No one stopped Florida State in 2013 despite the Seminoles starting a redshirt freshman quarterback and sending a ton of talent to the NFL draft. Now, Jameis Winston will be a sophomore, and despite losing stars such as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and running back James Wilder Jr., the 'Noles should reload. This team is frighteningly good, and it's showing no signs of slowing down.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Sophomore slumps are scientific and happen to every player ever. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Winston could prove no exception. With targets on their backs, the Seminoles could slip up early and spend the rest of the year trying to climb back to the top spot. Hubris and Icarus and plenty of other mythological warnings against getting too big for your britches come into play here, as well.
Nick Saban just lost two games in a row. He had to sit at a desk and talk about Auburn, the team that spoiled Alabama's undefeated season, and Florida State, a team coached by Saban's former assistant, on national television during the BCS title game. He'll be furious entering the 2014 campaign. Also, in the time it took to read the last few sentences, the Crimson Tide picked up three more five-star running backs and defensive linemen.
Most of the Oregon underclassmen who could have declared for the NFL draft decided to stick around, including star quarterback Marcus Mariota and all-conference center Hroniss Grasu. That's really encouraging news around Eugene. Head coach Mark Helfrich went through some clear learning experiences in his first year at the helm. If he can make some adjustments in year two, the Ducks have the talent to win the Pac-12.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Mariota could suffer another injury, forcing him to miss significant time and causing the Ducks' offense to sputter. The loss of running back and return man De'Anthony Thomas to the NFL may seem surmountable at first, but the lack of animal pictures and CAPS LOCK MOTIVATION could end up proving costly.
Urban Meyer was able to win 24 consecutive games in Columbus. That he dropped two in a row to close out the season was a bad beat he'll spend all offseason trying to address. The Buckeyes have been cleaning up on the recruiting trail. They get quarterback Braxton Miller back for his senior year, and most of their staff (outside of Mike Vrabel) has stayed intact despite speculation that many might bolt elsewhere. Even though Michigan State holds the conference crown, Ohio State should enter next fall as Big Ten favorites.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Miller could mentally check out during his senior season. The Buckeyes' two-game losing streak to end the 2013 campaign could affect Meyer so deeply that he falls victim to a crippling Papa John's addiction he can't shake.
The Sooners made a statement with their 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. People sort of forgot about them following a Nov. 7 loss to Baylor, but no one is ignoring them now. With a healthy roster and newfound stars in quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma will be dangerous.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Bob Stoops could leave for the NFL. Everyone on the team could get hurt again. Quarterback and real-life transformer Blake Bell could run through a retaining wall Juggernaut-style, causing the practice facility to collapse.
2013 record: 12-2
Gus Malzahn is a mastermind, and his players were only a few seconds away from winning it all. Even with Heisman finalist Tre Masondeclaring for the NFL draft, the Tigers have speedsters on offense and big, skilled players on defense. A winning culture has been instilled on the Plains, and that disastrous 3-9 (0-8 SEC) campaign has become a distant memory.
Why this ranking could be flawed: The SEC eats its own, and Auburn will get put through the meat grinder. The rest of a loaded West division could beat the "Team of Destiny" moniker right out of Malzahn's crew.
With quarterback Kevin Hogan having one more year to figure things outs, the Cardinal could establish a potent passing attack to accompany their dangerous ground game. They could dominate the way they were supposed to in 2013. Also, Stanford may find a way to line up 11 offensive linemen at once, sending the rest of the Pac-12 scrambling for answers.
Rich Homie Quan is on Sparty's side. Isn't that enough?
Why this ranking could be flawed: Expectations could grow too high in East Lansing. Fresh off playing the underdog role they relished so greatly, the Spartans may become uncomfortable as favorites. The defense might not play to the level it did in 2013, and opponents could key in on quarterback Connor Cook, forcing him to make mistakes.
2013 record: 10-3
Jim Mora spurned overtures from several other prominent coaching jobs for a reason. UCLA is this close to being elite, and Mora wants to see it through. The defense is mean, and quarterback Brett Hundley could be a Heisman candidate next year. The Bruins are for real.
Why this ranking could be flawed: After losing star linebacker Anthony Barr to the NFL, the defense could suffer a leadership breakdown. Two-way star Myles Jack, expected to do everything short of making the team's travel arrangements for road games, could undergo the same cloning process Michael Keaton's character from Multiplicity did. Hilarity ensues.
LSU struggled this year and still won 10 games. That's scary. The defense started to figure things out toward the end of the season, and it should click with another year of experience. The Cam Cameron experiment was actually a success, and chances are the offense will do just enough to keep LSU in the SEC title hunt next fall.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Without quarterback Zach Mettenberger and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., the offense could become one-dimensional. Sophomore signal-caller Anthony Jennings may not be quite ready to live up to his impressive high school pedigree. Coach Les Miles could (and likely will) get lost after parachuting into the Amazon for charity, and defensive coordinator and interim coach John Chavis may not be able to shake the "Urban Sombrero" nickname bestowed on him in the preseason.
1st and 10: Wisconsin runs 9 yards to the 37. 2nd and 1: Wisconsin runs 6 yards to the 43. 1st and 10: Wisconsin runs 7 yards to the 50. 2nd and 3: Wisconsin runs 4 yards to the 46. 1st and 10: Wisconsin runs 5 yards to the 41. 2nd and 5: Wisconsin runs 4 yards to the 37. 3rd and 1: Wisconsin runs 26 yards to the 11. 1st and 10: Wisconsin runs 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Have you seen Melvin Gordon? Have you seen him run with a football? The Badgers could go undefeated. Gary Andersen is a wizard of the highest order, and Wisconsin has New Glarus' Spotted Cow on its side. Clear eyes, full pints, can't lose.
Via Wikipedia: "Steven Spurrier (born 1941) is a British wine expert and former merchant in Paris, France, who has been described as a champion of French wine." HOLD ON A SECOND. There's a wine expert named Steve Spurrier? And the HBC has his own wine, too?
Wait, what were we talking about?
Why this ranking could be flawed: The Gamecocks may have too many missing pieces, and it could eventually catch up to them. Quarterback Connor Shaw was criminally underrated throughout his four-year career, and South Carolina may only realize it when it sees him playing the main stage at Lollapalooza in the beginning of August.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2013 record: 9-4
Quarterback Everett Golson is set to return. Notre Dame's defense should be better than its No. 48 S&P+ ranking in 2013. A hangover following the 2012 season's BCS title game loss to Alabama was to be expected. Still, Brian Kelly should keep the Irish nationally relevant in '14.
Why this ranking could be flawed: I'll leave this one to the message-board crowd: Notre Dame stinks. It's overrated every year. The media always think the Fighting Irish are going to be good, but they won't be. Stop pretending like Knute Rockne is still there.
Mark Richt finally put an end to the "lost control" meme in a season in which he actually did lose control of all the injuries that kept hitting the Bulldogs. The defense can only get better. Backup quarterback Hutson Mason showed that the pain of losing Aaron Murray might not be so bad. OK, it'll be bad. But it won't be so so bad.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Everyone on Georgia could get hurt again in weird and improbable ways. The Dawgs' season could play out like a bad Final Destination sequel. Stay alert, Todd Gurley.
2013 record: 11-2
Quarterback Bryce Petty is coming back. The Bears know what the big time feels like now, and they're not happy to have come up empty against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Art Briles will develop new wrinkles to add to the offense, and even though it might not put up such gaudy scoring totals in the next go-round, it'll keeping winning football games. Plus, there's that whole new stadium with the sailgating and whatnot.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Briles could take the Cleveland Browns job. (Just kidding, no one wants to coach the Browns.) Actually, I'm far more concerned about the live bears on campus. They're always much closer to the football team than I'm comfortable with.
The forgettable end to the Tommy Bowden era is finally behind the Tigers for good. Dabo Swinney has built a sustainable program that can weather the loss of great players, because there are plenty of great ones waiting in the wings. Clemson was 14th in Rivals.com's recruiting rankings in both 2012 and '13. It currently sits at 15th in the class of '14. Despite major departures, the cupboard is far from bare.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Aside from losing star wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Tigers could be doomed to fail because South Carolina's Spurrier won't stop playing tricks on Swinney. Spurrier may keep popping up around campus with boxes marked "ACME" and a giant grin on his face. Swinney won't come out of his office. No, really, we just tried. It's locked. I guess you can check the door again, but it's locked. See, told you.
There are a lot of really, really good players on this Missouri roster. Quarterback Maty Mauk will have his chance to take command of the offense. He looked impressive in his limited audition this season, including during a dazzling drive in the Cotton Bowl when the Tigers needed it most. Mizzou will need a lot of things to go right to get another crack at the SEC title, but it's not lacking for playmakers -- even with running back Henry Joseyset to join the NFL.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Still sour about not being given a sixth year of eligibility, Ben Mauk could kidnap his brother, Maty, and pass as him all preseason. People would quickly notice something is awry, though, as Mauk wouldn't stop talking about that "great Gnarls Barkley album" and some show called The O.C.
New coach Steve Sarkisian has a lot to work with here. He has a good defense, a strong rushing attack and a viable quarterback. If he can win over the players, the progress the Trojans made under interim coach Ed Orgeron should continue.
Why this ranking could be flawed: This is a Sarkisian team. It will win eight games.
All those blue-chip recruits from National Signing Day 2013 are a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger. Early playing time was invaluable to those guys, and even in a tough season, Ole Miss impressed with wins over LSU and Texas. The schedule doesn't get any easier in '14, but the Rebels should be ready.
Why this ranking could be flawed:Dr. Bo could be mistaken for a real doctor and asked to help assist a birth in a limo, like that one The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode. Rattled after another Egg Bowl loss, coach Hugh Freeze could start to see eggs everywhere, a phobia that hampers his game-planning ability.
2013 record: 8-5
Charlie Strong knows what he's doing. He posted a 23-3 record in his last two seasons at Louisville. If he can address the quarterback issues that have plagued the Longhorns, the roster still has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. And there's no way Texas can be as injury-riddled as it was in 2013, right?
Why this ranking could be flawed:Mack Brown ransacked the place. There's seriously nothing left. I think he even took the copper wire on his way out. He must be halfway to Cleveland by now.
Arizona State Sun Devils
2013 record: 10-4
Arizona State's up-tempo, run-as-many-plays-as-possible-no-really-slow-down-please offense gives most opponents (read: just about everyone except Stanford) fits. Despite all the punchlines, Todd Graham is a very good coach. Quarterback Taylor Kelly and a lot of skill players are set to return, and another 10-win season isn't out of the question.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Graham could undergo some kind of Walter Mitty situation in which he actually starts to dream about working other jobs. Also, the loss of havoc-wreaking defensive tackle Will Sutton is kind of a big deal.
Texas A&M Aggies
2013 record: 9-4
Kevin Sumlin can coach, y'all. He can recruit. It's not easy to replace a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, but both Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen have fans in College Station cautiously optimistic. A&M's defense needs to get better, fast, but the building blocks for sustained success are in place.
Why this ranking could be flawed: The departures of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews could end up costing this team dearly. No amount of Swagcopters and #YESSIRS may keep the Aggies from struggling in the Year 1 AJFF.
Mike Gundy has won at least nine games in five of the past six seasons (the Cowboys went 8-5 in 2012). The way the defense is set up (11th in S&P+ in 2013), it will likely be successful next year. As long as Oklahoma State can find consistency on offense, it'll be a contender in the Big 12.
Why this ranking could be flawed: The Cowboys could have trouble finding a quarterback who will stick all year. Running back Desmond Roland, meanwhile, could wake up one morning scared out of his wits of Pistol Pete. (And who can blame him? That mascot is next-level scary.)
The Blue Devils bring back both quarterbacks and an all-purpose star in Jamison Crowder. Coach David Cutcliffe has a vision for his program and can reportedly see into the future, making him some kind of X-Men character. He also got Duke (Duke!) to the ACC championship game. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Why this ranking could be flawed: The loss of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper could mean more than anyone thought it would. As Florida finds its way back to the promised land, Duke will pop in Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" and remember the good times.
Matt Wells won nine games in his debut season as Utah State's head coach, taking the Aggies to a Mountain West championship appearance despite losing his star quarterback and dealing with a variety of other injuries. The defense ranked among the best in the nation, and it shut down Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch in the Aggies' 21-14 Poinsettia Bowl win over Northern Illinois.
Why this ranking could be flawed: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton's rehab could happen more slowly than expected, and when he returns he may be a bit hesitant. Keeton also might not immediately return to being the player he was before he went down with a torn ACL.