Outkick's Pre-Preseason Top 25 For 2014
Thanks again to all of you for the fun this year.
And now that I've said nice things to all of you, here's Outkick's pre-preseason top 25. As soon as you read it you can all go back to Tweeting "your gay" to me for not ranking your team highly enough.
Lots can change between now and August -- odds are your favorite team will have at least one offseason arrest or player kicked off the team -- so write these rankings in pencil. (And hope that the players who get in trouble aren't that good).
It's over seven months until toe meets leather again.
So let's go ahead and start arguing about the best teams in the country.
The last defending national champion and Heisman trophy winner to return at quarterback was Matt Leinart.
That turned out nearly perfect for USC, as the Trojans advanced to the 2006 BCS title game before losing to Vince Young and Texas with less than a minute to play.
Now Jameis Winston is back at Florida State and the Seminoles are odds on favorites to repeat.
Auburn returns virtually its entire offense -- assuming Tre Mason stays -- and now Nick Marshall gets an entire offseason to learn Gus Malzahn's offense.
Look out, you ain't seen nothing yet.
The Gus Bus is going to be running roughshod over an awful lot of other SEC teams.
Could Malzahn now be the best coach in Alabama? It may be blasphemy, but there's a strong argument for, I can't believe I'm saying this, yes.
Sure, the Crimson Tide loses AJ McCarron and CJ Mosley, but did you see TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry at running back in the Sugar Bowl? And what about a healthy Amari Cooper at wideout? Bama needs to find a quarterback, but here's betting that Nick Saban can do so.
The defense will remain stout.
Any preseason ranking that doesn't have Alabama in the top five is worthless.
The Cardinal are a blue collar machine, and for the past several years it has been next man up.
That will remain the case in 2014, with a likely date at Oregon determining the champ in the Pac 12 North.
A healthy Marcus Mariota is back to lead an offense that looked unstoppable through eight games this season.
Then the wheels fell off.
There are no real concerns on offense, but that defense under a new coordinator? We'll see.
So long as Art Briles and Bryce Petty are a tandem, you know points will follow. Sure, Baylor loses a bunch on the offensive line and many top defensive playmakers are gone but, guess what, if you've got a top quarterback and a top coach, you win big in college football.
Baylor has both.
Look out, Big 12, Baylor's not a one-hit BCS wonder.
Oklahoma returns 17 starters from a team that mauled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. So why didn't the Sooners play like that all season? Uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Trevor Knight played the game of his life against Bama in the Sugar Bowl.
It sure looked like Oklahoma had found it's quarterback.
If so, the final piece to a playoff puzzle may have just been put in place.
Steve Spurriers Gamecocks have won 11 games three straight seasons. Sure, Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney are gone, but this team still returns a great deal on both sides of the ball.
Dylan Thompson is well schooled in Spurrier's offense, and the Gamecocks have proven they can beat top teams.
Until Spurrier leaves or a season goes off the rails, the Gamecocks belong in the top ten in every preseason poll.
9. Ohio State
Urban Meyer still hasn't beaten a top 15 opponent during his team at Ohio State, but with Braxton Miller back, odds are the Buckeyes may finally pull that feat off this year.
That is, if they can finally find a defense.
Brett Hundley is back and in Jim Mora's third year at the helm, it's reasonable to believe that UCLA could finally challenge Oregon and Stanford for the Pac 12 crown.
We'll know more once the full 2014 Pac 12 schedule is released, but UCLA and early bona fide Heisman contender, Myles Jack, shoudl be very good.
The Tigers lose a quarterback, two stud receivers, and several defensive linemen.
Guess what that means?
LSU will still be very good in 2014.
The Tigers return their entire offensive line, have a bevy of running backs, and the most reliable bet in college football is that John Chavis will have a stellar defense by the end of the year.
12. Michigan State
Look out, Connor Cook belongs near the top of quite a few Heisman lists coming into this year. While the defense won't be as stout as last year, the offense should be good.
But good enough to win at Oregon in September?
Nope, not that good.
The Maty Mauk era is about to begin in Columbia. Mauk may have the best receiver in the country, Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to, and Mizzou will need to score quite a bit because the defense takes some big hits.
Can Gary Pinkel keep it rolling?
I'll wager a jumbo glass of wine that the answer is -- yes.
A healthy Todd Gurley by himself can make most teams fit in the top 15.
Assuming Georgia returns their players with injuries, keeps starters on defense from being suspended, and new quarterback Hutson Mason proves decent, the Bulldogs should be a bit of a sleeper in 2014.
Rest easy, Bulldog fans, this year you guys are not my sleeper pick to win the BCS title.
Wisconsin doesn't play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in 2014.
So who in the world is going to beat them in the Big Ten?
If Wisconsin can get past LSU in the season opener, we're talking about a team whose toughest games would be at Northwestern and at Iowa.
16. Arizona State
Todd Graham's crew won the Pac 12 South, but just couldn't handle Stanford's brute force last year. Well, that's probably still the case in 2014, but with Taylor Kelly returning, the offense should be even more explosive.
But about that defense...
17. Ole Miss
Bo Wallace returns to lead an offense that should be very explosive. But it's the defense that might well have Rebel fans on their feet screaming, "Hotty Toddy."
With a relatively forgiving SEC schedule -- Vandy and Tennessee as the SEC east opponents -- and Alabama and Auburn both coming to Oxford, could this be the year that the Rebels finally contend for the SEC West?
18. Southern Cal
Look at it this way, last year a USC team coached by three different head coaches won ten games.
Now that Steve Sarkisian is in place, the talent's not actually that bad on USC.
Cody Kessler played great in the bowl game and the defense returns solid depth, meaning USC's not that far away from being pretty good.
19. Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin has recruited well in his two years in charge and now's the time for some of that young depth to start proving itself.
Here's a bet on yes.
Sure, Tajh Boyd is finally gone -- and Sammy Watkins probably is too -- but Chad Morris, assuming no one hires him, will have the offense in good shape.
The defense should be solid as well.
But Clemson has a tough draw on the schedule, Georgia and South Carolina again in 2014 and on the road at FSU?
21. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy's reached a point in time when his program deserves a top 25 ranking even when you're not really sure how they're going to shake out in 2014.
We'll find out about the Cowboys early, they open with, gulp, Florida State in Dallas.
Yes, the Hurricanes have to replace a departing quarterback, but he's surrounded by skill position players and the woeful defense should be much improved.
So far Al Golden has kept things together with smoke and mirrors at Miami, starting in 2014, we find out whether Miami is ready to contend with top teams.
Remember wunderkind head coach Chris Petersen? He finally left Boise State and has taken over at Washington.
I feel like this hire hasn't received that much attention.
Yes, the Huskies lose Keith Price and Bishop Sankey, but they've got one of the best defenses in the Pac 12 for 2014.
The Pac 12 North is going to be another dogfight.
24. Notre Dame
It's a good thing Everett Golson is back because the Fighting Irish 2014 schedule is totally brutal, featuring 10 2013 bowl teams, plus Northwestern, who won 10 games in 2012 before losing every close game in 2013.
Good luck, Brian Kelly, with this schedule, you're going to need it.
Yeah, yeah, I'm crazy, I know.
But, guess what, Florida's still going to have a really good defense. And I happen to believe that Jeff Driskel, when healthy, is a very good college quarterback.
That means the Gators can rise form the college football dead this year.
Really, stop rolling your eyes, they can.
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