College Football

Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25 at the Start of Fall Camp

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25 at the Start of Fall Camp

1 of 27

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Can you feel it? College football is right around the corner.

    We've gone through the various media days for each conference, with coaches and selected players telling us how excited they are about the upcoming 2014 season. Some preseason all-conference teams and league-standings predictions have been made, and goals are being set for number of wins as well as division and conference titles and maybe spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

    Preseason top-25 polls are the next step. The Amway Coaches Poll, which is the old USA Today poll but with a new sponsor, is set to release its initial rankings on Thursday, and The Associated Press will follow on Aug. 17 with its preseason media poll.

    Ours is ready right now.

    Here's Bleacher Report's Top 25 heading into the start of fall camp. The rankings are a projection of how teams will fare in the 2014 season based on returning players, incoming talent that is expected to contribute and offseason events which may have an impact on how a team will perform this fall.

    Update: Each slide includes where B/R's top 25 ended up in the preseason Amway coaches' poll and the initial Associated Press media rankings.

Honorable Mention

2 of 27

    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Like others, our poll only ranks the top 25 teams. There are plenty of others that are worthy of preseason recognition, but not all of them could slip their way in among the 25 best. Here are some of the teams that will start the year on the outside looking in, but as schools like Auburn, Central Florida and Missouri will tell you, it's not about where you start as much as where you finish.

     

    Others receiving Consideration

    • BYU
    • Boise State
    • Bowling Green
    • East Carolina
    • Iowa
    • Louisiana-Lafayette
    • Louisville
    • Marshall
    • Minnesota
    • Mississippi State
    • Texas
    • Utah State

     

25. Duke Blue Devils

3 of 27

    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Elon

    Yes, you're reading this right. We've now reached a time in college football when Duke is ranked in preseason polls. That's what happens when a team puts together one of the biggest breakout seasons in recent memory in 2013 by winning its division and reaching the ACC title game.

    Most of that 10-win Duke team is back for another go-around, most notably quarterback Anthony Boone and ultra-dependable receiver Jamison Crowder. What must be replaced is the knowledge of coordinator Kurt Roper, who Florida hired during the offseason to fix that team's woeful offense.

    Despite the returning talent and momentum from the first back-to-back bowl seasons in school history, Duke is entering maybe its toughest year ever, because for once it's not going to be overlooked. Instead, the Devils will get most teams' best efforts, and every road opponent finished 2013 with a winning record.

     

    Update: Duke was unranked in both the Amway preseason coaches' poll and Asssociated Press media poll.

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders

4 of 27

    John Weast/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Central Arkansas

    Texas Tech rode a roller coaster during the 2013 season, starting out 7-0 before dropping five straight to back into a bowl game. Then the Red Raiders exploded, playing their best game of the year and giving fans a glimpse into the future through the play of freshman quarterback Davis Webb.

    Webb is at the helm of a fast-paced, high-scoring offense that is loaded with weapons even after seeing tight end Jace Amaro go pro a year early. Under the tutelage of coach Kliff Kingsbury, himself a former Texas Tech passer who has also mentored Johnny Manziel and FBS all-time passing leader Case Keenum, Webb should thrive and put up big numbers. He'll need to stay healthy, however, because the Raiders lack quarterback depth.

    The schedule is far more balanced this season, whereas in 2013 Tech opened with the lighter half before running through a second-half buzzsaw in the Big 12. The slate also has the league's two best clubs, Baylor and Oklahoma, coming to Lubbock toward the end of the season.

     

    Update: Texas Tech was unranked in both the Amway preseason coaches' poll and Asssociated Press media poll.

23. Mississippi Rebels

5 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 28 vs. Boise State (in Atlanta)

    From a personnel standpoint, Ole Miss looks like it has everything in place for a big, breakout year. If only the Rebels weren't stuck in the SEC West, where even with the league's most veteran quarterback and possibly its best receiver as well as a rising defense, the Rebels may be no better than the fourth-best team in the division.

    Bo Wallace brings with him 26 career starts—more than any other passer in the SEC—and the battle scars from two seasons' worth of his team's occasional triumphs and frequent near-misses. If ever there were a quarterback ready to go wild in his final season, it's Wallace, and to do that he'll tap into the skills of sophomore wideout Laquon Treadwell as often as possible.

    The Ole Miss defense is anchored up front by sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and in the back by senior Cody Prewitt, both of whom may be the best in the conference at their respective positions.

    The Rebels will get their chances to make that big leap this coming season, hosting both Alabama and Auburn in games that could serve as marquee, program-defining wins.

     

    Update: Ole Miss opened at No. 19 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 18 in the Associated Press media poll.

22. Clemson Tigers

6 of 27

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 at Georgia

    Clemson has had one of the most potent offenses in the country the last few years, but the major pieces of that engine have moved on to the NFL. Whether the Tigers can produce at that same level with newcomers across the board on offense will be a testament to how strong coordinator Chad Morris' schemes are.

    What isn't in doubt heading into 2014 is what Clemson's defense is capable of. Led by ferocious edge-rusher Vic Beasley, the Tigers may very well be a defensive-guided team early in the season as they allow their offense to get into a rhythm, and that won't be a bad thing.

    Beasley, who had 23 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, has warned opponents not to think double-teaming him will negate Clemson's pass rush.

    "With the experience I've got on the defensive line, guys like Grady Jarrett, Corey Crawford, Shaq Lawson, Josh Watson and all those seniors, I've got more experience on my side," he told reporters at ACC media days.

     

    Update: Clemson opened at No. 16 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

21. Georgia Bulldogs

7 of 27

    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Clemson

    It's been a very eventful and busy offseason for Georgia, but unfortunately not all of that has been good news. While Bulldogs coach Mark Richt pulled off a major coup in luring Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State to be his defensive coordinator, that new assistant has far fewer options to work with thanks to numerous dismissals and transfers.

    Georgia's defense should still be greatly improved thanks to Pruitt, and it only needs to be a little bit better than the 2013 version, based on the early returns from the offense during spring ball. Senior quarterback Hutson Mason looked great during practice, while the Bulldogs seem to have more running backs than they know what to do with.

    The leader of that pack will be Todd Gurley, who was injury-prone last season but could be the best rusher in the nation this fall if he can stay healthy. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks said Gurley has the speed, power and quickness to "evoke comparisons to a young Marshawn Lynch."

     

    Update: Georgia opened at No. 12 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

20. Kansas State Wildcats

8 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Stephen F. Austin

    Kansas State was pretty much left for dead in 2013 after losing its season opener to FCS power North Dakota State and starting 2-4 with three losses in Big 12 play. But by the end of the year, the Wildcats were among the most dangerous teams in the country, and the momentum carried over from a 6-1 finish (and a dominant bowl performance) has them in position for a big year.

    Jake Waters has the quarterback job all to himself, which means that he gets to reap all the benefits that come with having standout senior wide receiver Tyler Lockett as his No. 1 option. The Wildcats defense will again be a force, paced by senior defensive end Ryan Mueller, who tied the school record with 11.5 sacks in 2013.

    Regardless of how it does for the year, K-State will be a major player in the College Football Playoff race thanks to its mid-September home game against Auburn as well as the gauntlet of playoff-caliber teams it has to face in the conference.

     

    Update: Kansas State opened at No. 21 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press media poll.

19. Missouri Tigers

9 of 27

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota State

    A year ago, Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East and then shocked the world by taking the division title. But all that's in the past, and if the Tigers are going to come anywhere close to replicating their 2013 success, they'll be doing it with a lot of replacements.

    Gone from that team is nearly every significant skill-position contributor and key linemen on both sides of the ball. That includes the awesome tandem of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, whose contributions on the defensive end defined what Mizzou did last year more than anything else.

    Gary Pinkel has good ones to fill in most of those holes, most notably promising sophomore Maty Mauk taking over at quarterback. Mizzou won't sneak up on anyone this year, but it also shouldn't regress too much.

     

    Update: Missouri was unranked in the Amway preseason coaches' poll and No. 24 in the Associated Press media poll.

18. Nebraska Cornhuskers

10 of 27

    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Florida Atlantic

    To say Nebraska is poised to win nine or more games is both a lazy assessment and a knock against the program, since that's what Bo Pelini has managed in each of his six seasons with the Cornhuskers. The fact of the matter is, this team is good enough to reach that annual win marker, but to get past that threshold it will need to become more balanced on offense and more consistent on defense.

    The 'Huskers bring back the top returning rusher in the country, Ameer Abdullah, who ran for 1,690 yards in 2013. The senior will again be the focus of the offense, but the key to success this year will be in how Nebraska's quarterback situation plays out.

    Nebraska's defense will also need to be more reliable, but that's not something Pelini will have to worry about from superb junior defensive end Randy Gregory. Pelini told reporters at Big Ten media days on Monday that the 6'6", 240-pound Gregory has "only scratched the surface of what he's going to be down the line."

     

    Update: Nebraska opened at No. 18 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

17. Arizona State Sun Devils

11 of 27

    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 28 vs. Weber State

    Arizona State is the reigning Pac-12 South Division champion, but it will also enter 2014 on a two-game losing streak after falling to Stanford in the conference final and then to Texas Tech at the Holiday Bowl. The rough end to last season, combined with being picked to finish third in their division, should have the Sun Devils highly motivated.

    But that prediction is based a lot on what ASU has to replace, namely dynamic pass-catching back Marion Grice and defensive stalwarts Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. None will be easy to replace, but the Devils still have veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly and stellar wide receiver Jaelen Strong to turn to.

    Todd Graham is entering his third season in Tempe, something he's only done once before in three previous coaching stops. The stability he's creating in the program is putting ASU in a place of consistent success that hasn't been there since the mid-1990s.

     

    Update: Arizona State opened at No. 18 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 19 in the Associated Press media poll.

16. North Carolina Tar Heels

12 of 27

    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Liberty

    North Carolina was left for dead midway through the 2013 season, sitting at 1-5 and with its senior quarterback down for the year. What followed was an amazing turnaround, with the Tar Heels not only winning six of seven (including a bowl game) but unveiling an unlikely star in freshman punt-return specialist Ryan Switzer.

    Now the Tar Heels enter 2014 with another set of high expectations, but a rigorous schedule faces them in their quest to win an ACC divisional title. They also no longer have prolific tight end Eric Ebron to rely on offensively, but Switzer should be more involved in the passing game and be a good target for either Marquise Williams or Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.

    UNC faces nine bowl teams from a year ago, including five on the road. Being able to navigate that schedule and come out on top in the Coastal Division will be tough, but the Heels should still be in contention for that title.

     

    Update: North Carolina opened at No. 23 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

13 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Rice

    Notre Dame brings back an old hero to hopefully help return the Fighting Irish to the pinnacle of college football, but in reality, whether they can reach the first-ever College Football Playoff will depend on how they navigate one of their toughest schedules in recent memory.

    Thanks to the loose affiliation with the ACC, Notre Dame's schedule includes games against 10 teams that played in bowls last season. That includes a trip to reigning national champion Florida State, as well as a visit to the desert to face Arizona State and neutral site clashes with Navy and Syracuse, along with the traditional Stanford and USC tilts.

    Brian Kelly's team is also entering the year with new assistants in charge of the offense and defense, as Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco have moved on to lead their own programs. Everett Golson, one of the heroes of the run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, has returned after a one-year academic suspension.

     

    Update: Notre Dame opened at No. 17 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

14. South Carolina Gamecocks

14 of 27

    Stephen Morton/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 28 vs. Texas A&M

    Coming off back-to-back-to-back 11-win seasons, South Carolina looks like it has solidified its place among the elite of college football under Steve Spurrier. But with a revamped defense and a quarterback who has to go from career backup to field leader, this might be the most important year in Spurrier's tenure with the Gamecocks.

    South Carolina was picked to win the SEC East, and with the toughest divisional opponents all coming to Columbia this season, this prediction is looking very omniscient. But it will require senior Dylan Thompson to be more than just the fill-in he's been over the years and for a defensive line that lost No. 1 NFL pick Jadeveon Clowney and fellow all-conference pick Kelcy Quarles to hold its own against several high-powered offenses.

    The biggest constant between last year and this one is Mike Davis, the hard-working running back who should be in the Heisman discussion if he can avoid nagging injuries.

     

    Update: South Carolina opened at No. 9 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll, earning one first-place vote in the Amway rankings.

13. LSU Tigers

15 of 27

    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)

    As is starting to become the rule rather than the exception for LSU, it's having to replace far more starting spots than the average college football team because of early NFL departures. But as is also becoming the norm in Baton Rouge, having a reputation for producing so much professional talent means the rebuilding is more a matter of reloading with another crop of superstar talent.

    The 2014 group of future stars is lead by the biggest name from the recruiting trail, No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette. The 6'1", 224-pound running back comes in with plenty of hype, but he looks like he'll be the real deal. Even if he's not the best player ever, LSU has other great newcomers and a strong enough corps of returners from last season's 10-3 team to once again be in the mix in the SEC West.

    Les Miles has won 44 games in the past four years, despite all the turnover. There's no reason to think another such performance won't happen in 2014, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this season could be even better than the last two.

     

    Update: LSU opened at No. 13 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

12. USC Trojans

16 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Fresno State

    The Steve Sarkisian era in Los Angeles begins with USC looking like a mix between a contender and an underdog, depending on how you look at the Trojans.

    The contender label comes from a boatload of talent, much of which got thrown into the mix early over the past two years during NCAA sanctions that limited the program's scholarship tally. There was also the major injury rash that thrashed the Trojans' depth in 2013, the same season in which they overcame a midseason coaching change to win 10 games.

    The underdog part comes from USC not even being the best team in its own city, as UCLA has moved ahead in the big-city rivalry over the last two years. The Trojans also find themselves behind North Division powers Oregon and Stanford for West Coast attention and expectations, which might just make it easier for them to come out on top as an overlooked, sleeping giant.

     

    Update: USC opened at No. 15 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

11. Baylor Bears

17 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 31 vs. SMU

    There are few givens in college football, but Baylor provides at least one of them. Based on the Bears' offensive system, the players they have operating that system and whom they play early on this season in arguably the easiest nonconference schedule of any power-five program, they're going to score a bunch of points in 2014.

    But don't discount Baylor for not buying into the idea of tough out-of-league scheduling. Art Briles is a firm believer that if his team wins the Big 12, and does it without losing a game, his team will be in the College Football Playoff.

    "The way I've looked at it, you go 9-0 in the Big 12, you're going to be in the final four because you're going to beat probably two top-10 teams, probably two others in the top 20, and maybe another top-25 [team], which is what we faced last year," Briles said at Big 12 media days. "That's a resume that's good enough to match any other conference."

    With Bryce Petty in the saddle at quarterback again, and another treasure trove of skill weapons to go with an underrated defense, Briles' analysis may be proven correct.

     

    Update: Baylor opened at No. 11 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 10 in the Associated Press media poll.

10. Wisconsin Badgers

18 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. LSU (in Houston)

    Entering its second year under Gary Andersen, Wisconsin should be a mix of the old Badgers teams that would run at will (thanks to shifty back Melvin Gordon) and a team that's more wide open and willing to take chances downfield.

    Either way, it's going to make for a good season for Wisconsin, which looks to be the favorite in the Big Ten's new West Division.

    The Badgers still need to solve their quarterback situation, either sticking with veteran Joel Stave or handing the job over to challenger Tanner McEvoy—Andersen said Monday at Big Ten media days it was an "open competition" that could last into the season—but thanks to the presence of Gordon and his awesome yards-per-carry average, it might not matter who's passing the ball.

     

    Update: Wisconsin opened at No. 14 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

9. Stanford Cardinal

19 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. UC-Davis

    It's another year with plenty of turnover at Stanford, but why should we expect anything less from the Cardinal? They've changed head coaches, quarterbacks, running backs and defensive stars over the past four years, yet still won 11 or more games each season.

    The 2014 Stanford team has a new defensive coordinator, losing Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, and has to replace its workhorse running back and the faces of its Rose Bowl-reaching defense. And now it's looking at starting the season without all-purpose threat Ty Montgomery, who could miss the first two games with an arm injury.

    But there's still veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan and the great work ethic instilled by coach David Shaw. Those factors will help negate any setbacks from injuries or newcomer jitters and have Stanford in the running for another big season and a shot at the playoffs.

     

    Update: Stanford opened at No. 11 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

20 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Navy (in Baltimore)

    Ohio State hasn't lost a regular-season game since November 2011, yet at the same time, the Buckeyes will enter 2014 on a two-game losing streak. They also have lots of holes to fill, most notably in determining who will be the go-to running back and who will be the leaders on defense beyond the line.

    But OSU also has Urban Meyer, a proven winner no matter what the situation in front of him, so even with questions the Buckeyes have to be considered a team to beat. As SB Nation college football guru Bill Connelly notes, "the Buckeyes have almost too much talent not to win big."

    If that indeed happens, no one will be able to say OSU didn't get tested throughout the season. From the opening tilt against a dangerous Navy team to a Big Ten slate that takes them to Penn State and Michigan State, the Buckeyes will earn whatever they get.

     

    Update: Ohio State opened at No. 6 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 5 in the Associated Press media poll, earning one first-place vote in the Amway rankings.

7. UCLA Bruins

21 of 27

    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 30 at Virginia

    Saying the Pac-12 South is going to go through Los Angeles isn't a very bold statement. But after years of USC being the team to beat from the L.A. area, UCLA has firmly entrenched itself as the top program in Southern California.

    And the Bruins' deep team will get plenty of high-profile chances to prove this, whether it be the early trip to Texas to face the Longhorns in Arlington or the home games against North Division powers Stanford and Oregon, not to mention the late clash with rival USC.

    Brett Hundley is the master of the offense, while the Bruins defense features playmakers all over the field. They both could share a superstar again this year in Myles Jack, though if he has to spend time at running back again, it could take away from his linebacker play and serve as a sign of struggles.

     

    Update: UCLA opened at No. 7 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

22 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Louisiana Tech

    Had Oklahoma not looked as good as it did in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, who knows how high the Sooners would be ranked to start this season? But they were masterful in that contest, regardless of whether the opponent treated it as a "consolation game," and with so much coming back from that team, a high preseason ranking is more than justified.

    The Big 12 media agrees, picking Oklahoma over Baylor for the conference title. That choice was based on many factors, such as the promise Trevor Knight showed toward the end of last year, as well as possibly the best defense Bob Stoops has had in his tenure in Norman.

    At this point, it seems like the only thing that could ruin Oklahoma's season would be issues away from the field. The acceptance of dismissed Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham raised eyebrows, and now prized recruit Joe Mixon finds himself in the middle of an alleged assault of a female student.

     

    Update: Oklahoma opened at No. 3 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 4 in the Associated Press media poll, earning three first-place votes in the Amway rankings and one in the AP.

5. Oregon Ducks

23 of 27

    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota

    Consider last year's late-season lull a blip on the radar for an Oregon program that's been at or near the top of the rankings for several years. The Ducks will be back up high this season, led by veterans all over as well as exciting young talent.

    Marcus Mariota is back, which is almost enough to justify a high ranking by itself. But joining him are lockdown cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, center Hroniss Grasu and a treasure trove of talented running backs, all of whom will get their touches as Oregon's spread attack ravages Pac-12 defenses yet again. Experience at wide receiver is a concern, but Mariota's presence can help make up for it.

    Oregon will get a major test right out of the gate, hosting Michigan State in the second week in a game that will set the tone for playoff positioning throughout the season. After that, the schedule is balanced out, with the remaining tough matchups spread across the slate, helping to keep Oregon motivated all season.

     

    Update: Oregon opened at No. 4 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press media poll, earning one first-place vote in each ranking.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

24 of 27

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)

    Alabama has arguably the best coach in the game and is once again loaded with talent bolstered not only by previous standout prospect hauls, but also by this year's top recruiting class. But even with all that going for the Crimson Tide, there's one main reason why they're not ranked higher to start 2014:

    The quarterback situation.

    With AJ McCarron graduating after three years at the helm, it was known well ahead of time that Alabama would be starting someone new in 2014. But to this point, just who that will be remains a mystery. There's senior Blake Sims, who's been waiting for his chance, as well as redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman, and then came the offseason addition of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.

    Whoever wins the competition will probably do fine, but without knowing who it will be or how he'll operate the offense, it's hard to predict anything higher for Alabama at this point.

     

    Update: Alabama opened at No. 2 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll, earning one first-place vote in the AP rankings.

3. Michigan State Spartans

25 of 27

    Harry How/Getty Images

    Opener: Aug. 29 vs. Jacksonville State

    The Big Ten's media members may have picked Ohio State to win the conference this season, but the way we see it, the Buckeyes will have to go through Michigan State to do so. And that Nov. 8 contest—the teams are both in the East Division this year after meeting in the 2013 conference final—is in East Lansing, which gives the Spartans the edge.

    There's more to MSU's high rating than location. Nearly its entire offense is back, and while that unit looked pretty average at the beginning of 2013, by the end of the season, Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford were pacing a rock-solid group that had no trouble with OSU or Stanford in the Rose Bowl. And while the defense is missing some key pieces from the top-rated group of a year ago, most notably shutdown corner Darqueze Dennard, those who are back are plenty good enough to pick up the slack.

    If not for the early-season trip to Oregon, we might be making a serious argument about MSU going undefeated.

    For now, though, we'll stick to saying they'll be the best in the Big Ten.

     

    Update: Michigan State opened at No. 8 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll.

2. Auburn Tigers

26 of 27

    USA TODAY Sports

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Arkansas

    Auburn's players and coaches have mentioned many times during this offseason that they need to be 13 seconds better, a nod to the time left on the clock when Florida State scored the game-winning touchdown in the BCS National Championship Game. Whether that arbitrary goal is achievable remains to be seen, but to this point, it looks like the 2014 Tigers could be better than last year's version.

    Senior quarterback Nick Marshall is poised for a monster season, having spent the break transforming himself into a more complete player rather than just a run-first guy who operates a spread-run attack. As SI.com's Stewart Mandel points out, having had a lot more time to get used to the system—Marshall arrived on campus just a few months before the 2013 season—will undoubtedly lead to better results in the passing game.

    "The main reason to expect a big season out of Marshall is simple," Mandel wrote. "He's far more comfortable in Auburn's system than he was last fall."

    Combine Marshall's development with what should again be a great run game, and Auburn may be able to make up that 13 seconds and then some.

     

    Update: Auburn opened at No. 5 in the Amway coaches' poll and No. 6 in the Associated Press media poll.

1. Florida State Seminoles

27 of 27

    Steve Cannon/Associated Press

    Opener: Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas)

    With the reigning Heisman Trophy winner still on board, not to mention several other starters from last season's national-title team, it would make sense for Florida State to be No. 1 heading into this fall. Just don't call the Seminoles "defending" champs, for risk of upsetting coach Jimbo Fisher.

    "I want to see the confidence and belief in what we have, but also the hunger to go get another one and don't worry about the last one," Fisher told the Associated Press in March. "We're not defending anything in that regard."

    However Fisher might spin it to his team, FSU is the big fish that everyone on its schedule will want to knock off. And that's a much tougher slate than a year ago, even if AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky wrote that it will be in no way as tough as what Alabama had to go through en route to a second straight title in 2012. Sure, there are no extra SEC opponents scheduled (beyond the annual Florida game), but the Seminoles do face Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas) to start the season and host Notre Dame, while also traveling to Louisville and Miami (Fla.).

    Jameis Winston alone makes FSU a favorite to repeat, but it will win or lose based on more than just his play. Key replacements on defense and to skill-position depth are just as important, and at this point it all looks pretty good for the reigning champs.

     

    Update: Florida State opened at No. 1 in both the Amway coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll, earning 56 of 62 first-place votes in the Amway rankings and 57 of 60 first-place votes in the AP rankings.

     

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Where can I comment?

Stay on your game

Latest news, insights, and forecasts on your teams across leagues.

Choose Teams
Get it on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Real-time news for your teams right on your mobile device.

Download
Copyright © 2017 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BleacherReport.com is part of Bleacher Report – Turner Sports Network, part of the Turner Sports and Entertainment Network. Certain photos copyright © 2017 Getty Images. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of Getty Images is strictly prohibited. AdChoices