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2014 NCAA College Football Top 25 Preview

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Fearless Rick's 2014 NCAA Preseason Top 25

Rick Gagliano | August 7-9, 2014


Seminoles logo1. Florida State - No team was as dominant as the Seminoles in 2013, rolling through their non-conference and ACC schedule unscathed and unruffled, they earned the national championship with a heroic drive in the final seconds to knock off an inspired Auburn squad, 34-31.

Other than that final game, no team was even close to Florida State. They led the nation in scoring differential, outscoring their foes by an average of 39.5 points per game. They were second in points scored, averaging 51.6 points per game, even with many of the offensive star sitting out the final quarter in a handful of games.

Defensively, they led the nation in points allowed, giving up a stingy 12.1 per game and were also #1 in passing yards allowed, limiting their opponents to 156.6 yards per play.

On both sides of the ball, no team could match up with the Seminoles for sixty minutes. They scored 41 or more points in all but two of their 14 wins, and limited their opponents to 17 or fewer points 12 times, including one shutout (Maryland, 63-0), two games in which they allowed just a field goal (Maryland, Syracuse) and three times gave up just a touchdown.

The scary proposition for the rest of the ACC is that the key players on offense all return, including Heisman winning-quarterback, Jameis Winston, RB Karols Williams, wideout Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary. Only three starters did not return for the Seminole offense. The huge offensive line remains intact.

Defensively, there may be a falloff, as five starters will be playing in the NFL this season, but six remain from last year and recruiting has been strong under head coach Jimbo Fisher since becoming full time head coach in 2010, replacing legendary Bobby Bowden.

In the four years under Fisher, Florida State has gone 10-4, 9-4, 12-2 and 14-0, won their bowl game in each of those seasons and last year swallowed the whole enchilada. This is nothing short of a dynasty in the making and the rest of the college football universe is on notice. The Seminoles are likely to roll through their schedule undefeated again and have little competition in the ACC. It will be tough to unseat the reigning champions. They are odds-on to win it all again.

Spartans logo2. Michigan State - Only Florida State finished the 2013 campaign on a higher note than the proud Spartans, whipping Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 24-20, to cap an incredible 13-1 season. It was a shame the Spartans didn't get more consideration to play for the national championship. After all, they knocked off undefeated Ohio State to capture the Big Ten title and their only loss was back in September, a 17-13 defeat at Notre Dame. It's hard to imagine a team doing any more and not getting invited to play for it all.

Michigan State's strong suit in 2013 was their defense and it will likely be so again in 2014. Last season, the Spartans were tops in yards per play, limiting opponents to just 4.04 per snap. They were also third in points allowed, giving up just 13.2 per game, second in yards allowed per game (252.2), second in rushing yards per game (86.6) and third in pass yards per game (165.6). They held opponents to 17 points or less 10 times, and, during a three-game span allowed zero touchdowns, whipping Purdue, 14-0, Illinois 42-3 and Michigan, 29-6.

Essentially, there was no offense that the Spartan defense couldn't stop consistently.

The offense took a back seat, but continued to improve throughout the season, as players found their legs and their roles in Mark Dantonio's ball control offense. The good news is that the offense returns seven starters, including QB Connor Cook, leading RB, Jeremy Langford (1422 yards rushing, 18 TDs), and their two leading receivers, Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who combined for over 1100 yards in the passing attack.

The defense needs to replace six starters from last season, but the recruiting classes since Dantonio took over in 2007 have always yielded top-notch talent, though this unit may not be as good as last year's, though it could conceivably be even better.

If the defense is up to the task and the offense improved, as expected, the Spantans have a very good chance at running the table and getting into the national championship conversation.

Sooners logo3. Oklahoma - With a smashing, 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season, the Sooners are poised for a run at the championship.

After losing to Texas in October and then stumbling badly in a 41-12 loss at Baylor on November 7, all hope for a national title flew out the window, but the Sooners didn't let down, winning their final three games of the season and then delivering the knockout blow to the Crimson Tide in January.

The offense will be led by Trevor Knight, who got some starting time last season as a freshman and threw for four TDs against 'Bama in the Sugar Bowl wins, so the QB will be full of confidence heading into the new season. Only five starters return on offense, but the recruiting has been solid, though question marks remain at wide receiver and running back, though Joe Mixon could be a solid running back.

Defensively, the Soonrs may be the best in the Big 12, with nine starters coming back from a team that held its own in the pass-happy conference. In 2013, the defensive unit was tied for 22nd in points allowed, at 22.1 per game, and was 20th in yards per game, allowing 350.2. There's good balance in the linebacking corps which can stuff the run and play pass defense with equal ability and the front line should improve.

This was a very good defense last year and should be even better in 2014. If the offense can get on the same page early in the season, the Stoops coaching brain trust should continue making key adjustments throughout the season.

After going 10-3 in 2012, the Sooners improved to 11-2 last year and appear ready for a championship run with a solid quarterback and a strong defense.

Ducks logo4. Oregon - With nine starters returning to an offense which ranked second in yards per game (565.0) and fourth in points (45.5 per game), there's plenty of good reasons to like the Ducks chances of winning the PAC-12 title and challenge for a national championship.

A couple of conference losses cost the Ducks dearly last season. after an 8-0 start, they were derailed at Stanford, 26-20, and two weeks later, suffered their worst loss in four years, a 42-16 drubbing by an inspired Arizona team. Those losses kept them out of the PAC-12 title game and led to a 30-7 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Marcus Mariota returns at QB after posting truly impressive numbers in 2013. Mariota threw for 3665 yards, 31 TDs with just four interceptions and ran for 715 yards and nine TDs.

Running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, a real burner, both return to the backfield, but a new fleet of receivers will have to get on the same page with Mariota quickly.

Defensively, the Ducks were massively improved in 2013, finished 13th nationally in points allowed (20.5) and 37th in yards per game, at 370.1. Any improvement in this unit, which gets back six starters, will be a huge upside for the Ducks, who figure to simply outscore anyone and everyone this season.

Key games for the Ducks include Stanford, as usual, a must-win, and an October 11 date at vastly-improved UCLA. One regular season loss may not preclude a chance at a national championship, though two would probably rule the Ducks out.

The chances of a perfect or one-loss season are high in Oregon this year.

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Crimson Tide logo5. Alabama - Even though we - like most other pre-season rankers - have the Crimson Tide in the Top 5, they may have to gut out some close games to get there.

QB AJ McCarron has graduated and his replacements - Jacob Coker, a Florida State transfer, or, Blake Sims, a dual threat - don't seem ready for the job, so expect running back T.J. Weldon to get plenty of work, along with Derrick Henry.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper is one of seven returning starters on offense, including most of the offensive line, but, will the QB (whoever it is) be able to get him the ball?

Alabama also loses six defensive starters, including 3/4 of the secondary which was ranked 11th in passing yards per game in 2013 (180.3). Since the defense allowed just 13.9 points (4th, nationally) last season, there are probably not many holes which head coach Nick Saban cant fill.

Still, coupled with the expected offensive fallout, any defensive lapses may be difficult to overcome, so, the #5 ranking may be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, the Tide lost just two games last season - to Auburn and Oklahoma - so they are likely to win at least 10 this year. Key games include Florida (at home, 9/20), at Ole Miss (10/4), at LSU (11/8) and home for the Iron Bowl against Auburn on 11/29.

Buckeyes logo6. Ohio State - The Buckeyes may not have lost a regular season game in the past two years, but they did lose their final two games of the 2013 season, dropping a 34-24 decision to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship on December 7, and then getting flummoxed by Clemson in the Orange Bowl, 40-35, on January 3.

Those two losses put a bit of a lid on the din over Ohio State's chances for a national title in 2014. There are a handful of excellent teams out there and Ohio State is surely one of them, but they will have to prove themselves against the Spartans of Michigan State late in the season (November 8). Other than that game, the Buckeyes have what has to be considered a pretty soft schedule, including the likes of Cincinnati, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and one outlier, a September 6 test against perennial ACC powerhouse, Virginia Tech.

Offensively, the Buckeyes return just five starters, but one of them is dynamic QB, Braxton Miller, who rushed for 12 TDs and threw for 24, even though missing a few early games to injury. RB Carlos Hyde graduated, taking one of the more punishing running backs to the NFL and, while his replacements will be adequate, they probably aren't game-breakers.

Ohio State had a powerful offense in 2013, ranking third in scoring (45.5 points per game) and fifth in rushing yards per game (308.6). Hyde's replacements will have to step up.

The defense was ordinary by Buckeye standards, ranked 28th in points allowed (22.6) and 47th in yards per game (377.4). This unit returns seven starters, but, as noted, they were not that good. The defensive line has three starters coming back, and they will be pressuring opposing QBs.

All said, Ohio State could run the table, but the meeting at Michigan State will be pivotal as will their season-ender against the Michigan Wolverines, always a hard-fought game. A top ten finish seems likely, though a national championship would be a stretch.

Bruins logo7. UCLA - The Bruins are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and return eight starters to each of the offensive and defensive units and will be a threat for a national title this season.

Finishing with a 5-9 mark in 2011 resulted in the firing of head coach Rick Neuheisel and the entry point for Jim Mora after a two-year coaching hiatus.

Mora's done everything right in his two years at UCLA, going 9-5 in 2012 and 10-3 last season, culminating in a massive, 42-12, blowout over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. The three losses were all to ranked PAC-12 teams - Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State - and Mora's Bruins will have to deal with that trio again in 2014, along with a road game at Texas (Sept. 13) and USC (November 22), but should be equal to the task.

The 2013 Bruins didn't bowl anyone over statistically, finishing 20th in points scored (36.9 per game) and 35th in points allowed per game (23.2), though they should improve in all departments this season.

QB Brett Hundley threw for over 3000 yards, 24 TDs and nine picks and rushed for 748 yards and 11 scores last year and has the look of a mature, poised player. There are key role players spread throughout the offense, including some new talent which will make UCLA more of an offensive threat that they were last season.

Defensively, the Bruins figure to improve with all the returning starters and part-timers. Myles Jack, who played both offense and defense last season, will focus more on his role as linebacker in 2014, though he'll be ready to jump into the offense whenever the coaches give the call.

If the Bruins can turn two of those three conference losses into wins, they'll have a crack at the PAC-12 title and maybe a national championship bid.

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Baylor Bears logo8. Baylor - Once an afterthought of the Big 12, Baylor has come a long way in just a few years to become one of the most explosive, exciting teams on the national front.

The Bears started 2013 out with nine straight wins, including a 73-42 thumping of West Virginia and a 71-7 romp over Iowa State and a 41-12 win over Oklahoma, before getting dumped at Oklahoma State, 49-17. Finishing up with wins over TCU and Texas, the Bears won the Big 12 title outright, but were stunned by UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. Still, the team set a school record for wins with an 11-2 mark.

The outlook for 2014 is rosy enough even though the coaching staff will be looking for roster replacements at six offensive and seven defensive positions. One spot that's already taken is that of quarterback, as Bryce Petty returns after passing for 4200 yards and 32 TDs in 2013. Top receiver Antwan Goodley is also coming back, but the offensive line needs almost complete reworking.

The defense was a solid unit last season, even though they didn't have to be. Baylor was #1 in both points scored (52.4) and yards per game (618.8) and should be among the leaders nationally again. If the defense can improve or at least stay roughly the same as it was in 2013 - 36th in points allowed (23.5) and 28th in yards per game, 360.3 - the Bears will be a force with which to reckon.

Key opponents in the conference include Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and Baylor gets them back-to-back, albeit with a week in between. They play at the Sooners on November 8 and host the Cowboys November 22.

With no divisional set-up in the Big 12 and thus, no conference championship game, it's likely that the Bears will have to whip Oklahoma for a second straight season if they intend to get into the national championship hunt, a tough task, though not out of the question.

Gamecocks logo9. South Carolina - The Gamecocks are one team which may shed the role of step-sister come December and step into the national championship argument if QB Dylan Thompson stays healthy and can deliver. The running game should be a strong point, with Mike Davis in the backfield. Last season, Davis romped for over 1500 yards and may be a Heisman candidate this time around.

Despite losing All-American Jadeveon Clowney, the defense returns six starters and will feature the usual hard-nosed style of play, though the secondary was hard hit by graduation.

South Carolina's schedule may help out, because there's no LSU or Alabama on it, their toughest games being home for Georgia on September 13 and Missouri on the 27th, prior to road games at Auburn (10/25) and Florida (11/15).

For the second consecutive season, the Gamecocks went 10-2 during the regular season and went on to win their bowl appearance, beating Michigan, 33-28 in the Outback Bowl in 2012 and, last season, Wisconsin, 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl, so they are poised for something special.

Cardinal logo10. Stanford - The Cardinal will challenge Oregon in the PAC-12 North, as usual, but, while the defense will keep opponents honest and out of the end zone, the offense needs to pick it up and be more consistent, especially if it wants to play a ball control, eat-up-the-clock style.

Last season Stanford was 45th in points scored, at 32.3 per game, 27th in yards per play (6.34) and 22nd in rushing yards per game (207.4)

The defense was 10th in points allowed, giving up just 19.0 per game and held opponents to just 89.4 rushing yards per outing, third in the country.

Both units lose key players, the offense returning just five starters, while the defense has six coming back. Needed are linemen and a running back, as four member of the offensive line have moved on and RB tyler Gaffney will be playing on Sundays. QB Kevin Hogan returns, but he's not exactly a game-breaker, though he will be efficient in the offense.

Defensively, the loss of team leader, linebacker Shayne Skov will be impactful and difficult to replace. A strong suit is the Stanford secondary where both cornerbacks and safety, Jordan Richards, returns.

Click here for teams 11-25.

Copyright 2014, 2015, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.



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