College Football Rankings 2014: Preseason's Top 25 Post National Signing Day

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

College Football Rankings 2014: Preseason's Top 25 Post National Signing Day

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    National signing day has come and gone, with hundreds of recruits from the 2014 class signed, sealed and (scheduled to be) delivered to college football programs throughout the nation.

    These standout high school, prep school and junior college stars serve as the future of their new programs, but their impact on what will happen during the 2014 season is unknown at this time. Some of the newcomers will be involved in spring drills, but the majority won't be on campus until the summer.

    In other words, anything can happen in the next six months.

    But since we all love rankings—don't fight it, just give in to the urge—this offseason milestone provides a perfect opportunity for another way-too-early preseason list. Check out the Bleacher Report Top 25, then tell us what you think in the comments section.

    Note: All recruiting rankings and ratings courtesy of

25. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Texas Tech's performance in the Holiday Bowl was a welcomed sight for a team that started 2013 at 7-0 and then lost five straight. But the effort made by quarterback Davis Webb and the Red Raiders in that final game showed what this team is capable of.

    And that should carry over into 2014.

    Webb will have a lot of weight on his shoulders, as he's the only quarterback with experience. He's lost his top weapon in tight end Jace Amaro, but Tech has never been short on viable receiving targets. And the Raiders defense, while it suffered some losses, returns enough pieces to be able to provide stability and balance.

24. Mississippi Rebels

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    After a very solid 2013 that showed the continued growth of the program, Ole Miss has high expectations going into this fall. With solid contributors returning on both sides of the ball, the Rebels should be able to fare just as well as last year.

    Bo Wallace's experience and poise at quarterback will be a key for the season, as will the play of a young-but-talented defense that will be called on to make big plays and slow down opposing SEC attacks.

23. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State was a slow starter in 2013, but down the stretch it was among the hotter teams in the nation. That momentum should carry over to this fall, when the Wildcats will bring back one of the most experienced units in the country.

    Receiver Tyler Lockett has a chance to become one of the nation's best receivers, and quarterback Jake Waters will be getting the ball to him as often as possible. And K-State's defense, though it will need to replace its linebacking corps, should be solid.

22. Clemson Tigers

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    It will be a whole new lineup on offense for Clemson, which graduated star quarterback Tajh Boyd and two terrific receivers. The losses aren't as significant on defense, but they'll still be an issue.

    Sounds ominous, but the Tigers have depth that should help replenish those losses, though the quarterback situation will be critical to success. Look for Dabo Swinney to give 4-star signee DeShaun Watson—who enrolled early and will be a part of spring practice—a chance to start right away. How he does will go a long way toward determining Clemson's season.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    After an uneven 2013 season that saw Nebraska vacillate between a hot mess and a force to be reckoned with, 2014 should feature much more consistency if the Cornhuskers stick to a specific game plan. Namely, handing it off to Ameer Abdullah.

    Abdullah's running ability will allow time for whomever Bo Pelini taps as quarterback to get settled in. Also, Nebraska fans can expect a much more solid defense than the one that often looked porous last season.

20. Texas A&M Aggies

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    No top team enters 2014 with more uncertainty than Texas A&M, which not only loses the most recognizable college football player in the game in Johnny Manziel but also a good chunk of its offensive production. Manziel and receiver Mike Evans are huge voids to fill, but Kevin Sumlin's system is one to believe in.

    Whether it will be true freshman Kyle Allen or someone else piloting the offense, the Aggies will once again need to score points to be successful. Though the defense seemingly can't get worse than it was in 2013, the unit will still have issues and may rely heavily on true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett.

19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    While Notre Dame lost a lot of key contributors from its 2013 team, the Fighting Irish can look to the return of quarterback Everett Golson as a saving grace. Golson was an integral part of the team's run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, and his experience should go a long way toward providing offensive consistency.

    But Golson won't have any impact on what Notre Dame's completely revamped defense will look like. The front line will be mostly new, while the defense will be run by new coordinator Brian VanGorder, who has the unenviable task of scheming to stop explosive offenses like Arizona State, Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina.

18. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    North Carolina was playing as good as anybody during the final half of the 2013 season, a far cry from earlier in the season when it was among the worst upper-tier programs in college football.

    The upcoming Tar Heels squad should look (and perform) a lot like that late-stage team, with quarterback Marquise Williams and tailback T.J. Logan pacing a solid offense.

    UNC's offense will need to make waves early on in 2014 to make up for a defense that struggled last year and could be a weakness again this season.

17. Georgia Bulldogs

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    It's hard not to think of how good Georgia might have been in 2013 had it not suffered so many injuries, or if it was able to be more effective on defense.

    In a sense, the Bulldogs can see what that will be like in 2014, though instead of record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, it will be Murray's successor, Hutson Mason. But the new signal-caller will be buoyed by an impressive backfield that, when healthy, is as good as it gets.

    And the defense should be much improved, starting with a clean slate under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

16. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Arizona State was a much better team than what it showed in the final month of 2013, as sizable losses to Stanford and Texas Tech tarnished a breakout season. The Sun Devils' diverse offense suffered without sidelined running back Marion Grice, but with him healthy, the Arizona State attack should return to its midseason potency.

    That offense will need to be really good, though, because ASU's defense isn't going to be nearly as solid as it was last year.

15. USC Trojans

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    USC somehow managed to navigate through a midseason coaching change and an onslaught of injuries to win 10 games in 2013, a testament to the will and talent of players who managed to finish out the season.

    It will be more of the same for the Trojans in 2014, what with the numerous players departing early for the NFL and the last round of NCAA sanction-mandated scholarship limitations kicking in.

    But a solid nucleus of key contributors return, including the likes of running back Javorius Allen, receiver Nelson Agholor and safety Su'a Cravens, while a late push by new coach Steve Sarkisian produced a heck of a late-to-the-game recruiting class.

14. Missouri Tigers

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    Missouri got a glimpse of its future when Maty Mauk stepped in for injured quarterback James Franklin midway through the season. The promise he showed helps ease the loss of Franklin, as well as tailback Henry Josey, especially when Mauk will have maybe the nation's top receiver in Dorial Green-Beckham to connect with.

    Some work needs to be done to get the Tigers defense back to its 2013 level of tenacity, but the offensive production should be solid enough to counter any early defensive struggles.

13. LSU Tigers

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    LSU might have lost a ton to the NFL, but that's becoming an annual occurrence, and head coach Les Miles plans accordingly. Whether it's through holdovers or a new recruiting class, there are always replacements waiting in the wings.

    For 2014, though, the Tigers' most important player might be incoming freshman Leonard Fournette, a beast of a running back who is expected to make an instant impact. Combine him with a promising-yet-still-raw Anthony Jennings at quarterback and LSU could have one of the most exciting offenses around.

12. Wisconsin Badgers

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    The Badgers bring back one of the most dangerous yet least-utilized weapons in college football in Melvin Gordon, a speedy and shifty running back who didn't get overworked in 2013 because of Wisconsin's bevy of rushers. But he'll be expected to carry a much bigger load in 2014, especially as quarterback Joel Stave works in some new receivers.

    Wisconsin's defense needs a major overhaul, and that unit will be tested early with its opener against LSU in Houston. But given some time to grow, the Badgers expect to once again field one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, if not the country.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    The key to success for South Carolina in 2014 is going to be health. If Mike Davis can overcome his nagging injuries, he'll be a dominant force and the perfect piece the Gamecocks offense can build around. Having an experienced quarterback in Dylan Thompson available to step in and replace the departing Connor Shaw helps too.

    South Carolina might struggle early on defense with the losses it suffered after the 2013 season, but don't expect those problems to last for long. Steve Spurrier will have that unit ready to play come the Aug. 28 opener against Texas A&M.

10. Baylor Bears

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    Baylor has a good thing going. And with a nice, new stadium to play in for 2014, there's no reason to think that will change.

    The Bears had so many weapons on offense that even the losses they've experienced on that side of the ball won't be hard to overcome. Quarterback Bryce Petty's poise and command of the system will help carry the load as inexperienced skill players settle in.

9. UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA was just shy of being a BCS contender last season due to some offensive inconsistency, and the return of Brett Hundley at quarterback gives the Bruins a leg up on working out those offensive kinks for 2014.

    Assuming the offensive line stays healthy, and Hundley gets some good targets to throw to, it could be a big year.

    The Bruins need to fill in some gaps on defense, but the stellar two-way play of true freshman Myles Jack—who likely will play only linebacker in 2014—shows there's plenty of talent there for UCLA to make a solid run at a playoff spot.

8. Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford suffered more losses than most top teams, with several seniors graduating and a handful of coaches (including defensive coordinator Derek Mason) going to other jobs.

    But by now we should know better than to count out the Cardinal, who replaced Andrew Luck and others without a hiccup and will do so again. Quarterback Kevin Hogan will have a lot of responsibility, but his receiving corps is intact, which is a great start.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State has a lot of holes to fill and a lot of questions to answer during the spring, as the loss of running back Carlos Hyde, most of the offensive line and several key defenders makes the 2014 season an uncertain one.

    But Urban Meyer has at least one sure thing to rely on for 2014: quarterback Braxton Miller, who is back for his senior year and, assuming he's healthy, should be counted on to lead his team to at least nine wins.

    The Buckeyes recruited heavily on defense, and the new just-signed group features a few guys who could play right away. Look for that influx of talent to challenge the holdovers, which should result in an improved and more spirited defensive attack.

6. Oregon Ducks

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    A healthy Marcus Mariota is not something anyone in the Pac-12 wants to see again. But with an entire offseason for his knee to heal, one of college football's most effective dual-threat quarterbacks should be at the top of his game and ready to lead Oregon into the playoff hunt.

    Speed and skill have never been lacking for the Ducks, and 2014 will be no different. Though they lost some talent on the defensive side, not to mention longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti to retirement, expect that unit to once again be flying around the field.

5. Michigan State Spartans

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    The Big Ten is Michigan State's to lose in 2014, by virtue of its conference championship this past season and a nearly intact starting lineup heading into next fall.

    The defense has some holes to fill, particularly in the middle of the line and at cornerback, but enough pieces return for a unit that was second nationally in total defense. But the return of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford means MSU might at first be called upon to outscore opponents until its defense catches up.

    Either way, look for the Spartans to be national players down the stretch, especially with Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State all having to visit East Lansing.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama doesn't have a quarterback, and when the Crimson Tide last played, their normally staunch defense was torn apart by Oklahoma.

    But this is 'Bama, and there's not much fall-off from year to year. Not when Nick Saban is at the helm, and he's got one of the deepest backfields in the nation to turn to as he figures out who will replace AJ McCarron under center.

    And with another top recruiting class, bolstered by an astounding six 5-star signees, there's no need to worry. The Tide will do plenty of rolling in 2014.

3. Oklahoma Sooners

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    If the way they finished out 2013 is any indication, the Oklahoma Sooners are back.

    An uneven year ended on a very high note with the impressive win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and many key contributors to that squad are back. Trevor Knight looks to be the clear choice at quarterback, so much so that Bob Stoops took time out during national signing day to tell that Blake Bell, Knight's main competitor in 2013 for the starting QB role, will get a look at tight end.

    The Belldozer catching passes over the middle? Kind of scary, if you're an opposing safety.

    Oklahoma's defense was underrated last year, and most of that unit is returning. Put all that together, and the Sooners appear to be back after a brief absence from the national title spotlight.

2. Auburn Tigers

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    Auburn was the surprise team of the 2013 season, bouncing back from a 3-9 campaign the year before to make the final BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers shocked the nation thanks to a nearly unstoppable rushing attack implemented by a first-year coach.

    The only shock in 2014 would be if Auburn didn't do just as well.

    Even with the loss of top running back Tre Mason, Gus Malzahn's system should be able to turn the Tigers' corps of capable runners into another dominant rushing attack. The key to continued success, though, will be to improve upon a defense that was 86th in yards allowed.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    No surprise here: Florida State is the defending champion, and there's no reason to think the Seminoles won't have a great shot to repeat as such.

    First and foremost, Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be back under center, and he'll want to try and prove that his phenomenal freshman year wasn't a fluke. And while the weapons around him and blockers in front of him will be somewhat different, thanks to graduation and early NFL departures, FSU has capable replacements waiting in the wings.

    Same goes for the 'Noles defense, which should be as good as in 2013. Throw in the No. 4 recruiting class and you've got a solid recipe for an effective title defense.