College football fans have long awaited a definitive pecking order entering the 2014 season, and now they have one, as the Amway Coaches' Poll was officially released Thursday.
The College Football Playoff committee will ultimately decide which four teams deserve to vie for the national title at the end of the season, but this poll provides a jumping-off point. It also goes to show that there are plenty of potential championship contenders with a legitimate chance to win it all.
Some of the teams near the top of the poll will fade, while others will very much be in the mix when the season concludes. If nothing else, the Amway Coaches' Poll allows observers to get an idea of what they can expect in 2014.
Here is a full rundown of the season's first official Top 25 ranking, courtesy of USA Today.
Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke down the first-place voting in the poll:
Coaches poll 1st place votes: FSU 56, OU 3, Oregon, Ohio State & South Carolina 1 each. Bama, ranked 2nd, had none— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 31, 2014
Florida State checking in at No. 1 didn't come as much of a surprise, nor did Alabama being ranked No. 2. Defending SEC champion and national title runner-up Auburn is ranked fifth, which speaks to the strength of the SEC and football in the state of Alabama, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:
Alabama and Auburn both in the preseason top five and nobody really bats an eye. Compliment to the state of football in Alabama.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) July 31, 2014
With the preseason poll officially released, here is a closer look at some of the top teams to watch during the 2014 campaign.
Teams to Watch
On the heels of an undefeated 2013 season that culminated in a national championship, it comes as little surprise that Florida State tops the initial poll. The Seminoles certainly lost some talent to the NFL in the form of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and several others. Even so, Florida State is a stacked team boasting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Quarterback Jameis Winston was labeled the best player in college football last year, and it is difficult to argue with that notion. He shined as a freshman, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns while adding another four rushing scores to his total.
In fact, perhaps no single player was more vital to his offense last season than Winston, as seen in this graphic courtesy of ESPN College Football on Twitter:
As important as Winston was, it will take more than a great season from him for the Seminoles to repeat. The coaches clearly feel as though there is enough talent in place, and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher feels the same way, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat.
"Everybody talks about Jameis and he is the best player in college football in my opinion, there's no doubt," Fisher said on ESPN's SportsCenter. "We're much more than Jameis Winston. ... We're lots more. I'm very confident in our team."
Perhaps the biggest thing working in Florida State's favor is the fact that it resides in a fairly thin ACC. The Seminoles don't figure to face many big challenges on their conference slate, which gives them a golden opportunity to potentially get back to the National Championship Game.
Florida State is the team to beat, and the rankings certainly reflect that fact.
Alabama has consistently been one of the top teams in the nation throughout Nick Saban's tenure as head coach. The poll suggests that things will be no different this season, but the Crimson Tide are far from a sure thing in 2014.
After losing quarterback AJ McCarron to the NFL, Bama has been placed in the unenviable position of replacing a proven leader and winner.
It remains to be seen who will be under center when the season starts, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the presumed favorite. Whoever ultimately wins that job will be surrounded with talent in the form of running back T.J. Yeldon as well as wide receivers Amari Cooper and Christion Jones.
The offense should be explosive, but Alabama's defense wasn't as dominant last year as observers have grown accustomed to. Even Saban himself acknowledges the fact that some aspects of his team are shrouded in uncertainty, per ESPN College GameDay on Twitter:
"We are a team that has a lot of question marks." - Nick Saban— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) July 17, 2014
Alabama is used to roster turnover, though, and always manages to reload due to Saban's superior recruiting ability. That is largely why the Tide have dominated many of the premier programs in college football over the past several seasons.
As pointed out by Bill Bender of Sporting News, no other team has had as much success against highly ranked teams in recent years than Alabama:
Crazy stat: Alabama has more wins against top 10 teams last five years (14) than all but 5 FBS schools have against Top 25 teams. #RollTide— Bill Bender (@BillBender92) July 28, 2014
If Bama is going to qualify for the College Football Playoff, it will have to earn it in the difficult SEC. With teams like Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU hoping to reach the pinnacle of college football as well, Alabama can never afford to let its guard down.
Provided Saban's team plays up to its potential, though, it should be one of the best.
Which team is most likely to win the national championship this season?
Last season Ohio State was one win away from playing Florida State for the national championship, but a final-week loss to rival Michigan State sent the Buckeyes to the Orange Bowl instead.
Ohio State is considered the class of the Big Ten once again this season, and the expectation in Columbus is that the Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff at the very least.
If they do, then it will almost certainly be thanks to the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. The skilled senior is coming off the best season of his collegiate career, as he racked up well over 3,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns. He is a major threat as both a passer and a runner, which is what makes Ohio State's offense so difficult to contain.
As good as Miller was last year, head coach Urban Meyer seems to believe that he is in position to perhaps be even better in 2014, according to ESPN.com's Brian Bennett:
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says QB Braxton Miller is "in the best shape of his life." Said he has really improved mental part of game.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 28, 2014
If Miller improves as a passer and remains healthy throughout the season, then it is tough to bet against the Buckeyes as a national title threat. The loss of running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL could hurt, but Ohio State has plenty of depth on offense and a defense that is coming into its own as well.
The Big Ten has some solid teams, but there aren't a ton of threats to Ohio State. The Buckeyes aren't a perfect team by any means, but Miller's presence makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter