Florida State, Auburn headline early Top 10 for 2014
The last crystal football the BCS will ever hand out will soon have its place in Tallahassee.
With the coronation of Florida State as national champions, the time of computers was brought to a close and the playoff era officially began.
Goodbye, algorithms. Hello, selection committee.
Who will be in the forefront of the conversation to make the first four-team field? Let’s take a look at the top 10 for 2014, headlined by a pair of all-too-familiar teams.
2013 record: 14-0, 8-0 in ACC
The Seminoles may just be getting started.
They should be the clear No. 1 heading as they begin the national title defense behind a roster returning as many as nine starters on offense an eight on defense, plus both specialists.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is the poster boy of it all, but Florida State will also bring back its top three rushers in Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., along with a big weapon at wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. The defense has its stars too in retaining two of the top four tacklers in linebacker Terrance Smith and tackle Timmy Jernigan.
Also back will be Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo and punter Cason Beatty.
Losing Rimington Trophy winner Bryan Stork at center hurts — though replacement Austin Barron has experience — and the linebacking corps will have two new faces, but barring some NFL defections, there won’t be many holes to fill.
2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 in SEC
There’s little chance the Tigers will be picked fifth in their own division this time around after their surprise run to Pasadena.
The offense could potentially return all 10 starters, should running back Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes return (tackle Greg Robinson has already declared for the draft) and quarterback Nick Marshall will have another offseason to digest Gus Malzahn’s playbook, which could allow for Marshall to see more opportunities with his arm.
While the defense loses pass-rusher Dee Ford and end Nosa Eguae, the freshman trio of Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson that was so pivotal in the 2013 run should help pick up the pieces.
Key here is improving a pass defense that ranked next-to-last in the SEC and 102nd nationally and will have two new starters.
2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 in SEC
The running back corps will be among the best of the Nick Saban era with T.J. Yeldon (1,235 yards and 14 TDs), Kenyan Drake (694 yards and eight scores) and Derrick Henry (100 yards and two total TDs in Sugar Bowl), they’ll be operating behind a line with up to four starters back and WR Amari Cooper is among the nation’s best.
Despite losing LB C.J. Mosley and end ED Stinson the defense still has an All-American back in safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (if he come back) and All-SEC picks Trey DePriest (MLB) and safety Landon Collins.
But the biggest question is at QB, where the loss of AJ McCarron leaves a major void. Only one player, Blake Sims, has a pass attempt to his credit with 39 the last two seasons.
A strength the last three years, it’s the QB position that could limit the Tide this time around.
2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Pac-12
Given the stigma surrounding returning Heisman winners, the Ducks may have the season’s front-runner in QB Marcus Mariota, who totaled 4,380 yards and 40 TDs.
The only loss on offense so far is RB/WR De’Anthony Thomas and this group should once again be among the nation’s most explosive units.
Scoring won’t be a problem, but can Oregon improve enough on defense, especially against physical running teams?
The Ducks ranked 66th vs. the rush (165.5) in ’13 and the front seven will at least be experienced, bringing back five starters. They should have the benefit of one of the country’s top secondaries holding things down behind them with corners Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell and safety Erick Dargan.
2013 record: 11-2, 8-1 in Big 12
The loss of RB Lache Seastrunk is a big concern for the Big 12 champions, as does replacing three offensive linemen, including an All-American. But regardless of whose not there, the Bears still return plenty of firepower in their bid to repeat in conference behind QB Bryce Petty (3,844 yards and 30 TDs).
The defense will be down seven starters, including four in the secondary after a year in which the group was dramatically improved. Having All-Big 12 LB Bryce Hager (71 tackles) will help, but the Bears will once again have their doubters on this side of the ball.
2013 record: 11-3, 7-2 in Pac-12
The Cardinal will be down a workhorse running back in Tyler Gaffney, who was responsible for 56.5 percent of the team’s carries and 58.8 percent of all rushing yards. They’ll look to Remound Wright, Rickey Seale and Barry Sanders to step up, but none of them had more than 102 yards in ’13.
While QB Kevin Hogan will return for his third year as a starter the strength of this squad will be along its offensive line — that is if guard David Yankey and tackles Andrus Peat and Cameron Fleming are back in Palo Alto — and a secondary that would include four returners if safety Ed Reynolds puts off the NFL.
2013 record: 12-2, 8-0 in Big Ten
Braxton Miller will make another run at a Heisman, but he’ll have to do it without the benefit of the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher in Carlos Hyde (1,521 yards). There will be a number of new faces for the Buckeyes on that side of the ball with six new starters, including four along the line. But with one of the most dynamic players in the game in Miller and two of the top four-pass catchers back in Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, Urban Meyer’s offense will remain explosive.
The defense, despite bringing back as many as six of the front seven even with the loss of LB Ryan Shazier to the draft, has its question marks. Can a secondary that was among the nation’s worst (110th at 268.0 ypg) get better sans All-American corner Bradley Roby? The answer could decide if next year’s Buckeyes face the same limitations that the ’13 squad did.
2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Big Ten
A year ago, we put too much stock into a team’s Sugar Bowl victory over an SEC squad and the play of a quarterback, only to see it fall out of the national title race by mid-October.
But the Sooners, who likely found their QB in Trevor Knight, who impressed in the win over Alabama, will be led by a defense that returns nine starters after topping the Big 12 in total D.
The top rushers are all gone, but Keith Ford has workhorse potential and the offensive line loses just one major contributor.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Sooners will get Baylor and Oklahoma State at home and have a manageable non-conference slate.
2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12
The Bruins get one more year of Brett Hundley, who announced he’d be back as a redshirt junior, and the athletic department already got things started with a #Hundley4Heisman push on the team’s Web site.
He’s the biggest piece, but UCLA looks poised to build on consecutive seasons with at least nine wins with as many as 18 starters returning. That includes a fully stocked offensive line and secondary and a budding household name in RB/LB Myles Jack.
The defensive front will miss four along the front seven, including LBs Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, and leading receiver Shaquelle Evans is gone. But in all, Hundley’s supporting cast could be better this time around.
2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 in Big Ten
The Spartans were third in both the final Associated Press and coaches poll, their best finish since they were No. 2 in 1966 in a season defined by their defense.
Even with the loss of six starters from the nation’s top-ranked unit, Michigan State should remain solid behind All-American safety Kurtis Drummond and All-Big Ten end Shilique Calhoun. But the offense is where the Spartans could see the biggest improvement in 2014.
QB Connor Cook — who threw for 332 yards in the Rose Bowl vs. Stanford and 304 against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game — should only be better and in all, the Spartans will bring back 85.7 percent of their offense from ’13. That includes six players with at least 69 carries and six with at least 47 receptions.