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Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll

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    It's game week! After months of waiting, the 2014 college football season is only days away, which means there's just enough time for one more preseason poll to get you prepared for the year ahead.

    The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

    Each voter has made their preseason rankings based on offseason observations and coverage, taking into account personnel changes, injuries and the schedules each team is set to face. Our voting team will submit new ballots at the end of each week of play, with each subsequent poll coming out not long after the final game on Saturday night (the exception being opening week, when the poll will be released after the Miami-Louisville game is over on Labor Day).

    Just like the Associated Press and Amway polls, teams earn 25 points for a first-place vote down to one point for being picked 25th. The points are tallied, and then teams are ranked according to their point totals.

    Scroll through to see our preseason rankings. Then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Others Receiving Votes

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    A total of 43 schools received votes in our preseason poll, but there's only room for 25 to get an official ranking. That leaves the rest of those picked to be included in the "others receiving votes" category, which is often made up of the teams that will jump into the rankings whenever a Top 25 team loses and is no longer deemed worthy of being ranked. 

    Listed below are the other schools that received poll votes, indicated by the number in parentheses:

    • Florida (32)
    • Mississippi State (23)
    • Iowa (18)
    • Duke (17)
    • Penn State (15)
    • Texas (15)
    • UCF (15)
    • Louisville (8)
    • Marshall (8)
    • Oklahoma State (6)
    • BYU (4)
    • Navy (4)
    • Michigan (3)
    • Northwestern (3)
    • Texas Tech (2)
    • Maryland (1)
    • Miami, Fla. (1)
    • Virginia Tech (1)

25. Missouri Tigers

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    2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota State

    Poll points: 43

     

    Last year's surprise SEC East Division champions squeak into the preseason top 25 by just a hair over one of the traditional conference foes (Florida) it toppled in 2013. The Tigers have lost a lot of major pieces from that 12-2 team, but head coach Gary Pinkel has enough coming back that while a dozen wins might not be possible, being in contention for the East title again is.

    Maty Mauk is in control of the offense, but he'll be the most veteran of the skill-position players as a sophomore. The dismissal of standout receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was a major blow to this offense, which will struggle to match last year's 39-points-per-game production.

    The Tigers will also be depleted on defense, but not to the extent of the offense. That unit could carry this team in big games, of which there will be plenty.

24. Texas A&M Aggies

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    2013 record: 9-4, 4-4 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 28 at South Carolina

    Poll points: 44

     

    The post-Johnny Manziel era begins in earnest on Thursday when Texas A&M breaks in its new set of potential offensive stars at South Carolina. But how sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill and his young receiving targets fare isn't likely to be as important to the Aggies' season as how their defense performs.

    They can't do much worse than in 2013, but numerous dismissals and suspensions on that side of the ball leave plenty of question marks heading into the season. A&M has a slew of true freshmen listed high on the first game's depth chart, most of them appearing on the defensive side, showing how reliant the team will be on new blood to improve that unit. 

    A&M won't have many opportunities for its young team to get a breather on the 2014 schedule, not with six ranked opponents, as well as trips to SMU and Mississippi State. The Aggies could be a huge surprise or a major disappointment.

23. Washington Huskies

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    2013 record: 9-4, 5-4 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 at Hawaii

    Poll points: 48

     

    Washington is coming off its best season in more than a decade, but its new coach arrives on the heels of the worst record he's ever had. Yet the consensus is that Chris Petersen's coaching ability, combined with the Huskies' returning talent base, will make for another good season in Seattle.

    The Huskies have a new quarterback and running back in place of Keith Price and Bishop Sankey, respectively, who were do-it-all players last year. The offense may need some time to get settled in, giving a very promising defense the opportunity to carry the load. That unit has a bunch of playmakers, and they'll be tested right off the bat by unlikely sources such as FCS Eastern Washington and an opening trip to Hawaii.

    Washington has struggled on the road over the years, but other than visiting Oregon, most of its toughest opponents will be on home turf. The Huskies might not be able to challenge for the Pac-12 North division, but they can match what they did in 2013.

22. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 in ACC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Liberty

    Poll points: 53

     

    North Carolina was picked to finish fourth in the ACC's Coastal division this season, yet the Tar Heels are the only team in that division to be ranked in our preseason poll. In fact, UNC's 53 vote points are nearly three times what Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech received altogether.

    So, which should you believe? Should Carolina be given credit for the great finish to 2013, when it improved from a 1-5 start to wind up 7-6 and crushed Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl? Or should a rigorous early schedule that sees the Tar Heels face six straight bowl teams in one stretch (including on the road against East Carolina, Clemson and Notre Dame) and could culminate in a slow start be more of a factor?

    Larry Fedora has a lot of weapons at his disposal this season, including one of the country's most exciting players in sophomore Ryan Switzer. After returning five punts for touchdowns last season (tying an FBS record), Switzer will have all eyes on him whenever he lines up for a return, and he should also play a bigger role on offense as a receiver.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    2013 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Big Ten

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Florida Atlantic

    Poll points: 88

     

    Nebraska has been one of the most consistent teams in major college football for the past six years, but that's both good and bad. The Cornhuskers haven't had any down years in that span, but in Bo Pelini's six seasons at the helm, they've maxed out at nine or 10 wins in each of those.

    For 2014 to be any different, it will require senior Ameer Abdullah, the top returning rusher in the country, and a suddenly thin defense to have career years. Abdullah should do his part and may have to carry the load on offense, while on the other side of the ball, defensive end Randy Gregory becomes so much more important with Nebraska going into the fall absent three projected starters (two to injury and one to suspension).

    Pelini has had a great offseason in terms of improving his public persona, but now he'll have to show he can elevate the program to a higher level of success than the status quo.

20. Kansas State Wildcats

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    2013 record: 8-5, 5-4 in Big 12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Stephen F. Austin

    Poll points: 106

     

    If teams were re-ranked at the end of 2013 based on how they were playing down the stretch, Kansas State might have been knocking on the door of the top 10 in most polls. Instead, the Wildcats finished unranked despite winning six of seven after a 2-4 start.

    But the voters are aware of what the Wildcats and legendary coach Bill Snyder have brewing this season, a team that is stocked with underrated stars like receiver Tyler Lockett, quarterback Jake Waters and defensive end Ryan Mueller. The Wildcats can also put a major dent in some top-tier teams' playoff hopes, as all three of the ranked teams they face begin the year in the top 10.

    Watch out for the Wildcats, especially if they're able to knock off Auburn on Sept. 18. This team hasn't been bad for a while, and this season could be really good.

19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    2013 record: 9-4

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Rice

    Poll points: 117

     

    As of now, we don't know the long-term impact of what Notre Dame's internal academic fraud investigation will have on the 2014 season. But the prospect of four players (including three starters) missing time combined with a very difficult schedule made our voters a little leery that the Fighting Irish can navigate all of the minefields.

    Everett Golson has returned to his old job as Notre Dame's starting quarterback after missing all of 2013 because of academic issues. He won't have the ironclad defense of that 2012 team to help him along, so the junior might have to do a lot more this fall.

    Notre Dame will have some time to ease into things thanks to a schedule that features no true road games until mid-October, but then things get really tough. Trips to Arizona State, Florida State and USC highlight the second half of the slate, all games that could individually or collectively keep the Irish from getting into either the College Football Playoff or one of its affiliated host bowls.

18. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    2013 record: 10-4, 8-1 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 28 vs. Weber State

    Poll points: 124

     

    Few teams went from looking so good in the regular season to so bad in the postseason in 2013 as Arizona State. After a 10-2 start earned them the Pac-12 South title, the Sun Devils lost by an average of 19 points against Stanford and Texas Tech.

    The slate has been wiped clean for this fall, though, as the offseason has been about regrouping behind senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and standout wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Those stars will need to do a lot to help overcome ASU's departures in the front seven, guys who helped the team have one of the best defenses in the country for most of 2013.

    ASU's schedule is either really light or really tough, depending on where you look. It's not too difficult at the beginning or end (other than the finale at rival Arizona), but in the middle, it's a veritable Murderers' Row. Between Sept. 25 and Nov. 8, the Devils face five ranked teams, though UCLA, Stanford and Notre Dame will all be coming to Tempe.

17. Ole Miss Rebels

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    2013 record: 8-5, 3-5 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 28 vs. Boise State (in Atlanta)

    Poll points: 149

     

    Ole Miss finished the 2013 season on a high note with a convincing bowl win over Georgia Tech, but now comes another year where the expectations could surpass the results. The Rebels are as talented as ever behind senior quarterback Bo Wallace, sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and dependable linemen and defensive backs, but they also have a schedule that is built for possible disappointment.

    The opener against Boise State in Atlanta is just the start of the challenges and pales in comparison to what comes later. Ole Miss twice plays back-to-back games against ranked opponents, first doing the Alabama-at Texas A&M two-step and then later playing at LSU and at home against Auburn on consecutive Saturdays.

    If Ole Miss is going to improve in wins for the third straight year under Hugh Freeze, it will need to get past some of these powers.

16. USC Trojans

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    2013 record: 10-4, 6-3 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Fresno State

    Poll points: 215

     

    Even with a new coach and continued depth concerns, 2014 figures to be a much less tumultuous season for USC. Whether it can be better than last year's 10-win performance will depend on how the Trojans and coach Steve Sarkisian can fare against a schedule that features nine bowl teams from a year ago.

    USC's offense looks solid and skilled with Cody Kessler back at quarterback, Nelson Agholor holding court at receiver and a bevy of running backs. The defense is thinning out again because of injuries, as was the case in 2013, but stars like Leonard Williams on the line and Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw in the secondary will still be forces.

    The Trojans play six true road games this season, the most of any team ranked in our preseason poll. And that lineup features Stanford (in Week 2), Arizona and UCLA, squads the Trojans have lost to a combined five times in the past two years.

15. Clemson Tigers

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 in ACC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 at Georgia

    Poll points: 220

     

    The players on Clemson's offense this fall will be almost unrecognizable since most of them weren't involved in that last few years of high-powered production. But with offensive coordinator Chad Morris' system considered one of the best in the nation, as well as a very strong defense coming back, the Tigers might not need to have offensive stars to put up another big year.

    Gone are quarterback Tajh Boyd, leading rusher Roderick McDowell and top receivers Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins from the offense. Senior Cole Stoudt inherits Boyd's spot, while the other skill positions feature promising young talent and veteran backups. But the strength of the 2014 Tigers will be the defense.

    That unit is led by a fearsome defensive line that has arguably the country's best edge-rusher in senior Vic Beasley. He and his teammates will get tested early and often with games against Georgia, Florida State and North Carolina in the first month.

14. Wisconsin Badgers

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    2013 record: 9-4, 6-2 in Big Ten

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. LSU (in Houston)

    Poll points: 239

     

    Wisconsin is one of four teams in our preseason poll that heads into the 2014 season on a two-game losing streak, as the Badgers lost their regular-season finale versus Penn State and then to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. But that's in the past, and the future is one that's full of promise thanks to the running ability of junior Melvin Gordon.

    Gordon had 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 206 carries last season, and his career average of more than eight yards per carry is a thing of beauty. He'll be a workhorse this fall, especially as the Badgers adapt to having a new quarterback at the helm after coach Gary Andersen named junior Tanner McEvoy the starter for the opener against LSU in Houston.

    For Wisconsin to win the Big Ten's West division, though, it will need more than just good play from Gordon and McEvoy. The Badgers defense must do its part, which is the biggest question mark heading into the opener.

13. LSU Tigers

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    2013 record: 10-3, 5-3 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)

    Poll points: 256

     

    We're still waiting to see which quarterback Les Miles is going to choose to start LSU's opener against Wisconsin in Houston. But even more than finding out whether sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris will get the nod, we're anxious for the Tigers to play their first game so we can see the debut of one of the most hyped recruits in the past decade.

    Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect from the 2014 recruiting class, per 247Sports, is being projected as the next Adrian Peterson in college football. The hype has been so intense that, as The Times-Picayune's Ron Higgins wrote, "By the time Hurricane Leonard makes landfall in Houston on Aug. 30 where LSU opens the 2014 season against Wisconsin, there's the expectation it's just the start of raised storm warnings from Gainesville to College Station on his way to December's Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York."

    No pressure, though.

    That Wisconsin game will be one heck of an early test, but after that the road is pretty clear until October when LSU heads to Auburn. The Tigers get Ole Miss and Alabama, too, but both at home, so they have a lot of control in how they fare this season.

12. Georgia Bulldogs

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    2013 record: 8-5, 5-3 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Clemson

    Poll points: 311

     

    Georgia began the 2013 season as a top-five program, but injuries and defensive breakdowns led to the Bulldogs losing five games and finishing outside of the polls. Yet here we are, at the dawn of another season, and Georgia is once again ranked high in preseason polls.

    That's because there's much optimism surrounding the program thanks to the promise senior quarterback Hutson Mason has shown during the offseason and the expected production Georgia should get from running back Todd Gurley. Coach Mark Richt has been vocal in believing the junior should be a serious Heisman candidate, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, even with him coming off an injury-hobbled season.

    As good as Gurley and Mason should be, what will once again determine how Georgia fares this year will be the defense. It was a sieve for most of 2013, and while the addition of former Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was a big get, there are still questions about the secondary due to the offseason departure of likely starters Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews and Shaq Wiggins.

    The Bulldogs' season could get sent on its future path right away, as they have the toughest two games to open the season of any major team. After opening at home against Clemson, they visit South Carolina in an early clash for SEC East supremacy.

11. Stanford Cardinal

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    2013 record: 11-3, 7-2 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. UC Davis

    Poll points: 314

     

    The school's official name is Stanford, but it might as well be "Standard" with the benchmark the Cardinal has established the last few seasons. This could be the only major conference power that will miss the BCS, since it's played in a BCS bowl four straight years and won 46 games during the span.

    The Cardinal is going through its annual process of finding a new workhorse running back after Tyler Gaffney graduated, but this situation has happened before and hasn't led to a hiccup. Stanford seems to regroup and reload better than any other team west of the SEC, and with seniors Kevin Hogan at quarterback and Ty Montgomery at receiver, the offense should be fine no matter who runs the ball.

    Stanford's defense has bigger holes to fill, but it won't see much of a drop-off there even with coordinator Derek Mason gone to lead his own program at Vanderbilt. If anything is going to lead to regression, it will be the schedule, which, other than the Week 2 visit from USC, features all other major opponents serving as Stanford's hosts this season.

10. Baylor Bears

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    2013 record: 11-2, 8-1 in Big 12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 31 vs. SMU

    Poll points: 317

     

    The Baylor Bears are the reigning Big 12 champs, the first time the Bears get to head into a season with a chance to defend a league title since 1981. But both the polls and the Big 12 media have Baylor as the second-best team in the conference, behind Oklahoma, giving the Bears all the motivation they'll need.

    Bryce Petty returns at quarterback for his senior year, and Baylor's system will once again have a great pilot steering it to big numbers and lots of points. The Bears defense should be solid again, with defensive end Shawn Oakman poised to be a breakout player this fall.

    Coach Art Briles has defended the conference's lack of a title game throughout the offseason, noting that if a team goes unbeaten in the Big 12, it should deserve a College Football Playoff spot and wouldn't need a conference championship game to earn that.

    Baylor will need to go 9-0 to get such a spot, thanks to a very weak nonconference slate, but working against the Bears in that respect is a trip to Oklahoma in November that would require them to win in Norman for the first time ever.

9. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    2013 record: 11-2, 6-2 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 28 vs. Texas A&M

    Poll points: 320

     

    It doesn't seem like it matters much that South Carolina has to replace its quarterback (Connor Shaw), its top receiver (Bruce Ellington) and two major defensive stars (Kelcy Quarles and No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney) from its third straight 11-2 team. The Gamecocks are once again expected to be major players in 2014, if for no other reason than because having the team led by the Head Ball Coach high in the rankings is great for the game.

    But make no mistake, South Carolina still has talent. It has maybe the best backup quarterback in the country taking over in the form of senior Dylan Thompson, who has talented, hard-running rusher Mike Davis to hand off to. And the Gamecocks defense won't slip off too much even with the losses on the defensive line, either.

    As good as the Gamecocks have been the last three years, that stretch has occurred without them being able to get into an SEC title game or the BCS. We don't know if the 2014 version has the ability to break through that ceiling, but South Carolina will have the opportunities to be in the mix.

    The Gamecocks will have the usually tough SEC schedule that features all the important intra-division games (Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M) played in Columbia. They also have a trip to Auburn and the finale at in-state rival Clemson.

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    2013 record: 12-2, 8-0 in Big Ten

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 at Navy (in Baltimore)

    Poll points: 323

     

    The ballots for both the AP and Amway polls were cast before quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year with another shoulder injury, so Ohio State's ranking in those canvasses needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Our poll is more reflective of the Buckeyes' more updated outlook, as they sit a little lower in the rankings now that redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett will be under center.

    But not that much lower, which shows just how good OSU should be even with the loss of its most notable player. That's because the Buckeyes have a lot more to like about them than just Miller.

    They have a collection of talented young running backs who should make the graduation of Carlos Hyde easier to deal with and a defense that may feature the country's top front line led by senior tackle Michael Bennett, junior end Noah Spence and sophomore end Joey Bosa.

    If OSU can truly overcome Miller's injury and remain in the hunt for the Big Ten title and the playoffs, it will mean having to navigate a schedule that's manageable but still much tougher than the 2013 version.

    That starts with an opener against a dangerous Navy team in Baltimore as well as sneaky home tilts against Virginia Tech and Cincinnati before entering in conference play. There, the Buckeyes must visit both Michigan State and Penn State.

7. UCLA Bruins

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    2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 at Virginia

    Poll points: 390

     

    The rise of UCLA as a national power under coach Jim Mora continues with the program's highest preseason rankings in more than 15 years. Now it's up to the veteran Bruins to back up that early hype with on-field results.

    Quarterback Brett Hundley returned to school for his redshirt junior year more for the chance to lead his team to greatness than to work on mechanics for his pro career.

    He told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times:

    The one thing I want is the ring. That's why I came back. ... As long as our team can be remembered for something we did that was great, something that hasn't been done in a while at UCLA — win the conference, win the Rose Bowl — then the season will be success.

    The Bruins have a schedule that should get them into the College Football Playoff with a Pac-12 title and enough wins. They're one of the few major teams to play two nonconference games away from home, starting at Virginia and facing Texas in Arlington.

    In league play, the Bruins get to host Oregon, Stanford and rival USC.

6. Michigan State Spartans

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    2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 in Big Ten

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 29 vs. Jacksonville State

    Poll points: 409

     

    Michigan State won the Big Ten a year ago, rolling over Ohio State in the conference title game and then rallying past Stanford to win the Rose Bowl. Now the Spartans have a bigger goal: to be the first representative of the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff.

    All of the pieces are there for that to happen, both in terms of player ability and schedule makeup. Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford return and should continue to improve from where they were at the start of 2013.

    That will be essential as MSU's defense works to replace some of its major stars from a year ago. The Spartans' defensive cupboard isn't bare, though, not with end Shilique Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond on the prowl.

    And MSU has a schedule that looks great on paper; it will just be a matter of executing. That starts with a Sept. 6 trip to Oregon, a major nonconference tilt. Then in Big Ten play, the Spartans will see most of their toughest foes (such as Nebraska and Ohio State) come to East Lansing.

5. Oklahoma Sooners

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Big 12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Louisiana Tech

    Poll points: 416

     

    For the 10th time since Bob Stoops took over the program in 1999, Oklahoma begins the season as a top-five team. The Sooners are hoping this year will go a little differently than most of those previous occasions, as Rich DeCray of SB Nation's Crimson & Cream Machine blog notes that the last three times Oklahoma started this high it finished no better than 15th in the final AP poll.

    Oklahoma has had one of the busiest offseasons of any major program, both in terms of hype and personnel issues. Since blasting Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners have received numerous accolades and been deemed by plenty of experts as a major player in the race for the first College Football Playoff.

    But at the same time, Oklahoma has seen linebacker Frank Shannon and running back recruit Joe Mixon get suspended for the year for off-field issues, while high-profile transfers Baker Mayfield and Dorial Green-Beckham have both been denied a chance to play right away.

    Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight is being looked at as a serious Heisman candidate, more or less based off the results of one game. Knight was masterful in the Sugar Bowl, but before that he was a part-time starter.

    His skill players are mostly inexperienced, so he'll have to do a lot, but at least Knight and Oklahoma know that the defense should be good enough to do its part.

4. Auburn Tigers

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    2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Arkansas

    Poll points: 433

     

    Not only was Auburn unranked at the start of the 2013 season, but the Tigers were so ignored that they weren't even in viewing range of the "others receiving votes" list. But as the year went along, it was hard not to notice what they did, and now coming off a trip to the BCS title game, there will be no overlooking this resurrected power.

    Quarterback Nick Marshall had a great first year with Auburn, and that was without much time to get used to his role in Gus Malzahn's offense. With an offseason to learn the playbook fully, especially in terms of the passing plays, the senior could possibly win both Most Improved awards and the Heisman if things go his way.

    "The expectations in the Auburn coaching offices are that Marshall will make a great leap forward in Year Two as a starter," writes Lars Anderson of Sports on Earth.

    The Tigers won't need Marshall to be a 4,000-yard passer to have another big year, not with a system that produced an FBS-leading 328.3 rushing yards per game in 2013. But Auburn may need to still score a lot to succeed, since injuries on defense have thinned that depth and lessened the chance that unit will be improved from last season.

    Also of major concern this year for Auburn is how the players will handle being a target, unlike a season ago. With trips to four ranked teams (starting with Sept. 18 at Kansas State and finishing with the Iron Bowl at Alabama), there will be no shortage of major tests for the Tigers to try to pass.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 in SEC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)

    Poll points: 442

     

    It's not often that a team this highly regarded heads into the first game of the season with such a major question mark, but that's where Alabama finds itself less than a week before facing West Virginia in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide still don't have a starting quarterback, at least not publicly, as senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker continue to battle for the job.

    The winner can take solace in knowing that he won't have to do a lot on his own thanks to Alabama's usual overabundance of talent. Running back T.J. Yeldon can carry a team on the ground, while receiver Amari Cooper could be the top pass-catcher in the country if he's targeted enough.

    Defensively, Alabama looks rock solid in the front seven, while its secondary will be young but still talented enough to succeed. The Crimson Tide can take their time getting things worked out, as the first serious challenge on the schedule doesn't come until visiting Ole Miss on Oct. 4.

2. Oregon Ducks

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    2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Pac-12

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota

    Poll points: 447

     

    Is this the year the Ducks soar back into the championship game? Our voters think so, as Oregon edges out three other contenders for the bridesmaid spot in the preseason poll.

    Oregon has the talent to win every game it will play this year, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota on offense and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on defense. Mariota will be a major Heisman candidate as long as he keeps running and throwing at his usual level of efficiency—and as long as that happens, the Ducks should keep on winning.

    The schedule will be tough almost from the outset, with Big Ten champion Michigan State coming to town in Week 2. A difficult road game at UCLA in October could also get in the way of a perfect regular season, and let's not forget the great recent history in the series with Stanford, which comes to Eugene in early November.

    Unless the Pac-12 is won by a team with two or more losses, a team out west should make the playoffs. Oregon is the favorite for that slot and controls its own destiny.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    2013 record: 14-0, 8-0 in ACC

    Week 1 matchup: Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas)

    Poll points: 500 (20 first-place votes)

     

    There should be no surprise that defending national champion Florida State is our preseason No. 1 team. It's the same spot the Seminoles occupy in the AP and Amway rankings, but unlike those polls, they are a unanimous choice for first place in this one.

    FSU has more than enough pieces back from last year's unbeaten team to make a serious run at back-to-back titles, led first and foremost by sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston.

    The reigning Heisman winner has a mix of veterans and talented newcomers to work with at the skill positions and has an experienced line in front of him. And on defense, FSU has a blend of holdover studs and incoming superstars who should again make up one of the best units in the country.

    If the Seminoles keep winning, they'll no doubt get a spot in the College Football Playoff. There are a few potential pitfalls on the schedule, but as coach Jimbo Fisher has noted, the biggest impediment to another championship could be complacency.

    "It's human nature, you take winning for granted," he told Matt Murschel of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "You take success for granted. And how hard it is to grind and win football games. You can't lose that edge."

    Though starting the season No. 1 has no bearing on where a team finishes, at this point the Seminoles look to be the one to beat for the 2014 title.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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