Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Predicting Amway Coaches Top 25 Poll

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Predicting Amway Coaches Top 25 Poll

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    USA TODAY Sports

    New era, new sponsorship. As we transition into the first season of the College Football Playoff, we must also transition into the first season of the Amway Coaches Poll.

    But don't expect a radical difference. Amway has partnered with the Coaches Poll's traditional producers, USA Today and the American Football Coaches Association, and the voting process will remain essentially unchanged. The only difference is that now, unlike during the BCS era, the poll will not play a role in deciding who gets to play for a national title (or in this case, in a national semifinal).

    Although the rankings no longer have a stake in the season, they are still important for entertainment (and arguing) purposes. And the preseason edition is especially important, as it signals the impending return of real, live, actual college football to our lives.

    So with the first rankings set to be released on July 31, let's take a stab at predicting which teams show up and where.

    For those of you prudent enough to read the intro slide, keep in mind that these are not how I would rank the teams myself. It's a projection of how the coaches will rank them based largely, but not entirely, on the apparent general consensus.

    Chime in below and let me know where you think the poll will differ.

Others Receiving Votes (Nos. 31-26)

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    31. Florida

    The Gators felt the love from SEC media voters, placing third in the SEC East ahead of one team included on this list. They'll get some love from the coaches too—having been on the recruiting trail, opposing staffs are fully aware of how talented this roster is—but not enough to crack the Top 25 on the heels of a four-win season.

     

    30. Iowa

    Iowa enjoyed a resurgence last season and stayed competitive with LSU (sans Zach Mettenberger) in the Outback Bowl. This year, it returns quarterback Jake Rudock and a pair of All-America candidates along the lines: left tackle Brandon Scherff and defensive tackle Carl Davis. Aided by an easy road schedule, this team could easily go 10-2.

     

    29. Miami

    Miami is a good team on paper that has not been consistent the past few seasons. Had projected starting QB Ryan Williams not torn his ACL in spring practice, Miami would probably have sneaked into the Top 25. As it stands, there is too big of a question mark under center, the most important spot on the field. Plus, I mean, Mark D'Onofrio.

     

    28. Texas A&M

    The offense will be just as talented as ever. It just won't be nearly as experienced. And the defense might make last year's porous unit look stingy. Out of respect for Kevin Sumlin (and recruiting rankings), the Aggies won't fall too far out of the Top 25. But they also won't sneak into it. SEC media picked them to finish sixth in the West Division. 

     

    27. Mississippi State

    This might be the most talented team Dan Mullen has had in Starkville. And opposing coaches—perhaps even more than the media—will be aware of that. Especially along the lines, where SEC games are won and lost, the Bulldogs have the size to compete. They also have a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Dak Prescott.

     

    26. North Carolina

    Sort of the opposite of Mississippi State, North Carolina has the roster of a contender...everywhere except the lines. Historically, though, the Tar Heels have developed those positions well, and if they can continue the trend this season, there's a chance they are very good. Among ACC teams, only Florida State boasts more offensive weapons.

25. Kansas State

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    Kansas State played better than its record for a good chunk of 2013, and now that quarterback Jake Waters has a year of FBS experience behind him, it is reasonable to expect a full season of Big 12 contention from the Wildcats.

    There are questions behind him at running back, but Waters still has receiver Tyler Lockett—a preseason favorite for the Biletnikoff Award—one of the nation's top centers in B.J. Finney and the offensive wizardry of Bill Snyder to help call the plays.

    The defense is led by defensive end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and the usual Snyder-esque group of JUCO recruits. The loss of safety Ty Zimmerman hurts, but all things told, KSU should field a unit somewhere between above-average and good.

    Auburn better watch out when it travels to Manhattan.

24. Duke

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    Duke won the games it was supposed to win last season and stayed competitive (for at least a short while) in the games it wasn't. It also won some games it probably had no business winning.

    The result was a historic season in Durham, and the result of that has been a rare offseason filled with expectations. For a traditionally hapless program that just lost offensive coordinator Kurt Roper (a Broyles Award finalist) and goal-line quarterback Brandon Connette (14 rushing touchdowns in 2013), that could be a problem.

    But fear not, Blue Devils fans. Head coach David Cutcliffe is still around, as are quarterback Anthony Boone and receiver/returner Jamison Crowder. The defensive line will continue to be a problem, but the back seven—linebackers and defensive backs—are as solid as any ACC team besides Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

    There's enough talent here for the team to repeat as Coastal Division champions.

23. Louisville

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    Head coach Charlie Strong is gone. So are offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. And so are Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Smith—a trio of first-round NFL draft picks.

    Louisville will almost certainly take a step (or two) back from last season, when it finished No. 12 in the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings. But that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare. New head coach Bobby Petrino is one of the ultimate wild cards in college football, and he inherits enough talent to produce a first-year winner.

    Especially on offense—Petrino's specialty—the Cardinals should remain pretty good. They may not be as efficient as they were last season, but with strong-armed quarterback Will Gardner throwing to a deep cast of receivers, the passing game could be explosive.

    If Todd Grantham can get the most out of a clearly rebuilding defense, don't sleep on this team to win nine or 10 games in its ACC debut. Its Thursday night home game against Florida State will be a fun one.

22. Nebraska

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    Nebraska could make an argument for having the best single offensive player and defensive player in the country: Running back Ameer Abdullah is the leading active rusher in college football, and defensive end Randy Gregory is a blossoming freak of nature.

    It's the people around them who yield questions.

    Can Tommy Armstrong (or Johnny Stanton) (or Ryker Fyfe) provide consistent enough quarterback play? Will anyone emerge along the line next to Gregory? Can the secondary survive losing all of its top playmakers? Can Bo Pelini break the curse of the four-loss season?

    Nebraska is only one year removed from a trip to the conference title game, and the new Big Ten West is a lot more winnable than the East. We'll learn a lot about this team at the end of nonconference play, when it travels to play Fresno State and hosts Miami.

21. Texas

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    On paper, Texas should be fine this season. Better than fine. It has the horses to compete with any other team in the Big 12.

    But the quarterback issue is hard to ignore. Head coach Charlie Strong named David Ash the starter during Big 12 media days, per Anwar Richardson of OrangeBloods.com, and if healthy, he gives this team a chance to win every game on its schedule. But it wasn't so long ago that concussions were threatening Ash's career, and the options behind him are either perpetually underwhelming (Tyrone Swoopes) or a true freshman who didn't enroll early (Jerrod Heard).

    Injuries are also a concern on defense, especially in a linebacking corps that could be dominant if Jordan Hicks stays on the field.

    Recruiting rankings matter, so Texas will always have to be taken seriously. Or at least it will until the last group of Mack Brown recruits (which came before the Baylor and Texas A&M emergence) leave Austin. But how quickly can Strong right the ship?

    That is one of the biggest storylines heading into this season.

20. Missouri

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    Missouri lost a ton of experience and talent at the skill positions (James Franklin, Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham, etc.) and along the defensive line (Kony Ealy and Michael Sam), but it is well-stocked to replace most of those pieces.

    Sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk looked like a star in the making when he filled in for Franklin last season, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for nearly 1,300 rushing yards, and Markus Golden and Shane Ray combined for 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss.

    Those positions are still ones of strength.

    Receiver is a bigger problem area, and the secondary, which lost All-SEC cornerback E.J. Gaines, will have to be trained on the fly.

    But Mizzou returns head coach Gary Pinkel and enough pieces from last year's East Division champion—a team that trailed by three points with 12 minutes left in a game that likely would have sent it to play for the national title—to land in the preseason top 20.

    Anything else would be kind of an insult.

19. Washington

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    Washington was secretly quite good last season. It outplayed Stanford in a loss that should have been a win, folded late against Oregon the following week and suffered a letdown against Arizona State the week after that. It also lost a close game on the road at UCLA. All four of those opponents finished in the top 15 of the F/+ ratings.

    As far as four-loss seasons go, that one was pretty respectable.

    This year, Washington must deal with losing head coach Steve Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey. But they bring in Chris Petersen and a good portion of his staff from Boise State, and QB Cyler Miles and a deep running back committee should keep the offense rolling.

    The Huskies also look good in the trenches. The offensive line is experienced, and the defensive line, led by Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton, is among the best in America at rushing the passer. Behind it, nickelback Shaq Thompson has All-America potential.

    Even before Petersen's arrival, this was a team that no one envied playing. And Petersen is the king of coaching just that type of team.

    It's a perfect match of coach and program.

18. Ole Miss

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Ole Miss seems to have a bunch of momentum behind it.

    The Rebels have a nice blend of youth and experience, and it's hard to find a hole at any position on their roster.

    Head coach Hugh Freeze also cleared up the biggest question of the offseason during SEC media days, announcing that suspended linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was back with the team and would only miss the season opener against Boise State, per Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com. Between him, younger brother Robert, Cody Prewitt, C.J. Johnson, Tony Conner and Serderius Bryant (among others), this defense has the upside, on paper, to be the best in the SEC.

    And yes, that includes Alabama.

    If senior quarterback Bo Wallace can keep his shoulder healthy and limit the interceptions, there is no limit on how good Ole Miss can be this season. The offensive line should be a strength, and sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell is ready to become a superstar.

    We just have to see it all come together.

17. Notre Dame

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    Notre Dame is a hard team to peg.

    The Irish lost both of their coordinators, Bob Diaco and Mike Denbrock, to head coaching jobs, and defensive stalwarts such as Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Prince Shembo to the NFL.

    But they also get back Everett Golson, the only active quarterback besides Jameis Winston who has started more than 10 regular-season games without a loss. With him and Brian Kelly reunited, this team might be able to salvage part of the magic from two years ago.

    A big part of doing so relies on Brian VanGorder, the new defensive coordinator who is shifting Notre Dame's traditional 3-4 defense into a more aggressive 4-3. The pieces are there, on paper, for BVG to field a solid defense, but the image of his last college coordinator job (2012 Auburn) remains fresh in the college football world's mind.

    Either way, though, any Kelly-coached team should be competitive.

16. Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin loses a ton of pieces from 2013, including three of the most productive players in program history: wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, running back James White and linebacker Chris Borland.

    But what the Badgers return—and, specifically, where they return it—should ensure a familiar product on the field this season.

    Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are a dangerous one-two punch at running back, and the offensive line should be as beefy and effective as ever. Especially if mobile quarterback Tanner McEvoy wins the starting job over Joel Stave (something most Wisconsin fans are hoping for), this team could post historic numbers on the ground.

    At some point, though, this team will need to throw the ball. And somebody will have to catch it. Finding who that "somebody" is will be an issue, and it remains to be seen how big of a step back the defense will take given all the personnel losses.

    There are questions at spots on this roster, but head coach Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are two guys worth banking on to answer them. Even if they can't, we learned last year from Auburn that a dominant running game can go a long way.

15. USC

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    USC got better—much better—as the season went on in 2013. Part of that had to do with interim head coach Ed Orgeron, and part of it had to do with simply not having former head coach Lane Kiffin. But how big of a role did those respective parts each play?

    We might never know the answer for sure, but how Steve Sarkisian fares this season should provide a hint.

    On paper, the first team of this roster is talented enough to compete for a national championship. It's the two-deep that is a cause for concern. Injuries and scholarship restrictions have compromised the depth of the Trojans, to the point where losing one or two starters at almost any position would throw the entire season into doubt.

    Assuming good health, though, the Pac-12 had better watch out. Quarterback Cody Kessler turned a corner at the end of last season and was named the starter this spring, Javorius Allen looks like the next great USC running back, and receiver Nelson Agholor arguably did to Marqise Lee in 2013 what Lee did to Robert Woods in 2012.

    On defense, tackle Leonard Williams is being mentioned as a potential top-five NFL draft pick, linebacker Hayes Pullard led the team with 94 tackles last season, and sophomore Su'a Cravens headlines a secondary that I ranked among the top 20 position groups in America.

    You would definitely rather get this team at the end of the season than the start. Stanford better watch out on September 6.

14. Clemson

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    Is the world ready for "Bizarro Clemson"?

    A Tigers team that has long been characterized by its high-scoring offense and, er, questionable defense took a step toward being more balanced last season. But this year, that step becomes a leap, and the result could be a completely reverse dichotomy.

    Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and a stacked front seven should lead one of the best defenses in college football, but the questions on offense are hard to ignore. A shaky offensive line protects a group of skill players that loses quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Roderick McDowell and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant from 2013 (and the cast charged with replacing them is inexperienced).

    Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the highest-paid assistant coach in college football, and he'll have to earn every cent of his paycheck this season. If he does, this team should be able to hang with anyone. Considering the strength of its schedule, it will have to be.

13. LSU

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    For the second consecutive season, LSU watched an exodus of underclassmen declare for the NFL draft. Although it coped fairly well in 2013, it didn't field the same dominant defense as it had in recent years, and it's fair to wonder about the effect of further attrition.

    Then again, this is LSU we're talking about. It's Les Miles and John Chavis. It's a school that recruits like few others. Even when it regresses, the bottom doesn't fall too far.

    The offense might actually be a bigger question than the defense. After a remarkably successful first season, coordinator Cam Cameron loses quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

    Replacing them, potentially, is a trio of true freshmen: QB Brandon Harris, RB Leonard Fournette and WR Malachi Dupre. All three were at or near the top of the class at their respective positions, headlined by Fournette, who checked in as the No. 1 overall recruit and has drawn Adrian Peterson comparisons.

    If that group is ready for action, LSU can contend in the SEC West.

12. Stanford

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    Stanford loses a great deal from last year's defense, headlined by coordinator Derek Mason, the new head coach at Vanderbilt.

    But because of the way Mason developed talent, the Cardinal return a lot also. Defensive lineman Henry Anderson, linebacker A.J. Tarpley and defensive backs Alex Carter and Jordan Richards were a big part of last year's success and should keep the engine running.

    On offense, a retooled group of linemen might be of bigger concern if not for its pedigree. Many of the projected contributors hail from the 2012 recruiting class—a group hailed as one of the best collections of offensive linemen ever assembled.

    "Stanford's offensive line class on paper is the best since we have been ranking prospects," said Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell at the time. "The closest class to this one would be USC's haul in 2008, when they got Matt Kalil, Tyron Smith and Khaled Holmes."

    With quarterback Kevin Hogan and receiver Ty Montgomery both returning, the passing game should remain pretty good. If the offensive line jells as predicted, a three- or four-headed running back monster should find some success as well.

    The roster is not as deep as last season's, but Stanford remains big, tough and well-coached enough to compete for a Pac-12 title.

11. Georgia

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    Fifth-year senior Hutson Mason has bided his time at quarterback, learning Mike Bobo and Mark Richt's system behind Aaron Murray since 2010. He has earned this opportunity.

    If he's ready for his closeup and the skill players around him stay healthy, this offense should be efficient and explosive. Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are both rehabbing injuries, as are many of the receivers, but even if some players get nicked up, the depth at both of those positions is remarkable.

    The Bulldogs will move the football no matter what.

    The defense is more of a question area. At least on the back end, that is. The front seven—headlined by a group of linebackers that I ranked the No. 5 position group in the country—will be stout, but a secondary that has hemorrhaged potential starters to transfers and dismissals this offseason might be shaky to start the season.

    Unfortunately, the start of the season includes games against Clemson and South Carolina. Less unfortunately, both of those teams are breaking in new quarterbacks and No. 1 receivers.

    If UGA escapes 2-0 from mid-September, watch out.

10. South Carolina

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    South Carolina has won 40 games the past four seasons and 11 in each of the last three. It is getting to the point, as a program, where it has to be considered for the preseason Top 10 no matter what.

    This year is no different, despite the losses of Connor Shaw at quarterback and Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles along the defensive line. The Gamecocks are better equipped to replace the former (thanks to Shaw's longtime backup, Dylan Thompson) than the latter, but they aren't exactly weak in any area.

    Mike Davis is one of the five best running backs in the country, and he's running behind one of its five best offensive lines. That and the speedy receiver trio of Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper should give Thompson all he needs to be successful.

    It could well be another year of double-digit wins in Columbia.

9. Baylor

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    Baylor didn't end on a high note last season, losing the Fiesta Bowl to Central Florida, but that doesn't take away from what it accomplished. Art Briles has not led his program fade in the two years post-Robert Griffin III, and in many ways he has made it much stronger.

    The offense has some pieces to replace along the offensive line and at the skill positions, but there is enough talent surrounding QB Bryce Petty—a Heisman favorite and potential first-round NFL draft pick—to expect another dominant season. Something would have to go catastrophically wrong for there to not be.

    Meanwhile, the defense, which has steadily improved throughout Briles' tenure, could potentially reach a new level in 2014. Bryce Hager is back to lead the linebacking corps, and a defensive line led by 6'9" Penn State transfer/video game create-a-player specimen Shawn Oakman has a chance to wreak havoc on Big 12 backfields.

    The secondary might go through some growing pains, but the teams on Baylor's schedule equipped to exploit that (which is basically only Texas Tech) do not have a defense capable of stopping its offense.

    A pair of road games against Texas and Oklahoma, which the Bears beat by a combined score of 71-22 last season, are the only major obstacles between them and a second consecutive Big 12 title.

8. Michigan State

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    Yes, Michigan State lost a ton of important pieces from its defense. Linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis will not be easy to replace. Neither will both of last year's starting defensive tackles.

    But for all the talk about what Michigan State lost from last season, we might be overlooking what it beat the odds to retain—namely, Broyles Award winner Pat Narduzzi, who turned down the head coaching job at UConn to return as defensive coordinator.

    With Narduzzi still in East Lansing, this defense shouldn't fall out of the national top 15 or 20. And it still might crack the top 10 or five. Linebacker is a spot worth monitoring, but the defensive line and secondary should remain among the best in the sport.

    And the offense should be much better than last year. Or at least it should not come together so late. Connor Cook looks like one of the 20 best quarterbacks in America, Jeremy Langford ran for 1,400 yards last season, and the receivers, which still might be the weakest overall unit on the team, are deep and above average (if nothing else).

    Last season was not a fluke just because it came on the heels of a 7-6 record. If you look at the history of this program since Mark Dantonio took over, it becomes clear that 2012 was the fluke.

    Another Big Ten title contender would be the norm.

7. UCLA

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    Try to find a hole on UCLA's roster.

    You can't, can you?

    Sure, the receivers and running backs have underachieved in the past, but there is depth and experience at both spots. And the offensive line has been banged up the past few seasons, but if that changes in 2014, it should be among the Pac-12's best. And the offense is all held together by a quarterback, Brett Hundley, who is already considered elite despite only scratching the surface of his potential.

    The defensive line features some serious beef in Eddie Vanderdoes, Ellis McCarthy and Kenny Clark, the linebackers are led by All-Pac-12 candidates Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks, and the secondary, which at one time was considered a weakness, returns every single player of consequence from last year's depth chart.

    Now it is considered a strength.

    Last year was the first since 2011 that the Bruins didn't make the Pac-12 title game. But it was still (by a considerable margin) the best team they had fielded during that span...and probably in close to a decade.

    This team is trending up and has a real shot at the national title.

6. Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma is one of the favorites to make the College Football Playoff, and even though the schedule is a large (and probably the largest) reason for that, the roster plays a big role today.

    The defense looks particularly menacing. After shredding Alabama's offensive line in the Sugar Bowl upset, almost everybody returns from the front seven. Chief among those returnees are linebackers Eric Striker and Frank Shannon and lineman Charles Tapper.

    The offense is a little shakier. Whether or not Alabama was "motivated," hanging 45 points on the Crimson Tide is an impressive feat, but Oklahoma's offense did not fire on all cylinders last season. And now it loses both of its top running backs and No. 1 receiver Jalen Sanders, the primary weapon on the outside.

    Trevor Knight will have to be Sugar Bowl Knight consistently next season. He can't be Louisiana-Monroe or West Virginia Knight—not even once. With this schedule, any loss would mean the end of all national title hopes. Even an undefeated season with some close calls against bad teams might put the Sooners at risk.

    They have to win, and win impressively, each time out.

5. Ohio State

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    Ohio State lost its last two games of last season, but before that, Urban Meyer had coached it to 24 consecutive wins.

    I don't think most people know how rare that is, or how good a team must be to accomplish the feat. Big Ten schedule or no Big Ten schedule, you don't win 24 straight games unless you're special.

    This year's team might not be "special," but it's definitely shaping up to be pretty good. Braxton Miller's return has spared the Buckeyes a lot of stress about their offense, and even though the line might be shaky as it introduces new starters, Miller and a group of young, athletic playmakers should keep the Buckeyes scoring points.

    The defense has a potentially dominant front seven, which is led by an almost-definitely dominant defensive line. Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Noah Spence are three of the 10 most likely candidates to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and fourth wheel Adolphus Washington is a disruptive pass-rusher in his own right.

    The biggest question on this team is the secondary, which loses three starters from a group that got shredded at the end of last season. Chris Ash was brought in from Arkansas (via Wisconsin) to alter the scheme, and although the early returns have been good, it's hard to know anything for sure until scrimmages turn into live games.

4. Auburn

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    There is an asinine ongoing debate about whether Auburn was lucky or good in 2013. But why does it have to be either?

    Auburn was lucky and good.

    This upcoming season, the Tigers can't bank on another pair of miracle finishes, but they can take solace in the fact that they'll remain very good. Nick Marshall is back, and so are four starters along the offensive line. And Marshall won't lack for options to throw to.

    "I think we have more depth at the wide receiver position than any of the three years I was here before," said head coach Gus Malzahn of a group that is headlined by Sammie Coates and JUCO transfer D'haquille Williams, per Joel Erickson of AL.com. "That’s a good thing."

    Even after losing Carl Lawson to a torn ACL, the defense looks pretty good on paper. But it has to improve on the field. Last season, Ellis Johnson's group did not match the whole with the sum of the parts. It came to play against Florida State in the national title game, but that was an exception more than a rule.

    In 2014, it must be a rule more than an exception.

3. Oregon

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    Oregon got a huge boost when quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, all of whom had a chance to be one of the first players drafted at their position in 2014, decided to come back for one more year in Eugene.

    The result is a Ducks team that should be just as good as ever. Questions emerged at wide receiver after Bralon Addison tore his ACL this spring, but there are enough intriguing options on the depth chart to ignore them (for now). Track star Devon Allen sticks out.

    Plus, the run offense should still be dominant.

    On defense, the roster is littered with talented athletes, but the loss of longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti throws a wrench into any plausible predictions. His replacement, Don Pellum, was an internal promotion, but so was Mark Helfrich at head coach after Chip Kelly.

    And the jury is still out regarding that promotion.

2. Alabama

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    Alabama's roster has more holes entering this season than last, but it should still remain the coaches' favorite to win the SEC. That's what happens when you land four straight No. 1 recruiting classes.

    Whoever wins the quarterback job—likely Florida State transfer Jacob Coker but possibly senior Blake Sims—will not have to do much to keep this offense moving. T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, Chris Black, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones, O.J. Howard and another typical Alabama offensive line can do the heavy lifting.

    The defense is led by a potential All-American at every level—defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Landon Collins—and features 4- and 5-star recruits to plug in the slots around them. True freshman cornerbacks Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey are of particular importance to watch.

    Both could end up starting this season.

1. Florida State

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    It's amazing that Florida State can lose so much (for the second consecutive season) and still be as loaded as it is. The Seminoles have done an even better job of recruiting and developing talent than LSU.

    The offensive line features five seniors and four returning starters and should once again be the fulcrum of the offense. It will give reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston enough time to hit three-time leading receiver Rashad Greene and plow consistent holes for former No. 4 overall recruit Karlos Williams at running back.

    Take a second to re-read the descriptors in that last sentence.

    Crazy.

    There is some turnover along the defensive line and at linebacker, but the Seminoles have recruited well at those areas the past few seasons (especially linebacker). The secondary, meanwhile, loses Thorpe Award finalist Lamarcus Joyner and still projects as my No. 4 overall position group (and best secondary) in the country.

    Say what you will, SEC fans, but this team deserves to start the season No. 1. It stands a good chance of ending it there, too.

     

    Note: All recruiting info courtesy of the 247Sports composite rankings.