College Football

College Football Preseason Rankings 2014: Comparing AP and Amway Coaches Top 25

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2014

College Football Preseason Rankings 2014: Comparing AP and Amway Coaches Top 25

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    With Sunday's release of The Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, we now have rankings from the media and from coaches (Amway poll came out July 31) to give us an idea of where the top teams stand.

    While the No. 1 team is the same in both polls, there are plenty of differences. That's not surprising, considering the different voting blocs and release dates.

    While preseason polls are always speculative, the Amway came out before the start of training camp, and the AP debuted midway through fall practice and had the benefit of more current information—both positive and negative—to influence rankings.

    Still, voters in both polls agreed on 24 of the same teams to rank among the top 25 to start the season, with 16 of those falling in the same spot in each ranking. Defending national champion Florida State opens atop both polls, collecting a combined 113 of 122 total first-place votes, and Alabama is the No. 2 team in each.

    Now that the polls are out, it's time to compare and contrast them to find the discrepancies.

25.

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    WashingtonWashington

     

    Both the coaches and the media believe Washington's hiring of former Boise State coach Chris Petersen justifies giving the Huskies a preseason ranking. Coming off their best record (9-4) since 2000, Washington will also have new starters at quarterback and running back.

    It's the first time Washington is ranked in the Top 25 at the start of a season since 2003, according to Adam Jude of The Seattle Times. The Huskies didn't stay ranked for long, though, losing 28-9 to Ohio State in the opener and finishing the year 6-6.

    In both polls, Washington was just a few votes shy of starting higher. It was one vote out of 24th place in the Amway poll and four votes behind No. 24 in the AP.

24.

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    TexasMissouri

     

    The 24th spot in both preseason polls is occupied not only by different schools but by ones that only appear in one ranking.

    Mizzou, which won the SEC East Division last season but had to replace key starters on both sides of the ball, earned enough votes in the Amway poll to finish in 26th place but was valued enough by AP voters to edge out Washington for 24th.

    Texas had only 86 votes in the AP preseason poll (compared to 143 in the Amway ranking, which has two more voters than the AP), and that was good enough for only 28th place behind UCF and Florida. The Longhorns went 8-5 in 2013 and have a new head coach in Charlie Strong.

    Both teams should remain ranked in their respective polls for at least one regular-season version, as each opens at home against unheralded opponents (North Texas for Texas; South Dakota State for Missouri). They might also both jump into the poll they're absent from with wins and losses by teams currently ranked above them.

23.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    North CarolinaNorth Carolina

     

    North Carolina is proof that how you finish is far more important than the overall result, as the Tar Heels had the worst 2013 record of any team in the preseason rankings.

    The Tar Heels went 7-6 last season, starting 1-5 before winning six of seven down the stretch to become bowl-eligible and then crush Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With numerous starters returning, including electric punt-return specialist Ryan Switzer, North Carolina is poised to have a great season in 2014.

    However, that didn't jibe with what ACC media members felt, as UNC was picked to finished fourth in the Coastal Division behind Miami (Fla.), Duke and Virginia Tech, none of which are ranked in either national preseason poll.

22.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    NebraskaNebraska

     

    Nebraska's track record of finishing with roughly the same record every year looks to have factored into its preseason reputation, as both polls put the Cornhuskers in the No. 22 spot. Nebraska opened at No. 18 in each poll in 2013, and after going 9-4 (its sixth straight season with exactly four losses) finished No. 25 in the AP poll and unranked by the coaches.

    Brandon Cavanaugh of HuskerCorner.com noted that the ranking could spark Nebraska to prove critics wrong, writing, "if anything, it should serve as proper motivation that pollsters don’t see them as a threat, especially since three conference teams sit in front of them."

    The 'Huskers are ranked behind Ohio State, Michigan State and projected West Division winner Wisconsin. The Big Ten doesn't release an official preseason poll, but media queried by Cleveland.com's  Doug Lesmerises picked Nebraska to finish third in the West.

21.

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Kansas StateTexas A&M

     

    The difference between being ranked 20th or 21st in a poll is negligible, so it's not surprising that Kansas State and Texas A&M are flip-flopped in their spots in the Amway and Associated Press rankings.

    Odds are that this spot won't be held by the same teams after the first week of the regular season, especially with Texas A&M opening with a tough game Aug. 28 at South Carolina.

    The Aggies, who recently named sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill as heir apparent to Johnny Manziel, could fall out of the rankings with a loss and would very likely surge in the polls with a win in that opener.

20.

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Texas A&MKansas State

     

    The 20th/21st flip-flop mentioned in the previous slide carries over here, as the former Big 12 foes switch places. The coaches are less worried about how Texas A&M will fare this year without Johnny Manziel, while the media is more sold on Kansas State's ability to build off last season's late surge.

    K-State was 2-4 midway through the 2013 regular season before going on a tear to finish 8-5. By year's end, the Wildcats were playing some of the best football in the country, and they continued that during their dominant win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

    The Wildcats' schedule gets progressively harder over the first three weeks, starting with a game against FCS Stephen F. Austin before visiting Iowa State and then hosting Auburn in a high-profile Thursday night matchup.

19.

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Ole MissArizona State

     

    Another set of teams find themselves transposed between two adjacent poll spots.

    ASU ended the 2013 season ranked in both polls with a 10-4 record, despite losing its final two games to Stanford (in the Pac-12 title game) and Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. Ole Miss went 8-5, finishing on a high note with a win over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl.

    Both schools are looking to continue trending upward in their third seasons under their respective coaches. Hugh Freeze went 7-6 with Ole Miss in 2012 then improved by a game last year, while the Sun Devils were 8-5 in Todd Graham's first year before making a two-win improvement in 2013.

18.

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Arizona StateOle Miss

     

    While Arizona State and Ole Miss are essentially ranked in the same spot in both polls, there's a bigger gap between them than you'd think. ASU only received 12 more voting points (358-346) than the Rebels in the coaches poll, while in the AP ranking Ole Miss holds a 67-point advantage (424-357) on the Sun Devils.

    In fact, Ole Miss is closer to 17th place than 19th in the AP poll as far as point gaps go. Regardless of voting patterns, it's fair to say these teams have some commonalities in terms of personnel and expectations.

    Each is led by a senior quarterback (Taylor Kelly for Arizona State, Bo Wallace for Ole Miss) entering their third season on the job, and each has an exciting wide receiver (ASU junior Jaelen Strong and Ole Miss sophomore Laquon Treadwell) to work with.

17.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Notre DameNotre Dame

     

    Of all the teams ranked in either preseason poll, Notre Dame's placement is the most tenuous. That's because of the potential impact an academic fraud investigation may have on the Fighting Irish's performance this season.

    Four players have been suspended from the school, with three being starters: receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore.

    This occurred after the Amway coaches poll had been released and after all AP ballots were due, according to AP voter Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.

    Had voters been able to re-submit their ballots after the Notre Dame news broke, odds are the AP poll would have looked different. Instead, we have a team ranked based on the players they were expected to have available for the Aug. 30 opener against Rice.

16.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    ClemsonClemson

     

    Clemson comes in at No. 16 in both polls, which marks a significant drop from where the Tigers ended the 2013 season. They were No. 7 in the coaches poll and ranked eighth by the AP voters after beating Ohio State in January's Orange Bowl.

    The drop can be mostly attributed to Clemson replacing all of its key offensive stars from a unit that averaged 40.2 points per game a year ago. The fall could have been worse, but voters appear confident in offensive coordinator Chad Morris and defensive end Vic Beasley's ability to lead the defense.

    Clemson might not stay ranked this high for long, though. It opens the 2014 season Aug. 30 at Georgia, which is ranked No. 12 in both preseason polls.

15.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    USCUSC

     

    USC had a roller-coaster season in 2013, going from ranked in the preseason to far out of the rankings after a 4-3 start that included the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. But by year's end, the Trojans were back in the rankings, having won six of seven down the stretch.

    Now, with a new coach in Steve Sarkisian, the former Washington head man and Trojans assistant, USC opens in the middle of the rankings and not far behind No. 14 Wisconsin in each poll. Depth issues related to injuries and lingering scholarship limits from a now-expired NCAA penalty will again be a concern, but the Trojans look to be back on solid ground after the tumult of 2013.

    Athlon Sports, in putting USC 14th in its preseason rankings earlier this year, cited depth and an inexperienced offensive line for reasons that Sarkisian should temper his expectations for this first year. "A confident Sarkisian is talking titles already, but it might behoove him to simply match last year's 10-victory season."

14.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    WisconsinWisconsin

     

    Wisconsin lost the final two games of last season and ended up ranked near the bottom of both the coaches poll and the media poll when the final installments were released.

    Even with the losses of several standout defensive players and prolific wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, voters expect a big year from the Badgers.

    The return of star running back Melvin Gordon likely helped boost Wisconsin as high in the preseason rankings as it is, but another factor is the team is considered the favorite to take the Big Ten's West Division after realignment moved Michigan State over to the East.

13.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    LSULSU

     

    LSU finds itself in a very familiar place in the preseason polls. Its No. 13 ranking is just one spot ahead of where it finished the 2013 season in both tallies and the same spot it began last year ranked by the coaches. The Tigers were 12th to start last season in the AP poll.

    As high as LSU is ranked, though, it's still only the third-best team in its own division based on preseason rankings. Both Alabama and Auburn are rated higher than the Tigers in both polls, showing just how tough the SEC West Division is.

    LSU doesn't face either of those teams for a while, though, so it has a chance to build momentum and rise in the standings before those contests. But it won't exactly be smooth sailing before then, as the Tigers open with a tough neutral-site matchup Aug. 30 against Wisconsin in Houston.

    After that, it's four straight home games.

12.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    GeorgiaGeorgia

     

    After beginning the previous two seasons ranked in the top 10, Georgia comes in at No. 12 in both polls after finishing outside of the rankings at the end of 2013 following an uneven 8-5 performance marred by injuries and defensive inconsistency.

    The Bulldogs can only hope the bumps and bruises don't come back. They took great strides to shore up the defense by hiring Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State not long after he coached the Seminoles' high-rated defense through its national championship run.

    "I think, statistically, it will be very easy to do better than we did last year," coach Mark Richt joked last month during an alumni tour across Georgia. The Bulldogs allowed 29 points per game last season.

    While the defense might take a while to come around, Georgia's offense should be solid if it stays healthy. It will be led by senior quarterback Hutson Mason, taking over as starter full time after getting forced into the job late in 2013 when Aaron Murray went down. He and junior running back Todd Gurley should make for a dynamic duo.

11.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    StanfordStanford

     

    Stanford was a top-10 team for much of the 2013 season before falling back a bit after its loss to a great Michigan State team in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal finds itself just outside the top 10 to start 2014 as well as again ranked behind division-rival Oregon in the preseason polls.

    Seniors Kevin Hogan and Ty Montgomery are back at quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, but once again Stanford will have to break in a new running back. Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press (h/t The Sacramento Bee) wrote that coach David Shaw is "preaching a running back-by-committee approach in training camp" for the fourth straight season after workhorse Tyler Gaffney graduated.

    Key replacements are also needed on defense, where anchors Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy have moved on. Such big holes would normally cause a team to have lowered expectations, but Stanford has been wildly consistent in averaging 11.5 wins over the previous four seasons.

10.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    BaylorBaylor

     

    Baylor opens the 2014 seasons two spots higher than where it finished its breakout 2013 campaign and far higher than where it was before winning its first-ever Big 12 title and playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

    It's fair to say the bar has been raised in Waco, and we're not just talking about all that rebar used to build the new McLane Stadium.

    The Bears bring back senior quarterback Bryce Petty, who threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three interceptions while also rushing for 14 scores in 2013. He'll again be at the helm of one of the country's most explosive offenses, and he'll have support from an underrated defense that slowed down several high-powered attacks in the Big 12 last year.

    Though picked second in the conference this season, Baylor coach Art Briles should have high hopes that his team can represent the league in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

9.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    South CarolinaSouth Carolina

     

    South Carolina occupies the same spot in both preseason polls, but here's one distinct difference of note: The Gamecocks earned a first-place vote in the Amway coaches poll, the only SEC team in that ranking to be picked first on any ballot.

    Individual ballots won't be released until the end of the season, so we can only speculate on which coach felt South Carolina was worthy of being ranked first to start 2014. The Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, is among the 62 Amway voters, as is Dabo Swinney of in-state rival Clemson.

    Looking past that quirk, it's worth noting that this is the third straight year South Carolina is ranked in the top 10 to open the season. This is as much due to expectations for this season as for how good the Gamecocks have been since 2011. They have finished in the top 10 three years running, including a high of fourth at the end of 2013.

    Despite the high ranking, South Carolina won't exactly be easing into this season. It opens with three ranked opponents in its first five games, along with a visit from a solid East Carolina team and a trip to Vanderbilt.

8.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Michigan StateMichigan State

     

    Last season's performance should never be considered an accurate indicator of what to expect the following year. That can explain why four of the five champions from the power conferences are not only ranked lower in the preseason polls than another team from their league but in three cases aren't even projected to win their divisions.

    Of those teams, though, Michigan State seems to be the one that's getting the least respect of the defending champs. The Spartans begin 2014 ranked eighth in both polls after ending last year as the No. 3 team in each, despite bringing back most of the key pieces from that Big Ten title squad.

    Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford improved on a weekly basis last year, and each should be even better this fall. The defense lost big names at linebacker and in the secondary, but it still has one of the country's top pass-rushers in Shilique Calhoun for opponents to worry about.

    MSU coach Mark Dantonio believes his team "would have been national champions" last year had the College Football Playoff been in place, according to Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News. Now that such a system is in place, the Spartans should be a championship contender if they can again beat Ohio State and fare well in the big Week 2 showdown at Oregon.

7.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    UCLAUCLA

     

    It's been a long time since UCLA's stock has been as high as it is entering the 2014 season. Sixteen years, in fact, as Jack Wang of InsideSoCal.com notes the No. 7 ranking in both polls marks the Bruins' best preseason placement since 1998.

    Though it didn't win its division last year, UCLA did win 10 games and blew out Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. The Bruins return most of the stars from that squad, most notably junior quarterback Brett Hundley and young defenders Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes. In 2014 the team is picked as the overwhelming favorite to claim the Pac-12 South and play in the conference title game.

    UCLA isn't the highest-ranked team from its own conference, but with a schedule that features Pac-12 powers Oregon, Stanford and USC all coming to the Rose Bowl this season, there's a strong chance the Bruins would be the first choice from out west for the College Football Playoff.

6.

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Ohio StateAuburn

     

    After 11 straight spots with both preseason polls looking identical, we have some disagreement as to who should be ranked fifth and sixth to begin the year. If this were further down the list it wouldn't matter as much, but with only four teams selected for the first-ever College Football Playoff, the gap between being No. 5 and No. 6 could be significant as the season progresses.

    The difference between Auburn and Ohio State is minuscule in the voters' eyes, based on overall point accumulation. OSU edged out the Tigers by nine points in the AP poll, while in the Amway coaches ranking Auburn has a scant four-point advantage despite Ohio State receiving a first-place vote on one ballot.

    Both teams will have plenty of chances to maintain or improve on their preseason rankings thanks to loaded schedules. Between the two of them, Auburn and Ohio State face a collective 17 teams that are either ranked or had winning records in 2013.

    See update on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller in the following slide.

5.

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    AuburnOhio State

     

    Auburn and Ohio State are essentially tied for fifth in both preseason rankings, considering how close they are in the initial voting.

    The biggest difference between the teams may be how they're perceived within their own conferences, as Ohio State is picked by the majority of the Big Ten's media to win the league while Auburn isn't even projected to win its division in the SEC.

    However the Tigers and Buckeyes do, one thing is for certain: The results will be heavily influenced by their senior quarterbacks.

    Auburn's Nick Marshall was a big surprise in 2013, and now with another year to develop his passing ability, he should be even better. Unfortunately, Ohio State QB and Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller may miss the entire season after reinjuring his right shoulder in practice, per The Columbus Dispatch

    Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett will likely start in the season opener against Navy.

4.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    OregonOklahoma

     

    The last of the poll discrepancies comes at third and fourth place, where the presumptive favorites of the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences are ranked ahead of or behind the other depending on which poll you look at.

    Both Oklahoma and Oregon are getting national-title buzz, as they combined for six of the nine first-place votes that weren't given to defending champ Florida State in the two polls. Oregon had one in each ranking, while Oklahoma was voted first on three ballots in the coaches poll but just one submitted by an AP voter.

    A key difference between the teams and their hopes of getting into the College Football Playoff for a shot at a title lies in the route they'll need to take.

    Oklahoma only faces two teams ranked in preseason polls (Baylor and Kansas State), and both teams come to Norman. Oregon, meanwhile, has games scheduled with four ranked opponents that include an early nonconference test from Michigan State and a midseason trip to UCLA.

    The Ducks would also likely have to survive a conference title game to lock up a CFP spot, while Oklahoma avoids such a potential pitfall since the Big 12 is the only power league that doesn't have a championship game.

3.

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    OklahomaOregon

     

    The difference between being third and fourth, from a long-term perspective, means the difference between getting lined up against the top-ranked team in the country and the No. 2 foe when the College Football Playoff occurs in January. Otherwise, being No. 3 or No. 4 is basically the same.

    Both spots show how highly regarded Oklahoma and Oregon are, and it represents the expectations being placed on a pair of teams that are perennially among the nation's best but as a whole haven't managed to get over the hump in the past decade.

    Oregon has never won a national title, losing to Auburn in the BCS championship after the 2010 season and slipping up along the way each of the past three years despite high rankings. Oklahoma, which last won it all following the 2000 season, last played for a title in January 2009 but continues to get listed as a contender nearly every year.

2.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    AlabamaAlabama

     

    Usually the bride, Alabama enters the 2014 as the prohibitive favorite to be a bridesmaid. That is if you put much stock in preseason rankings, which isn't a smart move since they rarely pan out.

    The Crimson Tide open No. 2 in both polls after beginning the 2013 season in the top spot in each. That was the result of being two-time defending national champions, while this time around it's the result of having another talent-rich team but just enough questions to let doubt creep in.

    Alabama managed to rank second in the coaches poll despite not getting put first on any ballot, while in the AP poll it was one of three teams to steal a first-place vote away from top-ranked Florida State. Nick Saban's success since coming to Tuscaloosa can be seen in how the votes were cast, as most teams that get ranked this high don't tend to head into a season unsure about who will play quarterback.

    While there's far more prestige in being No. 1 than No. 2, Amanda Stinnett of SI.com's Bama Hammer blog writes that the second spot has proven more beneficial to the Tide. Alabama opened the 2011 and 2012 seasons at No. 2 and ended up as national champs, but in 2010 and 2013 it was No. 1 and failed to reach the title game.

1.

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Amway                  Associated Press      
    Florida StateFlorida State

     

    When it came to the top spot in both preseason polls, little surprise was expected. The only suspense was whether defending national champion Florida State would end up a unanimous No. 1 selection. FSU was first on 56 of the 62 ballots cast in the Amway coaches poll, while 57 of 60 AP media voters tabbed the Seminoles as the No. 1 team. 

    With reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston back at quarterback, it's not the least bit surprising that Florida State is the odds-on favorite to repeat as champs. The Seminoles did lose several big stars from last year's 14-0 team, but coach Jimbo Fisher's talent available is so deep that no major holes are evident as the 2014 season approaches.

    Still, that didn't keep nine voters from putting FSU somewhere other than No. 1 on their preseason ballots, likely for various reasons. In each poll someone voted the 'Noles third, though the identity of those voters is unknown because the Amway poll doesn't release individual ballots until the final poll, and the AP's "by voter" list hadn't been updated as of Sunday afternoon.

    While Fisher has scoffed at the notion that his team is defending its title, he hasn't minced words when stating his belief the Seminoles are the best in the land. And not just this year, he told Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press:

    We're the second-winningest team in the country the last four years, the winningest team the last two years and have had the most NFL players. We've recruited well, too. Recruited a lot of great young players we've been able to mentor and develop as we go, so we're very comfortable with the guys who are replacing the guys that left.

    Whether that will translate into another national championship remains to be seen, but we do know this: Starting out No. 1 doesn't mean much. The last champ who opened at No. 1 was USC in 2004, followed by Florida State in 1999.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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