Predicting the Top 10 Offenses and Defenses of the 2014 College Football Season

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIFebruary 19, 2014

Predicting the Top 10 Offenses and Defenses of the 2014 College Football Season

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida State won last year's college football national title and for good reason—the Seminoles were among the top teams in the nation on both offense and defense.

    Laden with talent, FSU is poised to do the same yet again.

    Looking forward to 2014, the teams that are often seen at the top of defensive rankings, including Michigan State, Alabama and Florida, are set to be there once again.

    The offensive rankings look to be in a similar situation with Baylor, Oregon and Auburn likely to top the charts.

    Click to see predictions for the top 10 offenses and defenses in college football next year.

    Note: All stats via All recruit rankings based on the 247Sports composite ratings, unless otherwise noted.

D-10. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    2013 Total Defense: 349.3 YPG (No. 18)

    Mississippi State's defense saved its season with a game-winning fumble recovery against Ole Miss in the final game of the regular season.

    That win made the Bulldogs bowl eligible, and it was the defense that led them most of the year.

    After finishing in the top 20 nationally in total defense, MSU will lose two of its top defenders: safety Nickoe Whitley and defensive lineman Denico Autry.

    However, they'll also return top tackler Benardrick McKinney, who elected to return for his senior season. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun will return to the secondary, while Chris Jones will once again anchor the defensive front after a stellar freshman year.

    With so many returners, MSU could be the surprise team of the SEC this season.

D-9. LSU Tigers

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    2013 Total Defense: 340.7 (No. 15)

    As always, LSU will suffer some heavy losses on both sides of the ball.

    Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson are both headed to the NFL, while Lamin Barrow and Craig Loston are departing as well.

    But as always, the Tigers will reload with some new talent, including the No. 2 class in the nation from 2014.

    Jalen Mills, Kwon Alexander and D.J. Welter will lead the defense next season after combining for 212 tackles including 14.5 for a loss and five sacks.

D-8. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2013 Total Defense: 370.5 YPG (No. 38)

    Ole Miss was strong defensively last season while starting two true freshmen and working through several injuries.

    The Rebels will bring back the Nkemdiche brothers, safety Tony Conner and top tackler Serderius Bryant.

    However, the leader of the unit will be All-American safety Cody Prewitt, who picked off six passes, forced two fumbles and tallied 71 tackles last year.

    With some health, Ole Miss could have one of college football's best defenses next year.

D-7. USC Trojans

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2013 Total Defense: 334.9 YPG (No. 13)

    USC improved as the 2013 season went along, especially on the defensive side.

    The Trojans will lose a few key players, including Devon Kennard and Dion Bailey, but they'll bring back a wealth of talent as well.

    Su'a Cravens had a remarkable freshman season, tallying 52 tackles and four interceptions, and ESPN's Johnny Curren believes he could move from safety to linebacker.

    Top tackler Hayes Pullard will also be back in that linebacker corps and, whether Cravens stays at safety or not, the Trojans will be set in the secondary with Josh Shaw back after picking off four passes and breaking up another seven.

D-6. Oklahoma Sooners

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    2013 Total Defense: 350.2 YPG (No. 20)

    Expectations will be through the roof for Oklahoma next year, and the Sooners have promise on both sides of the ball.

    Top tacklers Frank Shannon and Dominique Alexander are returning along with nine other starters.

    OU will miss Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn in the secondary, but it won't be short of playmakers.

    Keep an eye on Eric Striker, who emerged as a star over the course of the 2013 season, tallying 10.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

D-5. Michigan State Spartans

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    2013 Total Defense: 252.2 YPG (No. 2)

    Michigan State boasted the most feared defense in college football last year, allowing just 13.2 points and 252.2 yards per game.

    The Spartans will be without several key players next year, including Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, leading tackler Denicos Allen and All-American Max Bullough.

    The loss of that trio will definitely hurt, but MSU's defense is more about the scheme than specific players.

    It might not be as terrifying a unit as it was in 2013, but the Spartans will still be one of the nation's best.

D-4. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    2013 Total Defense: 286.5 YPG (No. 5)

    Losing All-American defenders is nothing new for Alabama.

    The Crimson Tide will wave goodbye to C.J. Mosley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and others, but that will just leave room for the next wave of talent to wash into starting roles.

    While Clinton-Dix is departing, the Tide actually might be better at safety. Landon Collins will be back after an outstanding junior campaign and he'll be joined by Vinnie Sunseri, who is set to return from an injury that sidelined him for most of 2013.

    Denzel Devall and Trey DePriest will anchor the linebacking corps and several elite corners will join in the 2014 recruiting class, which was the fourth No. 1 class in a row for 'Bama.

D-3. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    2013 Total Defense: 283.2 YPG (No. 4)

    Virginia Tech always builds around defense.

    The Hokies were in the top five nationally last year and they likely will be again next year. VT was tied for sixth nationally with 19 interceptions a year ago.

    Kyle Fuller is on his way out but his brother, Kendall, along with Brandon Facyson, will be back. The duo combined for 11 picks as freshmen. Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett will come back to the safety position as well.

    With its secondary set to be elite, VT will boast one of college football's top defenses yet again.

D-2. Florida Gators

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Total Defense: 314.3 YPG (No. 8)

    It was an ugly season for Florida, but the Gators still had one of the best defenses in the nation despite their 4-8 record.

    Several of UF's top players from that group will be back, including Neiron Ball, Dante Fowler and Vernon Hargreaves.

    Hargreaves was the best freshman defensive back in the country and is an incredible playmaker in the secondary. He'll be joined by 5-star corner Jalen Tabor.

    Meanwhile, the Gators will also bring in several elite defensive linemen, including No. 2 defensive tackle Gerald Willis.

D-1. Florida State Seminoles

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    2013 Total Defense: 281.4 YPG (No. 3)

    Whenever a team wins a national title, turnover is expected.

    Florida State will lose several studs, including Lamarcus Joyner and Timmy Jernigan. However, Jimbo Fisher and his staff have been preparing for this time.

    They've recruited extremely well in recent years, and there are several skilled players waiting to fill bigger roles.

    The defensive line should be set with Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. coming back. The secondary will be set too with Ronald Darby at corner and Jalen Ramsey at safety.

    FSU was No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense last year, and without many explosive offenses in the ACC, that could be the case yet again.

O-10. Bowling Green Falcons

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 459.4 YPG (No. 29)

    The key for small-conference teams is the quarterback position.

    Northern Illinois had Jordan Lynch and Fresno State had Derek Carr. Those two are gone and now Bowling Green's Matt Johnson is set to takeover as the top signal-caller outside of the AQ conferences.

    He threw for more than 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, leading BGSU to the MAC title over Lynch and NIU.

    He'll be back to lead the offense that was one of the more explosive groups in the nation. Running back Travis Greene is also coming back after nearing 1,600 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns.

    With a great backfield, the Falcons are set to rule the MAC.

O-9. Marshall Thundering Herd

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    2013 Total Offense: 500.4 YPG (No. 12)

    Marshall averaged more than 500 yards per game last year behind the arm of Rakeem Cato.

    He has more than 10,000 career passing yards and 91 touchdowns after nearing 4,000 yards last year with 39 touchdowns.

    He'll be back and throwing to his top target Tommy Shuler, who tallied more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last two years.

    Joining Cato and Shuler will be another duo: running backs Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms.

    With most of their key contributors coming back, the Thundering Herd are poised to break 500 yards per game yet again.

O-8. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Chris Jackson/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 510.7 YPG (No. 8)

    Kliff Kingsbury knows a thing or two about passing offenses.

    He was a prolific quarterback in his day and his first year as a head coach produced similarly impressive production.

    Texas Tech used several quarterbacks but broke more than 5,000 yards. Davis Webb emerged as the starter late in the year and he'll be back.

    TTU's top two options at running back are returning, but its top two receivers, Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, will be gone.

    If Webb can find some new options on the outside, the Red Raider offense will be explosive yet again.

O-7. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 480.8 YPG (No. 18)

    Wisconsin boasted one of the top rushing offenses in the nation last year and will once again in 2014.

    The Badgers will lose James White but their running game won't miss a beat with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement coming back.

    Quarterback Joel Stave is returning and is poised to have a strong junior year. The main concern for him will be picking a new go-to playmaker after the departure of Jared Abbrederis.

    With some more experience Stave should be ready to lead a great Wisconsin offense through Big Ten play.

O-6. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 511.9 YPG (No. 7)

    Braxton Miller's return will be one of the single most impactful returnees in college football.

    Miller has more than 8,000 all-purpose yards in his career and he'll break 10,000 with ease next year.

    Top running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall will be gone, but OSU fans shouldn't dwell on those losses for too long. Future stars Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson are more than ready to take on lead roles.

    The 2014 class will bring Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon, along with a few other promising playmakers.

    Together, this group will have OSU as one of college football's best offenses yet again.

O-5. Florida State Seminoles

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 519.1 YPG (No. 6)

    It's always good to have a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.

    Florida State was one of college football's best offenses last year and will be once again with Jameis Winston at the helm.

    There will also be a load of turnover, including Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr., Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin.

    However, plenty of playmakers will be coming back: Karlos Williams at running back, tight end Nick O'Leary and last year's leading receiver Rashad Greene.

    A few elite recruits are joining as well, including 5-star running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph.

    With an eclectic blend of old and new, FSU will be a favorite to defend its national title.

O-4. Auburn Tigers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 501.3 YPG (No. 11)

    It didn't take long for Gus Malzahn to install his offense.

    Auburn was one of college football's best offenses last year and should be even better in its second season under Malzahn.

    Tre Mason will be gone, which will certainly hurt. But with Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne joining Nick Marshall in his second year under center, the Tigers will be in good shape.

    The entire receiving corps will return and will be joined by top junior college prospect D'haquille Williams.

    All this will equal one of the top attacks in the nation.

O-3. UCLA Bruins

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 448.1 YPG (No. 38)

    If it can find a balance, UCLA can have one of the top offenses in college football.

    Brett Hundley's performance will be a given—and he'll be in the race for the Heisman Trophy. 

    The Bruins struggled to consistently establish the run last year, particularly after the injury to Jordon James.

    However, they'll have plenty of talent at the position and they can be very good with some health.

    UCLA will also bring back four starters on the offensive line, so the sky will be the limit for this group.

O-2. Baylor Bears

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 618.2 YPG (No. 1)

    Baylor nearly broke two NCAA records last year when it averaged 618.2 yards and 52.4 points per game, falling 6.7 yards and 3.6 points short of the all-time marks.

    They might not break those records next year, but they'll be elite nonetheless.

    Quarterback Bryce Petty is back for his senior year, but several top playmakers, including receiver Tevin Reese and running back Lache Seastrunk are on the way out.

    However, Shock Linwood and Antwan Goodley are coming back. They'll be joined by several promising newcomers, including KD Cannon and Davion HallAnother 5-star receiver from 2013, Robbie Rhodes, could take on a bigger role as well.

    It'll just be up to head coach Art Briles to bring that all together—and Briles has shown that he can be pretty good at doing just that.

O-1. Oregon Ducks

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2013 Total Offense: 565 YPG (No. 2)

    Oregon has been right on the cusp of greatness and its 2014 offense could take it to new heights.

    The Ducks are bringing back a Heisman Trophy favorite in Marcus Mariota, who might have won the award last year if he hadn't been injured.

    He'll be joined by some great running backs, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. UO will also add a power presence in its backfield, 5-star running back Royce Freeman, who could contribute immediately.

    A load of playmakers will be available for Mariota—leaving Oregon set to explode yet again.