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2014 NCAA College Football Top 25 Preview - teams 11-25

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Fearless Rick's 2014 PRESEASON NCAA Top 25 - Teams 11-25

Rick Gagliano | August 4, 2014


11. LSU - As usual, the Tigers will be highly touted, though this may not be their best team and the schedule includes some possibly tough match-ups, like back-to-back road games at Auburn and Florida (Oct. 4 & 11) and home games against Ole Miss (10/25) and Alabama (11/8).

For the second straight year, LSU finished at 10-3, with a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but three losses don't cut it in the SEC, especially without a quality QB. Anthony Jennings couldn't get the job done well enough after Zach Mecklenberg went down to an ACL injury.

The Tigers will be good on defense, but neither the offense nor the defense made the Top 20 nationally in points for or against in 2013, which will keep them out of the top 10 unless they improve dramatically. The secondary could be a strong suit, though there may not be enough quality beef on the D-line to last the entire SEC season.

12. Auburn - After playing for the national championship this past January, the Tigers can be expected to turn in another fine performance for 2014, though they will sorely miss RB Tre Mason, who helped the Tigers achieve the #1 ranking in rush yards per game (328.3). The game plan may be for returning QB, Nick Marshall, to throw more often, especially to Sammie Coates, who led the team with 902 receiving yards and seven TDs last season. Auburn also has top recruit Roc Thomas at running back, so there may not be much missing on an offense which returns eight starters.

The issues are on defense, where only six starters return, though that could be a sign that the new, younger players are better. Still, the Tigers allowed 24.7 points (48th) and 420,7 yards per game (87th) in 2013, numbers that are unlikely to provide success in the SEC.

Unless the defense improves rapidly, the Tigers will be outscored a couple of times this season, plus, don't expect any miracle finishes like they had last season against Georgia and Alabama. Lightning struck twice for Auburn last year and it's unlikely to do so again.

13. UCF - With Louisville joining the ACC, there isn't much remaining in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) - otherwise known as the left-overs division - but one team that really stands out is the University of Central Florida, headed by George O'Leary, who made his name as coach of Georgia Tech and has built the Knights into a powerhouse, capable of playing at a very high level.

Proof that UCF was the real deal was delivered last season, as the Knights barreled through the season with a 12-1 mark, losing only to South Carolina by a 28-25 score. They whipped favored Louisville, 38-35, won at SMU, 17-13, to capture the conference championship.

Not through with their business, the Knights dismantled Baylor, 52-42, in the Fiesta Bowl, celebrating a BCS Bowl victory.

QB Blake Bortles is on to the NFL along with bruising RB Storm Johnson, but the Knights have a fundamentally solid group on offense, including Will Stanback, a swifter, shiftier runner than Johnson.

The defense returns eight starters and will be the best in the conference. This unit ranked 17th in points allowed (21.3) and can stuff the run, allowing just 122.5 yards per game in 2013 (16th).

14. North Carolina - Head coach Larry Fedora brought this team around in the latter half of the season, going 6-1 down the stretch (including a 39-17 hammering of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl) and has many players returning on offense, including QB Marquise Williams, who threw for 1825 yards and 16 TDs in roughly half a season. Williams also led the team in rushing.

Look for the Tar Heels to put up impressive offensive stats this season in a watered-down ACC, though the defense may be somewhat challenged over the first five or six weeks, but should improve as the season progresses.

15. Notre Dame - Reeling from the loss of QB Everett Golson last season on an academic suspension, but the budding star should be behind center when the Irish kick off their 2014 campaign. Golson is much more mobile than Tommy Rees, who barely managed games in 2013, and Golson has speed and quickness which allows the irish to be more inventive on offense, which returns six starters.

Fiver starters return for a defense that was just so-so in 2013, ranked 27th in points allowed (22.4) and 31st in yardage (366.2), but an upgrade from the offense will keep this group off the field and fresh this season. One area of focus is the secondary, which will be among the best in the country. They were 15th against the pass in 2013, allowing 198.2 yards per game.

After last season's 9-4 mark, culminating in a 29-16 victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, the prospects are good for the Irish. Outside of a home game against Stanford (Oct. 4) and a visit to Florida State on October 18, the remainder of the schedule looks winnable.

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16. Georgia - Suffering through a season marred by injuries to key offensive players, the Bulldogs ended their season with a 24-19 defeat by Nebraska in the Gator Bowl and a poor, 8-5, mark. Georgia had been a pre-season favorite for the Top 10, but after RB Todd Gurley and QB Aaron Murray both tore their ACLs their season was toast.

Murray has moved on, replaced at the helm by Hutson Mason, who gained some playing time last season, but Gurley will be back at full strength, though the offensive line needs to be rebuilt as well. Only five offensive starters return.

The defense may be one of the best in the conference, with nine starters back for 2014. The 2013 stats say they gave up too many points and too many yards, but they're skewed by the largely lacking offense for more than half the season. While the Bulldogs were ranked 21st nationally in points scored (36.7 per game), they obviously needed more. They may be best suited to run the ball, keep the defense fresh and pound their way to victories.

17. Arizona State - Stacked against USC and UCLA in the PAC-12 South, the Sun Devils will have to hurry to get their defense in order, losing nine starters, including standouts Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, because they have those SoCal teams in succession, hosting UCLA on Sept. 25 and playing at USC on October 4.

To make matters more interesting, they host Stanford on Oct. 18 and play at an improving Washington, the following Saturday.

If the defense can get up to speed in time, the offense should handle their end of the bargain with seven returnees, including budding star QB, Taylor Kelly, who threw for 3635 yards and ran for another 608, accounting for 37 TDs.

AZ State may be a surprise in the PAC-12 after posting a solid 10-4 record in 2013 (including seven straight conference wins), losing in the Holiday Bowl to Texas Tech, 37-23.

18. Kansas State - Head coach Bill Snyder has brought the Wildcats back into prominence despite somewhat of a letdown in 2013, going 8-5, and 5-4 in the Big 12, but K-State returns six starters on offense, including QB Jake Waters and the extraordinarily-talented Tyler Locket at wide receiver. If the Wildcats can improvise some kind of running game, the offense should be improved from last year, when they ranked 37th in points scored, at 33.2 per game.

On defense, having to replace seven starters from last season may be a challenge, but, if history is any guide, Snyder has found quality players to come to Kansas State. Linebacker Jonathan Truman led the team in tackles last season and will be a bulwark for a defense that needs work.

Overall, the conference is not as stacked as many people think, with Oklahoma and Baylor the real standouts. With some luck, the Wildcats can outlast most of their conference foes, though both the Sooners and Bears are road games.

19. Florida - The Gators had health issues in 2013 but may perform much better than their 4-8 mark from 2013 suggests. They lost starting QB, Jeff Driskel, with a broken leg in September, and the rough schedule - which included the likes of LU, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State - was nowhere to go without a quality signal caller.

With Driskel back and in full health, the Gators will certainly be more productive on offense. Add to the mix a backfield full of bright prospects and a winning season is assured.

Defensively, the Gators were very good in 2013, though spending too much time on the field took its toll. Returning six starters, including linebacker Michael Taylor, Florida will be tough to run against and may deploy some nickel packages to slow down more pass-happy opponents.

20. Wisconsin - A tall task is facing the Badgers coaching staff in 2014, as they lost a total of 14 starters from their 9-4 squad of a season ago.

Helping a bit is the return of RB Melvin Gordon, who will be among the leading rushers nationally once the O-line is fully developed.

The defense has only three starters coming back from last season, though they are all in the secondary, which will be a big plus. Last year, the Badger defense was among the top in the nation, ranking in the top ten in points and yards allowed and in rushing yards allowed per game (102.5), but there will have to be solid recruits and quick learners to get anywhere near that level this season.

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21. USC - Though still rebuilding, the Trojans have plenty of talent with which to compete in the now-heady PAC-12. USC turned in a 10-4 season in 2013, capped off by a 45-20 romp over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Trojan defense is the strength of this team, losing just three starters to graduation or the draft. USC was 16th in points allowed (21.2), 13th in yards allowed (335.2) and 15th in rushing yards allowed (120.6) last season.

Offensively, look for QB Cody Kessler to have a solid, if not spectacular, season, heaving mostly in the direction of wideout Melson Agholor, who will replace Marquise Lee as the #1 target.

The defense will be key, especially in games against Oregon State and Arizona State. There is no mention of Ducks on the schedule, but the Trojans close ut at UCLA and home for Notre Dame, so the end of the season could be iffy.

22. Ole Miss - Returning nine defensive starters from last season, stopping opponents will be a point of emphasis for the Rebels in 2012.

Ranked 36th nationally in passing yards per game last season (215.5), the Rebel secondary may be one of the best in the country this year and the defensive line is scary big, quick and talented.

The offense won't need to do much more than show up when the Rebels take the field. In seven of their eight wins last year, Ole Miss allowed 24 points or fewer and they figure to improve on that front. QB Bo Wallace will need to take better care of the ball. Last season he tossed 10 balls to the wrong team. Cutting down on the picks will be key.

23. Missouri - A step away from playing for the national championship, the Tigers saw their hopes fade when they lost the SEC title game, 59-42, to an overwhelming Auburn squad. That didn't stop Missouri from whipping Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, 41-31, and raising the stakes for this season.

The problem is that the Tigers lost a ton of talent at the end of last year, returning only five offensive and four defensive starters. Maty Mauk will run the offense full time after gaining valuable experience in relief of injured James Franklin last year.

Ranked in the top 20 in points, yards and rushing yards per game, the offense will have to be outstanding to reproduce those kinds of numbers and the defense will also have to be reloaded. If the Tigers can get through their first seven games at 4-3 or better, the schedule is very promising, with Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas to close out, all winnable game.

24. Nebraska - On January 1, the Cornhuskers started off the new year with a 24-19 victory over Georgia in the Gator Bowl and are hopeful the remainder of 2014 stays on a winning note. One big plus will be the maturation of sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong, who gained valuable experience as a sub last season and will have an offense that returns all but one starter.

Defenisvely, the 'Huskers were not able to shut down the better offenses in the Big Ten, losing to Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa by a combined margin of 45 points, giving up a total of 154 points in their four losses (including an early-season, 41-21, loss to UCLA).

They return only five starters on defense, and, getting those players to jell early will be important because three of their first six games are on the road against a solid Fresno State team, home for Miami (FL) and at Michigan State. Looks like another 9-4 season for Nebraska, which isn't really good enough, though they may win the Big Ten West by default.

25. Marshall - Here's a sleeper out of the Conference USA East division, as the Thundering Herd went 10-4 in 2014, lost to Rice in the conference championship, 41-24, but came back to stump Maryland, 31-20, in the Military Bowl.

The Herd returns six starters on offense and seven on defense, but two key players - QB Rakeem Cato and WR Tommy Shuler - are back and geared up to play in Marshall's hot-paced offense which ranked #7 in the nation for points score in 2013, at 42.1 per game.

Defensively, the Marshall players are more than adequate and the competition in the conference isn't that heady, so the Herd may be able to post a sensational record and possibly run the table. Even so, they won't get enough votes to play for a national championship or even be mentioned as a contender, though their bowl status will be higher.

Click here for teams 1-10

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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