College Football

College Football Rankings 2014: Examining the Landscape of Early Top 25 Polls

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 06:  Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher (R) holds the Coaches' Trophy as quarterback Jameis Winston (L) #5 looks on after defeating the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in the 2014 Vizio BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on January 6, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2014

Who might knock Florida State off the college football summit this year? The 2014 preseason polls shed a little bit of light on who may topple the reigning national champions.

2013 couldn't have gone much better for the Seminoles. Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, and the program won its first national title since 1999. With so many players back from last year's team, FSU sits atop both the coaches and AP polls, receiving all but nine out of a possible 122 first-place votes.

Despite being the prohibitive early favorites to repeat as champions, the Seminoles will have plenty of competition this year. Alabama, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State are all lurking lower down the polls.

You can view both preseason polls here, courtesy of ESPN.com.

Amway Coaches Poll
RankTeamPoints
1Florida State Seminoles (56)1543
2Alabama Crimson Tide1455
3Oklahoma Sooners (3)1382
4Oregon Ducks (1)1314
5Auburn Tigers1271
6Ohio State Buckeyes (1)1267
7UCLA Bruins1085
8Michigan State Spartans1050
9South Carolina Gamecocks (1)1009
10Baylor Bears965
11Stanford Cardinal955
12Georgia Bulldogs905
13LSU Tigers833
14Wisconsin Badgers654
15USC Trojans627
16Clemson Tigers535
17Notre Dame Fighting Irish509
18Arizona State Sun Devils358
19Ole Miss Rebels346
20Texas A&M Aggies266
21Kansas State Wildcats257
22Nebraska Cornhuskers228
23North Carolina Tar Heels175
24Texas Longhorns143
25Washington Huskies142
USA Today
AP Poll
RankTeamPoints
1Florida State Seminoles (57)1496
2Alabama Crimson Tide (1)1361
3Oregon Ducks (1)1334
4Oklahoma Sooners (1)1324
5Ohio State Buckeyes1207
6Auburn Tigers1198
7UCLA Bruins1106
8Michigan State Spartans1080
9South Carolina Gamecocks1015
10Baylor Bears966
11Stanford Cardinal885
12Georgia Bulldogs843
13LSU Tigers776
14Wisconsin Badgers637
15USC Trojans626
16Clemson Tigers536
17Notre Dame Fighting Irish445
18Ole Miss Rebels424
19Arizona State Sun Devils357
20Kansas State Wildcats242
21Texas A&M Aggies238
22Nebraska Cornhuskers226
23North Carolina Tar Heels194
24Missouri Tigers134
25Washington Huskies130
The Associated Press

Three of the teams mentioned below have arguably the strongest chances of usurping Florida State as the king of college football. They're not necessarily the best teams overall, but they've got the pieces to make the national championship in addition to a schedule that should allow them to make the final playoff.

The other two might not be title contenders, but they should play above expectations in 2014.

 

Contenders to Dethrone FSU

Oklahoma—No. 3 in Coaches Poll, No. 4 in AP Poll

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Bob Stoops and MVP Trevor Knight #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrate after their 45-31 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orl
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Oklahoma is loaded across the board. The Sooners don't have one major area of weakness. The 2014 Sugar Bowl was a taste of what this team is capable of.

Then you throw in the possibility of Dorial Green-Beckham added to the passing game. According to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler, the school has filed Green-Beckham's eligibility waiver. The former Missouri Tiger made a major jump in his sophomore season, and it's realistic to expect that he'd continue improving in year three.

However, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report thinks that the Sooners are national title contenders even without DGB in the fold:

The schedule also works out well for OU. It gets Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all at home. Also, without a conference title game, the team has one less opportunity to falter before the four-team playoff.

 

Oregon—No. 4 in Coaches Poll, No. 3 in AP Poll

With Marcus Mariota under center and the combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in the backfield, Oregon's offense is among the best in the nation. As it seems with every year, scoring points won't be a problem for the Ducks.

You need only to look back on Florida State last year to see how much a great quarterback can lift an entire team. The Seminoles are obviously very balanced, but Winston was the difference between winning the conference and winning a national title.

Mariota is a strong contender to win the Heisman Trophy, and B/R's Matt Miller thinks he is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft:

The Ducks defense isn't what you'd consider to be elite, but their offense alone will be enough to win games.

As Grantland's Holly Anderson wrote, though, Oregon's path to the College Football Playoff won't be easy:

Back to the notion of “underachieving” for a minute: Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal.

We'll know fairly early what Oregon's ceiling is, with Michigan State in its second game and UCLA on the road in Game 6. If the Ducks pass those two tests, any doubts about their credentials will be put to rest. Stanford has been a bogey team in the past, but with the Cardinal making the trip to Eugene, Oregon will be considered the favorite for that one.

 

Ohio State—No. 6 in Coaches Poll, No. 5 in AP Poll

Many will likely scoff at the notion of Ohio State as a national title contender. But the biggest difference between the Buckeyes and Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU is that they don't have to navigate through the SEC.

If OSU wins the Big Ten, then it will make the final playoff. From there, anything can happen.

The Big Ten East will likely be decided in East Lansing when Ohio State meets Michigan State on Nov. 8. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes in last year's Big Ten title game and have enough coming back to win the conference again.

The biggest worry you have for Ohio State is the secondary. It wasn't an area of strength last year, and Doran Grant is the only player back this year. Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and Armani Reeves will all have to step up.

Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in the country, and in Braxton Miller, the Bucks have the kind of quarterback who can lift the entire team. Don't discount OSU too early.

 

Sleepers on the Rise

USC Trojans—No. 15 in Coaches Poll and AP Poll

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Defensive end Leonard Williams #94 and George Uko #90 of the USC Trojans celebrate a Williams' quarterback sack against the Utah Utes in the fourth quarter at Los Angeles Coliseum on October 26, 2013 in Los Angeles, Californ
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

USC hasn't struggled in recent years for a lack of talent. Between the sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush scandal and the incompetence of Lane Kiffin as a head coach, the Trojans have had too many obstacles to overcome.

But now they have a solid coach in Steve Sarkisian, and the NCAA cloud is beginning to lift over the Coliseum.

Offensively, USC was in the bottom half of the conference, finishing eighth in net yardage. That should change in 2014 as Cody Kessler improves. Javorius Allen is also one of the best running backs in the Pac-12.

Defensively, the Trojans have three studs in defensive end Leonard Williams, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su'a Cravens. This unit is good enough to win the conference.

USC does have to play Stanford and UCLA on the road, but it avoids Oregon and gets Arizona State at home.

 

Texas Longhorns—No. 24 in Coaches Poll, Unranked in AP Poll

As much as Mack Brown has meant for the Texas football program, Charlie Strong arguably puts the Longhorns in a better position to win in 2014. He's a great head coach and should get the best out of an underperforming team.

Strong did make sure to measure expectations for the upcoming season.

"We have everything available, and I don’t know why we can’t be successful," he said, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "There’s no reason for us not to be. Now, I can’t tell you how soon it’s going to be. Don’t hold me to that. Don’t say, ‘Ooh, coach said next year we’ll be in the national…’ We will not be in the national championship game."

While the Longhorns shouldn't be considered national title contenders, they've certainly got enough to remain near the top of the Big 12 and sneak into the Top 10.

Much will hinge on the performance of David Ash. The defense should pull its own weight, but if Ash doesn't take a step forward in his development, Texas will hover around eight or nine wins again.

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