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4. UCLA (12-1)
UCLA returns more talent than any team in the Pac-12. According to ESPN insider Phil Steele (subscription required), the Bruins bring back five of their top six receivers, all four of their top pass-rushers and 93 career starts along the offensive line (though the one blocker they lost, Xavier Su'a-Filo, was a very good one).
They also return Heisman candidate and future first-round draft pick Brett Hundley at quarterback. With another year of tutelage under Jim Mora Jr. and the rest of the offensive coaching staff, his game should feature less peaks and valleys than it did in 2013, leveling off at a consistent standard of excellence.
UCLA plays Texas in Arlington, along with true road games at Arizona State and Washington. One of those three will result in a loss, but if it can protect home turf against Oregon, USC and again in the Pac-12 Championship Game, that lone slip-up will not be enough to keep UCLA from advancing to the national semis.
3. Ohio State (12-1)
A close regular-season win at Michigan State will prevent a media firestorm in Columbus, where papers will have likened the Buckeyes' shortcomings against MSU to Oregon's against Stanford.
Instead, the Buckeyes will climb over the hump and advance to the conference championship game, despite a surprise misstep at Penn State, which is seeking revenge for the ugly dismantling at the hands of OSU in 2013.
The Big Ten title game against Wisconsin will pit two fairly even opponents against one another, and it will likely be a one-score game, just as it was at Ohio State last season.
But the Buckeyes should have just enough to stave off the spoiler, advancing to the playoff as a No. 3 seed.
2. Alabama (12-1)
Alabama will have its typical campaign, beating most opponents into painful submission, dropping one game it was favored to win along the way and finishing the regular season with an 11-1 record.
In 2013, that blueprint, which had always seemed to work for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, came up wanting because of Auburn's success and head-to-head triumph. In 2014, however, a projected loss at LSU will not be the end of the world, since the Tigers will finish with two or three conference losses themselves.
No matter who wins the starting quarterback job, he will have enough experience and strong enough support from the running game to beat Georgia in the SEC title game—a win that would fulfill Saban's belief that you "shouldn't be able to sneak your way in(to)" the college football playoff, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com.
And from there, despite not being the No. 1 seed, Alabama is the team that opponents will most desperately want to avoid.
1. Florida State (13-0)
After an offseason that can only be described as "Johnny Manziel-esque," Jameis Winston will return to Tallahassee with the same unnecessary chip on his shoulder, reminding traffic-thirsty Internet bloggers that he hasn't lost his focus, he does still care about football and that...well...he's really, really good at what he does.
The Seminoles lose some important pieces from last year's national-championship outfit, but they return enough, and then some, to survive in style. Especially after Cameron Erving's decision to forgo the NFL draft and a great, balanced recruiting class, this team should (at the very least) be nearly as good as last year's version.
The schedule helps, too. Assuming FSU can handle a Week 1 neutral-field showdown against Oklahoma State, the only remaining pitfalls appear to be at Louisville and at Miami—two teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks.
Another 13-0 season might be on the horizon.