2014 College Football Pre-Season Top 25

football-introducing-the-science_1The time has finally come!! After decades of mythical national champions and BCS (emphasis on the BS) silliness college football finally gets a playoff. Is the system perfect?? I don’t know…probably not. But I will reserve judgment until I see exactly how it works out. One thing we know for sure…there is no longer a race to be #1 or even the runner-up. Four teams will earn an opportunity to be in the playoff mix, so as long as a team is amongst those final four they’ll get their shot. Any “controversy” will be a debate as to which team deserves that 4th spot, and I am sure there will be a few teams staking a claim. But at the end of the day my vibe is that the argument will be rather muted & somewhat trivial and that fans will be mostly satisfied with the outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Florida State
Last Season: 14-0
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Oklahoma St., 9/20 vs. Clemson, 10/18 vs. Notre Dame
Defending national champions. Returning Heisman winning quarterback. Former wrestling champion Ric Flair used to say “To be the man you have to beat the man”FloridaStateSeminoles1 and until a team comes along and knocks the Seminoles off their perch I think they have to be given this top spot. Two out-of-conference games against Oklahoma St. & Notre Dame as well as the always entertaining ACC clash against Clemson are all in Tallahassee. I’d be stunned if this team isn’t in that final four.

 

 

 

2 Oregon
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 9/6 vs. Michigan St., 10/11 at UCLA, 11/1 vs. Stanford
Quarterback Marcus Mariotta likely could have been a first round pick in the NFL Draft but chose to return to Eugene for a shot at the national title and a run at the Oregon-DucksHeisman Trophy. I think he has a strong chance to snag both. Head coach Mark Helfrich didn’t miss a beat after taking the helm last season when Chip Kelly moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles. The PAC 12 is one of the toughest conferences in the land, but I think we’ll see the Ducks overcome both UCLA and Stanford to once again be in the national championship conversation.

 

 

 

3 Alabama
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 at LSU, 11/29 vs. Auburn
Let’s be clear…the inaugural 4 team playoff will, come hell or high water, include the Crimson Tide. The major players in the SEC are probably going to spend the AlabamaCrimsonTide2season beating up on each other, but that’ll just endear them all to the lapdog media even more. ‘Bama must replace quarterback AJ McCarron who is now patiently awaiting the inevitable implosion of fellow signal caller Andy Dalton as a Cincinnati Bengal. I don’t think it matters who ends up with the job for the Tide. Their calling card is a tenacious defense and a virtually unstoppable running game.

 

 

 

4 South Carolina
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 8/28 vs. Texas A&M, 9/13 vs. Georgia, 10/25 at Auburn, 11/29 at Clemson
Do not be surprised if the powers-that-be contort themselves into a pretzel trying to get two SEC teams into the playoff. How does that happen?? Simple. First of all,Gamecocks the Gamecocks don’t play Alabama during the regular season. It is entirely conceivable that both teams go into the SEC title game undefeated. Maybe ‘Bama is #1 and South Carolina is a Top 10 team. South Carolina wins a close game and rightfully ascends into the top 4. The collective hard-on the masses have for Alabama means they tumble…but not much. It’s possible. You heard it here first.

 

 

 

5 UCLA
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 10/11 vs. Oregon, 11/22 vs. USC, 11/28 vs. Stanford
I really like the PAC 12, but in the scenario described above it could be their runner-up that gets left out in the cold. Let’s imagine this. Oregon beats the ucla_bruins2Bruins on October 11th and goes undefeated. UCLA overcomes the loss and doesn’t lose the rest of the regular season. The two meet again in the conference title game and the Ducks prevail in an epic contest. There is no way that UCLA beats out the SEC runner-up to get into the playoff.

 

 

 

6 Oklahoma
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 vs. Baylor, 12/6 vs. Oklahoma St.
The Big 12 only has ten teams and no championship game. That really hurts their chances of having a playoff team. It doesn’t help that the conference is relatively weak. oklahomaEntertaining?? Sure. But the Sooners defeating the likes of TCU, Iowa St., West Virginia, & Kansas by three or more touchdowns won’t impress anybody. It is more than possible that Oklahoma could run the table and still not even be in the playoff discussion. If they drop a game to Baylor or in-state rival Oklahoma St. then they’re toast.

 

 

 

7 Wisconsin
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 8/30 vs. LSU, 11/15 vs. Nebraska
Other pundits may be picking a different Big Ten (which now has 14 teams) team to prevail, but I think the Badgers will pound their way to the conference WisconsinBadgerschampionship behind 6ft.1 207lb. junior running back Melvin Gordon. Whether or not they win their season opening out-of-conference matchup with the LSU Tigers is irrelevant, although that game being in Madison certainly helps. A mid-November clash with Nebraska is also at home and will likely decide who represents the division in the conference title game.

 

 

 

8 Baylor
Last Season: 11-2
Key Games: 11/8 at Oklahoma
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty returns to lead what was a prolific and dominating offense in 2013. The Bears have the same issue as any other Big 12 contender inbaylor that they are unlikely to receive as much respect on a national scale as teams from the SEC or PAC 12. An out-of-conference schedule that includes SMU, Northwestern St., & Buffalo isn’t going to help. Basically the whole season comes down to an early November clash with the Sooners in Norman. The winner of that game probably plays in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. The loser will end up in something depressing like the Advocare Texas Bowl.

 

 

 

9 Boise State
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 8/28 vs. Ole Miss, 10/24 vs. BYU
They’re baaaccckkk. The Broncos have long been college football’s Little Engine That Could. They have consistently been a double digit win team over the past 15 boise-state-logoyears. After a lot of rumors and flirting with other gigs in the past decade former head coach Chris Petersen moved on to Washington and has been replaced in Boise by Bryan Harsin, a former Broncos offensive coordinator who also spent some time coaching under Mack Brown at Texas. After going 8-5 in 2013 no one is really talking about Boise St., which will make it all the sweeter when they win 10 or 11 games. Their season opener is an out-of-conference contest against an Ole Miss team that seems to be getting much love this pre-season despite the fact that they play a murderous SEC schedule. I’m betting people will remember Boise St. is still around afterward.

 

 

 

10 Michigan State
Last Season: 13-1
Key Games: 9/6 at Oregon, 10/4 vs. Nebraska, 11/8 vs. Ohio St.
The Spartans all too often get lost in the Big Ten (which has 14 teams) shuffle. But if you look at their success over the past few seasons they have been remarkablyMichigan_State_Spartans consistent, winning 11+ games three out of the past four years. This is another team that wins with good old-fashioned smashmouth football and a tough defense. Even if they lose 2 out of 3 key games and finish 10-2 they could have a legitimate opportunity to be in the conference title mix.

 

 

 

11 Ohio State
Last Season: 12-2
Key Games: 11/8 at Michigan St.
Losing QB Braxton Miller for the season virtually eliminates the Buckeyes from the championship picture. They have an unimpressive & weak schedule with neither Ohio_State_BuckeyesNebraska nor Wisconsin anywhere in sight. All it will take is a loss to Michigan St. to end the dream. And let’s be honest…if they were to somehow make it to the playoff they’d get beaten like a government mule.

 

 

 

12 Nebraska
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 10/4 at Michigan St., 11/15 at Wisconsin
I fully expect a logjam at the top of the Big Ten (which has 14 teams). There will probably be 3 or 4 teams finishing somewhere around the 9-3/10-2 mark. The nebraskaCornhuskers’ out-of-conference schedule, which includes Miami, FL & Fresno St., isn’t bad. If they can split their two key games they will almost certainly be a solid Top 25 team.

 

 

 

13 Marshall
Last Season: 10-4
Key Games: all of them and none of them
Marshall is my alma mater. I know that expectations are high in my old stomping grounds in Huntington, WV. Here is what I expect. I expect an undefeated season. I herdexpect QB Rakeem Cato to be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony though he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Arizona of actually winning. I expect that undefeated season to mean diddly squat as far as the national playoff. And I expect that if…if…the Herd screws the pooch in any game…including a C-USA championship game…they will tumble very quickly from the rankings.

 

 

 

14 Iowa
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 11/22 vs. Wisconsin, 11/28 vs. Nebraska
The Hawkeyes are another team that can always be dangerous even in a down year. Head coach Kirk Ferentz is one of those names that always gets mentioned iowafor “better” jobs, whether in the NFL or elsewhere in college. At age 59 and going into his 16th year at the helm in Iowa City it looks less & less likely that he will ever actually make the jump and will instead be one of those lifers like Bobby Bowden or Frank Beamer that sticks around for three decades. Having said that, a close examination of Iowa’s “success” under Ferentz shows that they’ve only had four double digit win seasons during his tenure. If they can split the two key games above…both of which are at home…they could add another in 2014.

 

 

 

15 Bowling Green
Last Season: 10-4
Key Games: I have no idea
Someone’s got to win the MAC, right?? Actually I like watching MAC football. Their games are usually quite entertaining. The problem is that they are all kind of just bowling greenrandom teams from Ohio (and a couple of other midwestern states). It reminds me of eating at McDonald’s…you know there are better options available and you aren’t quite sure exactly what you’re consuming, but in the moment it is sort of tasty and mostly satisfying. At any rate, the Falcons won the conference title game in 2013, upsetting a Northern Illinois team that was ranked in the Top 20. They seem to be getting some “others receiving votes” love in other polls, and since the entire Top 25 can’t be SEC, PAC 12, & Big Ten (which has 14 teams) I’ll give this team a fighting chance to win 10 or 11 games (they’ll get mauled at Wisconsin), win the conference, and earn this spot.

 

 

 

16 LSU
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Wisconsin, 10/4 at Auburn, 11/8 vs. Alabama, 11/27 at Texas A&M
The Bayou Bengals seem to be one of those teams that just reload and have tremendous success year after year. However, I am a bit nervous about their chances lsu_logo-9547in 2014. First of all they have to replace a quarterback, running back, & wide receiver (as well as about a half dozen other players) that were all taken in the NFL Draft. Secondly their out-of-conference schedule includes the season opener…a neutral site clash against Wisconsin. And of course the biggest issue…they play in the SEC. I realize that the wet dream of the powers-that-be is probably an all-SEC four team playoff for the national title, but that ain’t gonna happen. Someone will be on the outside looking in. If LSU can overcome all of that and still have a Top 20 team it will be a remarkable feat.

 

 

 

17 Stanford
Last Season: 11-3
Key Games: 9/6 vs. USC, 10/4 at Notre Dame, 11/1 at Oregon, 11/28 at UCLA
Stanford has the same issue as LSU. They play in a tough conference where the law of averages dictates that not everybody can be a Top 10 national photo.stanfordtreechampionship contender. The schedule is brutal. If this team can somehow get to 9 wins they will deserve a solid ranking.

 

 

 

18 Navy
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Ohio St., 11/1 vs. Notre Dame
Call me crazy, but I think the Midshipmen have a puncher’s chance in their season opening neutral site game against Ohio St. Okay okay…I’m not going to rush to navyVegas or Atlantic City and actually put money on that, but the rest of the season looks pretty decent. There is a November contest against Notre Dame that is also winnable. But even if Navy loses those two games they could still end up in this spot by going 10-2 and being very competitive (within two TDs) against the Buckeyes and Irish.

 

 

 

19 Oklahoma State
Last Season: 10-3
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Florida St., 11/22 at Baylor, 12/6 at Oklahoma
The Cowboys open their season at the Palace in Dallas against #1 Florida St. Ouch. If they pull the upset it’ll turn college football on its collective ear on the very firstoklahoma_state_cowboys_iphone_wallpaper weekend of the season. However, even though that is unlikely, the truth is that the whole season comes down to the final two games against Baylor and Oklahoma. Split those two games and this ranking looks golden. But even if Oklahoma St. loses all three of their key games they can still get here by being very competitive in those games and beating their other nine opponents into oblivion.

 

 

 

20 Central Florida
Last Season: 12-1
Key Games: 8/30 at Penn St., 9/13 at Missouri
Quick…tell me what conference UCF plays in. Now tell me three other teams in that conference. Give up?? The American Athletic Conference is the very definition 2007-UCF-Knight-headof mediocrity, comprised of refugees from C-USA and the old Big East that just didn’t have enough to offer for a more well-respected conference to invite them to play with the big boys. It is somewhat surprising that UCF finds itself in such a hot mess given that they are the 2nd largest university in the country. Let that sink in for a minute. UCF is bigger than Florida, Florida St., & Miami, FL…all of whom have had tremendous success on the gridiron. Will such success eventually occur for the Knights?? Maybe. Until that happens though they will be satisfied to win their conference and be a solid Top 20 team. I am a bit concerned that they must replace QB Blake Bortles who is now plying his trade in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But at the end of the day I think this is a team that will overcome adversity, win 9 or 10 games, and secure another conference title.

 

 

 

21 Arizona
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 10/2 at Oregon, 10/11 vs. USC, 11/1 at UCLA,
There are a handful of other PAC 12 teams that get all the love, but don’t forget about the Wildcats. Head coach Rich Fraudriguez seems to be much more college_arizona_90comfortable in Tucson than he ever was in Ann Arbor, MI. I think lower expectations and staying off the beaten path suits him well. If Arizona can pull off just one big upset and win 9 or 10 games they are a solid choice to sneak into the rankings.

 

 

 

22 Notre Dame
Last Season: 9-4
Key Games: 10/4 vs. Stanford, 10/18 at Florida St., 11/29 at USC
The Fighting Irish can’t cheat as much on the football field as they apparently do in the classroom because…well…television cameras. The question is can theyNotreDameFightingIrish recover from the loss of atleast 4 players (and who knows what other shoes may drop) and meet always lofty expectations?? I assume they’ll hang around and be good enough to be a solid 8/9 win bowl team. Brian Kelly is a good coach and QB Everett Golson returns from his 2013…hiatus…which means the offense should be decent. Pulling an upset in any one of the three key games would almost assure sneaking into the final rankings.

 

 

 

23 Virginia Tech
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 9/6 at Ohio St., 10/4 at North Carolina, 10/23 vs. Miami, FL
Florida St. will win the ACC. But who will win the other division and be chum for the Seminoles in the conference title game?? Most “experts” are picking North Virginia_Tech_Hokies2Carolina or Miami to fill that role. I’m playing a hunch and going against the grain. Head coach Frank Beamer has a ton of experience and his team plays in a relatively mediocre conference. I don’t think they’ll beat Ohio St., but that isn’t where the focus should be anyway. It’s a three horse race for the Coastal Division and it’ll all come down to October contests against the Tar Heels and Hurricanes.

 

 

24 Auburn
Last Season: 12-2
Key Games: 10/4 vs. LSU, 10/25 vs. South Carolina, 11/8 vs. Texas A&M, 11/15 at Georgia, 11/29 at Alabama
An old saying tells us that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Tigers were very very very lucky last season. Oh they were good too…but being lucky auburntook them from going 9-3 and playing in the Cotton Bowl to going 12-1 and coming up short in the national championship. They won’t be as fortunate this season. I’m not concerned about players lost to the NFL. Teams like Auburn just reload, and QB Nick Marshall returns for his senior year as a viable Heisman candidate. But the schedule is ridiculously difficult and I don’t think this team will win more than a couple of the key games noted above.

 

 

 

25 Georgia
Last Season: 8-5
Key Games: 8/30 vs. Clemson, 9/13 at South Carolina
A 8/9 win season and a Top 25 ranking might not seem good enough for an upper echelon SEC team, but I say it’d be a pretty decent finish all things considered.georgia The Bulldogs must replace QB Aaron Murray, but they still have junior RB Todd Gurley, a 6ft.1 232lb. brute with 4.2/40 speed. He’ll be a legitimate Heisman candidate, but the defense will have to step up and new signal caller Hutson Mason…a senior who has sat behind Murray for four years…will have to become comfortable really quickly. I won’t be a bit surprised if 4 or 5 SEC teams end the season ranked, but logic dictates that they all can’t finish in the Top 10.

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