Preseason polls may technically be meaningless in the national championship race with the new College Football Playoff, but they help set the narrative for the entire season.
For instance, if Michigan State knocks off Oregon in early September, it will have a bigger impact for the Spartans in the eyes of the public because the Ducks were ranked No. 4 in the initial Amway Coaches Poll.
Fair or not, polls are an important part of the college football landscape. There are a number of teams that can make a compelling case that they are underrated in the first set of rankings.
Here are a few of them.
Michigan State, No. 8
It may seem strange to call the No. 8 team in the nation underrated, but we are talking about a Michigan State squad that handed Ohio State its first ever loss under Urban Meyer and kept the Buckeyes out of the national title contest.
Yet, the Scarlet and Gray are ranked higher than the Spartans. So are the Oregon Ducks, who were completely manhandled by the same Stanford team that Michigan State beat in the Rose Bowl.
College football writer Phil Steele recently discussed Michigan State on The Damon Amendolara Show:
I think if you go based on recruiting ranks and the amount of athletes coming in and potential NFL players, Ohio State still has an edge on the rest of the Big Ten. Michigan State, however, is closing the gap, and I love what Mark Dantonio gets out of his team each and every year.
Who wins the Big Ten?
Recruiting rankings aside, the Spartans did more than just beat the Buckeyes and Stanford last year. They actually won every single Big Ten game by double digits and finished the year with the third-best scoring defense in the country.
In fact, Michigan State could have been in the national title game were it not for a poorly officiated contest against Notre Dame.
There may be some early growing pains for a defense that lost seven starters, but coordinator Pat Narduzzi and defensive-oriented coach Mark Dantonio will have that side of the ball shored up by Big Ten play.
Throw in an offense that will be stronger with the return of Connor Cook under center and Jeremy Langford at running back, and the Spartans have their eyes on the CFP.
It is easy to look ahead to the matchup with the Buckeyes on Nov. 8. In the Big Ten title game, Ohio State had the crowd advantage in Indianapolis, but this one will be in East Lansing.
A spot in the conference championship game and the initial CFP could very well be on the line as the Spartans strong defense goes up against the likes of Braxton Miller and Meyer’s high-octane offense.
ESPN Stats & Info certainly had some preseason love for Marshall:
According to ESPN Football Power Index, Florida State has a 40% chance of going undefeated during the regular season pic.twitter.com/coTLAeE8CD— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 31, 2014
Sure, the schedule doesn’t exactly rank up there with the best of the SEC, but plenty of mid-major teams play weak slates. You still have to be incredibly talented to win every single game, and Marshall fits that bill.
However, there is one reason in particular that the Thundering Herd find themselves on this list—quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Cato threw for 3,916 yards and 39 touchdowns last year and captained an offense that put up a head-turning 42.1 points per game, which was good enough for eighth in the entire country.
That offense should be even more dynamic now that Cato has another year of experience in Doc Holliday’s system.
Marshall isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere this season, either.
It won 10 games for the first time since 2002 last year, beat up Maryland in the Military Bowl, destroyed East Carolina 59-28 and took Virginia Tech to triple overtime on the road.
Anything short of double-digit victories and a bowl win would be a major disappointment this time around.
Washington, No. 25
The Pac-12 is all about Oregon, Stanford and UCLA heading into the 2014 season, right?
There is plenty of optimism in Washington after the hire of new coach Chris Petersen. All he did in eight seasons at Boise State was win 92 games in 105 tries and capture five bowl game titles, two of which came at the Fiesta Bowl.
Even after losing Bishop Sankey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kevin Smith from last year’s offense, the Huskies will feature plenty of weapons.
They have incredible speed at wide receiver with Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall and John Ross, and Petersen will likely get them involved with all types of screens, reverses and creative routes.
That receiving group is actually calling itself the "Legion of Zoom" because of its speed. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only Legion to work out on the football field recently in Seattle if Washington exceeds expectations.
Shaq Thompson is a monster at linebacker on the defensive side, but he could also see time at running back because of his speed and size.
With all that talent, Petersen could have his next Cinderella story right under his nose.
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