College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks chats with his quarterback Connor Shaw #14 in the first half of their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The waiting and anticipation are nearly over. The 2014 college football opener is mere days away, and plenty of great matchups dot the schedule to kick off the new year.

With the new four-team playoff, the incentive for Big Five schools to schedule tough nonconference schools has only grown. Playing the Georgia Southerns and Savannah States of the world isn't going to cut it anymore.

As a result, what was arguably the best regular season in American sports gets that much better, and the margin for error is even smaller. The top teams in the country can't afford to use Week 1 to work out the kinks. If they go in with that mindset, their national title hopes will be over before they had a chance to gain steam.

The stakes couldn't be much higher this early in the season for the six teams below.

AP PollCoaches Poll
1Florida State1496Florida State1543
5Ohio State1207Auburn1271
6Auburn1198Ohio State1267
8Michigan State1080Michigan State1050
9South Carolina1015South Carolina1009
17Notre Dame445Notre Dame509
18Ole Miss424Arizona State358
19Arizona State357Ole Miss346
20Kansas State242Texas A&M266
21Texas A&M238Kansas State257
23North Carolina194North Carolina175


Games to Watch

Texas A&M Aggies at South Carolina Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 05:  Mike Davis #28 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With all due respect to the ability of Kevin Sumlin, it's fair to say that the Texas A&M offense remains a major question mark heading into the season. You can't lose players as talented and important as Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans and not expect some drop-off.

Of course, Jadeveon Clowney is a big loss for South Carolina. Even if he struggled to find consistency in 2013, the attention he demanded from opponents' offensive lines opened up gaps for his teammates.

In total, the Gamecocks are replacing three defensive linemen and two cornerbacks on the defensive side of the ball. That's why it's imperative that Mike Davis and the South Carolina running game eat up the clock and wear down what should be an improved Aggies defense.

Steve Spurrier expressed doubt as to whether Davis will be available to play. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer pointed out how pivotal the junior rusher will be:

Texas A&M will hold its own inside Williams-Brice Stadium, but South Carolina's ability to consistently get positive on the ground will be the difference.

South Carolina 31, Texas A&M 23


Clemson Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs

Jan 3, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Cole Stoudt (18) warms up prior to the 2014 Orange Bowl college football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of big losses on the offensive side of the ball, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd combined to throw for 6,926 yards and 60 touchdowns last year.

Clemson won this matchup 38-35 last year, but the Tigers were playing at home and had the duo of Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd threw three touchdowns, and Watkins had six receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Cole Stoudt looks like a good quarterback, but it's a bit unrealistic to expect him to weave the same kind of magic Boyd did against UGA last year.

The good news for the Tigers is that the front seven that constantly pressured Murray will be even stronger. Vic Beasley could have a Clowney-like impact for Clemson's defense.

This year's meeting shouldn't be the shootout that last year's was, with Georgia likely relying more heavily on the running game. And why not? Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against the Tigers last year.

"It's a huge challenge," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables of stopping Gurley, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier. "They know what they're doing and they do it well. They're very aggressive in how they run the football—they run it downhill. They attacked us, had us on our heels at times last year. They'll physically try to impose their will on you and they'll be very persistent about it."

Gurley and Keith Marshall will be up to the task. The real question for Georgia is whether Hutson Mason and the passing attack can divert Clemson's attention away from the running game. The absence of Malcolm Mitchell will make that task a bit more difficult.

You could make a strong argument for either team, but Georgia has home-field advantage. Couple that with the departures of Boyd and Watkins, and you get a close Bulldogs win.

Georgia 20, Clemson 17


Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers

Nov 30, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) rushes for yardage as Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Trevor Williams (10) defends  at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Mary

LSU and Wisconsin are strikingly similar in terms of style. The Tigers and the Badgers will rely on their running games to cover up questionable passing attacks. Neither team is going to beat you through the air.

According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tanner McEvoy will get the start Saturday, which is arguably the tougher matchup for LSU. His mobility makes him a great fit for Wisconsin's offense and will give the Tigers another headache defensively.

Gary Andersen apparently had McEvoy's speed in mind when opting for the redshirt junior, per's Travis Haney:

LSU's front seven was solid if unspectacular last season, and it will have its hands full against the combination of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Few teams will run the ball better this season than Wisconsin. The Badgers have two very talented running backs and a fantastic offensive line opening holes at the point of attack.

Having Clement and Gordon should also allow McEvoy to ease into the starting role without having to do too much against what will be a tough secondary.

In terms of personnel, LSU arguably gets the edge. The Tigers simply have more talent than Wisconsin. With that said, talent doesn't always win out; otherwise, you'd never see any upsets.

The Badgers will get the surprise victory in a defensive struggle.

Wisconsin 17, LSU 13


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