another game he should have won. Saban will have the team focused in the offseason and ready to roll come next fall.

    Besides the admiration for Saban, I also like this Alabama squad.

    Even without a known starter at quarterback, this offense should still be efficient. Newly hired offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will be the factor that determines how good they can be. Kiffin will have the weapons, so it should be interesting to see if he can utilize those weapons effectively.

    Bama is loaded at running back with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry. They also still have some big receiving targets in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard.

    In 2014, Bama’s big tests will be Texas A&M and Auburn at home and LSU in a tough road game.

    Alabama is this high on the list because the only two games I see giving them trouble are LSU and Auburn. If the Crimson Tide can find a way to win one of those, they should have a good shot at making the playoff.

2. Auburn

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    Gus Malzahn produced a high-powered rushing attack in 2013 and will look to repeat the success next season.
    Gus Malzahn produced a high-powered rushing attack in 2013 and will look to repeat the success next season.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Auburn was the surprise team last year, but this season they will be on preseason polls across the country.

    The Tigers should have one of the top rushing attacks next season, even though Tre Mason declared for the NFL Draft. Nick Marshall will be back, and with Malzahn calling plays, I have all the confidence in the world in that offense.

    The Auburn defense is the surprising thing though.

    Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson did a phenomenal job last year with that squad. They have some young playmakers on the defensive line in Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, whose names will be known by America soon.

    Auburn has a much tougher schedule than Alabama: at Kansas State, LSU at home, South Carolina at home, Texas A&M at home, at Georgia, and at Alabama.

    That is one of the toughest schedules in the country, but I have them very high on my list because of coaching.

    With Johnson running the defense and Malzahn calling plays, they have great coaching on both sides of the ball. They also have the motivation to go back to the title game after letting one slip out of their hands this year.

    Auburn will be a very tough team next year, and I think they will be one of the most complete teams in the country.

1. Florida State

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    Winston will look to win a second straight Heisman trophy next season.
    Winston will look to win a second straight Heisman trophy next season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Finally, we get to the national champs of college football. Florida State was the best team in 2013, and they will be the best team in 2014.

    The Seminoles have Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returning at quarterback along with good receivers and a great offensive line.

    The defense is still in good shape even with some losses to the NFL or graduation. Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman are very important on that defensive line and will look to continue the success that Timmy Jernigan had this season.

    Florida State is the top team on my list mainly because of Winston.

    I think the rising sophomore has a very good chance of winning the Heisman again. Critics of Florida State pointed to their easy schedule in 2013 as a reason they went undefeated. In 2014, those critics won’t have anything to say. Below is an outline for the Seminoles’ schedule for next season.

    Home: Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida

    Away: Louisville, Miami

    Neutral Site: Oklahoma State

    FSU is so high because of what they have returning and the easiest answer. Why bet against the team that has already won it all?