Gone are days in college football when deciphering the complex computer formulas used to determine the top teams was more difficult than most of the actual college classes across the country.
While the BCS is no longer, the coaches poll is here to stay with a couple of differences. For one, Amway has partnered with USA Today and the American Football Coaches Association. More importantly, the poll doesn’t play a role in determining the participants in the College Football Playoff like it did during the BCS era.
That doesn’t mean fans aren’t hungry for a little late-summer football (and debate) when the initial Amway poll is set to be released July 31.
With that in mind, here is a projection for what those rankings will look like. Remember, this is simply a prediction on what the poll will be rather than a personal Top 25 ranking.
Call this a vote for program name only.
The Florida Gators couldn’t even beat Georgia Southern last season, let alone compete for an SEC crown. However, a healthy Jeff Driskel and a loaded defense that features Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard should help Florida improve drastically on its 4-8 record.
It may just be enough to warrant a Top 25 vote.
As long as we are handing out votes based on past performances, let’s put Texas in the mix.
Still, Charlie Strong’s presence should provide an immediate boost to one of the best programs in the history of college football. ESPN’s Numbers Never Lie explained why:
The Big 12 is typically known for its strong offenses, so a stout defense could help the Longhorns win a number of closely contested games. It won’t get them in the College Football Playoff, but it will be an improvement from last season.
Clemson enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history last year. An Orange Bowl victory over college football blue blood Ohio State topped it off, but the Tigers lose Tajh Boyd and the dynamic Sammy Watkins.
That is the lifeblood of the offense.
Still, a defense led by superstar Vic Beasley will help Clemson win plenty of games.
22. Texas A&M
Rumor has it Texas A&M lost a fairly important piece from its offense to the NFL draft and Cleveland Browns this offseason.
Somehow, life will move on without Johnny Manziel. Returning 15 starters certainly makes life much easier, but getting through the likes of Missouri and South Carolina from the SEC East, on top of the always strong SEC West, certainly doesn’t.
Nebraska may still be on the outside looking in at the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin when it comes to the Big Ten pecking order, but it should once again be solid in 2014.
The Cornhuskers will be tested early against Fresno State (on the road) and Miami but don’t have to play the Buckeyes or Michigan. Even if they trip up on the road against the Spartans and Badgers, the Huskers should find a way to win eight or nine games.
All those recruits have to grow up eventually and produce on the field. Mississippi fans will be treated to an even better team than the one that won eight games last season.
Bo Wallace is the headliner at quarterback and Laquon Treadwell will be there to reel in plenty of passes. Hugh Freeze’s stout defense will do enough to keep the Rebels in plenty of games, and it will be up to that offense to come through when it matters.
19. Arizona State
Arizona State has a bright future ahead of it on the recruiting trail and the football team, but it should take a step up in 2014 as well.
As Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic noted, coach Todd Graham pointed out fans shouldn’t overlook this year’s bunch on account of what the future holds:
Quarterback Taylor Kelly will be the straw that stirs the drink, while Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster give the Sun Devils a supporting cast that will help them light up the scoreboard on offense.
A 54-51 victory counts just as much as a 10-7 one.
18. Kansas State
Consistent and productive quarterbacks win a lot of games at the college level, and senior Jake Waters will be just that.
That nonconference showdown with Auburn will be a much stiffer test for the Tigers than many people realize, and Bill Snyder’s program will have a golden opportunity to put itself on the 2014 map. Few signal-callers in the country would be better to lead the Wildcats’ efforts in doing that than Waters.
Few teams in the country lost as much talent in three players as Washington did this offseason with the departures of Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but the Huskies also added an important piece.
Head coach Chris Petersen.
Even with the loss of all that offense firepower, the former Boise State front man gets a strong defense to work with on the other side of the ball. That will be enough to keep the Huskies in the Top 25.
16. Notre Dame
It wouldn’t be a preseason poll without Notre Dame in the Top 25 somewhere, even in the years that the Fighting Irish eventually fail to live up to expectations.
2014 may not be one of those seasons, though, because Notre Dame gets quarterback Everett Golson back after an academically based suspension. He was last seen on the football field leading his squad in the national title game.
Throw in a strong secondary and the Fighting Irish should be much better than last year.
It may be a commentary on where USC is in the Pac-12 pecking order that seeing them at No. 15 seems high, given how dominant a program it was not long ago.
Still, quarterback Cody Kessler led the Trojans to six wins in his last seven starts and that momentum should carry over to the early season. Of course, having Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams to catch his passes certainly helps things as well.
It was a disappointing end to what was a magical 2013 season for the Baylor Bears, but they should bounce back from a Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida.
Bryce Petty will make sure of it.
There are some new faces around the quarterback, but the aerial attack that lit up the scoreboard so often last year should be back in full force. Petty could very well find himself in Heisman Trophy discussions, and if Baylor can find a way to knock off Oklahoma, the team could challenge for a vaunted postseason spot.
Wisconsin has what can only be described as a very manageable schedule after its opener with LSU. The Badgers miss Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan on the slate and could very well cruise to the Big Ten title game.
That is why that initial game against the Tigers is so important.
Not only is it a chance for the Big Ten to pick up a crucial nonconference win against the mighty SEC, but victories over the likes of Minnesota, Purdue and Rutgers all season won’t mean much in the eyes of voters if Wisconsin loses its one game of note.
There is some bad news for Stanford in terms of the Pac-12 race, and it comes in the form of the schedule. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News explains:
Veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan will help the Cardinal deal with that slate, as will dynamic playmaker Ty Montgomery at wide receiver. The defense is always strong, so the formula is in place for another run at the conference title.
A showdown with Oregon in Eugene could be the difference-maker.
You know the initial Top 25 poll is going to be rife with SEC teams. Georgia just happens to be one of them.
The Bulldogs lost to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl last season, but injuries derailed the entire campaign. This year, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Hutson Mason will lead the offense, but there may be more questions on defense.
Seth Emerson of The (Macon) Telegraph explains why:
Somewhere, Steve Spurrier is preparing his next verbal jab.
We already covered how important the season opener between Wisconsin and LSU is for the Badgers. While the Tigers have more chances against quality competition to make up for a loss, the other way to look at it is a nonconference loss in the SEC means a three- or four-loss season is a legitimate possibility.
Les Miles certainly doesn’t want that.
A new quarterback will be leading the way, but running back Leonard Fournette enters the fray with a boatload of hype. Whether he can deliver on it could determine the entire season for the Tigers.
9. South Carolina
The SEC East is up for grabs. With Georgia dealing with off-field issues and Florida still trying to figure out how to win again without Urban Meyer on the sidelines, South Carolina is in prime position for a run.
Running back Mike Davis is a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and he could very well carry the offense after the departure of Connor Shaw. Davis will get plenty of carries, which means plenty of yards and touchdowns.
Still, the Gamecocks would settle for plenty of wins over a Heisman.
It’s no longer all about Oregon, Stanford and USC in the Pac-12.
UCLA has quarterback Brett Hundley calling the shots, and there may not be a more dynamic quarterback in the country. However, he still has to prove that against elite competition and will have the chance to do so this year.
The Bruins are on the way up, and this may be the year it all comes together. At least they have captured the admiration of rivals, as Stanford coach David Shaw was certainly impressed heading into the season, via Josh Peter of USA Today:
I think you can make a case of what Jim Mora has done in the last two years at UCLA is as good as what anybody's done in the nation. As far as what they've done and style of play, they've become a physical, get-after-you football team. ... He's built something in UCLA that was not there before.
7. Michigan State
Michigan State probably deserves to be ahead of some teams that will be ranked higher based on last season’s dominance, but college football preseason polls rely heavily on name recognition.
The Spartans were the first team to beat Ohio State under Meyer in 25 tries, were clearly the better squad in a victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and were a poorly officiated game against Notre Dame away from being undefeated. Expectations have never been higher in East Lansing.
Still, a young defense that lost some of its firepower will be tested early against Oregon’s scary offense. A victory there could propel the Spartans to some special things this season.
Oklahoma beat Alabama in arguably the most impressive bowl-game performance this side of Florida State’s national title, but this isn’t some Cinderella story we are talking about.
It’s the Sooners.
Few programs in college football history win at the rate of Bob Stoops’ squad, and 2014 will be no different. Trevor Knight will be expected to live up to his Sugar Bowl heroics, which is certainly a lot of pressure, but he is capable of doing just that.
If he does, the Sooners could find themselves in the College Football Playoff.
Auburn has the SEC’s reputation, a trip to the national title game last year and the return of quarterback Nick Marshall working in its favor, so a spot in the top five shouldn’t be that surprising.
The Tigers do lose running back Tre Mason and Dee Ford, and their luck they enjoyed last year may run out this season. Remember, Auburn was a couple of miraculous plays away from losing a couple more times in its charmed run to the national title game.
The Tigers will still find a way to win plenty of games this season with the option attack, but a trip to the playoffs may be asking a bit much.
Marcus Mariota is arguably the top quarterback in the country this season, and SportsCenter notes that he will have plenty of time to focus on football:
Before we all get up in arms with fake outrage, the light course schedule is because he already graduated. The only question now is whether he can parlay that free time into a national title for Oregon after the program has come so dauntingly close the past few years.
The Ducks need to reload in the receiving corps and get over a nonconference hurdle in Michigan State, but they should be among the nation’s best. As always, look for plenty of points.
3. Ohio State
Chalk this ranking up to the importance of the coach and quarterback combo in college football.
Ohio State returns senior and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller, who will be expected to lead Meyer’s offense to new heights this season. Ultimately, the fate of Buckeye Nation rests on the surgically repaired shoulder and legs of Miller, but there are other question marks.
Ohio State needs to improve its lackluster pass defense from a year ago, and the loss of Carlos Hyde and four of the five starting offensive linemen from a year ago is certainly noteworthy. If Miller can stay healthy, the offensive line gels and the secondary improves under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, the Buckeyes will be in the College Football Playoff.
That is certainly a lot of “ifs,” but all are manageable for Ohio State.
We can debate whether Alabama is the second-best team in the country, but Nick Saban’s bunch always gets the benefit of the doubt in the preseason because of the established dominance it has enjoyed over the past decade.
The Crimson Tide should be motivated after losing their last two games last season, and T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will help new quarterback Jacob Coker rack up some impressive stats.
If Coker can get past showdowns with Auburn, LSU and Mississippi, a spot in the playoffs is almost assuredly waiting.
1. Florida State
Until someone knocks Florida State off the championship perch, the Seminoles will be No. 1.
Returning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will lead the way and look to join Archie Griffin as the only players to win college football’s most prestigious award twice. There are certainly some tests in place with games against Oklahoma State, Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida on the schedule, but the Seminoles are loaded with talent.
They are once again the favorites.
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