College football's top teams will soon hit the gridiron once again for spring practices after a short offseason. This is the time when teams begin installing schemes and figuring out which players best fit them in the upcoming season.
For fans and coaches alike, this is also the first chance to see what incoming freshmen who have enrolled early have to offer their new teams. It's an exciting time akin to Christmas morning for those who eat, drink and breath college football.
|2014 Spring Practice Dates for Top 25 Teams|
|Rank||Team||Start Date||Finish Date|
|1||Florida State||March 19||April 12|
|2||Auburn||March 18||April 19|
|3||Michigan State||March 25||April 26|
|4||South Carolina||March 4||April 12|
|5||Missouri||March 11||April 19|
|6||Oklahoma||March 8||April 12|
|7||Alabama||March 15||April 19|
|8||Clemson||March 5||April 12|
|9||Oregon||April 1||May 3|
|10||UCF||March 12||April 12|
|11||Stanford||February 24||April 12|
|12||Ohio State||March 4||April 12|
|13||Baylor||February 28||April 5|
|14||LSU||March 7||April 5|
|15||Louisville||March 18||April 11|
|18||Texas A&M||February 28||April 5|
|19||USC||March 11||April 19|
|20||Arizona State||March 18||April 19|
|21||Notre Dame||March 3||April 12|
|22||Wisconsin||March 7||April 12|
|23||Duke||February 7||March 5|
|24||Vanderbilt||March 15||April 13|
|25||Washington||March 4||April 19|
|CollegeFootball.AP.org and PhilSteele.com|
Florida State looks strong to repeat as the national champion this upcoming season, with quarterback Jameis Winston returning to action.
Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com has the Seminoles atop his preseason rankings and explains some of the reasons why he is optimistic about their success in 2014:
The Seminoles are starting to resemble what former FSU coach Bobby Bowden built during the 1990s. The defending BCS national champions have stockpiled NFL-type talent under coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff, and they might bring back eight starters on offense and six on defense in 2014.
However, with top contributors like Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks all headed to the NFL, it won't be easy to conquer college football once again.
As usual, one of the teams vying for the championship will be Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide.
Saban's 2014 recruiting class was rated as the nation's best according to 247Sports' composite rankings, with six 5-star recruits and a whopping 15 4-stars coming in this season.
And while many wondered who would be able to replace veteran starter AJ McCarron, who's on his way to the pros, Saban convinced Jacob Coker to transfer from Florida State.
"We think a lot of Jake and we are excited to have him join our team," Saban said in a statement, as relayed by the Associated Press (via USA Today). "He is not only an outstanding football player, but he is also a fine young man who we feel will be a great fit with our program at Alabama."
Marcus Mariota's return to Oregon gives the Ducks reason to feel confident about next season, too. He was projected by many analysts as a first-round lock, had he declared for the 2014 NFL draft.
While De'Anthony Thomas left to pursue a pro career, the Ducks return most of last year's starting offensive lineup. With one more year under his belt, Mariota should be able to help the Ducks reach greater heights than ever before.
Auburn will be fascinating to watch this season, as Nick Marshall becomes more and more comfortable as the incumbent starter in his second year at the helm.
Without Tre Mason and demigod left tackle Greg Robinson, though, it remains to be seen if he'll continue his meteoric rise as one of college football's top stars.
Given the way Gus Malzahn creatively got the most out of his players last season, however, nobody should expect Marshall and the Tigers to fall by the wayside. This team will be relevant as a championship contender all year long.
UCLA, Oklahoma and Ohio State are all dark horses to win the championship next year in the new playoff format. All three schools feature exciting quarterbacks capable of carrying an offense and defenses that can turn up the heat.
The 2014-15 season will surely provide fans with as much drama and excitement as they could wish for. Nobody knows if the new playoff format will be better or worse than the BCS system, but it should at least make things interesting at the end.
The long road to the championship begins this spring.
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