For the sixth time in its prestigious history, Florida State football rests as the No. 1 team in the land after the AP preseason poll reveal.
Rightfully so, too. After a national title and with a returning Heisman winner under center, the Seminoles are far and away the best team in the nation on paper, especially when the loss of recognizable names can be countered with the next-man-up philosophy.
As ESPN Stats & Info notes, history smiles upon the Seminoles:
It is a great sign, but the Seminoles must leave it all on the field now that the proverbial target is on their back. Below, let's take a look at the full poll to get a better idea of how the collegiate landscape shapes up and nail down some predictions for the Seminoles after the jump.
2014 AP Preseason Poll
|Rank||Team (1st-place votes)||Points|
|1||Florida State (57)||1496|
Poll courtesy of The Associated Press.
Seminoles Run the Table...But Not Without Struggles
Yes, the road to a national title is more difficult than last year's schedule, but there is little to suggest the Seminoles will not post a goose egg in the loss column once again.
Many will point to a matchup against Oklahoma State to start the season as an issue, but we're talking about a team that lost 29 seniors and an offense that is a shell of its former self going against what was an elite defense a season ago led by end Mario Edwards.
The real struggle will come against Clemson. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, the team's playoff aspirations hinge on that one game thanks to the ACC:
The Seminoles can probably lose a game and still make the playoff. They’ve beefed up their nonconference schedule with home dates against Oklahoma State (Aug. 30) and Notre Dame (Oct. 18), and annual rival Florida (Nov. 29) should be better than last year. The ACC’s overall improvement will help too. Their must-win game is a Sept. 20 visit by Clemson. An FSU loss likely means no ACC Atlantic Division title and no ACC title. An SEC or Pac-12 team might make the playoff without winning its division, but that probably won’t be the case in the other leagues.
It is difficult to hype up the match too much, though. Clemson lost names such as quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL. Last year's contest in Memorial Stadium was a 51-14 train wreck.
No, the real problem for the Seminoles is themselves. We have yet to really find out what the team looks like if Winston posts a poor performance, and the chance of a sloppy contest littered with penalties could make road encounters with NC State and Miami (Fla.) tricky.
Home contests against Notre Dame—a team that touts dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson—and Florida should prove tricky, but an elite defense once again will do much to counter any potential issues under center.
ACC Championship Rout
The ACC Coastal Division is a complete wild card.
North Carolina seems to be a favorite, but Duke and Virginia Tech have enough talent to make a run at the top, too. Do not sleep on the Hurricanes, either, not with elite running back Duke Johnson leading the way (920 yards and six scores with a 6.3 average last season).
No matter which team emerges, though, it all ends at one roadblock—a loss to the Seminoles.
Let's pretend for a moment that Duke falls off a cliff with Kurt Roper gone to Florida and quarterback Brandon Connette now under center for Fresno State. So let's give the nod to Miami, an athletic team that does not get enough credit for its depth.
Under the spotlight of a championship game, even Johnson will not be able to run wild on a defense that surrendered just 12.1 points per game last season, the best mark in the land.
While Florida State resides heads and shoulders above the rest of the conference talent-wise, critical questions for every other team only make things worse. For the Hurricanes, it is who lines up under center.
If the Hurricanes cannot put a wealth of points on the board against an elite unit, this year's ACC title game will look similar to last year's—when Winston and Co. handed Duke a 45-7 loss.
Going undefeated two seasons in a row is ridiculously difficult, but Jimbo Fisher has a roster in place to do just that, especially in a weak ACC.
It hardly matters which teams make the playoff when one ponders just how much talent is on its way back to Tallahassee. Led by top NFL prospect Cameron Ervin, Winston will play behind the nation's best offensive line.
NFL.com's Chase Goodbread explains the senior's talent best:
A fifth-year offensive tackle, Erving could be the first ACC player drafted next year. He has the requisite size and length at 6-foot-6, 302 pounds and provides Winston with outstanding pass protection. Erving was a first-team All-ACC pick last season.
Protected by that line, Winston will only improve. The bright lights of a playoff are no big deal, either. Not just because of last year's triumph, but because of the razor-sharp approach the signal-caller employs, as best captured by Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com:
Given the way the preseason poll aligns with schedules and the like, the likely three to join the Seminoles seem to be Alabama, Oregon and the defensive-minded Michigan State Spartans.
Of the three, the team that poses the biggest threat is Oregon, which would make for one heck of a final matchup.
Really, as great as it sounds on paper, the Oregon defense is a major question mark when tasked with the physical Florida State offense, and the Seminoles' veteran defense can at least slow an offense led by Marcus Mariota.
So the AP got this one right. Until Winston departs and Fisher stops being the nation's best recruiter, polls will continue to open with the Seminoles on top. Really, it is only fitting that the team to win the final title of the BCS era also kicks off the playoff era by lifting the hardware.
Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.