Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Winners and Losers from AP Poll
USA Today released its preseason Amway Coaches Poll three weeks ago. Now, it's time to get angry at the voting media, which is clearly underrating your team and an obvious fan for that cheating rival team, in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.
It's no surprise that Florida State, the reigning national champion, is the preseason No. 1 team. The Seminoles simply have too much talent returning not to be an early favorite to go wire-to-wire in the first College Football Playoff season. Consider them the first "winner," if you will, before the season starts.
The entire AP Top 25 is listed below (first-place votes are in parenthesis):
1. Florida State (57)
2. Alabama (1)
3. Oregon (1)
4. Oklahoma (1)
5. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
9. South Carolina
17. Notre Dame
18. Ole Miss
19. Arizona State
20. Kansas State
21. Texas A&M
23. North Carolina
Who are some other winners and losers from Sunday's AP poll? The answers are in the following slides. And, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy tweets: Don't like the preseason Top 25? Don't worry, as it is guaranteed to look quite different by year's end.
Winner: The Pac-12
The SEC is still viewed as the best conference in college football, but what about the Pac-12? The conference known for late-night games is earning more and more respect in preseason polls.
Six teams from the Pac-12 landed in the AP Top 25, including two in the Top 10: No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 UCLA.
The Ducks and Bruins could be on a collision course for one of the most exciting conference championship games this year, with a playoff spot on the line. But the depth of both the Pac-12 North and South divisions is well represented with the likes of Stanford, USC, Arizona State and Washington.
There's a whole season of football to be played, but the Pac-12 looks like a deep, well-balanced conference that could challenge for a championship in January.
Loser: The ACC Coastal
Here's what we do know about the ACC Coastal: The perception of the division varies from national media to conference beat writers.
Case in point: Media members predicted Miami to win the division, with Duke finishing second and Virginia Tech third. Not a single one of those schools appears in the AP Top 25.
North Carolina was, however, at No. 23. For what it's worth, the Tar Heels received 27 first-place votes by ACC media members in the preseason vote, the second-highest number only to the Blue Devils.
The conclusion, though, is that the Coastal Division once again appears to be up for grabs. That, or there's little faith that the Coastal can produce high-quality football teams. Or both.
Either way, the Coastal comes out as a loser here.
Winner: Teams with High Expectations but Many Question Marks
Every team has question marks heading into the season, some more than others. Still, the AP poll was kind to some Top 25 teams that have shown signs of vulnerability.
Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford and Texas A&M have major question marks, yet all are ranked in the Top 25.
The Sooners, ranked No. 4, may or may not have wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, linebacker Frank Shannon, running back Joe Mixon and backup quarterback Baker Mayfield available this season. That means the Sooners may or may not have arguably the No. 1 receiver in college football, the team's leading tackler a year ago, a 5-star freshman and the reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year available this season.
No. 17 Notre Dame will be without four players—wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams—during an investigation into academic fraud. (Votes for the AP poll came in before that news broke on Friday, according to AP writer Ralph Russo.)
No. 11 Stanford replaces its coveted defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, as well as several key names on the defensive side of the ball. A&M, too, must shore up its defense after a wave of attrition this offseason. The Aggies came in at No. 21, however.
Maybe the questions turn out to be nothing more than juicy preseason storylines. There's only one way to find out.
Loser: The Big 12
In the Big 12, it's really more about the big three.
No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 10 Baylor and No. 20 Kansas State are the only three teams ranked from the Big 12. No Texas, which was No. 24 in the coaches poll, no Texas Tech or Oklahoma State.
For what it's worth, Russo and Dan Wolken of USA Today consider Oklahoma's Top Five ranking to be a stretch. There may not be any championship-caliber teams in the Big 12. Like everywhere else, it's a wait-and-see.
It's understandable that the Longhorns are a fringe top-25 team. First-year coach Charlie Strong is putting his stamp on the program and there's talent in Austin, but there are still so many concerns about this team living up to its potential.
Can the defense turn things around for good? Can the offense improve its quarterback and offensive line play? After four straight disappointing seasons, it's clear why voters are skeptical about Texas.
Oklahoma State will be mostly a brand new team in 2014, so it's hard to know what to make of the Cowboys, who open the season against top-ranked Florida State. Tech would have been an interesting team to put in somewhere between spots 20-25, but there's just not enough love for the Red Raiders.
The Big 12 has touted its round-robin schedule and "One True Champion" mantra, but its reputation as a complete conference from top to bottom is taking a hit.
Winner: Teams with Tough Early Schedules
There are two ways to look at tough early schedules: They can knock a team out of the playoff conversation before it begins, or they can push that team to the forefront of the conversation.
Georgia and Clemson, for example, have what look to be brutal early-season slates.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 12, open the season against No. 16 Clemson and get ninth-ranked South Carolina the following week. Win both of those games, and Georgia will be an early SEC East and playoff favorite. Conversely, Georgia would be a nice win for the Tigers in Week 1, and upsetting Florida State on the road on Sept. 20 would catapult Clemson into the national discussion.
Even No. 20 Kansas State has a huge nonconference game against No. 6 Auburn in September that could launch the Wildcats from sleeper to legit playoff contender.
If those teams can somehow get through those early games, you can bet they'll shoot up the polls. There's a whole season to shake out, sure, but those would be good starts.
Loser: Group of Five Programs (Again)
There were no "Group of Five" programs in the preseason coaches' poll. And now schools from outside the so-called Power Five have been shut out from the two major polls.
Central Florida's Twitter account notes that the Knights came in just outside the AP Top 25, at No. 26. Clearly, UCF is the highest-rated team from outside the power conferences.
Still, UCF didn't make the cut. Neither did Marshall, Utah State, Boise State or anyone else. Many of those programs did fall under the "others receiving votes" category, though.
One (or more) of those Group of Five programs can make its way toward the top of the polls by season's end. It's just going to be a bigger climb.
Winner: SEC Fans
Good news, fans of SEC schools: You're probably going to see a lot of good football this year. Or, at the very least, football with a lot of hype.
Eight SEC schools landed in the preseason AP Top 25: No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Auburn, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 24 Missouri.
That means a lot of big games are coming up. Auburn, for example, will play seven teams ranked in the Top 25 (substitute Missouri for Kansas State). Florida will play four SEC teams ranked in the Top 25, plus No. 1 Florida State.
The Gators will also play No. 2 Alabama on Sept. 20. According to Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News, Florida will be the first team since Penn State in 2010 to play the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the same season.
There's a lot to be excited about in the SEC this year. Whether tough schedules keep the SEC out of the four-team playoff remains to be seen, however.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report.
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