Florida State will begin the 2014 season right where it left off: perched atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Seminoles received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the media-released rankings on Sunday, further confirming the reigning national champions' status as preseason favorites.
Led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Florida State was considered a near lock to come into 2014 the No. 1 team in the country. Winston and Co. already received 56 of 62 first-place votes in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.
Going back to last season, the Seminoles have been atop both major collegiate polls the last four weeks. Alabama, which abdicated its throne to Florida State last season, comes in at No. 2. Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State round out the Top Five.
|2014 Associated Press Preseason Top 25 Football Poll|
"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told Tess Quinlan of USA Today last month after the release of the Amway poll. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."
Neither the Associated Press nor Coaches polls are used in the new College Football Playoff system. A committee of 13 people will begin releasing a weekly poll that will eventually determine the four teams given the opportunity to play for the title. Florida State defeated Auburn in the final iteration of the BCS National Championship Game last season.
The Seminoles, who open their championship defense Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State, are between 4-1 and 11-2 favorites to repeat, per OddsShark.com. FSU returns more than half of its starters on both sides of the ball and has elite-level players to replace those who've departed.
Winston, who became the second consecutive freshman to take the Heisman, returns as a potential No. 1 pick after an offseason of turmoil. In May, video of Winston stealing crab legs from a Publix grocery store leaked on the Internet. He has also become something of a replacement for Johnny Manziel as the face of college football.
"I've matured, and I understand what it really takes to be a leader," Winston told reporters last month. "When you're out there and everyone's saying the spotlight is on you, you have to be very careful with everything you do and I feel like I'm doing a better job of that."
Meanwhile, the nation's other top-ranked team is attempting to find a replacement for its star quarterback. AJ McCarron's graduation leaves Nick Saban's Crimson Tide with question marks under center for the first time in three seasons. McCarron, who the Cincinnati Bengals drafted in the fifth round this spring, went 36-4 as a starter and led the Crimson Tide to two national championships.
Junior Jacob Coker and senior Blake Sims are currently competing for the starting job. Coker, a Florida State transfer, is considered the favorite.
Alabama is working overall from a state of rebuilding. Only 12 starters return from last season's Sugar Bowl-losing squad, though Saban is never lacking for star power. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry may be the nation's best one-two punch at running back, while defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson should be in store for a breakout year.
"I would say the No. 1 thing would be inconsistency in performance," Saban said of where his team needs to improve, per Marq Burnett of the Montgomery Adviser. "There were a lot of good things, but it wasn't all the time. And consistency in performance sort of defines success, so that's what we strive for. That's what we try to get guys to do."
Alabama and Auburn lead yet another stellar group of SEC teams. Eight SEC teams open the season with a number by their name, with five coming in the Top 13. South Carolina, LSU and Georgia are all expected to battle on that second plane of SEC competition—good enough to beat any team but not consistent enough to make a title run.
Rounding out the SEC's teams are Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies will attempt to replace Manziel with sophomore Kenny Hill, who won a quarterback battle with touted freshman Kyle Allen.
Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples joked about that conference's regular dominance of these polls:
From a conference perspective, it should also be unsurprising to see the West nearly besting the South. The Pac-12 comes into 2014 with a stellar group of six ranked squads, highlighted by another strong Oregon core. The Ducks, in the second year of the post-Chip Kelly era, were considered a title favorite last season before injuries and a late collapse jettisoned them to the Alamo Bowl.
More will be expected this season, with Heisman contender Marcus Mariota returning to full health. Oregon's biggest competition should come from a burgeoning UCLA program. Quarterback Brett Hundley returns and brings with him a talented supporting cast, highlighted by linebacker Myles Jack, who's coming off of an all-everything freshman year. Stanford, USC, Arizona State and Washington round out the cast.
The Big Ten has four teams, while the ACC and Big 12 tie with three. Oklahoma and Ohio State arguably round out the preseason favorites in the title picture, with each boasting a solid all-around squad led by returning stars.
Among non-major conference teams, well, there's not a whole lot to be proud of, unless you want to count Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the only team not in a power conference that received enough votes to make the Top 25.
Given the recent history of major bowl crashers, that will probably look silly by the end of the season. But as it stands, the Power Five continues to reign supreme.
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