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Final Preseason Win-Loss Projections for Every Power 5 College Football Team

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Final Preseason Win-Loss Projections for Every Power 5 College Football Team

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    Jimbo Fisher and Florida State lead the way as the 2014 season begins.
    Jimbo Fisher and Florida State lead the way as the 2014 season begins.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    It’s finally here. At long last. Game week.

    When Georgia State and Abilene Christian kick off Wednesday night in the Georgia Dome, the 2014 FBS college football season will officially begin. It’ll kick into higher gear on Thursday and hit its stride on Saturday with games spread throughout the weekend.

    Fans across America are anticipating the season and looking forward to seeing just how their favorite team’s 2014 season will unfold. We’re here today with a look towards just that.

    While this is far from a perfect process, we’ve taken a look at every Power 5 conference team and tried to project their 2014 records.

    We looked at the team’s 2013 record, their returning starters, any changes in the coaching staff and of course their 2014 schedule to determine how 2014 will unfold. Will there be some surprises? Some flops? Sure. It’s an imperfect method, but this is a baseline for just how 2014 will progress for all 65 Power 5 conference teams, as well as Notre Dame.

Alabama

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    NIck Saban and Alabama hope to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2013 season.
    NIck Saban and Alabama hope to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2013 season.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    Alabama entered the homestretch of 2013 in serious contention for its third consecutive national title but ended the year on a rare two-game losing streak. Nick Saban returns only nine starters, but he and his staff have recruited well and are in position for another strong season. Quarterback remains a question mark, as Florida State transfer Jake Coker and senior Blake Sims are battling to replace the departed AJ McCarron.

    At wide receiver, junior Amari Cooper and seniors Christion Jones and DeAndrew White give solid options for the eventual starter, and junior tailback T.J. Yeldon, sophomore Derrick Henry and junior Kenyan Drake are a dynamic backfield duo.  

    Alabama returns only three starters on defense, led by junior safety standout Landon Collins. Senior end Brandon Ivory is the only returning starter on the defensive line, but there are a multitude of options led by sophomore A’Shawn Robinson and fellow sophomores Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson.  The offensive line, long an Alabama strength, has question marks, returning only two starters from a year ago.

    Alabama will host Auburn and Texas A&M, and a November visit to LSU is the biggest potential minefield. However, it has the look of a College Football Playoff contender.

    Projected Record: 12-1

Arizona

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    Rich Rodriguez is building a fast-paced competitor at Arizona.
    Rich Rodriguez is building a fast-paced competitor at Arizona.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Rich Rodriguez is building a fast-paced system in the desert, and the Wildcats return 12 starters from a team that finished 2013 with an Independence Bowl win over Boston College. Arizona has yet to settle on a starting quarterback, but the starter will be protected by an offensive line that returns four starters and will throw to a talented receiving corps that includes senior Austin Hill and speedy Notre Dame transfer Davonte’ Neal.

    There are concerns about the Wildcats’ defensive line, but the secondary, led by cornerback Jonathan McKnight, is a strength. Arizona must travel to Oregon and UCLA but will host USC and Arizona State. Another bowl bid looks to be in the cards, with potential for more.

    Projected Record: 7-5

Arizona State

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    Taylor Kelly leads Arizona State's high-powered offense.
    Taylor Kelly leads Arizona State's high-powered offense.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-3

    2014 Outlook

    Last fall, Arizona State won 10 games but returns only 10 starters from that group. However, plenty of talent remains on the Sun Devils roster. Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly is one of the nation’s most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks (4,243 yards of total offense a year ago), and junior tailback D.J. Foster is a dynamic multi-purpose threat. The Sun Devils return three starting offensive linemen, and Auburn transfer Christian Westerman figures to be a solid addition at left guard.

    ASU returns only two starters on defense (sophomore linebacker Salamo Fiso and senior free safety Damarious Randall). There isn’t much depth or experience along the defensive line or at linebacker. On the line, the Sun Devils will rely on a number of junior college transfers who’ll be tested early on.

    ASU hosts Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame and avoids Oregon from the Pac-12 North. However, there are too many questions defensively to count this team among the league’s elite.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Arkansas

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    Bret Bielema hopes to build on an ugly debut in Fayetteville.
    Bret Bielema hopes to build on an ugly debut in Fayetteville.Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 3-9

    2014 Outlook

    Bret Bielema’s first season in Fayetteville started off well enough with a 3-0 record. But the Razorbacks went winless in SEC play and return nine starters from a year ago. Tailbacks Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins form one of the nation’s top backfields, but Arkansas needs more consistency at quarterback from Brandon Allen and return only two starting offensive linemen.

    Defensively, four starters return, although senior end Trey Flowers is a major bright spot. There is also depth in the secondary, although the linebackers must improve for the defense to show overall improvement. With games against Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Auburn and a trip to Texas Tech on the docket, it’s hard to see a bowl bid in this team’s future.

    Projected Record: 4-8

     

Auburn

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    Nick Marshall and Auburn won't sneak up on anyone this fall.
    Nick Marshall and Auburn won't sneak up on anyone this fall.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 12-2

    2014 Outlook

    Auburn was one of the nation’s most surprising teams last fall, rebounding from 3-9 to make a run to the BCS National Championship and pushing Florida State to the wire before falling in the final seconds. Twelve starters return from that team, led by senior quarterback Nick Marshall. Three starting offensive linemen also return.

    Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason is gone, but seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant mean the Tigers won’t miss a beat in the backfield. Juniors Sammie Coates and Quan Bray lead a deep receiving corps, and junior college transfer D’haquille Williams could emerge as one of the nation’s most dynamic weapons.

    A defensive line keyed by seniors Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens will wreak havoc on opposing offenses, although projected starting defensive end Carl Lawson will miss much of the season with a torn ACL. Junior DaVonte Lambert must step into a bigger role at end, and only two starters return in the secondary.

    The Tigers make a treacherous trip to Kansas State and also must travel to Alabama and Georgia, although they host LSU and Texas A&M. Can they live on the edge as successfully as they did a year ago?

    Projected Record: 10-2

Baylor

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    Bryce Petty is a dynamic weapon for Baylor at quarterback.
    Bryce Petty is a dynamic weapon for Baylor at quarterback.LM Otero/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    Art Briles and Baylor open a sparkling new stadium coming off the program’s best season in recent memory. The Bears won the Big 12 title, their first outright league title in 33 years, but return only nine starters from that team. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty is a dynamic weapon and a Heisman Trophy candidate. He’ll have some solid options to throw to in wideouts Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman. Sophomore tailback Shock Linwood leads a deep, capable backfield.

    The Bears return only two starting defensive linemen but have a deep, talented front regardless, particularly at defensive tackle. However, junior Terrell Burt is the only returning starter in the secondary, and senior linebacker Bryce Hager is the only returning starting linebacker.

    Baylor travels to Oklahoma and Texas but hosts Kansas State and Oklahoma State. There are some concerns with so many new starters, but don’t expect too much of a step back this fall.

    Projected Record: 10-2

Boston College

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    Boston College and Steve Addazio hope to build on a positive first season this fall.
    Boston College and Steve Addazio hope to build on a positive first season this fall.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    A year ago, Boston College took a big step forward in Steve Addazio’s first season, going 7-6 with an Independence Bowl bid. The Eagles return only nine starters from that team and only three on offense. Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams is gone after rushing for over 2,000 yards, and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy must play a big role in the offense, although BC will still run with sophomore Myles Willis as the lead back.

    Six starters return on defense, led by junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles in 2013). The Eagles host Clemson and Louisville but travel to Florida State and Virginia Tech while also hosting Southern Cal in the non-conference schedule. A second consecutive bowl bid would be an accomplishment.

    Projected Record: 6-6

     

Cal

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    Jared Goff and Cal hope to build on a difficult 2013.
    Jared Goff and Cal hope to build on a difficult 2013.TONY AVELAR/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 1-11

    2014 Outlook

    Sonny Dykes’ first season at Cal was nightmarish. The Bears won only one game (against FCS foe Portland State) and finished the season on a 10-game losing streak. Cal returns 10 starters, six on offense, led by sophomore quarterback Jared Goff (who had 3,508 yards of total offense a year ago).

    The defense allowed 45.9 points per game, No. 122 in the FBS, so maybe it’s better that only four starters return. The defensive staff was overhauled, led by new coordinator Art Kaufman.

    A non-conference slate that features games against BYU and Northwestern offers few gimmes, and neither does the Pac-12 schedule that includes games against Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Improvement might be hard to find this fall.

    Projected Record: 2-10

     

Clemson

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    Cole Stoudt finally gets a chance to run Clemson's offense as a senior.
    Cole Stoudt finally gets a chance to run Clemson's offense as a senior.RAINIER EHRHARDT/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    Clemson is coming off an 11-2 season and an Orange Bowl win, and the Tigers are determined to reload, not rebuild after losing NFL first-round pick Sammy Watkins (the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards and receptions), quarterback Tajh Boyd (the ACC’s all-time passing touchdowns leader and No. 2 all-time in passing touchdowns) and 1,000-yard rusher Rod McDowell, among others.

    The defense has improved significantly in two years under coordinator Brent Venables, allowing 22.2 points per game last fall (No. 24 nationally). It should be even better this fall. The Tigers’ entire two-deep defensive line returns, led by All-America senior defensive end Vic Beasley. They also return only one secondary starter in senior Robert Smith, although big things are expected of redshirt freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander and sophomore safety Jayron Kearse.

    With first-time starting quarterback Cole Stoudt leading the way, the schedule begins in a highly difficult fashion with Saturday’s opener at Georgia, followed by the third game at Florida State. But aside from the regular-season home finale against South Carolina, it gets highly manageable from there. There’s no reason this group can’t find double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season.

    Projected Record: 10-2

     

     

Colorado

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    Mike MacIntyre hopes for bigger things in his second season in Colorado.
    Mike MacIntyre hopes for bigger things in his second season in Colorado.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    The move to the Pac-12 hasn’t worked as Colorado had hoped. The Buffaloes have won four league games in their three seasons in the league and hope to build on that this fall. They return seven starters from an offense that averaged 25.4 points per game, 11th in the Pac-12. They’re hoping for bigger things from sophomore Sefo Liufau. The skill positions have talent, but improvement is needed from the offensive line.

    Defensively, Colorado returns seven starters from a year ago, although the defense allowed 38.3 points per game, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Junior defensive tackle Josh Tupou is the leader on the defensive line, although the secondary has excellent depth, led by senior cornerback Greg Henderson.

    With trips to USC, Oregon and Arizona on the slate, as well as visits from UCLA and Washington, it’s hard to see this as a bowl team.

    Projected Record: 4-8

Duke

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    David Cutcliffe has built a solid program at Duke.
    David Cutcliffe has built a solid program at Duke.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-4

    2014 Outlook

    Duke is coming off a breakthrough season that saw the program’s first ACC division title and a Chick-fil-A Bowl bid and returns 13 starters, led by senior quarterback Anthony Boone, who spent last season in a timeshare with Brandon Connette (who transferred to Fresno State). Senior wideout Jamison Crowder is a big-time threat, and the Blue Devils return three starting offensive linemen as well.

    The Blue Devils’ defense ranked near the bottom of the ACC in most categories and returns five starters, but the loss of middle linebacker Kelby Brown to a torn ACL is a significant blow.

    Duke avoids Clemson and Florida State but must travel to Miami and Georgia Tech. However, they close the season with Virginia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest at home.

    2014 Projection: 8-4

Florida

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    Will Muschamp faces significant pressure in his fourth season in Gainesville.
    Will Muschamp faces significant pressure in his fourth season in Gainesville.Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    Will Muschamp enters 2013 firmly on the hot seat after Florida fell from 11-2 in 2012 to 4-8 last fall. It was the program’s first losing season since 1979, with the ultimate insult a November home loss to then-FCS team Georgia Southern. The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi says this is must-win season for Muschamp.

    Without 15 players who suffered season-ending injuries (most notably quarterback Jeff Driskel), Florida finished No. 113 nationally in total offense and scoring offense. Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and replaced him with Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper, a David Cutcliffe acolyte, helped fuel the Blue Devils’ 10-win season and ACC Coastal Division title in 2013 with a fast-paced spread offense that emphasizes the shotgun formation, which should better fit the Gators’ offensive talent.

    Florida returns seven starters on defense, led by star sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. The schedule isn’t easy (trips to Alabama and Florida State and visits from LSU and South Carolina), but the Gators should be significantly improved this fall.

    Projected record: 8-4

     

     

Florida State

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    Jameis Winston and Florida State are embracing defending their national title.
    Jameis Winston and Florida State are embracing defending their national title.Phil Sears/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 14-0

    2014 Outlook 

    Florida State returns to defend its BCS National Championship with a strong, deep roster. The Seminoles return the defending Heisman Trophy winner in sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston, four starting offensive linemen (and projected starter Austin Barron was a part-time starter a year ago) and six starters from a defense that yielded 12.1 points per game last fall, best nationally.

    Three starters return in the secondary, and junior end Mario Edwards should be one of the nation’s top pass-rushers this fall. And even though the top two rushers from 2013 are gone, senior Karlos Williams had 730 yards as the third-team back last fall.

    FSU must find a deep-threat replacement for NFL first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. The schedule is favorable, with Clemson and Notre Dame at home, although going to Louisville on Thursday night could be a potential trap. This looks like a College Football Playoff team.

    Projected Record: 13-0

Georgia

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    Hutson Mason finally gets the chance to take the reins of Georgia's offense this fall.
    Hutson Mason finally gets the chance to take the reins of Georgia's offense this fall.Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Mark Richt’s bunch had a disappointing season last fall, although a nasty run of injuries played a big role in an eight-win season. The Bulldogs are healthier as they prepare for a huge season opener against Clemson. The defense will get a fresh look with nine returning starters under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Despite losing multiple secondary members to offseason disciplinary issues, UGA still has two returning starters in senior Damian Swann and sophomore Quincy Mauger.

    First-team All-SEC senior linebacker Ramik Wilson leads a solid group of returnees that also includes senior Amarlo Herrera and junior Jordan Jenkins. Juniors Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall comprise one of the nation’s top backfields. The wide receiver corps is deep and talented.  New senior starting quarterback Hutson Mason finally gets his chance as a starter after spending three seasons behind Aaron Murray, who left UGA as the SEC’s most statistically prolific quarterback ever.

    The Bulldogs host Clemson and travel to South Carolina in the first two weeks, have their annual neutral-site game against Florida and host Auburn and Georgia Tech in November. If the defense improves, this team could challenge for the SEC East title.

    Projected Record: 9-3

Georgia Tech

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    Justin Thomas must prove he can run Georgia Tech's offense this fall.
    Justin Thomas must prove he can run Georgia Tech's offense this fall.John Amis/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Is the bloom off Paul Johnson’s tenure at Georgia Tech?

    The Yellow Jackets went 20-7 in his first two seasons on the Flats with an ACC title (later vacated due to NCAA sanctions). Since then, Tech is just 28-25 overall, 19-16 in ACC play.

    This fall, Johnson will break in a new quarterback in sophomore Justin Thomas following incumbent Vad Lee’s transfer to James Madison. Tech returns 11 starters but must replace three starting offensive linemen and nurture replacements for All-America defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and playmaking safety Jemea Thomas.

    The ACC Coastal Division is wide-open. Tech must travel to Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia but hosts Clemson, Miami and Duke.  A division title is well within Johnson’s grasp.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Illinois

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    Tim Beckman is firmly on the hot seat at Illinois.
    Tim Beckman is firmly on the hot seat at Illinois.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    In two seasons at Illinois, Tim Beckman is 6-18 with only one Big Ten win. He’ll need significant improvement this fall, as there have been questions about his job status following both seasons, per Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times.

    Illinois returns 14 starters and will install Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt at quarterback, which should help an offense that was capable a year ago. The defense returns eight starters, but is that a good thing? It allowed 35.4 points per game a year ago.

    The Fighting Illini need to get bowl-eligible this fall, and the schedule makes that a possibility. With a soft non-conference slate that features Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State as well as a Big Ten schedule that avoids Michigan and Michigan State, six wins and a bowl bid are entirely within Illinois’ grasp.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Indiana

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    Kevin Wilson and Indiana hope for a breakthrough this fall.
    Kevin Wilson and Indiana hope for a breakthrough this fall.Andy Manis/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    2014 Outlook

    Indiana has not made a bowl game since 2007, so the Hoosiers hope this is the season that changes things. Kevin Wilson returns 15 starters on offense, although Tre Roberson’s surprising transfer gives reason for pause, with junior Nate Sudfeld stepping into the starting role. The offense averaged 38.2 points per game a year ago, 16th nationally.

    The defense allowed 38.8 points per game, No. 114 nationally, but does return nine starters while transitioning into a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Brian Knorr.

    IU travels to Iowa, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio State while hosting Penn State and Maryland. Even with some improvement, a bowl bid might be a stretch.

    Projected Record: 5-7

     

Iowa

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    Iowa has a strong backfield led by Mark Weisman.
    Iowa has a strong backfield led by Mark Weisman.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Iowa enjoyed a bounce-back season from a horrid 2012, going 8-5 with an Outback Bowl bid in 2013. The Hawkeyes return 11 starters from that team, led by a deep backfield that includes senior tailback Mark Weisman, a bruising runner. Junior Jake Rudock is a dual-threat quarterback who showed the ability to move Iowa’s offense.

    Defensively, the Hawkeyes will be led by a strong defensive line keyed by senior defensive tackle Carl Davis. There are question marks at linebacker, where all three starters must be replaced. Iowa’s schedule is very favorable, with the toughest league games (Wisconsin and Nebraska) at home in November, and no Ohio State or Michigan State on the slate. A trip to the Big Ten title game could be in the cards.

    Projected Record: 9-3

Iowa State

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    Paul Rhoads hopes a new offense helps change Iowa State's fortunes this fall.
    Paul Rhoads hopes a new offense helps change Iowa State's fortunes this fall.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 3-9

    2014 Outlook 

    Little went right for the Cyclones last fall, and coach Paul Rhoads hopes the addition of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and a fast-paced system can change fortunes.

    Iowa State returns 10 offensive starters from a year ago including junior quarterback Sam Richardson, who won the job over Grant Rohach. Wide receiver is an area of strength, and the Cyclones burnished it by adding talented local recruit Allen Lazard, who should contribute this fall.

    The ISU defense ranked No. 105 nationally in total yards per game but has strength in the secondary and numbers at linebacker. Sophomore Nigel Tribune will be leaned upon heavily at cornerback. The Cyclones travel to Iowa and Texas but host Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma. Still, it’s hard to suggest a bowl bid as a possibility.

    Projected Record: 4-8

Kansas

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    Charlie Weis enters 2014 in need of greater success.
    Charlie Weis enters 2014 in need of greater success.Justin Hayworth/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 2-10

    2014 Outlook

    In two seasons at Kansas, coach Charlie Weis is 4-20 with just two wins over FBS programs. The Jayhawks’ offense was anemic last fall, averaging 15.3 points per game, No. 118 nationally, and Weis will be looking to his third starting quarterback in as many seasons.

    Dual-threat quarterback Montell Cozart has excellent targets in senior Tony Pierson, the Jayhawks’ best receiver, and Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Nine defensive starters return, led by senior middle linebacker Ben Heeney.

    The schedule isn’t easy. Kansas will host Texas and Oklahoma State but travels to Baylor, Duke, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Four wins would be a huge improvement.

    Projected Record: 3-9

Kansas State

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    Jake Waters emerged as Kansas State's starting QB in 2013.
    Jake Waters emerged as Kansas State's starting QB in 2013.Matt York/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Bill Snyder’s team really improved as 2013 rolled on, winning six of its final seven games including a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over Michigan. Senior quarterback Jake Waters has emerged as the unquestioned starter, and he’ll have excellent targets in seniors Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton.

    There are only two offensive line starters returning from a year ago. Five defensive starters return, led by senior defensive end Ryan Mueller (11.5 sacks in 2013). The ‘Cats will lean on junior college transfer D’Vonta Derricott at linebacker and junior Terrell Clinkscales at defensive tackle. Tailback is also a concern, with senior DeMarcus Robinson leading the way.

    The Wildcats have their toughest league games on the road, traveling to Oklahoma and Baylor, but Sept. 18’s visit from Auburn is one of the most intriguing early season games. This will be a team that gives the Big 12 fits again.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Kentucky

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    Mark Stoops hopes for bigger things in his second season at Kentucky.
    Mark Stoops hopes for bigger things in his second season at Kentucky.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 2-10

    2014 Outlook

    Mark Stoops’ first season in Lexington wasn’t easy, as Kentucky’s only wins came against Miami (Ohio) and Alabama State. With 13 starters returning, the Wildcats hope to build towards a postseason berth this fall. Four returning starters on the offensive line will protect sophomore Patrick Towles, who won the starting quarterback position. The backfield has some solid depth, led by sophomore Jojo Kemp.

    Defensively, UK returns eight starters from a group that allowed 31.2 points per game, thirteenth in the SEC. UK’s secondary intercepted just one pass last season. Defensive end is an area of strength with Za’ Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, and a talented group of recruits should upgrade the secondary depth.

    UK travels to LSU, Florida and Louisville while hosting South Carolina and Georgia. But in the ultra-tough SEC, this doesn’t look like a bowl team yet.

    2014 Projection: 3-9

Louisville

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    Bobby Petrino hopes the second time is a charm at Louisville.
    Bobby Petrino hopes the second time is a charm at Louisville.Garry Jones/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 12-1

    2014 Outlook

    Bobby Petrino hopes to prove there’s no place like home this fall. The latest stop in his nomadic coaching career is a second stint at Louisville, where he owns a 41-9 career record with an 11-win season, a 12-win season, an Orange Bowl win and two top-10 finishes.  He was Tom Jurich’s choice after Charlie Strong left for Texas following a 12-1 season.

    Strong left talent behind, including defensive starters like linebacker James Burgess, defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks in 2013) and cornerbacks Terell Floyd and Charles Gaines as well as safety Jermaine Reve. They’re the only starters who return from a unit who led the nation in total defense a year ago.

    Sophomore Will Gardner replaces first-round NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, but there are concerns over a foot injury that star wideout DeVante Parker sustained last week.

    The Cardinals’ first ACC schedule will mark a significant upgrade from the AAC slate. Louisville must travel to Clemson and Notre Dame and will host Miami and Florida State. It will likely take a step back from 2013, at least in the win-loss record.

    Projected Record: 8-4

LSU

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    Les Miles hopes to show that LSU reloads rather than rebuilds.
    Les Miles hopes to show that LSU reloads rather than rebuilds.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-3

    2014 Outlook

    As usual, Les Miles and LSU don’t rebuild. They reload. The Tigers return 14 starters from a year ago but will be filling holes in the offensive skill positions.

    They have yet to settle on a replacement for departed senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, with sophomore Anthony Jennings being pushed hard by true freshman Brandon Harris. At receiver, sophomore Travin Dural will be joined by talented signees Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, among others, and freshman tailback Leonard Fournette is one of the nation’s most hyped recruits.

    LSU will be strong in the trenches. It will build around a strong offensive line that returns four starters from a year ago, as well as a strong defensive line led by ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. It is deep and talented, especially if defensive tackle is solidified.

    The neutral-site opener against Wisconsin will be a fascinating test, and trips to Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M are also on the schedule. The Tigers host Alabama in what is annually one of the season’s most anticipated games, but it’ll be interesting to see how a young roster comes together.

    Projected Record: 8-4

     

Maryland

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    Stefon Diggs could be one of the Big Ten's most exciting players this fall.
    Stefon Diggs could be one of the Big Ten's most exciting players this fall.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Randy Edsall and Co. enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2013, going 7-6 with a Military Bowl bid. The Terrapins have an offense with potential led by senior dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown and junior wideout Stefon Diggs, who’ll be one of the Big Ten’s most exciting players.

    The defense returns nine starters, led by defensive end Andre Monroe and senior linebacker Cole Farrand. However, it was a middle-of-the-pack unit in the ACC. The Terrapins’ first Big Ten schedule won’t be easy, with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State on the slate. They’ll be on the cusp of a bowl bid, and it could go either way.

    Projected Record: 5-7

Miami (Florida)

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    Al Golden is looking for a breakthrough season at Miami.
    Al Golden is looking for a breakthrough season at Miami.J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4

    2014 Outlook

    Miami would love to remember how 2013 began and forget how it ended. The Hurricanes began 7-0 entering a top-10 showdown with Florida State but lost star tailback Duke Johnson to a broken ankle and finished the season 9-4.

    Twelve starters return from a year ago, including a healthy Johnson and standout wideout Stacy Coley, although Miami will start true freshman Brad Kaaya at quarterback. Seven defensive starters return, led by talented senior middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. Three secondary starters return, led by junior corner Tracy Howard.

    The Hurricanes start the season at Louisville and also visit Virginia Tech and Nebraska while hosting Florida State. They’ll have a shot at winning the wide-open ACC Coastal.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Michigan

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    Michigan will lean on Devin Gardner this fall at quarterback.
    Michigan will lean on Devin Gardner this fall at quarterback.Tony Ding/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Michigan is hoping offensive balance brings success this fall. The Wolverines suffered through a disappointing 7-6 record in 2013 while averaging only 125.7 yards of rushing offense, No. 102 nationally. That cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job: Brady Hoke replaced him with Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who emphasizes a balanced, pro-style offense which limits negative outcomes.

    Michigan brings back seven offensive starters, three on the offensive line, but must replace left tackle Taylor Lewan, an NFL first-round selection. Sophomore Eric Magunson slides over from guard to replace Lewan. They’ll protect senior quarterback Devin Gardner, who can make plays with his legs and arms.

    Michigan also returns eight starters on defense and has a favorable schedule. The Wolverines have a chance to get off to a fast start by opening the season with Appalachian State, a trip to Notre Dame and  visits from Utah and Minnesota. Trips to Michigan State and Ohio State will be treacherous, but there’s no reason not to expect improvement from 2013.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Michigan State

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    Connor Cook will be a key leader for Michigan State this fall.
    Connor Cook will be a key leader for Michigan State this fall.Al Goldis/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 13-1

    2014 Outlook

    Michigan State returns 12 starters from a team that went 13-1 with a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory. The Spartans have a deep defensive line that features two returning starters led by junior end Shilique Calhoun, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and senior end Marcus Rush, a four-year starter.

    At tailback, senior Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 scores a year ago, leads a solid backfield with fellow senior Nick Hill as a backup. Junior quarterback Connor Cook emerged as a leader a year ago. His main target is senior wideout Tony Lippett, although there are concerns about receiver depth.

    The Spartans get a major test when they travel to Oregon Sept. 6, but their schedule is manageable. Ohio State visits for what should be the Big Ten’s game of the year on Nov. 8, and Michigan and Nebraska also visit. This looks like the Big Ten’s bell cow, thanks to Ohio State’s injury issues.

    Projected Record: 12-1

Minnesota

30 of 66

    Jerry Kill and Minnesota hope to build on last season's bowl berth.
    Jerry Kill and Minnesota hope to build on last season's bowl berth.PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Last fall, Minnesota overcame head coach Jerry Kill’s health issues to fashion an 8-5 record that included a Texas Bowl berth, and the Golden Gophers return 14 starters from that group.

    Quarterback Philip Nelson transferred and has been replaced by sophomore Mitch Leidner, but senior tailback David Cobb (who rushed for 1,200 yards a year ago) will be a bulwark for the offense. Seven starters also return on defense, led by a talented secondary.

    The schedule is tougher than a year ago. Trips to TCU, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan will be tough, although the Gophers do welcome Ohio State and Iowa to TCF Bank Stadium. A second consecutive bowl bid would be an accomplishment.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Mississippi State

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    Dak Prescott and Mississippi State hope to build on last season's 7-6 record.
    Dak Prescott and Mississippi State hope to build on last season's 7-6 record.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Mississippi State returns 16 starters (eight on offense and eight on defense), and there’s good reason to believe that Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs will build on last season’s strong finish (three consecutive wins, including an Egg Bowl overtime win over Ole Miss and a Liberty Bowl rout of Rice).

    Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is a dual-threat signal-caller who has 947 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in his career but needs to improve his downfield accuracy. He has a very capable target in senior Jameon Lewis (923 yards in 2013).

    Defensively, State is deep, returning eight defensive linemen who played in at least 10 games last fall.

    State will travel to LSU and Alabama, but hosts Texas A&M and Auburn. The Bulldogs avoid SEC East stalwarts like Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina, with the toughest “crossover” game probably being Vanderbilt. The SEC West is never easy, but there is room for improvement this fall.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Missouri

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    Maty Mauk hopes to build on last fall's solid work as Missouri's quarterback.
    Maty Mauk hopes to build on last fall's solid work as Missouri's quarterback.Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 12-2

    2014 Outlook

    Missouri authored one of the most surprising stories in college football last fall, winning the SEC East on the way to a 12-win season capped by a Cotton Bowl berth. The Tigers return only eight starters from that team, however, four on each side of the ball.

    Sophomore Maty Mauk steps in at quarterback, where he excelled in place of James Franklin last fall, but wide receiver is a concern after the graduation losses of Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington as well as the dismissal of talented Dorial Green-Beckham, who transferred to Oklahoma.

    Defensively, the Tigers hope that Markus Golden and Shane Ray can step into the spots vacated by NFL draftees Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. Senior safety Braylon Webb is a stalwart in the secondary. The schedule isn’t easy, with trips to Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M and visits from Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Tigers could take a step backward this fall.

    Projected Record: 8-4

NC State

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    Dave Doeren looks for improvement in his second season at NC State.
    Dave Doeren looks for improvement in his second season at NC State.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 3-9

    2014 Outlook

    Dave Doeren’s NC State tenure started off smoothly enough: The Wolfpack started 2013 at 3-1. But the rest of the season was disastrous. State lost its final eight games of the season and went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959.

    However, Doeren and Co. have reason for optimism. Fifty-One of NC State’s 85 scholarship players last fall were redshirt freshmen or true freshmen, and the offense will receive a major boost from Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a mobile, talented signal-caller.

    State’s schedule is very manageable. While the Wolfpack is in the tough ACC Atlantic with Clemson, Florida State and league newcomer Louisville, it avoids Virginia Tech, Duke and Pitt from the Coastal. And the non-conference schedule is paper-soft: Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, at South Florida and Presbyterian. If the young guys mature, there’s no reason this bunch can’t go bowling.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Nebraska

34 of 66

    Bo Pelini and Nebraska hope to break the nine-win barrier this fall.
    Bo Pelini and Nebraska hope to break the nine-win barrier this fall.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4

    2014 Outlook

    Nebraska is one of the nation’s most consistent nine-win teams but is hoping for more this fall. The Cornhuskers return only nine starters from 2013 but feature a deep, talented roster.

    The running game is a strength. Senior tailback Ameer Abdullah (1,690 rushing yards in 2013) returns, backed up by junior Imani Cross. Senior Kenny Bell is one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic receivers and a very solid mentor. Defensively, junior end Randy Gregory is the only returning starter on the defensive line, but he led the league with 10.5 sacks a year ago.

    There are concerns on the offensive line, where senior left guard Jake Cotton is the only returning starter to protect new starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong.

    Nebraska will host Miami in September but must travel to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, its three toughest Big Ten tests. If the youth improves, the Huskers could crack double-digit wins.

    Projected Record: 9-3

North Carolina

35 of 66

    Larry Fedora and North Carolina hope to build on a solid finish to 2013.
    Larry Fedora and North Carolina hope to build on a solid finish to 2013.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    North Carolina won six of its final seven games last fall to salvage a 7-6 record and hopes to build on that impressive run in 2014. Coach Larry Fedora welcomes back 16 starters from a year ago as the Tar Heels hope to build on the strong finish.

    Wide receivers Quinshad Davis and Kendrick Singleton will cause problems for opposing secondaries, although tight end Eric Ebron (an NFL first-round draft pick) is gone and standout T.J. Thorpe is out indefinitely with a foot injury. UNC also must settle on a starting quarterback, with junior Marquise Williams being pushed hard by freshman Mitch Trubisky.

    On defense, seven starters return from a unit that improved as the year went on, led by senior bandit Norkeithus Otis (7.5 sacks a year ago). The Heels miss Florida State from the ACC Atlantic but must travel to Clemson, Notre Dame, Duke and Miami. They’ll host Pitt, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in a wide-open ACC Coastal.

    2014 Projection: 8-4

Northwestern

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    Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern hope to bounce back from a down 2013.
    Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern hope to bounce back from a down 2013.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    2014 Outlook

    Northwestern experienced college football’s version of Murphy’s Law in 2013. The Wildcats broke a five-year postseason eligibility streak but were one break away from changing that.

    During a four-game stretch from mid-October to mid-November, they lost by three points vs. Minnesota, lost in overtime at Iowa, lost in triple overtime to Michigan after the Wolverines kicked a game-tying field goal on the final play of regulation and then lost 27-24 at Nebraska when the Cornhuskers pulled off a final-play Hail Mary.

    Last fall, versatile senior quarterback Kain Colter and talented tailback Venric Mark were sidelined by injuries, leading a laundry list of walking wounded. Mark surprisingly transferred for personal reasons to West Texas A&M, but senior Trevor Siemian gained valuable experience filling in for Colter last fall.

    Colter and wideout Rashad Lawrence are the main offensive losses, while middle linebacker Damien Proby and defensive end Tyler Scott are the only major defensive losses.

    Northwestern has Northern Illinois and Notre Dame on its non-conference slate and draws Michigan and Penn State from the new Big 10 East. However, Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin all come to Evanston, with Ohio State and Michigan State falling off the schedule.

    It’d be a surprise if the Wildcats didn’t make noise this fall.

    Projected Record: 7-5 

Notre Dame

37 of 66

    Everett Golson is a key addition for Notre Dame in 2014.
    Everett Golson is a key addition for Notre Dame in 2014.JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Notre Dame returns 11 starters from a 9-4 team, and that doesn’t include junior quarterback Everett Golson, back on campus after missing last season due to an academic violation. Junior DaVaris Daniels was a major loss as one of four players suspended while Notre Dame investigates an academic scandal.

    The Fighting Irish also return three starting offensive linemen, but that doesn’t include NFL first-round pick Zack Martin. Secondary is a major strength with a pair of returning starters bolstered by Florida transfer Cody Riggs, who should fit in well at cornerback. Tailback is also a source of strength, led by sophomore Tarean Folston.

    Junior defensive tackle Sheldon Day and sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith are the only returnees in the Fighting Irish’s defensive front seven under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The line must replace NFL departures by Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Ohio State

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    Urban Meyer faces significant losses in building Ohio State this fall.
    Urban Meyer faces significant losses in building Ohio State this fall.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    2013 ended in disappointing fashion for Ohio State. The Buckeyes were on the doorstep of a BCS National Championship appearance before a Big Ten title game loss to Michigan State, and then lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson.

    Eleven starters return, but Urban Meyer and Co. were dealt a major blow last week when it was announced that versatile, do-everything senior quarterback Braxton Miller would redshirt following shoulder surgery. Freshman J.T. Barrett will begin as the starter under center, and OSU also must replace bruising tailback Carlos Hyde (one of the nation’s top tailbacks a year ago) and all but one starting offensive lineman.

    The Buckeyes’ defense is deep and talented, with the defensive line standing out as a highlight. It is led by sophomore Joey Bosa, junior Noah Spence and senior Michael Bennett. OSU loses NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier but returns a pair of linebacker starters in upperclassmen Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry and welcomes highly touted freshman Raekwon McMillan.

    Virginia Tech’s Sept. 6 visit will be a test, but this is still one of the Big 10’s best teams. Nov. 8’s visit to Michigan State should be the Big Ten’s game of the year, but Miller’s injury adds a dose of uncertainty.

    Projected Record: 10-2

Oklahoma

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    Trevor Knight broke out last season as Oklahoma's starting quarterback.
    Trevor Knight broke out last season as Oklahoma's starting quarterback.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    Oklahoma and Bob Stoops enjoyed a resurgent 2013 capped with a Sugar Bowl whipping of Alabama. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight had a breakthrough game, torching Alabama’s defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns, but must prove he can be the man on a weekly basis.

    OU returns 13 starters, including eight on defense. At linebacker, sophomore Dominique Alexander, the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year (80 tackles in 2013) and junior Eric Striker return but junior Frank Shannon has been suspended for the year following a sexual assault investigation.

    There are also concerns in the backfield following talented freshman Joe Mixon’s suspension following an assault investigation. However, sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross are ready to step forward in his absence, and three offensive line starters return. The Sooners also must find wideouts to step forward alongside junior standout Sterling Shepard.

    This fall, the toughest games (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) are at home, which will help the Big 12’s preseason favorites.

    Projected Record: 11-1

Oklahoma State

40 of 66

    Mike Gundy could be facing a rebuilding season in Stillwater.
    Mike Gundy could be facing a rebuilding season in Stillwater.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-3

    2014 Outlook

    Mike Gundy’s group could be in for a bit of a rebuilding year. Following 2013’s 10-win season, OSU returns only eight starters. The key could be junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who battled inconsistency last fall. The Cowboys have a talented receiving corps led by sophomore Jhajuan Seales.

    Junior defensive end Jimmy Bean and senior defensive tackle James Castleman lead a deep defensive line, but there are questions at linebacker and in the secondary. A schedule that starts with a neutral-site game against Florida State and features visits to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma is also unforgiving.

    Projected Record: 7-5

Ole Miss

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    Bo Wallace enters this fall as the SEC's most experienced quarterback.
    Bo Wallace enters this fall as the SEC's most experienced quarterback.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Hugh Freeze is building a solid program in Oxford. The Rebels have recruited well recently, which shows in their depth. Senior Bo Wallace is the SEC’s most experienced quarterback and a steady hand.

    Ole Miss returns nine starters on defense, including the entire secondary, led by All-America safety Cody Prewitt. A deep defensive line is headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, one of the nation’s top freshmen talents a year ago.

    The Rebels return only two starting offensive linemen, although sophomore left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a special talent.

    They host Alabama and Auburn and travel to LSU and Texas A&M. They open the season this week in the Georgia Dome against Mountain West power Boise State. Are they an elite SEC West team? Probably not, but they’re certainly on the right track.

    Projected Record: 9-3

Oregon

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    The return of Marcus Mariota makes Oregon a legit College Football Playoff contender.
    The return of Marcus Mariota makes Oregon a legit College Football Playoff contender.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook 

    How good is Oregon’s overall culture? The Ducks won 11 games a year ago, and that was generally considered a disappointment. Fifteen starters return from that team, led by star junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, a dual-threat player who is a Heisman Trophy candidate.

    All five starting offensive linemen return as well. At tailback, junior Byron Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher, and the Pac-12’s returning leading rusher, and Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman are also very talented. All three starting linebackers return, although there are concerns in the secondary, where senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the only returning starter.

    The Ducks host Michigan State in an early September showdown and must travel to UCLA while hosting Stanford in a huge November Pac-12 showdown. If all the cards fall right, this is a College Football Playoff contender.

    Projected Record: 12-1

Oregon State

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    Oregon State's Sean Mannion is one of the nation's most prolific passers.
    Oregon State's Sean Mannion is one of the nation's most prolific passers.Uncredited/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Oregon State started 2013 strong but finished the regular season on a five-game losing streak, although a Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State salved some wounds.

    Senior quarterback Sean Mannion (4,662 passing yards in 2013, a Pac-12 single-season record) returns, although top target Brandin Cooks left early for the NFL. The Beavers do return 14 starters across the board.

    Linebacker and secondary are areas of strength for a defense that returns seven starters. Senior linebacker Michael Doctor (185 career tackles) returns from a medical redshirt.

    OSU must travel to Southern Cal and Stanford but gets Arizona State and Oregon at home, and the non-conference schedule is manageable. This looks like another bowl season, but not much more than that.

    Projected Record: 6-6

Penn State

44 of 66

    James Franklin feels right at home at Penn State.
    James Franklin feels right at home at Penn State.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-5

    2014 Outlook

    James Franklin follows an impressive tenure at Vanderbilt by taking over at Penn State, where Bill O’Brien leaves an improving product following the disastrous end to the Joe Paterno era.

    The NCAA announced last fall that it will walk back its scholarship reductions, allowing the Nittany Lions to compete with 75 scholarship players this fall, 80 in 2015 and a full 85 in 2016.

    That should help Penn State compete, and O’Brien left talent behind.

    Big 10 Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg returns for his sophomore season as the Nittany Lions’ quarterback after a solid freshman season (2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions). Plus, the three-headed backfield of Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton will provide solid ground support.

    A replacement must be found for All-America receiver Allen Robinson, who took his 1,432 receiving yards to the NFL (Geno Lewis is the top candidate entering spring). Depth at defensive end is an issue, and there are concerns at safety, but plenty of solid pieces remain in place on defense.

    Penn State will begin the season in Ireland against Central Florida, but the Knights will be breaking in a new quarterback to replace NFL-bound Blake Bortles. On the Big 10 slate, Penn State travels to Michigan but hosts Ohio State and Michigan State and avoids Iowa and Wisconsin in the league rotation.

    Projected Record: 9-3

Pitt

45 of 66

    Chad Voytik steps in as Pitt's starter this fall.
    Chad Voytik steps in as Pitt's starter this fall.Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2013 Record:  7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Pitt’s first season in the ACC was up-and-down but finished on a high with a bowl win over Bowling Green. They return seven offensive starters led by sophomore wideout Tyler Boyd (85 receptions, 1,174 yards receiving) and a new starting quarterback in dual-threat Chad Voytik.

    Pitt must find a replacement for All-America and NFL first-round pick Aaron Donald at defensive tackle, and the defense put an emphasis on creating more turnovers this fall.

    The Panthers host Iowa and Virginia Tech and travel to North Carolina and Miami, while avoiding Clemson and Florida State from the ACC Atlantic crossover slate. Like most ACC Coastal teams, the Panthers could make a run toward Charlotte with a few breaks.

    2014 Projection: 8-4

Purdue

46 of 66

    Darrell Hazell's first season at Purdue was one to forget.
    Darrell Hazell's first season at Purdue was one to forget.R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 1-11

    2014 Outlook

    Darrell Hazell’s first season at Purdue was one to forget. The Boilermakers won the second game against FCS' Indiana State but went winless the rest of the way. Purdue returns 12 starters, six on offense and six on defense. Senior tailback Akeem Hunt (who can also line up at wide receiver) is a versatile threat.

    The Boilermakers allowed 38 points per game a year ago, with the secondary a point of strength with three returning upperclassman starters.

    They avoid Ohio State but must travel to Nebraska and host Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa and play Notre Dame in a neutral-site game. Improvement will be possible, but a bowl bid isn’t likely.

    Projected Record: 2-10

Rutgers

47 of 66

    Kyle Flood and Rutgers enter the BIg Ten on shaky footing.
    Kyle Flood and Rutgers enter the BIg Ten on shaky footing.Mel Evans/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 6-7

    2014 Outlook

    Kyle Flood, you are on notice. Rutgers enters the Big Ten on shaky footing.

    Last fall, the Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 after losing six of their final eight games.  The defense set program worsts for total yards allowed and passing yards allowed, finishing No. 120 nationally in passing defense. Only one starter returns in the secondary (senior cornerback Lorenzo Waters).

    Nine starters return on offense, including the entire starting offensive line from last fall. Senior Gary Nova, who was benched late last season, must show more consistency.

    Rutgers’ schedule is brutal. The Knights open with a game in Seattle against Washington State and must travel to Ohio State, Michigan State, Nebraska and Maryland. The Knights do host Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. It won’t be an easy first season in the Big Ten, and scraping out a bowl bid would be an achievement.

    Projected Record: 5-7

South Carolina

48 of 66

    Steve Spurrier has built a solid national program at South Carolina.
    Steve Spurrier has built a solid national program at South Carolina.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    Under Steve Spurrier, South Carolina has emerged as a national power, winning 33 games over the last three seasons combined.

    While USC must replace quarterback and senior leader Connor Shaw, senior Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience as his backup. There is depth and talent on a bruising offensive line that returns three starters, which will clear the way for speedy junior tailback Mike Davis and backup Brandon Wilds.

    Sophomore Skai Moore and junior Kaiwan Lewis are proven quantities at linebacker. A wide receiver corps that features junior Shaq Roland, senior Damiere Byrd and sophomore Pharoh Cooper (one of the SEC’s most versatile talents) will give Thompson plenty of targets.

    Without end Jadeveon Clowney, the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick, the Gamecocks defensive line has some holes to fill. Senior J.T. Surratt is the only returning starter. Cornerback is a major question mark behind senior Brison Williams. Thursday’s home opener against Texas A&M won’t be easy, and the same can e said of a Sept. 13 visit from Georgia. The Gamecocks must travel to Florida, Auburn and Clemson in the season’s second half, but this looks like an SEC East and national contender again.

    Projected Record: 10-2

     

Stanford

49 of 66

    David Shaw has built a solid national contender at Stanford.
    David Shaw has built a solid national contender at Stanford.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 11-2

    2014 Outlook

    David Shaw and Stanford return 13 starters from a team that won 11 games and a Pac-12 championship and doesn’t figure to take much of a step backward this fall. The secondary is a big strength, with three returning starters. The defensive line is young but deep and talented.

    There is some concern over the offensive line, which must replace four starters, but the Cardinal has recruited well in that area recently. Stanford needs a starter to emerge from what could be a backfield by committee, but junior quarterback Kevin Hogan is a proven commodity who’ll throw to a talented receiving corps.

    The Cardinal will travel to Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA, a difficult road schedule that could derail hopes of another league championship.

    Projected Record: 9-3

     

Syracuse

50 of 66

    Scott Shafer hopes to build on a solid debut season at Syracuse.
    Scott Shafer hopes to build on a solid debut season at Syracuse.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 7-6

    2014 Outlook

    Syracuse had a positive first season under Scott Shafer, gutting out a winning season with a Texas Bowl win over Minnesota. The Orange return 13 starters but need more consistency on offense, which starts with junior quarterback Terrel Hunt. Syracuse averaged only 376.8 yards per game on offense, No. 85 nationally.

    The Orange returns seven starters on defense, led by starting senior ends Eric Crume and Robert Welsh and junior free safety Durell Eskridge, a solid playmaker. The Orange plays Notre Dame in a neutral-site game and host Florida State and Louisville while traveling to Clemson. A second consecutive bowl bid is well within reach.


    Projected Record: 6-6

TCU

51 of 66

    Gary Patterson hopes a change in offensive philosophy brings a change in results for TCU.
    Gary Patterson hopes a change in offensive philosophy brings a change in results for TCU.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    2013 was uncharacteristically poor for TCU. The Horned Frogs had their first losing record since 2004, a 4-8 mark that led to longtime coach Gary Patterson hiring a pair of new co-offensive coordinators in Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and Texas Tech quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie. Both are very experienced in the wide-open Air Raid passing offense. They look to improve an offense that averaged just 25.1 points per game, No. 99 nationally.

    TCU will go into the season playing both Texas A&M transfer and versatile returnee Trevone Boykin at quarterback. Boykin had had seven touchdowns against seven interceptions as a quarterback but also caught 26 passes for 204 yards as a wide receiver. If Matt Joeckel can lock down the job, Boykin could move outside and give him another versatile weapon.

    TCU returns eight defensive starters but loses sophomore end Devonte Fields, the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year, who was permanently separated from the university following an assault investigation.  The Horned Frogs host Oklahoma and Kansas State but must travel to Baylor and Texas. If the new offense takes hold, overall improvement should follow.

    Projected Record: 7-5

Tennessee

52 of 66

    Justin Worley and Tennessee hope for a bowl breakthrough this fall.
    Justin Worley and Tennessee hope for a bowl breakthrough this fall.Wade Payne/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    2014 Outlook

    Tennessee has suffered through six losing seasons in the past seven years. Butch Jones was very close to a breakthrough last fall. Take away a 34-31 overtime loss to Georgia or a 14-10 loss to Vanderbilt, and the Volunteers would’ve been bowl-eligible.

    Senior quarterback Justin Worley  (1,239 yards, 10 TDs in 2013) leads nine starters who return from a year ago. The Vols have a talented young roster: Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson leads five starters who return on defense. The Vols face a tough early test at Oklahoma and also travel to Georgia and South Carolina, while they host Alabama and Missouri. 6-6 and a postseason bid would be a big accomplishment.

    Projected Record: 6-6 

Texas

53 of 66

    Charlie Strong is trying to mold the Texas program in his image.
    Charlie Strong is trying to mold the Texas program in his image.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    New coach Charlie Strong didn’t inherit a bare cupboard from Mack Brown: Texas returns 12 starters from a year ago as Strong hopes to build a tougher, stronger program.

    Seven starters return on defense, led by junior tackle Malcom Brown and senior Cedric Reed (who had 10 sacks in 2013). The secondary has talent and speed, keyed by senior cornerback Quandre Diggs. With seniors Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray returning, the backfield has depth.

    Texas must replace three starters from 2013’s offensive line, and quarterback David Ash must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season after missing the final nine games last fall with concussion symptoms.  The Longhorns welcome UCLA for a neutral-site game at AT&T Stadium in North Texas and also host Baylor while traveling to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. If Strong can imbue some mental toughness, the results should improve too.

    Projected Record: 9-3

Texas A&M

54 of 66

    Kenny Hill will begin the season as Texas A&M's starting quarterback.
    Kenny Hill will begin the season as Texas A&M's starting quarterback.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 9-4

    2014 Outlook

    Texas A&M begins life after Johnny Manziel by returning 12 starters, although much of the attention will be focused on sophomore Kenny Hill, who beat out freshman Kyle Allen to be the Aggies’ starting quarterback.

    A&M returns 12 starters, although three projected defensive starters left due to offseason arrests and team rules violations. Hill will be protected by an offensive line that returns four starters, led by future NFL first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, a senior left tackle.

    Even with the dismissal of Isaiah Golden (and linebacker Darian Claiborne) and departure of Gavin Stansbury, A&M still returns six defensive linemen with experience. And senior Malcome Kennedy leads a talented wide receiver corps that also includes impact freshmen in Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil.

    Thursday’s opener against South Carolina won’t be easy, and A&M also must travel to Auburn and Alabama before hosting LSU in the regular-season finale. It’s easy to see how this team could take a step back this fall.

    Projected Record: 7-5

     

Texas Tech

55 of 66

    Kliff Kingsbury's first season at Texas Tech was up and down.
    Kliff Kingsbury's first season at Texas Tech was up and down.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    Kliff Kingsbury’s first season in Lubbock was up and down. The Red Raiders began 7-0, ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak and rebounded with a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. Finding more consistency starts with a more consistent effort from sophomore Davis Webb, who emerged as the starter at season’s end.

    Only three starters return on defense, and the hope is that an influx of  junior college transfers leads to improvement. The Red Raiders host Arkansas as well as Texas and Oklahoma and end the regular season with a neutral-site game against Baylor at AT&T Stadium. But unless the defense improves, don’t expect major improvement from a year ago.

    Projected Record: 7-5

UCLA

56 of 66

    Brett Hundley is a potential Heisman contender for UCLA.
    Brett Hundley is a potential Heisman contender for UCLA.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-3

    2014 Outlook

    UCLA enjoyed a breakthrough season last fall, winning 10 games. Fourteen starters from that team return, led by Heisman Trophy candidate and junior quarterback Brett Hundley.

    Seven starters return defensively, with a strong secondary keyed  by junior cornerback Fabian Moreau and junior Randall Goforth. The linebackers are led by senior Eric Kendricks and sophomore Myles Jack, who was the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year last fall. Three offensive line starters return and juniors Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien lead a talented receiving corps.

    The Bruins' schedule is favorable with Oregon, Arizona, Stanford and USC coming to the Rose Bowl. With a break or two, this team could be a College Football Playoff contender.

    Projected Record: 10-3

     

USC

57 of 66

    Steve Sarkisian looks forward to building USC back into a national power.
    Steve Sarkisian looks forward to building USC back into a national power.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 10-4

    2014 Outlook

    Last fall, Southern California went through three head coaches but persevered, going 10-4 and finishing with a Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State. New coach Steve Sarkisian inherits plenty of talent, although depth is a concern due to lingering scholarship restrictions stemming from NCAA probation. Fourteen starters return overall, led by junior quarterback Cody Kessler, who’ll be protected by three returning starters on the offensive line.

    While talented wideouts Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are gone, do-everything junior Nelson Agholor should emerge as one of the nation’s most exciting players with junior Kessler throwing to him.

    Eight starters return on defense, including three starting secondary members and two starting linebackers. The defensive line is deep and talented led by junior end Leonard Williams. September features road trips to Boston College and Stanford, and November finishes with games against UCLA and Notre Dame. If the depth holds, this team will be among the Pac-12’s best.

    Projected Record: 9-3

     

Utah

58 of 66

    Utah is looking for a return to the postseason this fall.
    Utah is looking for a return to the postseason this fall.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    2014 Outlook

    Utah is looking for a return to the postseason after just missing out last fall, losing three games by a touchdown or less, including two by a combined four points. The Utes return six starters on offense, including junior quarterback Travis Wilson, whose 2013 was curtailed by a concussion. Utah also returns five starters on defense, with linebacker an area of strength.

    The schedule is not easy. The Utes travel to Michigan, UCLA and Stanford as well as Arizona State while hosting USC and Oregon. If they can break through in a few close games, they’ll find their way back to a bowl.

    Projected Record: 5-7

Vanderbilt

59 of 66

    Derek Mason steps into an excellent situation at Vanderbilt.
    Derek Mason steps into an excellent situation at Vanderbilt.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4

    2014 Outlook

    New coach Derek Mason inherits a solid foundation from James Franklin. New offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell will run a pro-style system led by sophomore Patton Robinette, who led a bowl victory after starter Austyn Carta-Samuels was sidelined by a torn ACL. The Commodores return four starters from 2013’s offensive line, with All-SEC tackle Wesley Johnson the only loss. Vandy must replace star receiver Jordan Matthews but does return tailback Jerron Seymour, who scored 13 touchdowns a year ago.

    Defensively, Vandy returns just four of its top 10 tacklers from a year ago, but that does include linebacker Darreon Herring, who made 84 tackles a year ago. Another keystone is defensive end Caleb Azubike (four sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss in 2013).

    All four starters from the 2013 secondary are gone, which is a concern.

    But the Commodores have enough back to extend the bowl streak to four years. Vanderbilt avoids Alabama, Auburn and LSU from the SEC West, and Florida and South Carolina visit Nashville. Road trips to Georgia and Missouri will be tricky, but the 2014 slate could be a lot worse.

    2014 Prediction: 8-4

Virginia

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    Mike London begins 2014 on the hot seat at Virginia.
    Mike London begins 2014 on the hot seat at Virginia.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 2-10

    2014 Outlook

    Mike London begins 2014 firmly on the hot seat. Following an 8-5 record in 2011, Virginia has gone 6-18 over the last two seasons. Last fall, the Cavaliers didn’t beat an FBS team after an opening-game win over BYU and averaged just 19.8 points per game.

    UVA does return 15 starters from that team and recruited well, signing a pair of 5-star prospects in defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding, and London also made a change at quarterback, placing big-armed sophomore Greyson Lambert (voted as one of four captains for 2014) ahead of returning junior incumbent David Watford.  Senior tight end Jake McGee’s transfer to Florida is a loss: He was the Cavaliers’ leading receiver a year ago.

    London will have to show significant improvement this fall to keep his job and probably needs to get UVA bowl-eligible. That won’t be easy. UVA opens up with UCLA and travels to BYU and also has Louisville, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech on its slate.

    Projected Record: 3-9

     

Virginia Tech

61 of 66

    Frank Beamer hopes to break Virginia Tech out of a recent downturn.
    Frank Beamer hopes to break Virginia Tech out of a recent downturn.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 8-5

    2014 Outlook

    The Hokies had eight consecutive 10-win seasons with four ACC titles from 2004-11 but are just 15-11 over the last two seasons. Tech averaged just 22.5 points per game last fall, No. 99 nationally. It’ll hope to improve on that this fall with Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer under center. He’ll lead an offense that returns eight starters from a year ago, including the top three receivers and top two tailbacks.

    Tech returns five defensive starters, but sophomore corner Kendall Fuller and defensive tackle Luther Maddy are among the ACC’s best at their respective positions. The Hokies allowed 19.2 points per game a year ago, No. 11 nationally.

    Frank Beamer’s bunch faces a tough test Sept. 6 at Ohio State and travels to North Carolina, Pitt and Duke while hosting Georgia Tech and Miami. The ACC Coastal is wide-open, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Hokies in Charlotte for the ACC title game.

    Projected Record: 8-4

Wake Forest

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    Dave Clawson's first season at Wake Forest won't be easy.
    Dave Clawson's first season at Wake Forest won't be easy.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    Dave Clawson faces a major challenge in his first season at Wake Forest. Only eight starters return from a 4-8 team, and the Deacons will start true freshman John Wolford at quarterback after just two months on campus. The only returning starters on offense are all on the offensive line.

    There is experience in the secondary, with three returning starters, and junior middle linebacker Brandon Chubb anchors the linebackers. Wake’s schedule does it no favors, with odd trips to Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State, as well as Florida State and Louisville. The Demon Deacons host Clemson and Virginia Tech.  It’s going to be a long fall in Winston-Salem.

    Projected Record: 2-10

     

Washington

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    Chris Petersen inherited a good situation at Washington.
    Chris Petersen inherited a good situation at Washington.Uncredited/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-3

    2014 Outlook

    Steve Sarkisian bolted to USC, but new coach Chris Petersen inherited 14 starters from a team that won nine games in 2013. The Huskies are strong on the offensive line, where they return all five starters, and on the defensive line, where they return all four starters from 2013. Kasen Williams and Jaydon Mickens provide experience in the wide receiver corps, and the linebacker group is also experienced.

    There are concerns at quarterback (where expected starter Cyler Miles will be suspended for the opener) and at tailback, where speedy Dwayne Washington must prove he can fill NFL departure Bishop Sankey’s cleats on an every-down basis.

    The Huskies host Stanford and UCLA but must travel to Oregon. If a quarterback emerges, they’ll be a load for the Pac-12’s elite teams.

    Projected Record: 9-3 

Washington State

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    Mike Leach hopes to build on last season's success at Washington State.
    Mike Leach hopes to build on last season's success at Washington State.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 6-7

    2014 Outlook

    Mike Leach found signs of life in his second season in Pullman, rebounding from a 3-9 2012 season to a bowl bid. Senior quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 4,597 yards a year ago but must cut down on his 22 interceptions. WSU returns six starters on offense and six on defense.

    The defensive line will be a strength, but the secondary returns only one starter in junior Taylor Taliulu. The offense will score points, but can the defense stop anyone? The Cougars host Oregon and USC but must travel to Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon State.

    Projected Record: 6-6

West Virginia

65 of 66

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself on the hot seat at West Virginia.
    Dana Holgorsen finds himself on the hot seat at West Virginia.Uncredited/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 4-8

    2014 Outlook

    Following a 70-33 Orange Bowl mashing of Clemson, West Virginia is just 11-14 and Dana Holgorsen is on the hot seat, as athletic director Oliver Luck was forced to issue a statement last season backing him.

    The Mountaineers return 12 starters from a year ago, but the defense must take a big step forward.  A year ago, West Virginia was No. 99 nationally in scoring defense (allowing 33.3 points per game) and No. 101 in total defense (yielding 455 yards per game). New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson believes the Mountaineers secondary, led by junior safety Karl Joseph, will be improved.

    The offense must also become more efficient. West Virginia averaged 411 yards per game last fall but was No. 113 in third-down conversions. Former Florida State transfer Clint Trickett must display more consistency.

    WVU’s schedule isn’t easy. The Mountaineers open with Alabama, travel to Maryland and host Oklahoma in the first month alone. They also travel to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. That’s a tough slate for a coach on the hot seat.

    Projected Record: 4-8

     

Wisconsin

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    Tanner McEvoy beat out Joel Stave as Wisconsin's new starting quarterback.
    Tanner McEvoy beat out Joel Stave as Wisconsin's new starting quarterback.Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 9-4

    2014 Outlook

    Wisconsin didn’t miss much of a step following Bret Bielema’s surprising departure to Arkansas. Gary Andersen began his UW career 9-2 before losing 2013’s final two games to Penn State and South Carolina. Andersen and the Badgers return only 10 starters this fall, but they’re optimistic.

    Four starters return on the offensive line, and they’ll block for one of the nation’s top tailbacks in junior Melvin Gordon, who turned down the NFL draft for one more season of college football.  Junior Tanner McEvoy, a mobile, versatile player who has also seen time at safety and wide receiver, beat out experienced junior Joel Stave for the starting quarterback role.

    The Badgers have a tough neutral-site opener against LSU, but the schedule is otherwise favorable. They play only one true road game before November and don’t play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or Penn State from the Big Ten East. The door is open to challenge for the Big Ten West title and a 10-win season.

    Projected Record: 10-2

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