College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams That Will Surprise This Season

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College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams That Will Surprise This Season
USA TODAY Sports

Will anyone capture the magic of the 2013 Auburn Tigers this college football season?

Even the staunchest Tigers supporters couldn't have foreseen a run to the national championship that involved running back a missed field goal for the game-winning touchdown at the end of the Iron Bowl.

Every year, a handful of teams play way above expectations and flirt with either a national championship or a bowl game. 2014 should be no different.

Here's a look at the two preseason polls heading into Week 1.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Points Team Points
1 Florida State 1496 Florida State 1543
2 Alabama 1361 Alabama 1455
3 Oregon 1334 Oklahoma 1382
4 Oklahoma 1324 Oregon 1314
5 Ohio State 1207 Auburn 1271
6 Auburn 1198 Ohio State 1267
7 UCLA 1106 UCLA 1085
8 Michigan State 1080 Michigan State 1050
9 South Carolina 1015 South Carolina 1009
10 Baylor 966 Baylor 965
11 Stanford 885 Stanford 955
12 Georgia 843 Georgia 905
13 LSU 776 LSU 833
14 Wisconsin 637 Wisconsin 654
15 USC 626 USC 627
16 Clemson 536 Clemson 535
17 Notre Dame 445 Notre Dame 509
18 Ole Miss 424 Arizona State 358
19 Arizona State 357 Ole Miss 346
20 Kansas State 242 Texas A&M 266
21 Texas A&M 238 Kansas State 257
22 Nebraska 226 Nebraska 228
23 North Carolina 194 North Carolina 175
24 Missouri 134 Texas 143
25 Washington 130 Washington 142

ESPN.com

The three teams below are all lurking down the standings. They aren't national title contenders, but they could be looking at impressive seasons.

 

Texas Longhorns

Texas is a major wild card this year. Charlie Strong should be an upgrade over the last year of Mack Brown in terms of coaching, but do the Longhorns have the personnel to actually play above expectations?

Quite a bit hinges on the performance at the quarterback position. David Ash has the early edge, but Tyrone Swoopes is waiting in the wings. Strong may get both guys on the field in the opener Saturday against North Texas, per Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com:

Even if Swoopes and Ash struggle, the Longhorns have one of the best running back tandems in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray.

Defensively, Texas is one of the strongest in the Big 12. Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs are the standouts, and both are capable of making the All-America team this year.

When you look at the schedule, there's no reason Texas cannot win nine or 10 games.

The Longhorns get Baylor, West Virginia and TCU at home, while UCLA is played at a neutral site (Arlington, Texas) that should be more like a home game. Playing Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road could be tricky.

Their hopes of winning the conference hinge on the Red River Showdown Oct. 11.

 

Texas A&M Aggies

It's entirely possible that Texas A&M could lose Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews yet still post a better record than it did last year. The Aggies defense should be much better, while younger, offensive playmakers like Kenny Hill, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones should improve as the year goes on.

Noil is one of those guys tailor-made for a Kevin Sumlin offense. The A&M head coach has no doubts about whether the freshman wideout will hit the ground running, per the team's Twitter account:

Having a stronger defense means that Texas A&M shouldn't need to score 40 points a game in order to win. That would, in turn, place less pressure on the inexperienced offense.

Starting off with South Carolina is brutal for the Aggies, and they remain outsiders for that one. Texas A&M also gets Alabama and Auburn on the road this year, but those come later in the season, by which time any sort of transition period should be over.

An SEC Championship Game appearance looks out of the question for Texas A&M, but 10 wins could be within reach, which would be a massive accomplishment given the Aggies' personnel losses and daunting conference schedule.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels

The scheduling gods did North Carolina a bit of a favor this year. The Tar Heels do play Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami (FL) on the road, but they also get critical ACC games against Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill.

The ACC still goes through Florida State, but North Carolina looks to be the class of the Coastal Division. The Heels are very good across the board. Aside from their defensive line—where they lost Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson—they don't have a major area of weakness.

North Carolina became a different team last year when Marquise Williams took over for Bryn Renner. He passed for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to 536 yards rushing, which led the team. ESPN.com's David Hale believes that Jameis Winston is the only ACC quarterback with a better resume than Williams, and yet, Williams still doesn't have a grasp on the starting job:

The junior is battling with redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, per Inside Carolina:

Assuming Williams is the guy, he and Quinshad Davis will form a lethal combo through the air.

North Carolina hasn't won nine games since the Mack Brown era, but that could change this year.

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