Are the Sooners for real?
At long last, the College Football Playoff era is finally upon us.
The much-anticipated system will make its debut with the upcoming 2014 season. Instead of two teams, there will now be four that will be competing to be crowned college football’s next national champion.
Opening kickoff may still be months away, but that doesn’t mean every team across the nation hasn’t already begun taking steps toward improving from a year ago.
Can Florida State repeat as national champions? Is the Alabama dynasty really over? Will the personnel losses be too much to overcome for Ohio State?
These are just a few of the questions burning through the minds of fans.
Luckily, B/R is here to cover all your college football needs. Join us as we break down each of 2013’s final Top 10 teams and determine whether or not it should be considered a contender for next year’s inaugural College Football Playoff.
Author's Note: For the purposes of this article, the final USA Today coaches poll rankings were used.
It'll be another down year for the Buckeyes.
2013 W-L Record: 12-2 (L Orange Bowl, 40-35 vs. Clemson)
The return of quarterback Braxton Miller is huge for the Buckeyes’ chances in 2014. However, other than another top incoming recruiting class, that’s about all head coach Urban Meyer and Co. will have going for them.
For starters, Ohio State will need to replace key playmakers on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the team loses leading rusher Carlos Hyde and leading receiver Philly Brown. Defensively, the Buckeyes will miss the play of cornerback Bradley Roby and standout linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Not to mention, the Big Ten schedule will have its fair share of bumps and bruises with road trips to Michigan State and Penn State.
Given the coaching style and recruiting of Meyer, it won’t be long before Ohio State is tasting glory again.
Unfortunately, 2014 will not be that year.
There won't be a lot of celebrating for the Ducks in 2014.
2013 W-L Record: 11-2 (W Alamo Bowl, 30-7 vs. Texas)
The Ducks had us fooled for the majority of the 2013 season. It took games against Stanford and Arizona for the team to show its true colors. And by the looks of it, this is not a football program ready to compete for a national title.
Sure, returning Heisman Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota under center is huge for Oregon. However, with the talent of the Pac-12 on the rise, this team may be headed in the opposite direction.
The Ducks lost running back De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL draft, and Mariota will be without two of his top three targets, including leading receiver Josh Huff. Furthermore, the team only returns six starters on a defensive unit that struggled heavily against the run—ranked No. 66 in the nation.
Throw in the departure of longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, and the woes on defense should continue.
Oregon’s 2014 schedule does it no favors either. The team plays a nonconference matchup against Michigan State and travels to face UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
This could wind up being a very trying season for the Ducks.
The Tide will be ready to roll in 2014.
2013 W-L Record: 11-2 (L Sugar Bowl, 45-31 vs. Oklahoma)
After watching the Crimson Tide drop their final two games of the 2013 season, everyone took the rare opportunity to throw stones and laugh at the fallen college football giants.
With key losses on both sides of the ball, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to expect even more decline in Tuscaloosa next season. After all, Alabama has to scramble to replace quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
But haters be warned: Head coach Nick Saban doesn’t rebuild...he reloads.
The Tide look to have already found a quarterback, securing the transfer of highly touted Florida State backup Jacob Coker, via the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). Furthermore, the team has landed a whopping five 5-star prospects—three on defense—in a 2014 recruiting class that is expected to finish No. 1 overall, per 247Sports.
All in all, Alabama may not look too dominant over the first month of the season. However, by the midway point of 2014, you can bet that one of the top college football programs in the country will play its ball in Tuscaloosa.
How will the Tigers deal with the loss of Boyd?
2013 W-L Record: 11-2 (W Orange Bowl, 40-35 vs. Ohio State)
After an up-and-down season, the Tigers managed to close their 2013 campaign on a high note with a BCS bowl victory. But don’t expect that success to continue into the start of 2014. In fact, it might be exactly the opposite.
By the end of Week 4, Clemson could very well be sitting under .500. The team opens up on the road at Georgia, then travels to face Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium three weeks later.
For a team that will be dealing with the loss of several playmakers—quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant—that will prove to be a nightmare stretch.
Head coach Dabo Swinney will do his best to help keep Clemson competitive. Unfortunately, it just won’t be enough to have the team playing for a national title next season.
Can the Sooners continue their success in 2014?
2013 W-L Record: 11-2 (W Sugar Bowl, 45-31 vs. Alabama)
Who could have predicted that kind of finish for the Sooners in 2013?
The team closed out the season by knocking off red-hot Kansas State and upsetting then-No. 6 Oklahoma State—both on the road. Then, to top it all off, Oklahoma bullied two-time defending champion Alabama as 17-point underdogs in a BCS bowl game.
Believe it or not, this could be a glimpse of what’s to come from the boys in Norman.
Sugar Bowl hero Trevor Knight will return under center for his sophomore season. He’ll have the explosive Sterling Shepard to throw to and 5-star running back prospect Joe Mixon to hand it off to.
Throw in a defense that returns nine starters—including the entire front seven—and the Sooners will be a scary out for any opponent.
Big Game Bob is back and looking for his fifth shot at a national title since 2000.
Can Mauk be the answer Missouri needs?
2013 W-L Record: 12-2 (W Cotton Bowl, 41-31 vs. Oklahoma State)
The Tigers were definitely one of the feel-good stories of a 2013 season riddled with them. Unfortunately, head coach Gary Pinkel and his squad will take a step back before taking a step forward.
Missouri will only return 10 starters combined on both sides of the ball. The team will have to replace quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey offensively while dealing with the absence of defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Soon-to-be sophomore Maty Mauk will be expected to start at quarterback. Although he did well in relief last season, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the offense by himself.
There’s no doubt that the Tigers will have a lot of talent on their roster. However, the team will be left with some work to do to get back to their level of play from 2013.
A tough SEC schedule will prove to be far too overwhelming.
Can the Gamecocks pull it together for 2014?
2013 W-L Record: 11-2 (W Capital One Bowl, 34-24 vs. Wisconsin)
However, 2014 doesn’t look to bode well in terms of Spurrier’s national title aspirations.
South Carolina is set to lose several playmakers on defense, including three early departures to the NFL: cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. The team will also lose quarterback Connor Shaw and leading receiver Bruce Ellington.
It certainly doesn’t help that backup quarterback Dylan Thompson struggled mightily in his relief appearances.
Add to that the growth of SEC East rivals Georgia and Florida, and it just might be rough sledding for Spurrier and his Gamecocks.
Cook (left) and Langford (right) will be the Spartans' saving grace next season.
2013 W-L Record: 13-1 (W Rose Bowl, 24-20 vs. Stanford)
There hasn’t been a more anticipated football season in East Lansing in quite some time. That’s to be expected with the monstrous 2013 campaign the Spartans just had—one that saw the team capture an outright Big Ten title and win the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987.
Michigan State will see a drop-off defensively—the team loses six starters—on a unit that ranked among the nation’s best. But with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on hand, expect the Spartans to be stifling on that side of the ball once again.
But the biggest reason for the high expectations is the return of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.
After slow starts, both players stepped up their respective games. Langford finished the season rushing for over 100 yards in eight of his last nine games, while Cook saved his best for Michigan State’s final two games—he topped 300 yards in both.
Loaded with experience where it counts, look for the Spartans to make some serious noise in 2014.
The Tigers will look to build from their 2013 campaign.
2013 W-L Record: 12-2 (L BCS National Championship Game, 34-31 vs. Florida State)
Last season, the Tigers were the Cinderella story of the college football world. Next season, the team will take on another moniker: the SEC’s biggest bully.
What head coach Gus Malzahn did in his first year at the helm was truly magical. He took an Auburn roster that finished 3-9 the year before and transformed it into a powerhouse, leading the Tigers a little over a minute away from being crowned BCS champions.
In 2014, Malzahn will return with a year of experience under his belt and his first full recruiting class in tow. He will also be aided by the return of 15 of 22 starters, led by quarterback Nick Marshall.
Unlike last season, the Tigers won’t surprise teams. But that doesn’t change the fact that this will be one of the most talented teams in the nation and a near lock to make another run at a national title.
The Noles might have the inside track to winning another national title.
2013 W-L Record: 14-0 (W BCS National Championship Game, 34-31 vs. Auburn)
It’s hard not to like the Seminoles as a College Football Playoff favorite, let alone a contender. That statement is true not only for next year, but also for many years to come.
To put it simply: This squad is pretty darn loaded.
Returning heralded quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston puts Florida State in good shape. But throw in the return of 15 starters and an incoming 2014 recruiting class that currently ranks No. 5 in the nation, per 247Sports, and the team is a near lock to be playing for another national title.
Losing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will certainly be a blow. But with head coach Jimbo Fisher asserting himself as one of college football’s top coaches, the Seminoles will manage just fine.
Did we mention that the team will be playing in an ACC that just got ravaged by early NFL departures and graduation?
You’d have to be a fool to doubt Florida State.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com.