The hunger for a new season of college football hits a boiling point this time of year when the Associated Press preseason poll goes out to the public, but things are even more wild this year in particular thanks to the inaugural college football playoff.
Of course, the poll is controversial in some ways. It also sheds light on how those in the know feel about each of the nation's top teams in regards to the playoff.
The playoff itself is as elusive as it sounds. Four programs get in after a season that is as critical as those in year's past. This leaves the window open for Cinderellas to finally enter the national-championship picture, further showcasing the growing parity of the sport as a whole.
Below, let's take a look at the official poll and identify those teams that will survive the rough waters of the season to enter the playoff.
2014 AP Preseason Poll
|Rank||Team (1st-place votes)||Points|
|1||Florida State (57)||1496|
Inaugural College Football Playoff Participants
Really, what's not to like about the Seminoles? Heisman winner Jameis Winston is back in the fold with a year of experience under his belt, which does much to negate the loss of household names such as Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin.
An elite quarterback trumps all in the realm of collegiate football and Winston is doing nothing short of dedicating himself to another year of improvement, as College GameDay captures on Twitter:
It helps that Winston is flanked by an elite defensive unit that ranked first in points allowed (12.1). Led by elite end Mario Edwards Jr., the Seminoles are sure to flirt with the top slot in that area once more.
Offensive tackle Cameron Erving sang Edwards' praises, and it helps to explain why NFL scouts are all over him:
"I'm not going to see a defensive end in a game that has his size and his speed," the offensive lineman said, per Natalie Pierre of Tennessee.com. "They'll either have his speed or his size. There's not going to be many guys I go against, until I go to the next level, that can even come close to how athletic and powerful that guy is."
There are two requirements for a national-title contender—an elite defensive line and a great player under center.
Suffice it to say, the Seminoles have both.
The beat goes on for Alabama.
On one hand, there is a lot of drama surrounding Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. On the other, it certainly seems like a lot of folks want to see the dynasty end and are quick to blow things out of proportion.
Take the quarterback battle between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims, for example. With AJ McCarron gone, Saban has a competition on his hands. Were this any other team, the whole "competition brings out the best in both players" narrative would ring true.
Instead, a wealth of info that has come out says the ordeal is having a negative impact on the team. Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides one such report:
Heard #Bama QB battle is dividing team. Many players support Blake Sims, while Jacob Coker is superior talent— Michael Carvell (@Carvell_AJC) July 30, 2014
The bottom line is: Until the ship actually sinks, let's not count out the Crimson Tide.
No matter who wins the gig under center, they get matchups with West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to get their wits about them to start the season. They should also have two elite backs (T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry) and one of the nation's top receivers (Amari Cooper) to lean on.
Really, an SEC title is not out of the question as long as Saban's team can get past LSU and Auburn.
The Oregon Ducks were a bit of a wild card, but the AP got this one just right.
Marcus Mariota is back for this very reason, a factoid that should strike fear into opposing fanbases around the nation.
One year after being a serious Heisman contender thanks to 3,665 passing yards and 31 touchdowns to four interceptions, Mariota will be back under center to orchestrate what is sure to be one of the country's most prolific offenses yet again—even sans De'Anthony Thomas.
Don't believe in the Mariota hype? Just ask Bleacher Report's Matt Miller what he thinks:
...Mariota is light-years ahead of where Kaepernick was at Nevada as a passer and has a much cleaner passing motion.
The Kaepernick comparison in terms of style is fitting, but Mariota's mechanics and pocket vision are more similar to those of Roethlisberger.
Mariota may be a hybrid of the two, as he's a special player with undeniable double-threat tools.
As long as he can stay healthy, Mariota will help the Ducks to run roughshod on the Pac-12. It follows similar logic to Alabama's reign of terror—until defenses can consistently slow down the Ducks' offense, there is little reason to believe it is going to happen.
Keep in mind that Oregon will not dance with USC or Arizona State this year. The path to the playoff is quite favorable.
There is nothing quite like a little disrespect to motivate a team, no?
All Michigan State did last season was run up a 13-2 record, an undefeated mark in the Big Ten and win the Rose Bowl.
Look, the Spartans lack flair. A team that loves to pound the rock and play elite defense is boring. But if the approach wins football games, it just does.
Many will point out that the defense may be weaker without corner Darqueze Dennard, but the unit is perennially one of the best, which suggests Mark Dantonio knows how to best utilize the talents on his roster.
Much hinges on quarterback Connor Cook, but as ESPN CollegeFootball points out, he improved with each repetition last season:
By most accounts, Cook has continued to travel on that upward trajectory this preseason.
A competent offense would be a nice change for the Spartans, who are already sure to have a sound defense under the watchful eye of Dantonio. In tandem, it will be enough to get Michigan State into the top four by season's end.
Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.