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Predicting Every Projected Top 25 Team's First Loss of 2014

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

Predicting Every Projected Top 25 Team's First Loss of 2014

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    Losing is inevitable.

    Going undefeated in a sport is very rare, and when it does happen, the feat should be applauded. However, to assume perfection will occur on a regular basis is foolish, no matter the sport and (in the case of college football) how much your coach gets paid or how great that incoming recruit class was rated.

    Florida State went 14-0 last year, the only FBS team to finish unbeaten. The Seminoles join a very select group to go an entire season without a loss in the past 10 years, as only 11 others since 2004 have done so.

    Yet based on the expectations of fans from pretty much every team in the country, going unbeaten this fall isn't just possible, it's downright probable. Not so fast there, folks.

    We've gone ahead and given a close look at the schedules of every team currently rated in Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25 (Post-Spring Practice Edition), and we've come to one significant conclusion: Every one of them will lose at least once this year.

    Click through the slideshow to see when each Top 25 team will fall for the first time so you can plan accordingly. Don't agree with our assessment? Feel free to comment as such below.

25. Clemson Tigers

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    The first loss will be: Aug. 30 at Georgia

     

    Georgia's 2013 season got off to a slow start with its loss at Clemson, and now it's the Bulldogs' time to return the favor.

    Clemson will unveil its new offense—in terms of players, not scheme; no need to tweak a system as good as the one Chad Morris has put together—and will likely fare well against a Georgia defense that seems to be losing players on a weekly basis. But the Tigers defense won't be able to slow down the Bulldogs, leading to a shootout that they won't want to get into this early in the season.

    It won't help that the Tigers will be without four starters (offensive linemen Shaq Anthony and David Beasley, defensive end Corey Crawford and defensive back Garry Peters) who were suspended for the opener back in March for a violation of team rules.

    "A huge part of our program is teaching accountability, responsibility and that there are consequences for your actions," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at the time. "These are four good young men, but they broke a team rule and as a result, they will each miss a game. I am hopeful that they will learn and grow from this and have a great 2014 season on and off the field."

    Georgia's Todd Gurley will get a jump on his Heisman campaign with a big game, while Clemson will look to fix what went wrong in time for a far more important game Sept. 20 at Florida State.

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 25 at Oklahoma State

     

    Texas Tech got off to a blazing start to 2013 under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, starting 7-0 against the softer half of its schedule. Once things got tougher, the losses piled up, and the Red Raiders dropped five in a row before righting the ship in their bowl win over Arizona State.

    The 2014 schedule is far more balanced in terms of competition, but that also means Tech won't go anywhere near as far into the season without a loss. In fact, we're predicting the Raiders will start 0-1 in the Big 12 (after beginning 4-0 last year) thanks to their opener at Oklahoma State.

    The Cowboys could be in for a bit of a down year, but they play up for big games at home. Just ask Baylor, who went into Stillwater unbeaten last season and walked out with a big loss.

23. Ole Miss Rebels

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 4 vs. Alabama

     

    Ole Miss will take a 4-0 start into its annual clash with Alabama, looking to break through against the Crimson Tide for the first time in 11 years. The Rebels will be fortified with the confidence that comes with an impressive neutral-site win over Boise State, a road victory over SEC foe Vanderbilt and a defeat of presumptive Sun Belt champ Louisiana-Lafayette.

    But no amount of confidence or resume-boosting wins will make up for the hold Alabama has on Ole Miss.

    The Rebels were in a similar position last season, starting 3-0 with wins over Vanderbilt and Texas, but then were blanked 25-0 by the Tide. It won't be as bad this year, especially with the game in Oxford, but Alabama will be coming off a bye and will be well-rested for this takedown.

22. Texas A&M Aggies

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    The first loss will be: Aug. 28 at South Carolina

     

    The start of the A.J. (After Johnny) era could be a sign of things to come for Texas A&M, as its rebuilt offense and dismissal-ravaged defense gets to help christen the new SEC Network with an opener at South Carolina.

    Whether it's Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen, whoever starts at quarterback for the Aggies will be tested right away by a South Carolina defense that should still be solid despite losing Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles from the line. And the Gamecocks offense, piloted by hard-running Mike Davis and veteran passer Dylan Thompson, should have a field day against A&M's porous defenders.

    Add in the fact that South Carolina hasn't lost at home in nearly three years, and the chances of A&M starting the year 1-0 seem very slim.

21. Kansas State Wildcats

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 18 vs. Auburn

     

    When it was announced in February that Auburn and Kansas State's long-ago scheduled game for the 2014 season would be played on a Thursday night, it was hard not to hear the excitement from K-State athletic director John Currie.

    "The chance to host a program like Auburn on ESPN’s Thursday night telecast in what will be one of the best non-conference matchups in the country next year is a terrific and unique opportunity for K-State," read Currie's statement at the time.

    Indeed, getting a team that played in last year's national title game to come to Manhattan for a nationally televised weeknight game is worthy of excitement. Too bad the Wildcats won't be able to manifest all that buzz into a landmark victory.

20. Missouri Tigers

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 6 at Toledo

     

    Gary Pinkel has been Missouri's coach since 2001, but before that, he piloted Toledo to 73 wins in 10 seasons. He knows from experience how difficult it can be for a visitor to win at the Glass Bowl, which is why it won't be that much of a surprise for him to see his rebuilt team fall to the Rockets in one of the 2014 season's biggest early season upsets.

    Mizzou is breaking in new starters all over the field, and the opener against South Dakota State won't prepare it enough for this game. Toledo is one of the Mid-American Conference's most consistent teams, and running back Kareem Hunt may treat the Tigers defense the same way Auburn's Tre Mason did in the 2013 SEC championship.

19. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 4 at Michigan State

     

    Devoid of the kind of drama that plagued the start of last season, Nebraska will get out of the gates fast in 2014 and start 5-0 for the first time since 2010. And like that year, the Cornhuskers' run will come to an end at the hands of a superior league foe.

    Wins at Fresno State and at home against Miami (Florida) will have Nebraska head to Michigan State with plenty of momentum, but a prime-time game in East Lansing brings far more of a challenge than anything beforehand. MSU, gunning for yet another Big Ten title game appearance, will circle this crossover game as one of its most important.

    To this point, Ameer Abdullah will have put up big numbers for Nebraska. But his production will be stunted by the Spartans' front seven, and Nebraska will fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.

18. Georgia Bulldogs

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 13 at South Carolina

     

    Sadly, Georgia will not be able to claim the title of king of Palmetto State football. The opening win over Clemson will look good, but two weeks later, a trip to Columbia to face the SEC East rival Gamecocks won't go so well.

    Hutson Mason's good first game won't get matched, nor will the production Todd Gurley puts up. It will be a classic SEC battle, with both teams having a chance to win, but the losses Georgia has suffered on defense during the offseason will catch up to it as South Carolina's Dylan Thompson goes off.

    As the East Division showed last year, one loss doesn't end the race. But while Georgia won't be out of it, the Bulldogs won't be running the table in the SEC.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 18 at Florida State

     

    Notre Dame doesn't play an actual road game until mid-October, but it's not like the Fighting Irish face nothing but cupcakes during that stretch. Even still, no amount of competition can prepare them for the challenge they'll face with the most marquee of matchups gained from their pseudo-affiliation with the ACC.

    The trip to Tallahassee will come with Notre Dame sporting a 6-0 record, featuring wins over five bowl teams from a year ago. Because it is unbeaten, the national media will somehow be even more excited about this game, taking as many opportunities as possible to compare this showdown to the thrilling one against Florida State in 2002.

    Instead, the game will probably go more like the last meeting with FSU, an 18-14 loss to the Seminoles in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. It shouldn't get as bad as the 2003 clash, a 37-0 FSU romp, but it could.

16. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 20 at East Carolina

     

    North Carolina was two different teams in 2013: the one that stumbled to a 1-5 start and the group that got its head on straight and won six of seven to end the season.

    The overall talent is better this year than last, but that won't stop the Tar Heels from again having some early season hiccups. The Tar Heels face nine teams that played in bowls last season, but the one that will probably get most overlooked will be the one to draw first blood in a very underrated intrastate matchup.

    East Carolina won at UNC last season, part of a 10-win season that didn't get much attention because it was in Conference USA. Now in the American, the Pirates could be this year's Central Florida, and this is the kind of win that will boost that chance.

15. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 25 vs. UCLA

     

    Having played two of its first three games on the road, Arizona State will be looking for some home cooking when it faces UCLA following a 12-day break in late September. But the Sun Devils won't be able to repeat the magic they had in beating the Bruins in Los Angeles last year en route to the Pac-12 South title.

    ASU will be 3-0 at this point, but those wins will come against a bad Weber State team and only slightly less bad New Mexico and Colorado teams, albeit on the road in those last two. The Devils' inexperienced defense will have shown a bend-but-don't-break approach in those contests, then fall apart while trying to shut down Brett Hundley.

14. LSU Tigers

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 4 at Auburn

     

    LSU opens the 2014 season in Houston against Wisconsin, then sets up camp in Baton Rouge for the next month. Once the Tigers finally venture away from home, though, they'll wish they'd never left.

    Auburn's only regular-season loss last year was at home to LSU before the country caught wind to what Auburn was doing. Looking back at that contest, we can see that LSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead and forced Nick Marshall to step away from his comfort zone and throw more than in all but one other game.

    But this is Nick Marshall, version 2.0, with an expected increased emphasis on being a true dual-threat quarterback. That means he'll be throwing like he was toward the end of the 2013 season, yet with far more proficiency.

13. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 25 at Auburn

     

    South Carolina's 2014 slate begins with a bumper crop of tough outings, as the first five opponents all played in bowls last year. We see the Gamecocks coming out of that stretch unscathed, though, and getting to 7-0 for the first time since 1984.

    Head coach Steve Spurrier will be holding court over his throng of media followers as South Carolina heads to Auburn for a battle of unbeaten superpowers. The talk will begin that this matchup should be the national championship, the heck with that new College Football Playoff and selection committees and all that mumbo jumbo.

    Then Auburn will run over the Gamecocks, and we'll once again wonder if Spurrier can produce a national championship contender in Columbia.

12. USC Trojans

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 6 at Stanford

     

    Steve Sarkisian parlayed his best season with Washington—a 9-4 campaign in 2013—into the USC job, where he's at the helm of a far greater supply of talent but will still face the same challenges on the road he had with the Huskies.

    Sarkisian went 8-19 on the road in his five years with the Huskies, including 6-14 in Pac-12 games. His first away game with the Trojans may be the biggest of all of the tests outside Los Angeles, especially with Stanford looking to avenge the 2013 loss to USC.

    A Week 2 clash pitting potential Pac-12 title game opponents is a great early matchup for us as fans, but for USC, it's going to mean starting off the Sarkisian era on a low note.

11. Baylor Bears

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    The first loss will be: Nov. 8 at Oklahoma

     

    There's just something about the Sooner State that doesn't jive well with what Art Briles and the Bears have going.

    Baylor hasn't won a game in the state of Oklahoma since 1995, and that was against Tulsa. The Bears last beat Oklahoma State on the road in 1942 and have never won in Norman, and nothing indicates this year will be any different.

    Last year, the Bears' only loss in the regular season came on a rough night north of the Texas border, losing 49-17 at Oklahoma State. That was two weeks after Baylor romped at home against Oklahoma, a game that really began to give us a feeling the Bears could run the table.

    This time around, the Bears will be heading to Oklahoma knowing this will be their last road game of the season. It'll also be the first loss of the year.

10. Wisconsin Badgers

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    The first loss will be: Aug. 30 vs. LSU (in Houston)

     

    Two years ago, the Badgers lost their coach to the SEC. Since then, it's just been games the Badgers have dropped to that league, including two consecutive losses bridging a pair of seasons.

    Wisconsin was in line for a possible BCS berth entering its final regular-season game in 2013, but a lackluster effort at home to Penn State ended in defeat. The Badgers still got a prime bowl slot against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, yet they fell to the Gamecocks.

    Now, facing LSU in a made-for-TV opener at Reliant Stadium in Houston, the Badgers get a chance to shine against the country's best league in a game that was lined up not long after Gary Andersen came to Madison.

    "It gives our kids an opportunity to know they get to play against the best, and it gives the opponent that we're playing an opportunity to know they're going to play against the best," Andersen told ESPN Wisconsin (h/t Nola.com) last August.

    Instead, the loss will mean Wisconsin will open 0-1 for the first time since 1997 and suffer a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2008. 

9. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 25 at Penn State

     

    It wasn't Ohio State's fault that its 2013 schedule wasn't that tough. Well, not completely. The Buckeyes didn't schedule tough in the nonconference portion, but getting Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue as 75 percent of their Big Ten road slate is more something to blame the schedule-makers for.

    This year, though, OSU might want to write a strongly worded letter for the inordinate toughness of their set of away games, especially having to play at Penn State and Michigan State in a three-week span.

    The quest for a third straight perfect regular season will end midway through in 2014, as OSU will serve as the sacrificial lamb for a rising Penn State team that will be the best team not playing in a bowl game this fall.

8. UCLA Bruins

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 13 at Texas

     

    The Pac-12 title race will run through Los Angeles, but UCLA's quest for a perfect season will fall deep in the heart of Texas.

    The Bruins host Oregon, Arizona, USC and Stanford at the Rose Bowl, but before they get a crack at all those league powers, they'll have to visit Austin. That's where Charlie Strong will be doing his best to re-establish Texas as a powerhouse.

    The Longhorns might not return to college football's elite in 2014, but they will pull off a statement win by handing UCLA an early setback.

7. Stanford Cardinal

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 4 at Notre Dame

     

    When Stanford last visited South Bend, it left a rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium feeling it had been robbed in a bid to thwart the Fighting Irish's undefeated season. The 2014 trip won't have as much controversy, but it will still end in a loss.

    The Cardinal lost 20-13 in overtime at Notre Dame in 2012, a game that ended with a goal-line stand by the Irish aided by an early whistle.

    This time around, it will be a far more offensive-minded game, with Notre Dame's Malik Zaire putting together the best game of his career to help his team move to 5-0.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

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    The first loss will be: Nov. 15 at Texas Tech

     

    Oklahoma's sound victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl back in January was one of the biggest momentum-feeding wins in program history. It was the kind of triumph that has the Sooners high in most preseason polls thanks to a rock-solid defense and a great young quarterback who could be a burgeoning superstar.

    All of that will manifest itself for Oklahoma during a 9-0 start, capped by an impressive win over previously unbeaten Baylor to take firm control of the Big 12 and establish the Sooners as a prime candidate for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

    Then comes that trip to Lubbock, where Oklahoma has fallen three of the last four times.

    Texas Tech won't win the Big 12, and probably won't contend, but it will beat someone from among the league's elite. That will be Oklahoma, and it will come at the worst time for the Sooners.

5. Oregon Ducks

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 11 at UCLA

     

    Oregon will get a major early boost to its resume with a win over Big Ten champion Michigan State, but then it should be easy sailing until the Ducks head to Los Angeles. And considering how some players last year expressed their disinterest in playing in the Rose Bowl, it seems only fitting that this venue would be the site of Oregon's first loss.

    Stanford has usually been the team to trip up the Ducks, and that may again happen in 2014. But that game isn't until November, three weeks after having to face a UCLA team that will be hitting its stride at this point in the season.

    Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley threw for a career-low 64 yards against Oregon last season, but on this occasion, he might put together a career-best performance.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    The first loss will be: Nov. 8 at LSU

     

    Even the best teams can get a little homesick from time to time, and a rare stretch of extended time away from Tuscaloosa will ultimately catch up with Alabama in 2014.

    The Crimson Tide have only four road games on their schedule this fall, but they all fall in a critical five-game stretch midway through the season. And while not all of the trips are daunting, the final trek to Baton Rouge will result in a defeat despite a bye week beforehand.

    The Alabama-LSU series has been one of the game's best since Nick Saban and Les Miles settled into their gigs, and the home field usually hasn't mattered. 'Bama has won two of its last three games in Death Valley but has also fallen at home to the Tigers.

    LSU is more or less starting over on offense after seeing nearly all of its skill players graduate or leave early, but the replacements are as exciting as they come. By early November, highly touted freshman Leonard Fournette could be an unstoppable force, and knocking off Alabama would add to his legend.

3. Michigan State Spartans

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    The first loss will be: Sept. 6 at Oregon

     

    There are a lot of great early season matchups between power conference programs, but none will have as much of an early impact on the playoff picture than Michigan State's Week 2 visit to Eugene.

    The atmosphere in Autzen Stadium will be electric, and despite regularly playing in venues like Ann Arbor, Happy Valley and Madison, the Spartans will feel like major underdogs with the raucous Oregon crowd raining boos down on them. And with MSU looking to break in some new players on its vaunted defense, this early test against one of the nation's most explosive offenses will prove too much to handle.

    This will be the opposite of how 2013 started for MSU, 247Sports.com's Chris Vannini told Sports Illustrated, though last year the Spartans were facing pushovers (all at home) to help build momentum.

    "Last year the defense held down the fort while the offense figured things out," Vannini said. "Maybe this year the offense will be the strength while the new defensive starters get their bearings."

    Getting those bearings while having to shut down Marcus Mariota and his treasure trove of running backs and wide receivers? That's a recipe for defeat.

2. Auburn Tigers

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    The first loss will be: Nov. 15 at Georgia

     

    Auburn's amazing run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2013 included breakout performances from numerous players on both sides of the ball, but it also got help from a few situations that seemed like they were ripped out of a Hollywood feel-good screenplay.

    The sequel won't be able to live up to the original, though.

    There was the Prayer in Jordan-Hare, the Tigers' serendipitous late tipped touchdown catch by Ricardo Louis to beat Georgia. And how can we forget the Kick-Six, Chris Davis' miraculous return of a missed field goal as time expired to take the Iron Bowl over rival Alabama?

    Auburn won't need any freak plays to run out to a 9-0 start, instead relying on an offense that might be better than last year's and an improved defense to handle numerous challenges on a very tough schedule.

    But all of those tough opponents can wear on a team's resiliency, and the Tigers' gas tank will be running low after a stretch that will see them face five straight bowl teams (LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Texas A&M) in successive games.

    Georgia would make that six consecutive 2013 bowl participants, just one too many to expect Auburn to be able to outlast.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    The first loss will be: Oct. 30 at Louisville

     

    All good things must come to an end, and for Florida State, its long winning streak will stop at 23 games on a weeknight in late October.

    The upgraded 2014 schedule will provide the Seminoles with plenty of challenges as defending champions, starting with the opener against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, as well as visits from Clemson and Notre Dame. But FSU won't play a true road game against a significant opponent—no offense to Syracuse—until this Thursday night trip to Louisville.

    The Cardinals will be looking to make a splash in their first season in the ACC, and while Teddy Bridgewater is gone and the program is under a new (old) direction with Bobby Petrino, the pieces are in place to pull a major upset.

    FSU will have had 12 days off between a home win over Notre Dame and this game, so you'd think that would help the Seminoles in their quest to remain undefeated. But extra time often leads to extra hype, and coming off what will likely be a big national presence for the Notre Dame win, this one could get overlooked.

    The clash will be almost eight years to the date of one of Petrino's (as well as Louisville's) biggest wins, a 44-34 triumph over unbeaten and No. 3-ranked West Virginia in 2006. And with the always-looking-for-the-next-best-gig Petrino already on the short list for potential openings in the SEC and elsewhere, he won't squander this chance to take down the champs.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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