Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Teams Destined to Climb Up Standings

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Teams Destined to Climb Up Standings
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Leonard Fournette

Preseason coaches polls are sometimes exactly what teams need to get motivated for the upcoming college football season.

This year should be no different. Multiple teams will look to improve upon their rankings in the first official Amway Coaches Poll, via USA Today. In fact, there are more than a few teams that are destined to move up the ranks of the college football elite.

Some schools have a ton of younger talent that is hard to quantify. Others have a wealth of talent but consistency issues to deal with. There are even some schools entering the season with depleted rosters following the 2014 NFL draft. That said, there's still plenty to look forward to this season.

Below are three teams destined to finish higher in the rankings than the preseason Amway Coaches Poll indicated.

 

LSU

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

It all starts with true freshman running back Leonard Fournette for the LSU Tigers.

The 6'1", 224-pound back is going to be a force at the collegiate level. He was the No. 1 prep rusher in the nation, and now he has a legitimate shot to establish himself as one of the next great running backs in the country. He won't be redshirted, meaning that nobody has to wait very long to see his explosiveness.

Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times was very direct in his predictions for Fournette's first year at LSU: "Fournette will play this season, and he will start. And he will dominate. He is that good."

Fournette believes in himself, a good trait to have as a young player at one of the nation's highest-profile football schools. He has already clearly outlined his goals for this season, via Guilbeau: "For my freshman year – 1,000 yard rusher, All-American, All-SEC and hopefully Heisman candidate."

If Fournette emerges as a Heisman candidate, then that means the LSU Tigers will be well on their way to outshining the No. 13 spot they earned in the Amway Coaches Poll. Of course, Fournette will have to produce if the Tigers are going to be successful. Right now, their quarterback situation is a little concerning.

Head coach Les Miles spoke about the learning curve for QB candidates Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, via ESPN.com's David Ching:

They’re young, they’re both engaged in leadership and want to have command of the offense -- and they do for the most part. They don’t know what command is. They don’t necessarily understand exactly what has to be communicated to make this thing go easy. They’re learning. 

I’d say 70 percent of today was just very, very well done and 30 percent’s probably not enough for anybody that sits in the stands to even notice. And yet that 30 percent we expect from our quarterbacks.

There's a lot to like about the Tigers and a lot to be concerned about. That said, Fournette's potential is enough to keep this team from falling below the No. 13 mark come season's end. The Tigers' chances of improving on that ranking are strong.

 

South Carolina

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sure, losing Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw put the South Carolina Gamecocks in an obvious hole of sorts, but new strategies on both offense and defense will help mask their losses.

Without Clowney, the Gamecocks implemented a 3-4 scheme on defense. They don't have the overpowering edge-rusher like in seasons passed, so utilizing the abilities of J.T. Surratt on the inside will be of the utmost importance.

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Losing Shaw, the best quarterback in school history, may prove to be a much bigger loss. Shaw had the ability to run when the defense presented that option to him, and new starter Dylan Thompson lacks that skill. He isn't particularly fast and isn't very graceful when running with the ball.

This will put the pressure on running back Mike Davis. He gained 1,183 yards on 203 carries with 11 touchdowns in 2013, and those numbers could improve this year with even more attempts. That said, defenses know the type of runner Davis is. When paired with a one-dimensional quarterback like Thompson, defenses could clog the box in hopes of stopping Davis early.

The Gamecocks are in good position to rack up double-digit wins, however. SI.com's Andy Staples broke down why:

South Carolina had one of the youngest teams in the country last season, and those kids accounted for 78.9% of their rushing yards and 74.8% of their receiving yards. Six of their top eight tacklers return, as do four offensive line starters, including three (guard A.J. Cann and tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell) with at least 22 career starts.

Given the amount of young talent on the Gamecocks, the SEC East could be theirs for the taking. Currently No. 9 in the Amway Coaches Poll, South Carolina could sneak up to No. 6 or 7 by season's end.

 

Missouri

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A concern of many watching Missouri's early practices is that the Tigers don't have a clear-cut option behind Maty Mauk at quarterback. But is that really a huge issue? If Mauk stays on the field, then there's no reason to worry about the No. 2 quarterback.

Sure, if Mauk gets injured, then that's an entirely different story. But for now, let's focus on what this team does have. Mauk became Missouri's starter last October when James Franklin injured his shoulder. This is Mauk's first training camp as the starter, however, and the sophomore is looking to continue his success from last year.

At running back, junior Russell Hansbrough is a proven commodity who will rack up big yards as the full-time tailback. Of course, senior Marcus Murphy will also see carries here and there. Primarily a slot receiver this year, Murphy's presence will be felt in multiple areas on offense.

The defensive line is also a strong unit, and one player to watch this season is Lucas Vincent. Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about Missouri's history with talented defensive linemen and Vincent's goals for this season, via NCAA.com:

'He's playing at a different level than he's ever played,' Pinkel said after Tuesday's scrimmage, when Vincent was the most disruptive lineman from a front four that camped in the backfield all day.

Missouri has developed a reputation for churning out NFL-ready defensive linemen, with eight D-linemen from the Pinkel years currently in NFL training camps. Senior defensive end Markus Golden is widely considered the next elite pro prospect, but for now, Vincent has more immediate goals.

'I want to be All-SEC and All-American,' he said.

Currently unranked in the Amway Coaches Poll, the Tigers certainly have enough talent to overcome. Look for them to finish around No. 20.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR.

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