College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 1

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2014

College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 1

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    Look close enough at this picture, and Florida State's Jameis Winston might give you a hint as to where defending champion Florida State begins the 2014 season in Bleacher Report's power rankings.
    Look close enough at this picture, and Florida State's Jameis Winston might give you a hint as to where defending champion Florida State begins the 2014 season in Bleacher Report's power rankings.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If you rank them, they will change.

    The 2014 college football season begins this week. What we know for certain is that 128 teams will compete at the FBS level for the right to earn an invitation to one of nearly 40 bowl games, including the first College Football Playoff to determine a national champion. We can only speculate at this point who will qualify for that playoff, and who else will go bowling.

    That's where power rankings come in.

    Though they will have no bearing on which teams the selection committee chooses, or which ones will get picked for the Bahamas Bowl or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, they do serve as a barometer for how teams compare to each other as the 2014 season progresses.

    Bleacher Report's power rankings are based on a combination of rankings and ratings from five sources: the Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, B/R's Top 25, a computer ranking from ratings guru Jeff Sagarin and my personal ranking of all 128 teams. Teams are then ranked from worst to best based on their average rating.

    As is the case with all such rankings, this first one is determined as much by past performance as expected results in 2014. That being said, a lot can—and will—change as the season goes along. By this time next week they could be completely different, which is actually a pretty safe assumption.

    Check out our power ranking for all 128 FBS teams entering Week 1. Think a certain team is too high or too low? Let us know in the comments section.

Nos. 128-91

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    We don't just rank the top teams in FBS, we do them all. That includes the teams all the way at the bottom of the food chain, which to start the 2014 season includes a mix of struggling power-conference teams, mid-major programs and most of the new teams that have moved up from FCS in the past few years.

    Many of these teams will get off to rough starts this fall, as their nonconference schedules include quite a few road games at power-five teams. But by season's end, don't be surprised if several of these low-ranked teams end up filling some of the 70-plus bowl slots.

    (Note: Records are from 2013)

    • 128. New Mexico State (2-10)
    • 127. Georgia State (0-12)
    • 126. Massachusetts (1-11)
    • 125. Eastern Michigan (2-10)
    • 124. Florida International (1-11)
    • 123. Idaho (1-11)
    • 122. Miami, Ohio (0-12)
    • 121. UAB (2-10)
    • 120. UTEP (2-10)
    • 119. Air Force (2-10)
    • 118. Appalachian State (4-8 in FCS)
    • 117. Western Michigan (1-11)
    • 116. Georgia Southern (7-4 in FCS)
    • 115. Southern Mississippi (1-11)
    • 114. Army (3-9)
    • 113. New Mexico (3-9)
    • 112. Kent State (4-8)
    • 111. Old Dominion (8-4)
    • 110. Hawaii (1-11)
    • 109. Texas State (6-6)
    • 108. Tulsa (3-9)
    • 107. Louisiana-Monroe (6-6)
    • 106. Louisiana Tech (4-8)
    • 105. Buffalo (8-5)
    • 104. Purdue (1-11)
    • 103. Troy (6-6)
    • 102. Akron (5-7)
    • 101. Wyoming (5-7)
    • 100. Ohio (7-6)
    • 99. Temple (2-10)
    • 98. Wake Forest (4-8)
    • 97. Central Michigan (6-6)
    • 96. UNLV (7-6)
    • 95. Western Kentucky (8-4)
    • 94. San Jose State (6-6)
    • 93. Memphis (3-9)
    • 92. South Alabama (6-6)
    • 91. UTSA (7-5)

Nos. 90-61

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    With 39 bowl games (including the national championship), many teams that would be considered in the bottom half of the FBS will still get to participate in postseason play. Love it or not, that's how things work, which means most of the teams ranked between 61 and 90 should be in contention for a bowl berth at season's end.

    In this tier of rankings are 13 teams that bowled in 2013, including a defending conference champion (Fresno State) that is replacing record-setting quarterback Derek Carr but should still contend for another Mountain West title.

    (NOTE: Records listed are from 2013)

    • 90. Connecticut (3-9)
    • 89. Tulane (7-6)
    • 88. Kansas (3-9)
    • 87. California (1-11)
    • 86. Florida Atlantic (6-6)
    • 85. Ball State (10-3)
    • 84. Virginia (2-10)
    • 83. South Florida (2-10)
    • 82. Middle Tennessee (8-5)
    • 81. Kentucky (2-10)
    • 80. Colorado (4-8)
    • 79. Boston College (7-6)
    • 78. Rice (10-4)
    • 77. SMU (5-7)
    • 76. Arkansas State (8-5)
    • 75. Illinois (4-8)
    • 74. Rutgers (6-7)
    • 73. Colorado State (8-6)
    • 72. Nevada (4-8)
    • 71. North Carolina State (3-9)
    • 70. Iowa State (3-9)
    • 69. Toledo (7-5)
    • 68. North Texas (9-4)
    • 67. Indiana (5-7)
    • 66. Arkansas (3-9)
    • 65. West Virginia (4-8)
    • 64. San Diego State (8-5)
    • 63. Northern Illinois (12-2)
    • 62. Pittsburgh (7-6)
    • 61. Fresno State (11-2)

Nos. 60-51

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    This season, our power rankings will only go in-depth on the top 50 FBS programs each week, a product of reader feedback and in the interest of focusing more time and space on the country's best teams.

    But that's not to say that only the teams in the top 50 are good; that's far from the case. The teams that begin the year just outside the top 50 all have the capability to jump in there and stay among the upper third of the rankings. Below, we highlight a few reasons why.

    (NOTE: Records are from 2013)

    • 60. Tennessee (5-7). Butch Jones' second year should feature plenty of exciting contributions from the Volunteers' strong 2014 recruiting class, but that might not be enough to reach six wins in the ultra-tough SEC.
    • 59. Maryland (7-6). The Terrapins move from the ACC to the Big Ten, where they'll need to stay healthy and get a big year from wide receiver Stefon Diggs (who returns from a broken leg) in order to compete.
    • 58. Vanderbilt (9-4). New coach Derek Mason inherits a very inexperienced team, but he does have sophomore quarterback Patton Robinette under center and eight homes games to help ease the transition.
    • 57. Syracuse (7-6). With senior quarterback Terrel Hunt and a solid defense, the Orange look to reach a bowl game for a third straight year for the first time since the late 1990s.
    • 56. Georgia Tech (7-6). Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson vows his team will return to the triple-option this season after straying from that format in 2013. Justin Thomas will be running the offense at quarterback. 
    • 55. Washington State (6-7). The Cougars made a bowl game for the first time since 2003 but finished below .500 after a late collapse against Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl. 
    • 54. Northwestern (5-7). The Wildcats saw their win total drop by 50 percent last year from their 2013 performance, and this season has already gotten off to an ominous start with running back Venric Mark's transfer and the loss of top receiver Christian Jones to a knee injury.
    • 53. Utah (5-7). With quarterback Travis Wilson deemed healthy after missing the last month of last season with a head injury, the Utes could get back into the bowl picture after back-to-back losing seasons.
    • 52. Houston (8-5). The Cougars should contend for the American Athletic Conference title this season. They open against UTSA in the new on-campus TDECU Stadium after spending last year playing home games in the Houston Texans' NRG Stadium.
    • 51. Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4). The Ragin' Cajuns have won nine games each of the past three seasons, but are still looking for that breakthrough win against a power-conference opponent. Their next chance will be Sept. 13 at Ole Miss.

50. Navy Midshipmen

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    Average rating: 49.5

    2013 record: 9-4

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Ohio State (in Baltimore)

    Outside of the annual game against Army, Navy's football team doesn't get noticed much. But this could be the year that changes, thanks to junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds and a couple of chances to make major waves against big-time opponents.

    Reynolds ran for 31 touchdowns last season, including an FBS-record (for a quarterback) seven TDs in one game, and has a mastery of the Midshipmen's option offense. It's hard to plan for, and Navy will hope to capitalize on that in games against Ohio State in Baltimore and Notre Dame in Washington, D.C.

49. Bowling Green Falcons

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    Average rating: 49.0

    2013 record: 10-4, 7-1 in Mid-American

    Season opener: Aug. 29 at Western Kentucky

    The defending Mid-American champions—who earned that distinction by dethroning Northern Illinois and Jordan Lynch last December—bring back their big offensive weapons and most of a solid defense. What it doesn't have is the coach that piloted the 2013 season, as Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest.

    But in Dino Babers, who came over from FCS program Eastern Illinois, the Falcons might just have the coach they need to really tap into the talents of quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene. And with nonconference games against Wisconsin and Indiana, they could put all that together into a big upset.

48. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Average rating: 45.83

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

    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Eastern Illinois

    Unlike in college basketball, where nearly every team ends its season with a loss, the postseason bowl games in college football make it so many teams finish on a high note. That's not the case with Minnesota, which lost its final three contests in 2013 after an impressive 8-2 start.

    The Golden Gophers shared the quarterback job last year between Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner, but Leidner won out in the end and Nelson transferred. Leidner and running back David Cobb will be the keys to Minnesota reversing its late-season offensive woes, with Cobb telling reporters at the Big Ten media days that he plans to run for 1,500 yards in 2014 after just over 1,200 last season.

47. Utah State Aggies

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    Average rating: 43.67

    2013 record: 9-5, 7-1 in Mountain West

    Season opener: Aug. 31 at Tennessee

    Utah State overcame both the loss of its coach (to Wisconsin) and its star player (quarterback Chuckie Keeton, torn ACL and MCL) last season, yet still managed to reach the Mountain West title game and knock off mid-major darling Northern Illinois in a bowl game. Keeton is back this season, so there's no reason to think the Aggies can't have another great year.

    This program has a couple of chances for some big wins in the first month, starting with a winnable opener at Tennessee and two weeks later at home against Wake Forest. Beating any team from a power conference is huge in the Mountain West, and Utah State could very well do it twice.

46. Arizona Wildcats

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    Average rating: 42.33

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

    Season opener: Aug. 29 vs. UNLV

    In a conference where the vast majority of the teams return most if not all of their top offensive weapons, Arizona has to replace both an efficient mobile quarterback (B.J. Denker) and its record-breaking running back (Ka'Deem Carey). The quarterback job was officially filled Monday, with redshirt freshman Anu Solomon beating out three other candidates, while running back remains open, according to the Wildcats' depth chart

    Coach Rich Rodriguez has never struggled to put forth a strong offense in his career, though, so whoever gets those gigs should thrive in his system. Arizona has won eight games in each of the past two seasons, and has a great chance to do so again with a relatively manageable schedule.

45. Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Average rating: 42.1

    2013 record: 10-4, 7-1 in Conference USA

    Season opener: Aug. 30 at Miami (Ohio)

    Marshall has two things going for it that maybe no other FBS team can claim for 2014: a player that's far and away better than anyone else in its conference and a schedule that's more devoid of pitfalls than any other winning team.

    The Thundering Herd will ride the strong passing arm of senior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has been a starter for three years and was a major reason they won 10 games and played for the Conference USA title in 2013. Their top competition in C-USA from a year ago is either rebuilding (Rice) or out of the league (East Carolina, now in the American), so it should be smooth sailing in league play.

    And with no serious challenge in nonconference play, Marshall has the best shot of any FBS team to go unbeaten this season.

44. Oregon State Beavers

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    Average rating: 41.5

    2013 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Pac-12

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Portland State

    Oregon State loses the nation's best receiver from a year ago in Brandin Cooks, but with the guy who was passing to him (Sean Mannion) back for one more prolific year, the Beavers should once again have a potent passing offense. The key for OSU will be finding consistency, something it had for only one stretch in 2013.

    The Beavers lost to an FCS team to start last season, then ran off six straight wins only to drop five in a row and back into a bowl game at 6-6. They beat Boise State to end on a high note, but now head into a season where they must play three ranked Pac-12 opponents on the road.

43. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Average rating: 40.9

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. William & Mary

    The nation's longest-tenured coach, Frank Beamer, has another good team at his disposal at Virginia Tech. He traditionally has good squads, but unlike a decade or so ago, they're not ones that will contend for national titles anymore.

    Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is the Hokies' quarterback, taking over for multiyear starter Logan Thomas. The defense will again be the anchor of this program, with a lockdown secondary being the strongest part.

    A favorable schedule—there's no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on there—makes it possible for Tech to win the Coastal Division, assuming it can avoid lackluster efforts that seem to pop up each year of late.

42. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Average rating: 40.75

    2013 record: 7-5, 4-4 in Big Ten

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. UCF (in Dublin, Ireland)

    Though still under an NCAA postseason ban, the excitement surrounding Penn State's football program is as high as it's been in a decade with the arrival of new coach James Franklin. After leading Vanderbilt to its best three-year stretch in school history, he comes to the Nittany Lions with a swagger and approach that has them poised to be a power again.

    Franklin and sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg will be a fun pair to watch work together this season, especially as Penn State gets to play a major role in how the Big Ten plays out. The Lions host both Ohio State and Michigan State, the latter coming in the final game of the regular season.

41. Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Average rating: 40.63

    2013 record: 9-4, 6-2 in American

    Season opener: Sept. 12 vs. Toledo

    Cincinnati flew mostly under the radar last year but still managed to put together a solid season, though it failed to win any of its big games. The Bearcats are due to get more attention in 2014, both as one of the top contenders to win their league but also because of the presence of Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel at quarterback.

    Cincinnati has a chance to get some major attention during the first month of the season if it can pull off an upset against a power-conference opponent, as it plays at both Ohio State and Miami (Fla.). The riverboat-gambler reputation of coach Tommy Tuberville makes a win in either game very plausible.

40. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Average rating: 40.25

    2013 record: 4-8, 2-7 in Big 12

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Samford

    An inconsistent offense was too much for TCU's solid defensive unit to overcome last season, leading to the Horned Frogs' worst season in 16 years and a huge backslide from the level they'd been in for the past decade. Coach Gary Patterson brought in some fresh minds to rework the offense in the form of co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Among their tasks includes figuring out what to do with quarterback/receiver/running back Trevone Boykin.

    The Frogs were hoping their defense would be even stronger than in 2013 with the return of Devonte Fields, a defensive end who missed most of last year but was voted by Big 12 media as the preseason defensive player of the year. But when Fields was separated from the program in connection with an alleged assault, plans for how he'd have been used were scrapped.

39. Michigan Wolverines

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    Average rating: 37.8

    2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 in Big Ten

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Appalachian State

    With a new offensive coordinator and one of the most notable defensive recruits in school history joining the program, hopes are high that Michigan can reverse a two-year downswing in 2014.

    The Wolverines hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama to run their offense, a unit that in 2013 had games where it scored in the 60s and others where it would have negative rushing yards. The defense failed to stop most opponents, but the arrival of 5-star defensive back Jabrill Peppers is expected to help shore up some of those holes.

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke is one of several high-profile coaches entering this season on the hot seat, according to Ralph Russo of The Associated Press. Trips to Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State can make that seat even warmer if things don't go well for the Wolverines.

38. BYU Cougars

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    Average rating: 37.6

    2013 record: 8-5

    Season opener: Aug. 29 at Connecticut

    Entering its fourth season as a football independent, BYU has another strong team that has a chance to make some waves by facing notable opponents all over the country. That just doesn't include any from the SEC and only a bottom-feeder from the ACC, two leagues that don't consider the Cougars to be a worthy foe.

    Those that will face BYU this season know what the most important concern is to deal with: junior quarterback Taysom Hill. A still-evolving passer, Hill is one of the best running quarterbacks in the country and he's apt to show that in games against Texas, Virginia, California, UCF and Boise State.

37. Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes

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    Average rating: 37.6

    2013 record: 9-4, 5-3 in ACC

    Season opener: Sept. 1 at Louisville

    Miami is going with a true freshman at quarterback for its opener, a sign of both how much promise this team could show in 2014 but also how desperate the Hurricanes are at such an important position.

    Coach Al Golden named Brad Kaaya the starter on Sunday, beating out Kansas senior transfer Jake Heaps for the job. Kaaya will be wise to take advantage as often as possible of the fact that he has a healthy Duke Johnson available at running back, as Johnson's absence in the second half of last year after an ankle injury contributed to Miami's season falling apart.

36. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Average rating: 35.7

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Central Arkansas

    Texas Tech got off to one of the best starts in school history when it opened 7-0 under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, then fell hard back to Earth with five straight losses to end the regular season before a great performance in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State salvaged the season.

    The Red Raiders found their quarterback in that game in freshman Davis Webb, which was a good thing since several other passers transferred out of the program. Webb is the guy in Lubbock. He will be without his No. 1 weapon from a year ago (tight end Jace Amaro), but Tech is never short of pass-catchers.

35. Boise State Broncos

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    Average rating: 34.88

    2013 record: 8-5, 6-2 in Mountain West

    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Ole Miss (in Atlanta)

    Boise State is entering the biggest year of uncertainty that the program has had since its first few seasons of FBS play in the mid-1990s, as the Broncos have a new coach in Bryan Harsin and they're playing in a Mountain West Conference that's getting deeper and making it harder for them to dominate.

    Boise had its worst record since 1998, before it became a BCS buster and the standard bearer for mid-major football. Harsin inherits a good team, one that has productive running back Jay Ajayi as its main weapon, and again the Broncos will challenge themselves with nonconference games such as the opener in Atlanta and at home against their potential mid-major successor, Louisiana-Lafayette.

34. UCF Knights

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    Average rating: 33.6

    2013 record: 12-1, 8-0 in American

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Penn State (in Dublin, Ireland)

    Not many people gave much consideration to UCF before last season, but when all was said and done, it was the Knights that won the last-ever automatic BCS bid given to the Big East/American after a season in which they pulled off shocking road wins at Penn State and highly regarded Louisville.

    But it's back to the forgotten land for UCF again this year. With quarterback Blake Bortles in the pros, the Knights are again out of mind. In fact, the only reason anyone is talking about the Knights heading into the first week of the season is because of the possibility their opener against Penn State in Ireland might be adversely impacted by a volcano.

33. Duke Blue Devils

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    Average rating: 32.2

    2013 record: 10-4, 6-2 in ACC

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Elon

    Duke is coming off its best season in school history, and has put together back-to-back bowl trips for the first time ever. The Blue Devils likely won't be able to match or surpass what they did in 2013, but they do have enough talent to get another bowl invite, which is still a huge accomplishment for this long-downtrodden program.

    Quarterback Anthony Boone will turn early and often to senior receiver Jamison Crowder, who is in line to become the ACC's career receptions and receiving yards leader. Duke's defense should also be strong, particularly in the secondary, and a schedule that features only one team ranked in the preseason Top 25 makes for a good opportunity to put up at least eight wins.

32. Florida Gators

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    Average rating: 31.6

    2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 in SEC

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Idaho

    Coming off its worst season in more than 30 years, Florida has the chance to make a huge turnaround similar to the one Auburn put forth last season. The Gators aren't likely to contend for a national title, but if they can stay healthy and develop their offense effectively, a shot at the SEC East title isn't out of reach.

    Jeff Driskel was looking good before he broke his leg early in the 2013 season. Now that the quarterback is healthy, he has the chance to lead an offensive resurrection under new coordinator Kurt Roper. And Florida's defense should again be solid, mixing veterans with newcomers who all have the chance to be superstars.

31. Louisville Cardinals

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    Average rating: 31.5

    2013 record: 12-1, 7-1 in ACC

    Season opener: Sept. 1 vs. Miami (Fla.)

    After winning about as much as it possibly could in the Big East/American, Louisville moves into the ACC this season in what could either be a transition year or a mammoth debut depending on how the team fares under coach Bobby Petrino.

    Petrino, who previously coached Louisville in the mid-2000s before leaving for the NFL, has a reputation as an offensive guru who will put up big numbers. That's how the Cardinals will need to win games, but their attack was dealt a major blow over the weekend when top receiver DeVante Parker suffered a broken bone in his foot that will keep him out six to eight weeks.

    Even without Parker, Louisville should be dangerous, and still stands as one of the teams with the best chances to knock off Florida State when it hosts the defending national champs on Oct. 30.

30. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Average rating: 31.4

    2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 in SEC

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Southern Mississippi

    Mississippi State is riding a stretch of four straight winning seasons, the longest such period of prosperity for the Bulldogs since 1997 to 2000. The Bulldogs have the talent to extend that run another year, but will need to avoid the same kind of stumbles that occurred last season to make that happen.

    MSU needed to win its final two games just to become bowl-eligible in 2013. This fall, it will put all of its faith in junior quarterback Dak Prescott, one of the most underrated dual-threat passers in the country.

    The Bulldogs' schedule is one that could again feature runs of good and bad, as it opens soft, then gets really difficult before an even easier slate in late October and early November, ultimately followed by a finish that includes Alabama and rival Ole Miss.

29. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Average rating: 31.4

    2013 record: 10-3, 7-2 in Big 12

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Florida State (in Arlington, Texas)

    Oklahoma State was a few minutes away from winning the Big 12 title and heading to the Fiesta Bowl last December, but then it fell to rival Oklahoma and later dropped the Cotton Bowl to Missouri. The Cowboys bring more than a two-game skid into 2014; they also have new starters in key roles on both sides of the defense.

    Former starter J.W. Walsh appears to be the front-runner for the quarterback job, though coach Mike Gundy hasn't officially decided between Walsh and Arizona transfer Daxx Garman, according to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Other spots will be filled by a mix of backups and newcomers, including the very exciting Tyreek Hill, a 4-star junior college transfer.

    The Cowboys get a whopper of an opener by facing defending champ Florida State in Arlington, Texas, this weekend, but then spend a month at home to work out the kinks. The final month is hellacious, though, with trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.

28. East Carolina Pirates

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    Average rating: 31.33

    2013 record: 10-3, 6-2 in Conference USA

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. North Carolina Central

    The American Athletic Conference has lost its status as a "power league," no longer given an automatic berth to college football's major postseason contests. But the league isn't devoid of good teams, and that's led by AAC newcomer East Carolina.

    The Pirates move over from Conference USA (along with Tulane and Tulsa) after several successful years in that league. Though the competition will be somewhat upgraded in league play, they'll also get battle-tested in nonconference play against both North Carolina and South Carolina. Those early games can help the country find out about ECU and its prolific senior quarterback, Shane Carden.

27. Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Average rating: 29.0

    2013 record: 8-5, 5-3 in Big Ten

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Northern Iowa

    With Brandon Scherff once again anchoring the left side of Iowa's offensive line, the Hawkeyes should be able to once again methodically move the ball slowly and surely and put up enough points to win the games it should. Same goes for Iowa's defense, led by tackle Carl Davis, which will keep most opponents from running wild.

    Iowa won't ever be confused with being a flashy team, but it will be a lot more like the 2013 team that played in a New Year's Day bowl than the one that went 4-8 the season before. The Hawkeyes do have an edge over the teams they'll contend with for the Big Ten West title, though, in that Wisconsin and Nebraska both come to Iowa City in the final two weeks of the season.

26. Texas Longhorns

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    Average rating: 28.2

    2013 record: 8-5, 7-2 in Big 12

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. North Texas

    In the first year of the Charlie Strong era in Texas, wins shouldn't be as important as developing a new culture. That's what Strong has been doing during the offseason with his suspensions and dismissals, which are removing players that don't buy in but also potentially affecting the Longhorns' depth and overall performance this season.

    Texas isn't exactly devoid of talent, not with quarterback David Ash finally healthy again, a pair of good running backs in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray and a defense led by Cedric Reed. But that might not be enough to match last year's win total, not with a schedule that features games against three Top 10 teams (UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma) in a one-month span in the first half of the season.

25. Missouri Tigers

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    Average rating: 27.0

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota State

    Missouri was a surprise winner of the SEC's East Division in 2013, but even with most of that team's best players gone from the roster, it wouldn't be that shocking to see the Tigers contend again for the division crown.

    Maty Mauk inherits the quarterback job full time after his brief audition as an injury fill-in for James Franklin last season as a redshirt freshman. He won't have the big weapons that Franklin had at his disposal a year ago, but the Tigers should still be more than capable of moving the ball.

    Where the Tigers' season will be dictated is by how its revamped defense, which lost stellar linemen Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, can handle another year of SEC opponents that include Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

24. Washington Huskies

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    Average rating: 26.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 at Hawaii

    Chris Petersen comes over from almost a decade of near-perfection with Boise State to try to keep Washington at the level it got to last season, its best since 2000. His move from mid-major power to sleeping big-school giant is one of the most interesting stories to watch this season.

    The Huskies have mostly new players in the spotlight on offense, but they have a very good defense that should be the driving force in most big games. And Washington has several of those, hosting Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA in Seattle while visiting Northwest rival Oregon.

23. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Average rating: 26.6

    2013 record: 9-4, 4-4

    Season opener: Aug. 28 at South Carolina

    There's no more Johnny Manziel at the helm of Texas A&M, but that is only one piece of the puzzle that coach Kevin Sumlin has to try to construct in order to keep the Aggies' momentum of the past two years going this season. Sumlin not only has to make sure his revamped set of offensive skill players can produce as well as in 2013-14 but also get at least some help from the defense.

    That defense was horrible in 2013, and it might not be much better this season. Many true freshmen are expected to play right away. Though that includes numerous highly regarded recruits, that still means some will be playing earlier than they would at other programs.

    A&M will get no favors from the SEC schedule, which starts early with a trip Thursday to South Carolina and also features trips to Alabama and Auburn. By the end of the year, the Aggies should be far better than at the outset, but the record might not indicate as such.

22. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Average rating: 26.0

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Liberty

    North Carolina was two very different teams in 2013: the one that underachieved during a 1-5 start and the one that came alive to win six of seven down the stretch. Larry Fedora only lost a few pieces from that squad, and expectations are as high as ever in Chapel Hill.

    But another slow start could happen, based on how UNC's schedule gets increasingly harder over its first five games. Other than the opener against FCS Liberty, the next six games are all against teams that played in bowls last season and are likely to do so again in 2014.

    The Heels were picked to finish fourth in the ACC's Coastal Division, but have the talent (including dynamic receiver/punt returner Ryan Switzer) to win their first division title.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Average rating: 23.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Florida Atlantic

    With a very strong possibility that Nebraska will once again put up a similar season record as in Bo Pelini's first six years, there could be a move to change the football team's mascot to the four-losses. A quick scan of the Cornhuskers' schedule shows four very tough road games and a home schedule that doesn't provide many major challenges.

    For Nebraska to break from its mold, it needs senior running back Ameer Abdullah to put up big rushing numbers and get contributions from other offensive players. If not, a defense that has seen three starters lost for the year because of injury or suspension might not be able to handle the added pressure.

    Pelini was on the hot seat for much of last season, and he could be again if he cannot improve on what he's done the past six years. This is a school that fired Frank Solich after going 58-19 in six years (including 9-3 in that final season), so it's not far-fetched to say this is a must-win season for Pelini.

20. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Average rating: 20.2

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

    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Boise State (in Atlanta)

    Ole Miss hasn't had three straight winning seasons since a run of seven in a row from 1997 to 2003, but that should all change this fall thanks to one of the most talented teams the program has put on the field in decades.

    Senior Bo Wallace is the SEC's most experienced quarterback, a three-year starter who has won a pair of bowl games but is also just 6-10 in conference games. He and sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell will be a fun pass-catching combo to watch this season, while on defense, the Rebels have a great blend of young and veteran stars to lead the charge.

    A key to Ole Miss' season will be a pair of back-to-back challenges, first against Alabama and Texas A&M and then later against LSU and Auburn. It will need to avoid going 0-4 in those contests to ensure progress continues in Oxford.

19. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Average rating: 19.2

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Stephen F. Austin

    Kansas State was one of the nation's best teams in the second half of last season, winning six of seven, including a dominant performance over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. And the Wildcats bring back most of the people responsible for that late surge, most notably quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett on offense, as well as defensive end Ryan Mueller.

    The Wildcats should be solid again this year, and any holes they have will be filled with junior-college transfers, as is often the case under coach Bill Snyder. But Kellis Robinett of the The Wichita Eagle noted that high-impact transfers such as defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, linebacker D’Vonta Derricott and offensive lineman A.J. Allen all missed the start of training camp and all of the summer workouts while shoring up eligibility issues.

    Even with those guys getting off to a slow start, expect K-State to fare well in 2014. Whether the Wildcats are good enough to knock off one of the three Top 10 teams (Auburn, Baylor and Oklahoma) they face this year remains to be seen.

18. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Average rating: 18.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Weber State

    Arizona State is a defending division champion, but also a team that is riding a two-game losing streak heading into this season. The Sun Devils' skid shouldn't extend any further thanks to a soft first three games, but that might be as much of a curse as a blessing.

    ASU has to make sure its offense can operate effectively without Marion Grice, the great pass-catching running back whose injury late last year coincided with the defeats. Quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong will fare well no matter what, but without good balance that will mean the Devils' defense will need to do more. And that unit has to replace big contributors from last season such as lineman Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford.

    After that easy first quarter of the season, it gets a lot tougher. ASU has four straight games against teams ranked in the preseason AP poll and five of six in one stretch. Though most are at home, it still won't make for many guaranteed wins.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Average rating: 17.4

    2013 record: 9-4

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Rice

    It's hard to really look at a 9-4 record as a down year, but after Notre Dame went unbeaten in the regular season and reached the BCS title game in 2012, such evaluations occur. But the Fighting Irish have a key piece of that '12 team back in quarterback Everett Golson, who missed all of last season because of academic issues.

    Golson's return is big, but it won't help Notre Dame replace several big names on defense, including coordinator Bob Diaco, now running the program at Connecticut. The Irish also lost their offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin, to a head coaching job in the Mid-American, so there's turnover to deal with both in the personnel and coaching staff.

    Throw in an unforgiving schedule with very few breathers, and Notre Dame will be hard-pressed to win enough games to get into the College Football Playoff.

16. Clemson Tigers

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    Average rating: 17.2

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 at Georgia

    This season will have two main storylines for Clemson: whether its offense is really capable of producing big numbers despite the loss of its 2013 stars, and if the Tigers' defense can step up and become the dominant side of the ball. If even one of those is able to happen, there shouldn't be much drop-off from the past few seasons.

    Clemson has had to replace pretty much every major offensive weapon, meaning senior Cole Stoudt will be at quarterback and be surrounded by fellow inexperienced skill players. On defense, though, the return of senior end Vic Beasley and other key contributors should make for some fun times when the Tigers are rushing the passer.

    The Tigers won't have time to settle into these new scenarios, though, as they open with games against Georgia, Florida State and North Carolina in the first month of the season.

15. USC Trojans

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    Average rating: 14.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Fresno State

    USC heads into 2014 with far more stability than it had at nearly any point last season, a year in which it saw its head coach get fired and dealt with near-constant injury issues yet still was in the hunt for a division title and reached double digits in wins.

    Steve Sarkisian has come back from Washington to take over the Trojans, and he inherits a very talented team that's thin in the depth department thanks to lingering NCAA scholarship-limitation sanctions. That said, he has some great returners to rely upon, such as quarterback Cody Kessler, receiver Nelson Agholor and safety Su'a Cravens.

    Three true freshmen are listed as starters on the depth chart for USC in its opener, including two on the offensive line. That both shows the team's immense talent pool as well as its depth issues, which took another blow on Monday when the school announced cornerback Josh Shaw was out indefinitely after suffering a pair of high ankle sprains this past weekend. 

14. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Average rating: 12.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Clemson

    Georgia was highly rated to open the 2013 season, but injuries and defensive miscues led to an uneven campaign that fell far below expectations. The hype around the Bulldogs is back again this year, even with a new quarterback and continued defensive concerns.

    Hutson Mason, a senior, filled in admirably for all-time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray late last season, and now he's in charge. He won't be alone on offense, not with potential Heisman contender Todd Gurley leading a strong Georgia backfield.

    The Bulldogs will need to get their defense to perform somewhat well, though, in order to win the East Division and go from there, especially with trips to Missouri and South Carolina as well as contests at home against Clemson and Auburn.

13. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Average rating: 12.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. LSU (in Houston)

    The first season under coach Gary Andersen went very well, other than at the end when Wisconsin lost its last two games and went from being confident at quarterback to having an offseason competition. Junior Tanner McEvoy ended up winning that competition, beating out Joel Stave despite being a safety last season.

    The quarterback situation is allayed somewhat by the return of one of the nation's best running backs, junior Melvin Gordon. He hasn't been used as much as other No. 1 rushers on other teams, only accumulating 206 carries in 2013, and his career average of more than eight yards per carry is something big to build around.

    Wisconsin's defense could be a weak spot if it can't replace departed stars from last season, but if those issues can be sorted out, the Badgers should have a great chance to hold off Iowa and Nebraska for the Big Ten's West Division.

12. LSU Tigers

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    Average rating: 12.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Wisconsin (in Houston)

    Having the No. 1 overall prospect from the past recruiting class on the roster adds a certain combination of excitement and uncertainty to a team. That describes LSU in 2014 to a T, because the highly anticipated debut of running back Leonard Fournette has overshadowed nearly every other storyline for the Tigers heading into this season.

    That includes pushing aside who will be LSU's quarterback, which is still up in the air between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. There's also the question of how the Tigers will once again replace a laundry list of starters who graduated or went pro early, but that's been a near-annual occurrence in Baton Rouge.

    LSU has averaged 11 wins over the past four seasons, despite all that attrition, so the odds are good Les Miles will be able to work in all of his new players into roles that will make them and the Tigers successful.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Average rating: 10.8

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

    Season opener: Aug. 28 vs. Texas A&M

    Whenever South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier talks, you have to take his words with a grain of salt that he might be setting up another elaborate troll job. That's why, when The State's Josh Kendall quoted him this summer as saying "there's more to life than the SEC championship," you don't know what the angle is.

    That's because winning the SEC and getting past 11 wins is the ceiling that Spurrier and the Gamecocks haven't been able to break through. Last year might have been the best chance, with Jadeveon Clowney dominating on the defensive line and underrated quarterback Connor Shaw leading on that side, but instead it was another 6-2 mark in the conference and no bid to the SEC title game.

    South Carolina could do better this fall based on how its schedule plays out. It hasn't lost at home in nearly three years, and only one major SEC test is on the road (Oct. 25 at Auburn), while it hosts main East Division foes Missouri and Georgia.

10. Baylor Bears

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    Average rating: 9.8

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

    Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. SMU

    Coming off its first conference title of any sort since the early 1980s, and the first ever in the Big 12, Baylor gets to hang all the banners and accolades from that magical season in a swanky new stadium. But as flashy as McLane Stadium will look, it pales in comparison to the Bears' offense, which should once again contend for all national leads.

    Senior quarterback Bryce Petty and top receiver Antwan Goodley pace a unit that will have some new faces running the ball and catching it, but that won't mean Baylor won't still score tons of points. And if the Bears do struggle to get on the scoreboard, its underrated defense will make stops when needed.

    There are only two major hurdles to Baylor getting into the playoffs: a weak nonconference schedule and having to play its most important conference game on the road, at Oklahoma, where it's never won before.

9. Stanford Cardinal

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    Average rating: 9.2

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. UC Davis

    Stanford has won 46 games the past four seasons, all of which ended with trips to a BCS bowl. The Cardinal have done that despite having to replace major stars on offense and/or defense after each campaign, and the same is the case for 2014.

    Gone is workhorse running back Tyler Gaffney and defensive stars Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. But still in place is quarterback Kevin Hogan, receiver/return specialist Ty Montgomery and an all-around solid defense that just isn't as star driven as the year before.

    The Cardinal also saw defensive coordinator Derek Mason leave to become a head coach, but David Shaw and his remaining staff have things under control for another double-digit-win season. Topping Oregon and taking the Pac-12 are again in the cards for the most consistent program out west.

8. Michigan State Spartans

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    Average rating: 9.0

    2013 record: 13-1, 7-1 in Big Ten

    Season opener: Aug. 29 vs. Jacksonville State

    Few projected Michigan State would not only win its division last year but also top Ohio State for the Big Ten title and then go on to win the Rose Bowl. But now that all of that is happening, the wonder is whether the Spartans are here for good or set up to fall back again, as they have in the past.

    MSU has only once put together back-to-back strong years since Mark Dantonio took over in 2007, registering 11 wins in 2010-11, but then it fell to 7-6 in 2012. The difference this time around, though, is that the Spartans weren't senior heavy last season and therefore bring back most of the important players from the 2013 squad.

    That starts with offensive stars Connor Cook at quarterback and Jeremy Langford in the backfield, while on defense it has end Shilique Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond in place to deal with the losses of key figures from the unit that was second nationally in total defense in 2013 and allowed just 4.04 yards per snap.

7. Auburn Tigers

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    Average rating: 8.4

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Arkansas

    At this time last year, Auburn was nothing more than an afterthought, a power program with a new coach that had just gone winless in the SEC and began No. 73 in the B/R power rankings. Less than five months later, the Tigers were in the final BCS National Championship Game, falling to Florida State in the final 13 seconds.

    Needless to say, the expectations surrounding Auburn are far higher in 2014. Whether it can match (or exceed) what happened last year will depend on a few factors, not the least of which is being able to go from a hunter to the hunted.

    A lot will also depend on how much progress quarterback Nick Marshall has made going from being a run-first guy—and a very good one, at that—to a true dual-threat option who can throw with the best of them. Beyond that, Auburn will need to deal with injuries that have affected depth on defense, not to mention a hellacious schedule that features eight teams that played in bowls last season.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Average rating: 8.0

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Navy (in Baltimore)

    Last week's news that senior quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season after re-injuring his shoulder was devastating, but it shouldn't be looked at as the nail in Ohio State's coffin. Miller wasn't the sole reason the media picked the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten or to be the league's best shot at a playoff spot, and without him, they're far from cooked.

    Instead, Miller's loss will serve as a major test for how much coach Urban Meyer has built up this program in his two-plus years at the helm, writes Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch:

    Miller has been the most important player in Meyer's first two seasons at Ohio State. His absence will reveal just how effective Meyer’s concerted efforts have been to establish the culture he wants. He has instilled leadership training designed to respond to situations like this.

    Those tasked with picking up the slack include redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who will start at quarterback in place of Miller; a deep running back pool that will be trying to replace Carlos Hyde's production from 2013; and a defense that, although it lost Ryan Shazier and others to the NFL, features one of the nation's top defensive lines led by Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence.

5. UCLA Bruins

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    Average rating: 7.0

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 at Virginia

    The voters, computers and experts are all high on UCLA, which sits higher in the power rankings than either the AP, Amway or Bleacher Report polls and could qualify as the biggest dark-horse national title contender in the country. The Bruins have a lot of expectations being poured on them, and with quarterback Brett Hundley and a strong defense in place, these goals may not prove to be too lofty.

    UCLA is coming off its first 10-win season since 2005, and it controls its own destiny as far as winning the Pac-12's South Division and possibly earning a playoff spot. The Bruins host Oregon, Stanford and USC at the Rose Bowl, while also visiting Arizona State (who beat them in Los Angeles last year) and playing Texas in Arlington.

    Jim Mora has returned this program to its old high level in just two years, now making L.A. one of the hottest places for college football along with USC. Having both programs up in the rankings is good for the game, and having UCLA challenge Oregon and Stanford for Pac-12 supremacy is great for the conference.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Average rating: 4.2

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Louisiana Tech

    Still coasting on the momentum of January's strong win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma is the top-rated Big 12 team in the power rankings and has the kind of schedule that makes losing that top spot hard to imagine.

    The Sooners' toughest matchups this season, against Kansas State and Baylor, are both at home, while on the road, the most difficult tests will be against TCU and Texas Tech teams they usually handle easily. But when things get rough, Oklahoma knows it has a defense that should be capable of holding down the fort enough for quarterback Trevor Knight and his relatively inexperienced weapons to score enough to win.

    Knight is Oklahoma's most important player, as the team has no experienced backup available to step in if something were to happen. "Hopefully, I can do a decent job," Knight told Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman.

3. Oregon Ducks

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    Average rating: 3.0

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota

    In his third year leading Oregon's offense, Marcus Mariota is primed to be the top Heisman candidate out west in nearly a decade. And with Mariota riding his high ranking on NFL draft big boards, we may see the Ducks finally live up to the potential they've squandered the past two seasons.

    Oregon has lost two major players on offense since last season ended, seeing receiver Bralon Addison and tackle Tyler Johnstone both go down with knee injuries. But depth at both spots will help shore up those concerns, combining with a stacked backfield to create yet another year of prolific production. And Oregon's defense will again be strong, especially in the secondary behind shutdown corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

    A challenging schedule gets rough early with a Week 2 visit from Michigan State and continues with games against UCLA and Stanford. It will be hard for a Pac-12 school to go unbeaten in the conference, but if one can do it, the Ducks are a top contender.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Average rating: 2.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)

    Even with Alabama's quarterback situation still unsettled just days before the opener, it's hard not to like what Nick Saban has coming out of the tunnel for 2014. While he hasn't named a replacement for A.J. McCarron, and, according to Andrew Gribble of, may be considering using both senior Blake Sims and junior Jake Coker against West Virginia, that position won't make or break the Crimson Tide's season.

    Alabama is loaded at running back, wide receiver, on the offensive and defensive line and at linebacker. Its secondary is the team's weakness, but safety Landon Collins and his teammates are still better than 90 percent of other teams' defensive backs. And with only one game against a team that finished above .500 last season (Ole Miss) in the first eight weeks of the season, the Tide have time to sort out any issues that develop early.

    Saban will get everything figured out, quarterback and all, and Alabama will be right there in the SEC West title race and a battle for a semifinal spot.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    Average rating: 1.6

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

    Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma (in Arlington, Texas)

    Until someone beats the reigning champs, Florida State earns the right to be ranked No. 1 overall. It's how it was last season for two-time champion Alabama and will be the case for the Seminoles until they get knocked off.

    FSU has the pieces in place to win another title, thanks to the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston at quarterback and numerous other stars both new and old. Jimbo Fisher has returned the program to the level it was in the glory days of Bobby Bowden, and the Seminoles should be a lock for a College Football Playoff semifinal berth even if they were to suffer one loss.

    The schedule is more difficult this season, but still very manageable. The opener against Oklahoma State will be a nice test right out of the gate, while upcoming matchups with Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami will all prove challenging in their own ways.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.