Amway Top 25 College Football Poll 2014: Season Predictions, Championship Odds

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2014

Amway Top 25 College Football Poll 2014: Season Predictions, Championship Odds

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    The trophy that will be awarded to the team finishing atop the Amway coaches poll at the end of the 2014 season.
    The trophy that will be awarded to the team finishing atop the Amway coaches poll at the end of the 2014 season.USA TODAY Sports

    Now it's starting to get real.

    Since the streamers and confetti were cleaned off the field at the Rose Bowl after Florida State's BCS Championship Game victory over Auburn, there's been little to do but look ahead to the 2014 college football season. There were minor attention-grabbers, like NFL draft declarations, signing day and spring football, but nothing as good as the real thing.

    There's still just under four weeks until the first games, but like leaves changing color to signify the coming of fall, we're seeing signs that college football is right around the corner. One of those was Thursday's release of the first official preseason Top 25 poll, the Amway coaches poll.

    Previously known as the USA Today coaches poll (and still released by that media outlet), the rankings are compiled from the votes cast by 62 FBS head coaches. Though this season's national champion will be determined via the first-ever College Football Playoff, the team that finishes No. 1 in this poll will receive the trophy shown above.

    Not surprisingly, defending national champ Florida State starts at No. 1 and earned 56 of 62 first-place votes. Click through the slideshow to see projected records for all of the Amway-ranked teams, as well as their odds of winning the title.


    Note: Predicted records are based on regular-season games only.

25. Washington Huskies

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-5, 4-5 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 75-1

    Chris Petersen becomes the latest coach to jump from Boise State to a Pac-12 program. But unlike Dirk Koetter (to Arizona State) and Dan Hawkins (Colorado) before him, Petersen isn't walking into a rough situation.

    The Huskies won nine games in 2013, the most in 14 years, and while they have to replace a lot of offensive production, they bring back a solid defense anchored by senior Hau'oli Kikaha and junior Shaq Thompson. Those linebackers are as good as any Petersen coached in his eight seasons running Boise, and they'll help give the offense time to grow against a very winnable nonconference schedule.

    Petersen was wildly successful at Boise, going 92-12. Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Washington acquired one of the nation's premier coaches and innovators, and the Pac-12 added another stellar football mind to a growing stockpile."

    Washington very likely will be 4-0 when it hosts Stanford in late September, but that's when easy street ends. The Huskies do get the Cardinal, Arizona State and UCLA at home but have to travel to Oregon and Arizona as well as play the Apple Cup on the road against rival Washington State.

24. Texas Longhorns

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 6-6, 4-5 in Big 12

    Championship odds: 100-1

    New coach Charlie Strong starts a new era in Texas with an old standard: a preseason ranking. Whether Texas is deserving of that ranking will get determined early and often in Strong's first season since replacing Mack Brown.

    Texas opened at 15th in the coaches poll in 2013 but didn't last long after losing to BYU and Mississippi in back-to-back weeks in September.

    This year that same scenario could present itself closer to home, with BYU visiting Austin and then the Longhorns facing UCLA in Arlington a week later. Heck, it could happen in the opener against North Texas if the mayhem from all of Strong's dismissals and suspensions lingers into the season.

    A quarterback has been settled on in the oft-injured David Ash, who's probably the best choice for what very likely will be a rough transition year. Texas is redefining itself under Strong, and with more than half of its games of the losable variety, the fanbase should be prepared for a tough season.

23. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 6-2 in ACC

    Championship odds: 60-1

    North Carolina is in an official preseason poll for the first time since 2010, riding the momentum from the second half of last season when it won six of seven after a 1-5 opening. Avoiding a similar start in 2014 is among the many goals coach Larry Fedora has for his Tar Heels, but the schedule won't do him any favors.

    After opening against FCS Liberty, no slouch of a program and one that's had aspirations of moving up, UNC plays six straight teams that played in bowl games. Three of those are on the road and include trips to Clemson and Notre Dame, so another rough first half is entirely possible.

    A big weapon missing from the team is tight end Eric Ebron, who's gone to the NFL, but Carolina has young weapons that are ready to shine. This is a team that can reach the ACC title game but will have to make sure to win all of the appropriate games to make that happen.

22. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 5-3 in Big Ten

    Championship odds: 60-1

    At the end of a football season, a team with nine wins often can find itself ranked in the 20s in a final media or coaches poll. That's the range you could find Nebraska in at the end of the previous four seasons—no higher than 19th but no worse than 25th—making a preseason spot of 22nd almost perfect.

    The Cornhuskers have been amazingly consistent in their ability to win at least nine games in each of Bo Pelini's six years at the helm, but at the same time they've also been unable to break from that mold and do better than 10 victories, along with the standard four losses.

    If one looks at how Nebraska's schedule lines up in 2014, with four tough road games and not much to worry about at home, it may be looking at more of the same.

    The ability of the team to trend up from that area will rest on the shoulders of two superb players, one on each side.

    Senior running back Ameer Abdullah is within reach of the school's all-time rushing record, while junior defensive end Randy Gregory is a player Pelini says "hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's going to become," according to Eric Olson of The Associated Press. And that was coming off a season in which he had 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

21. Kansas State Wildcats

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 9-3, 7-2 in Big 12

    Championship odds: 50-1

    In 2012, Kansas State was one of the dark horses in the national title race until some slippage in mid-November. Last year, the Wildcats were left for dead after a 2-4 start (with the death notice getting started right after losing to an FCS team in the opener), but by the end of the season they were one of the hottest teams in the country.

    Which K-State team will come around in 2014? Whichever one all-purpose threat Tyler Lockett and monster defensive end Ryan Mueller best fit into, and whichever type underrated coach Bill Snyder manages to motivate at the outset.

    Some big waves can be made early, thanks to a lovely Thursday night mid-September game against visiting Auburn. After that, though, K-State will have to show its mettle on the road, as its toughest Big 12 tests are at Oklahoma in November and Baylor to end the season.

20. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 4-4 in SEC

    Championship odds: 60-1

    It was back in March that Bleacher Report SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee wrote that 2014 will be a program-defining season for Texas A&M and coach Kevin Sumlin, and those words remain true as training camp approaches.

    Having made a very successful transition from the Big 12 to the SEC, thanks to a quarterback named Johnny Manziel and other offensive stars he inherited, Sumlin and the Aggies have been on a high the past two years.

    But now comes the reality of having to replace Manziel and many other standouts with his own recruits—which, on paper are very good. A&M had the No. 5 recruiting class in 2014 after being No. 9 in 2013, and the 2015 class might be the best yet.

    But there's still the issue of the defense to address. It was very bad last season, allowing more than 32 points per game, and with an offense that could struggle early there's no room for error this fall.

    The SEC schedule-makers did the Aggies no favor, either, having them open this new era at South Carolina and also sending them to Alabama and Auburn.

19. Mississippi Rebels

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 4-4 in SEC

    Championship odds: 60-1

    Ole Miss isn't the oldest or most experienced team in the SEC—according to Phil Steele's experience chart, the Rebels rank No. 26 in FBS but behind Auburn and rival Mississippi State—but they're not a young team, either. The better way to describe Mississippi is it's the league's most battle-tested and most deserving of finally getting that breakthrough season.

    It's been a steady climb under Hugh Freeze, who upped the Rebels' win total from two before he got there to seven in 2012.

    Then came eight wins last year, but it could have (and probably should have) been more if not for near-misses against Auburn and Texas A&M, and the late collapse in the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss has been down this road before, getting to 10 wins in 2003 before falling back to 4-7 and then having two straight nine-win seasons in 2008-09 before dropping to 4-8.

    The difference this time is the leadership of Bo Wallace, who is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC heading into the season. He's entering his third year in the role, and he and rising sophomore wideout Laquon Treadwell will be fun to watch this season.

18. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 7-5, 5-4 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 75-1

    Here's a sobering fact for Arizona State fans who are of the hope that last year's Pac-12 South title was the sign that the program had reached a new level and would keep moving upward: The Sun Devils haven't had three consecutive seasons of improved win totals since 1979 through 1982.

    ASU went 10-4 in 2013, after winning eight games in 2012, coach Todd Graham's first season. That came after a 6-7 mark the year before.

    The Devils will be hard-pressed to surpasses 10 wins this fall, and matching it might be hard with a schedule that avoids Oregon but has every other significant Pac-12 player and also features a visit from Notre Dame.

    ASU will be taking on that slate with a veteran quarterback (Taylor Kelly) and top-notch receiver (Jaelen Strong), but also with a defensive that is very young and inexperienced.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 9-3

    Championship odds: 40-1

    Unlike during the BCS era, when there were special provisions in place to help independent Notre Dame secure either a bowl bid or a spot in the title game, the College Football Playoff affords the Fighting Irish no such considerations. It could get into a host bowl as the top-rated non-power-conference team or just finish high enough in the selection committee's eyes to get into the semifinals.

    Schedule strength won't be an issue for Notre Dame, as it faces 10 bowl teams from a year ago, including in all four of its true road games.

    The Irish have an old hero back in the fold in quarterback Everett Golson, who piloted the 2012 team to the national final. He's not guaranteed to start, though, and he's also not able to help account for losses on the defensive line and to Brian Kelly's staff, which lost its top two assistants to head coaching jobs.

16. Clemson Tigers

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 6-2 in ACC

    Championship odds: 50-1

    Clemson starts with a pretty solid ranking for a team that lost nearly every major piece of its potent offense. That's both a testament to the replacements coach Dabo Swinney has in line to fill those holes and to offensive coordinator Chad Morris' great game plan.

    It's also an homage to how good the Tigers defense should be in 2013. It was solid last season, but senior Vic Beasley and his teammates are motivated to be the driving force this fall while the offensive newcomers get settled.

    They'll be tested early and often, as trips to Georgia and Florida State, and visits from North Carolina and Louisville in the first half of the season will either define the Clemson defense as a juggernaut or expose it as not ready for the big time.

15. USC Trojans

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    David Cleveland/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 9-3, 6-3 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 35-1

    USC pulled off the rare feat of firing its coach in the middle of the season and finishing with a national ranking and 10 wins. Such terminations are usually done on teams that have no hope for that year, and the thinking is to get the ball rolling on finding a new coach.

    The Trojans did that, selecting Washington's Steve Sarkisian (a former assistant during the Pete Carroll glory years) right after the regular season ended. But it was also a season in which the team showed great mettle, as it battled through injuries and the mayhem of the Lane Kiffin dismissal. The good number of starters who return from that unit are battle-tested.

    Cody Kessler had to win his job back during the spring, but he's locked in at quarterback and has a talented young crop of skill players to put up points with. USC's defense has playmakers all over, but with now-expired NCAA sanctions still having a lasting effect on the depth of scholarship talent, it's just one or two injuries away from near disaster.

14. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 10-2, 7-1 in Big Ten

    Championship odds: 25-1

    Last year, Wisconsin had the misfortune of being stuck in the same Big Ten division as Ohio State, and that night-game loss in Columbus kept the Badgers from getting to the conference title game for the third straight season. Now they're in a geographically based division, away from powers OSU and Michigan State.

    But while the road to winning a division crown isn't too tough—save for a November visit to Iowa—unless Wisconsin were to run the table it might be hard-pressed to get consideration for the College Football Playoff when there are only four spots and five power conferences. That's why the Badgers' opener against LSU in Houston is as important a nonconference game as any in the country.

    Expect a healthy dose of powerful running back Melvin Gordon in that game, if not in every one, at least until Wisconsin figures out its quarterback situation. The defense could take a step back, too, so having Gordon eat up clock and be a workhorse might be the best course of action in 2014.

13. LSU Tigers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 8-4, 4-4 in SEC

    Championship odds: 45-1

    LSU might be one of the hardest teams to project among those ranked in the preseason poll. Either you base things off past history, which can be reliable sometimes and woefully off-track the next, or err on the side of caution due to the uncertainty of so many new contributors.

    Or you can just assume that Les Miles will figure it out and put the best product he can on the field, as he's done every year at LSU.

    The Tigers have gone 44-9 over the last four seasons, despite losing 29 players to the NFL draft in subsequent springs. Many of those players left early for the pros, including six this past season. All told, LSU saw nine players from the 2013 squad get drafted, which means there are a lot of holes to fill.

    The way LSU gets it done each year is by planning for such exoduses, as it did again in the past recruiting cycle. That starts with No. 1 overall prospect, running back Leonard Fournette, and continues throughout its second-ranked recruiting class.

12. Georgia Bulldogs

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 9-3, 5-3 in SEC

    Championship odds: 35-1

    There are six teams in the preseason Amway coaches poll that weren't in the final edition of the USA Today poll in 2013. Five of those occupy the bottom seven slots in this ranking, and then there's Georgia.

    Despite an 8-5 record and the graduation of all-time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray, the opinion of those voting in this poll is that the Bulldogs are primed for a bounce-back year. And they could be right, if the same issues of health and shoddy defense don't pop up again like last season.

    Georgia's offense shouldn't be a worry in any way, as senior Hutson Mason established himself during spring ball as a solid replacement for Murray. He'll have an awesome running back group to work alongside, a unit that's much more than probable Heisman contender Todd Gurley but would still be formidable if it were just him.

    The Bulldogs were snakebitten by injuries on offense last year yet still managed to produce.

    It was the defense that continually let them down, which led to coach Mark Richt hiring Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State to be the coordinator. Pruitt's biggest problem could be depth, as his "preference for multiple defensive looks" has been impacted by numerous defensive transfers and dismissals, according to Bleacher Report's Andrew Hall.

11. Stanford Cardinal

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 9-3, 7-2 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 30-1

    Stanford won the Pac-12 and represented it in the Rose Bowl as the highest-rated team to end last season, but this year the Cardinal are once again picked behind Oregon in the North Division. Not that overcoming obstacles is anything new in Palo Alto, California.

    It will again be a team featuring new faces in important places, with a new running back (or backs, since 2013 workhorse Tyler Gaffney did the work of more than one player) and new leaders on defense. There's a new defensive coordinator, too, as Stanford's staff lost Derek Mason to Vanderbilt.

    But such changes have been there before for Stanford—remember the despair of having to replace Andrew Luck?—but there's always been someone there to step in. QB Kevin Hogan hasn't been Luck, but he hasn't been bad, either.

    How the Cardinal fare this year will be determined by what they do away from home, as they travel to Washington, Notre Dame (in back-to-back weeks), Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. And their most challenging home game, in Week 2 against USC, might happen without top receiver Ty Montgomery if his rehab for offseason shoulder surgery extends into September.

10. Baylor Bears

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 8-1 in Big 12

    Championship odds: 15-1

    Winning the Big 12 will do wonders for one's reputation. Just ask Baylor, which, coming off its first-ever title in that conference, will open as a ranked team for the first time since 1991, according to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    The No. 10 ranking is pretty sweet for a Bears program that is moving into a swanky new stadium and has the pilot of its high-octane offense, senior quarterback Bryce Petty, at the wheel for another season.

    It also helps with coach Art Briles' estimation that, with a high enough preseason spot it is easier for a Big 12 team to make it into the College Football Playoff without having the added boost of a conference title game.

    "If we go 12-0 this year, you'll be hugging somebody's neck at Baylor and saying, 'Good luck in the Final Four,'" Briles told Brice Cherry of the Waco Tribune-Herald

    That's easier said than done, especially with Baylor set to play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8. Its lone league loss last season was at Oklahoma State, where it hasn't won since 1942, while the Bears have never won in Norman.

9. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 10-2, 7-1 in SEC

    Championship odds: 15-1

    Another year, another Top 10 preseason ranking for South Carolina under Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier. Maybe this time around, though, the Gamecocks will end up higher than they began and finally get past just being a really good team.

    South Carolina was maybe the best major program not to make a BCS bowl during that era, despite going 11-2 each of the past three seasons. Significant losses from the 2013 squad on both sides of the ball would make one think getting into the College Football Playoff would be just as hard, but South Carolina has a simple road to get in thanks to its league.

    Win the SEC East Division, then knock off whatever powerhouse comes out of the West, and the conference's aura and reputation could take care of the rest. It's easier said than done, though, because the Gamecocks may have Georgia at home but have to visit Florida and Auburn late in the season.

    A lot will ride on how durable running back Mike Davis is, how dependable veteran quarterback Dylan Thompson can be and how effective that defense can perform without Jadeveon Clowney drawing so much attention.

8. Michigan State Spartans

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 8-0 in Big Ten

    Championship odds: 9-1

    Michigan State is the reigning Big Ten champion, having won its division and then beating Ohio State in the conference championship. The Spartans went on to win their first Rose Bowl since 1988, and the nucleus of that well-coached, well-performing team is back for another go-around in 2014.

    So, naturally, Michigan State begins the season ranked...eighth?

    MSU's 13-1 record was the second best in the nation last year, behind only national champion Florida State. It will once again have the pairing of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford operating the offense, a tandem that just kept getting better as last season went along.

    And on defense, though shutdown corner Darqueze Dennard is no longer patrolling the secondary, his former teammates are still pretty good, and there's a monster on the defensive line named Shilique Calhoun for blockers to deal with.

    The biggest hurdle between the Spartans and an undefeated season—looking at the league schedule, the finale at Penn State is the only tough road game, while the home slate features Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State all coming to East Lansing—is that awesome Week 2 battle at Oregon.

    It's a game that will chart both teams' course, but for MSU a loss there might put it too far back to climb into the top four by season's end no matter what else happens.

7. UCLA Bruins

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 8-1 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 8-1

    It's been more than 15 years since a preseason poll (in football, at least) has included UCLA among the top 10 teams. That team began 10-0 and seemed destined for a national championship until a hurricane-rescheduled trip to Miami in December knocked the Bruins' ship off course.

    This is, by far, the best UCLA team since that 1998 squad, one that's been slowly building under coach Jim Mora and which has established stars in most of the key positions. That starts with junior quarterback Brett Hundley, who smartly returned to school to become a better pro, and by doing so keeps UCLA's offense among the more potent in the Pac-12.

    The defense has young studs in the front seven that will only get better, and they're already good. Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack, he of the impromptu two-way domination late last season, are ones to watch.

    Oregon and Stanford come to Los Angeles this year, giving UCLA a chance to avenge both of 2013's (consecutive) losses. Another back-to-back pairing early on this season, at Texas and then 12 days later at Arizona State, could end up doing similar damage.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Predicted 2014 record: 10-2, 6-2 in Big Ten

    Championship odds: 12-1

    When Ohio State finally lost a game last year, falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten final, it was a common opinion that the loss was karma for a far-too-easy regular season. The same angle won't get taken this year if and when the Buckeyes fall for the first time, especially since it likely won't be their only setback.

    OSU might have the most talent in the Big Ten, a combination of what coach Urban Meyer has coming back (having a senior quarterback like Braxton Miller is worth an immeasurable amount) and some big-time recruits coming in.

    But what it also has is arguably the toughest schedule of any of the league powers, with visits to Michigan State and Penn State in a three-week span as well as a very losable opener against Navy in Baltimore.

    As the lowest-ranked, top-rated team from a power conference (trust us), Ohio State would be on the outside of the first College Football Playoff if the preseason rankings ended up looking like the selection committee's at the end of the year. That means the Buckeyes have more work to do than any other projected power-five league winner.

    It also means they'll have more pressure to be as close to perfect as possible, something that contributed to the Buckeyes' downfall last December.

5. Auburn Tigers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 7-1 in SEC

    Championship odds: 8-1

    Every preseason poll will have its detractors, particularly when it comes to teams that are deemed ranked too high or too low. Auburn is one of those that will get the "too low" faction in its camp, including Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, who says the Tigers' spot at No. 5 isn't fair because "Gus Malzahn's offense should be far more lethal this year now that quarterback Nick Marshall had a full offseason in his system."

    This is a sound argument, as Marshall accomplished all he did in 2013 after just a few months in the program, and with a big emphasis on improving his passing since then he should be much more of a complete quarterback. Even if he isn't, Auburn's offense is so potent with the run already that the ground game alone can get the job done.

    It will really come down to how the Tigers defense fares this year. Last season Auburn won despite the defense, which allowed almost 25 points per game and gave up an average of 33 over the final four contests.

    And those lucky bounces that went Auburn's way, almost all at home? Yeah, those games are all on the road this year, along with a very tough nonconference test at Kansas State that could derail the chance of a return to the final quite early.

4. Oregon Ducks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 8-1 in Pac-12

    Championship odds: 7-1

    You know it's been a good run for Oregon when it's coming off its "worst" record in four years and that still resulted in 11 wins. Yes, the Ducks lost focus last November, first getting outmatched by Stanford and then overwhelmed by Arizona, but once the dusted themselves off they ended on a high note by sending Mack Brown into retirement as a loser.

    In 2014, the focus will be there throughout, especially with quarterback Marcus Mariota only having to worry about taking golf and yoga for his fall curriculum.

    Mariota will drive the Ducks in whatever way they're going to go this season. A tender knee slowed him right around the time Oregon started losing last season, turning him into a one-dimensional (albeit still darn effective) player. Back at full strength, and with great running backs and promising young receivers to work with, he'll soar and should be in the hunt all season for the Heisman.

    Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the nation's top cornerback, will hold down his post well, but the rest of Oregon's defense could be the one weak spot.

3. Oklahoma Sooners

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 8-1 in Big 12

    Championship odds: 5-1

    Big Game Bob showed up during last season's Sugar Bowl. But can Bob Stoops keep up that persona for an entire season and bring Oklahoma its first championship since 2000-01?

    The Sooners are in a great position to get into the College Football Playoff, thanks to a schedule that features only one road trip to a team that had a winning record in 2013 (a mid-November visit to pesky Texas Tech, where past Oklahoma seasons have gone up in smoke) and visits from fellow Big 12 contenders Baylor and Kansas State as well as rival Oklahoma State.

    Quarterback Trevor Knight is on numerous watch lists for this season, much of that due to his breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. The Sooners defense, meanwhile, is stacked with studs and will challenge for best in the nation statistically.

    If Oklahoma is going to do it again, this is the year. It'll just depend on how much "Big Game" Stoops has left in him.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 7-1 in SEC

    Championship odds: 5-1

    Alabama was picked by the SEC's media members to not only win its division but take another conference title, so it makes sense the Crimson Tide are the highest ranked of the seven SEC teams in this poll.

    And with a schedule that sets up nice for a potential run of the table—trips to LSU and Ole Miss will be the most problematic, as Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa—there's a very good chance coach Nick Saban could play for a third title in four years.

    A lot will depend on what happens at quarterback for Alabama.

    Running back, wide receiver and both sides of the line of scrimmage are deep and strong. The linebackers and secondary look to be replenished nicely. It's just that pesky quarterback spot, where three-year starter AJ McCarron has left a huge hole, that stands in the way of this being a worry-free season for Saban.

    The Tide's running game is strong enough that they could get by with a game-manager at quarterback, but that's not the direction that position is headed. Alabama will try to have a game-changer there, and how that process goes will dictate the season's direction.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Predicted 2014 record: 11-1, 7-1 in ACC

    Championship odds: 4-1

    Florida State, you've earned the No. 1 ranking in the coaches preseason poll, a testament to being the reigning national champions who bring back Heisman winner Jameis Winston at quarterback and talent all over the field. Not all of it is experienced, but there are no real duds in the two-deep.

    But as good as the Seminoles look on paper, there's another written item that should temper any excitement about this lofty post: According to Graham Watson of Yahoo's Dr. Saturday blog, the last team to start the season No. 1 in the coaches poll and finish in that spot was USC. In 2004.

    Watson also points out that five of the last six preseason No. 1 teams ended up ranked eighth or worse at the end of the season, with none of last year's Top Five finishing higher than No. 8.

    Despite the history lesson, FSU does look like it has a good shot to be the second repeat champion in the last four years.

    The Seminoles' schedule is tougher than a year ago, so while the chances of going undefeated again are slim—if you didn't notice, none of the teams in this preseason poll have been projected with zero regular-season losses—the added clout from the schedule can allow for a loss and they could still make the College Football Playoff.

    Get into the final four, and that's when the Seminoles can really tap into last year's experience. They just have to get there first.


    All recruiting information courtesy of

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.