2014 Pac-12 Football Standings

North

Oregon Ducks 12-1 (9-1)

Since 1999, the Oregon Ducks have become a national power in college football as they have finished the season ranked in the top 25 11 times. The Ducks have been known for their offense as they had the second best offense in the nation last year and that will once again be the case in 2014.

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Marcus Mariota

Redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Mariota had an opportunity to jump to the National Football League after a stellar 2013 campaign, but he opted to return to Eugene for a shot at the national championship. Last year Mariota threw 31 touchdown passes to only 4 interceptions. Aside from being a good passer, Mariota was also Oregon’s second leading rusher last season and he should be in the running this season to win the Heisman Trophy.

The Ducks return nine starters on offense including their entire offensive line, but their upcoming Pac-12 schedule will be defined by five games. The Ducks have three key road games against Washington State, UCLA, and of course their “Civil War” to finish the regular season against Oregon State. The Ducks also will have key home games against Arizona and Stanford who were the only teams to defeat Oregon last season.

Led by Mariota, the Ducks should be able to win the Pac-12 this season and they’ll also be in the mix for the national championship.

Stanford Cardinal 8-4 (7-2)

When Jim Harbaugh resigned as the head football coach of the Stanford Cardinal in early 2010, there were some people believed that the program would take a downward spiral. But David Shaw has quelched that myth. In three seasons as the head football coach at Stanford, Shaw has led the Cardinal to a BCS bowl game and he will be looking for more in 2014, but it won’t be as easy.

The Cardinal replace a ton of talent on their offensive line which has been their bread and butter in the past few seasons. But the Cardinal still have junior offensive tackle Andrus Peat who could be an All-American when the season end and he’ll also be in charge of protecting the blindside of redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Hogan.

Stanford’s road schedule alone this season is very daunting with contests against Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA.

Oregon State Beavers 9-3 (6-3)

The Oregon State Beavers are nestled up in tiny Corvallis, Oregon, but this team is looking to walk tall in 2014. Unless you watch Pac-12 football consistently or you’re just a college football junkie like me, you may not know about Oregon State senior quarterback Sean Mannion, but he is the real deal. Mannion passed for more than 4,600 yards last season. However Mannion was overshadowed by other Pac-12 quarterbacks such as Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Brett Hundley of UCLA, and Marcus Mariota of Oregon. Along with Mannion, Oregon State is returning seven starters on offense in what could be a very explosive unit.

For Oregon State head coach Mike RIley, road games against USC, Stanford, and Washington along with their “Civil War” will determine whether the Beavers will be able to win the Pac-12 North for the first time in school history.

Washington State Cougars 8-4 (5-4)

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Mike Leach

Entering their third season under head football coach Mike Leach, the Washington State Cougars appear ready to turn the corner in the Pac-12. Last season Leach led the Cougars to their first bowl game appearance since 2003 and now he feels that his squad is ready to contend with the big boys in the Pac-12.

Washington State senior quarterback Connor Halliday is back to finish his collegiate career at Pullman and he’ll look to join the likes of Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, and Jason Gesser as great Wazzu signal-callers. In 2012, Halliday was thrown to the wolves as he was Leach’s first starting quarterback for the Cougars, but he came into his own last season as he passed for nearly 4,600 yards and 37 touchdowns. Halliday was intercepted 22 times last season and he was also sacked 31 times which are two numbers that he must be cut down on if Washington State is going to be able to contend this season in the Pac-12 North. Halliday knows how to spread the football around in Leach’s wide open system as four Washington State receivers gained over 500 yards receiving in 2013. The best of the bunch was wide receiver Gabe Marks who as a senior in 2014 could be an all Pac-12 performer.

The Cougars non-conference schedule is a cakewalk, but in their first Pac-12 game this season Washington State will host Oregon which will go a long way as far as seeing how the year will go in Pullman.

Washington Huskies 9-4 (5-4)

Things have changed drastically in Seattle for the Washington Huskies. After five years as the head football coach of the Huskies, Steve Sarkisian left to take over at USC.  But all is not lost for the Huskies. After eight seasons as the head football coach at Boise State University, Chris Peterson was coaxed into leaving his comfortable digs in Boise for more money in Seattle and he is looking to keep improving off of what Sarkisian started.

Washington will get Stanford at home this season, but they’ll have their work cut out for them on the road against Oregon, Arizona, and Washington State.

California Golden Bears 3-9 (1-8)

After a 1-11 campaign in his first year as the head football coach of the California Golden Bears, there is only one direction to go for Sonny Dykes. Dykes and the Golden Bears must become more competitive this season as only one of their losses last season was by single digits.

California sophomore quarterback Jared Goff could pass for more than 4,000 in the upcoming season and if he does it should be an example of the improvement by the Golden Bears program. But for Cal to take that next step in 2014 they must improve on their rushing offense that was 106th in the nation last year.

The Pac-12 is one of the toughest conferences in college football and it is once again going to be tough for the Golden Bears to not get lost in the shuffle.

South

UCLA Bruins 12-1 (9-1)

When Jim Mora took over as the head football coach of the UCLA Bruins in 2012, he put an emphasis on making his squad tougher. UCLA was coming off of a 6-8 in 2011 season and in two years under Mora the Bruins had their first 10-win season since 2005. Now this season begins with UCLA thinking about winning the national championship.

The Bruins have one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in redshirt junior Brett Hundley who’ll be behind an offensive line that features a trio of 300 pounders.

Defensively the Bruins return their entire starting secondary from last season in what could be college football’s version of “The Legion of Boom”.

UCLA will host Oregon on October 11 and I believe that these two schools will meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

USC Trojans 9-3 (6-3)

This season a new era will begin for the University of Southern California Trojans with a familiar face leading the way. For seven years during the 2000′s, Steve Sarkisian was on USC’s football coaching staff. Sarkisian spent the last five years as the head football coach of the Washington Huskies and now he is back in Los Angeles to lead the Men of Troy. Sarkisian inherits a Trojan squad that went 10-4 in 2013 and they are ready to accomplish bigger things in 2014.

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Cody Kessler

USC junior quarterback Cody Kessler emerged as a leader last season and he appears ready to take his game to the next level. You can also expect a heavy dose of the running game from the Trojans with junior running back Tre Madden as he’ll run behind an offensive line that returns three starters from a year ago.

The Trojans return eight starters on defense including some players that will be playing on Sunday in the near future. USC junior defensive end Leonard Williams, middle linebacker Hayes Pullard, and sophomore strong safety Su’a Cravers have pro potential and each player should be All-Pac-12 performers this season.

The Trojans will avoid playing Oregon this season, but road games against Stanford, Arizona, and UCLA will determine if USC will return to national prominence this season.

Arizona State Sun Devils 6-6 (4-5)

In Tempe, Arizona and the surrounding areas there is a buzz in regards to Arizona State Sun Devils football. Last season Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham led the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 South Championship and they are looking for more of the same in 2014.

Last season the Sun Devils had the tenth ranked scoring offense in the nation. Arizona State senior quarterback Taylor Kelly passed for more than 3,600 yards in 2013 and he should be able to flirt with the 4,000 yard mark this season. Kelly is not just a pocket passer as he was the Sun Devils second leading rusher last season which allows him to extend plays. If Arizona State is able to have a successful 2014 campaign, then junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong will be a huge part of it; especially if he flirts with getting 90 receptions this season.

The Sun Devils defense will be a work in progress as they’ll only return two starters from last year’s unit. But Arizona State senior strong safety Damarious Randall will anchor the defensive squad.

Arizona State will face one of the tougher schedules in the Pac-12 as they have road contests against USC, Washington, Washington State, and Arizona along with home games against UCLA and Stanford who they lost to in last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game.

Graham has a good offensive club, but the Arizona State could get swallowed up within the depth of the Pac-12 Conference.

Arizona Wildcats 6-6 (3-6)

Not since the days of the “Desert Swarm” under former head football coach Dick Tomey has the excitement been like it is now for the Arizona Wildcats in Tuscon. Rich Rodriguez is set to embark on his third season as the Wildcats head football coach and he has two bowl victories under his belt. In Rodriguez’s first two years in Tucson, the ‘Cats have finished fourth in the Pac-12 South. But will Arizona be able to take the next step in 2014?

Rodriguez coached teams are going to run the football which was the case last season when Arizona was 11th in the nation in rushing offense. ‘Zona lost two of their top three rushers from last year’s team, but junior running back Jared Bell should get the bulk of the carries in Rodriguez’s spread offense. Arizona senior quarterback B.J. Denker had a 61.2 completion percentage last season while he was also the team’s second leading rusher and you can expect more of the same in 2014.

In a span of four games Arizona will face Oregon, USC, Washington State, and UCLA which could make or break their season.

Utah Utes 4-8 (2-7)

The grass is not always greener on the other side as the Utah Utes are finding out. In their last three seasons in the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were 33-3. But since joining the Pac-12, Utah is 18-19. Unlike other schools that bolted one conference in favor of a large payday in a bigger conference, the Utes move was partially due to the fact that they were not going to get a fair shake as far as the ability to play for a national championship in the Mountain West.

For Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham he must get more consistency this season out of junior quarterback Travis Wilson who threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last year. But Wilson will be able to lean on senior wide receiver Dres Anderson as his main target in the passing game.

Aside from their brutal conference schedule, the Utes have non-conference showdowns this year with Fresno State and Michigan in what could be another long season in Salt Lake City.

Colorado Buffaloes 2-10 (0-9)

The glory days of the Colorado Buffaloes football program are a thing of the past. From 1985-2005, the Buffaloes only had three losing seasons and they also were able to claim one national championship. Since then Colorado has become a bottom feeder; first in the Big 12 Conference and now in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes have not had a winning season since 2005 and under head football coach Mike MacIntyre, Colorado is hopeful to reverse the cycle in 2014.

MacIntyre is hopeful that the the offensive combination of sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau and junior wide receiver Nelson Spruce will be emerge this year as offensive threats in Boulder in order to make the Buffaloes relevant in the Pac-12.

It will be extremely important for the Buffs to win their first two games of the season against Colorado State and Massachusetts in order to gain some confidence for themselves heading into conference play.

Pac-12 Championship Game-Levi’s Stadium-Santa Clara, Californina

Oregon vs. UCLA

Pac-12 Champion-Oregon

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Nationalchamps.net, Cfbstats.com

 

2014 Big 12 Conference Football Projections

Oklahoma Sooners 12-0 (9-0)

Bob Stoops

Under head football coach Bob Stoops, the Oklahoma Sooners have always been near the top of the Big 12 Conference. After the Sooners knocked off the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl this past January, Stoops believes that he team is ready to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2010.

As a sophomore, quarterback Trevor Knight is going to be expected to take that next step. Knight was an on-again, off-again starter last season at Oklahoma, but he is now the guy in Norman.

The Sooners return nine starters on defense including their entire front seven. While some teams in the Big 12 are rebuilding, Oklahoma is poised for a title run.

The Big 12 will come down to the Sooners, the Baylor Bears, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Luckily for Oklahoma, they host the Bears and Cowboys this season and when the smoke clears it should be “Boomer Sooner” finishing 2014 as the Big 12 Champs.

Baylor Bears 9-3 (6-3)

For the first the in school history the Baylor Bears are beginning the season as a favorite to win the Big 12 Conference. Art Briles is entering his seventh season as Baylor’s head football coach and in that time he has performed as Texas-sized miracle in Waco. Prior to 2010, the Bears had never had a winning season in the Big 12 and now they are accustomed to packing for bowl games.

Bryce Peyy

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty shocked most people when he decided to return to school for his senior year. Petty passed for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions last season. So what can Petty do for an encore this season? Petty will have his top wide receiver back in senior wide receiver Antwan Goodley and the two are ready to dominate defenses in the Big 12. After a strong freshman season, running back Shock Linwood should gain at least 1,250 yards on the ground this year as a sophomore.

Road games against the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners will go a long way in determining whether or not Baylor will win the Big 12 in 2014.

TCU Horned Frogs 8-4 (5-4)

In their last two seasons in the Mountain West Conference, the TCU Horned Frogs were 24-2. But in their first two seasons in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs are only 11-14 which is something that TCU head football coach Gary Patterson is out to change.

For TCU to take that next step this year in the Big 12, Patterson will need more consistency from junior quarterback Trevone Boykin who is mobile, but he’ll need to make more plays from inside of the pocket.

The Horned Frogs first two conference games are against Oklahoma and Baylor and a good start could be just what the doctor ordered in Fort Worth for Texas Christian.

Kansas State Wildcats 7-5 (5-4)

Bill Snyder

So much for the retirement of Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder. After 17 years on the job as Kansas State’s head football coach, Snyder retired in 2005 only to come back in 2009. The Wildcats have finished the last four seasons with a winning record while being a thorn in the side of the top-tier schools in the Big 12.

To be a quarterback for Snyder at Kansas State you must able to throw the football as well as run and that is the case for K-State senior quarterback Jake Waters. The Wildcats did lose their top two rushers from last year’s team, but Snyder still has senior wide receiver Tyler Lockett who could be an All-Big-12 performer at season’s end.

Manhattan, Kansas is where dreams come to die for opponents and on September 18, Kansas State will host the Auburn Tigers who are looking to get back to the national championship game for a second consecutive season. I guarantee you that aside from the Big 12 Conference schedule, Snyder and the folks in the Little Apple have circled the game with Auburn on the calender.

Texas Tech Red Raiders 6-6 (5-4)

In his first season as the head football coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Kliff Kingsbury had an up and down campaign. In 2013, the Red Raiders won their first seven games of the season before losing their next five. The Red Raiders would go on to defeat the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl and Kingsbury is hopeful that a winning season in his first season at Tech can be a spring board to bigger things in 2014.

Last year the Red Raiders had a quarterback battle between Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is no longer enrolled at Texas Tech and the sophomore Webb is now entrenched as the starting signal caller in Lubbock. In Kingsbury’s wide open offense, Webb can sling the football with anyone.

Last season Tech had the second ranked passing offense in the nation and being that Kingsbury is a disciple of current Washington State head football coach Mike Leach, you’ll see more of the same this season. At 5’6″, 160 lbs., Texas Tech junior wide receiver Jakeem Grant is a shifty burner that will line up all over the football field as he’ll look to cause problems for opponents.

With road games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State to start their Big 12 season I doubt that Texas Tech will begin this season with a record of 7-0, but a bowl game should still be on the horizon.

West Virginia Mountaineers 6-6 (5-4)

Prior to joining the Big 12 Conference in 2012, the West Virginia Mountaineers had ten consecutive winning seasons as members of the Big East Conference. Since joining the Big 12, the Mountaineers are 11-14 and West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen must get things turned around in a hurry in order to appease the folks in Morgantown.

Any success that West Virginia will have this season will come down to the effectiveness of senior quarterback Clint Trickett. Holgorsen’s spread offense is supposed to put up points on the scoreboard, but Trickett did not have the players around him last season on offense to be effective and it will once again be tough for him in 2014.

The Mountaineers upcoming schedule is not an easy one, but if they can navigate though it they could find a way to be bowl eligible which could potentially save Holgorsen’s job.

Oklahoma State Cowboys 6-6 (5-4)

In nine seasons as the head football coach of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys, Mike Gundy has changed things in Stillwater as the Cowboys are no longer the little brothers of the Oklahoma Sooners. The Cowboys are coming off of a 10-win season, but if they are going to remain that consistent they will need a big year from junior quarterback J.W. Walsh and senior running back Desmond Roland.

The schedule monster got Oklahoma State this year. The Cowboys will open the year against the defending national champions in the Florida State Seminoles, and they also have road games against K-State, Baylor, and Oklahoma.

Texas Longhorns 5-7 (4-5)

Charlie Strong

The Charlie Strong era has officially begun in Austin, Texas. Strong took over as the new head football coach of the Texas Longhorns for the recently retired Mack Brown and he has his work cut out for him. Things have changed for the Longhorns as they no longer have a stranglehold on recruiting in the state of Texas as other schools are catching up which means that Strong must go to work as far as making sure that the best players within the state come to Austin.

Strong wasn’t able to bring some of the talent that he had at the University of Louisville to Texas, but he still has a strong ground attack to rely on in senior running back Malcolm Brown and junior running back Johnathan Gray.

The Big 12 slate alone is tough for Texas and non-conference home games against BYU and UCLA won’t be a bed of roses either.

Kansas Jayhawks 3-9 (1-8)

2008 was the last year that the Kansas Jayhawks had a winning season as they have been consistently caught up in the wash of the Big 12 Conference. Charlie Weis is entering his third season as the head football coach at Kansas and his 4-20 record in his first two campaigns has not given the folks in Lawrence a boat load of optimism. You can expect more of the same this season from the Jayhawks as the talent simply is not there.

Iowa State Cyclones 2-10 (0-9)

In three of the first four seasons under head football coach Paul Rhoads, the Iowa State Cyclones made a bowl game. But the Cyclones took a huge step backwards last season as they had their worst year since 2008. The Cyclones must improve on an offense that was 97th in the nation last season. But in spite of this, six of Iowa State’s nine losses were by a combined 26 points. The Cyclones however will still have their work cut out for them in the Big 12 in 2014.

Sources: Cfbstats.com, sports-reference.com, nationalchamps.net

Things Have Changed For The Yankees

New York Yankees

From 1995-2012, the New York Yankees enjoyed one of the best stretches in Major League Baseball history. Over that period the Yankees only missed the postseason once while capturing the World Series Championship on five occasions. After missing the postseason last year, the Yankees currently have a record of 63-60. The Yankees are in third place in the American League East as they are 8.5 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles and they’re four games behind the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers for the AL’s final wild card spot. With roughly five weeks to go in the MLB season, these deficits are not insurmountable for the Bronx Bombers to overcome, but it won’t be easy either as the overall rules of how the Yanks have gone about business has changed.

When MLB introduced free agency in 1976, it was the Yankees and their former owner George Steinbrenner who were at the forefront in acquiring talent as the likes of Baseball Hall of Famers such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter helped the Bronx Bombers win titles in the 1970′s. Since then the Yankees have always spent top dollar in free agency as Steinbrenner loved to spend money on players that would put “meat in the seats”. And when free agency begins each year you can always expect the Yankees to spend a pretty penny. After missing the postseason last year, the Yankees spent big this past winter when they signed outfielders Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with catcher Brian McCann, and starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees spent $438 million last winter on these four players, but the system that the Bronx Bombers have thrived on (free agency) has changed.

Ellsbury and McCann were each first time free agents last summer at the age of 30. Tanaka had never pitched in Major League Baseball before and he thus last winter he went to the highest bidder. Beltran is 37-years of age and the eight-time MLB All-Star was looking to prolong his career as a part-time outfielder/ designated hitter. MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement has now extended the time before a player can become an unrestricted free agent. Where in the past a player might have hit free agency at the age of 27 or 28, most players now hit the market at the age of 30, or in some cases 31 or 32. Now more than ever when teams such as the Yankees will sign an unrestricted free agent and they are paying for past accolades as players are nearing the end of the prime of their careers when they hit free agency. Along with implementing the luxury tax on teams that spend money, MLB made the change in regards to free agency as a way to aide the smaller market teams that could not compete with teams like the Yankees in free agency and the result has been more parity in baseball.

From 1996-2001, the Yankees made five appearances in the World Series and they came away with four titles. Since 2000 there has not been a repeat World Series Champion with only the 2001 Yankees and 2009 Philadelphia Phillies making it back to the Fall Classic after winning it in the previous year. The Texas Rangers won the American League Pennant in 2011 and 2012, but they were unable to win the World Series.

When George Steinbrenner passed away in 2010, the Yankees would be left to his sons Hank and Hal. But unlike their father, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have not always gone crazy in spending. But last year’s non-playoff appearance coupled with the rival Boston Red Sox winning the World Series saw the Yankees spend money, but mostly on players who’s best years are in the rear view mirror.

In 2002, McCann was drafted in the second round of the MLB Draft out of high school by the Atlanta Braves and by 2005 he made the big club. In nine seasons with the Braves, McCann was a seven-time National League All-Star with a career batting average of .274. This season with the Yankees, McCann is only hitting .235 with a .290 on-base percentage in spite of the fact that the short porch at Yankee Stadium is inviting to left-handed hitters like him. McCann recently returned from the disabled list after sustaining a head injury and he really has not been the factor that the Steinbrenners and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman expected him to be when he was signed to a five-year, $85 million deal.

Unlike McCann, Ellsbury’s production has not dipped as much. Last year with the Red Sox, Ellsbury had a .298 batting average which has fallen to .274 this season in the Bronx. But Ellsbury still has a high on-base percentage and he is one pace to steal 40 bases for the third time in his career while also providing tremendous defensive range in center field.

Tanaka is 25-years of age and the Japanese born pitcher was rolling along with a record of 12-4 with a 2.51 earned run average until an elbow injury put him on the shelf last month.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has kept this team together with spit and glue as they are remaining relevant. But if the Yankees are able to make the postseason this October, you can expect Cashman to spend once again this off-season in the pursuit of making this team better. With doubts about Tanaka and starting pitcher CC Sabathia, the Yankees need another starting pitcher. Current Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jon Lester will be an unrestricted free agent this winter and he will draw a ton of interest on the open market as the A’s will not be able to afford him. But he will be 31-years old in January. The same will be the case of current Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer who is 30-years old. If the Yanks went after either Scherzer or Lester they would be flirting with being stuck once again with a bloated contract down the road for a player that is past his prime. The only way for the Yankees to prevent this is by developing their own talent like many teams around Major League Baseball are currently doing.

But when the Yankees fail to make the playoffs they tend to get desperate and they might be willing to overspend once again this winter if they end up watching the playoffs at home.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

2014 College Football Top 25

1. Florida State Seminoles

It was the Florida State Seminoles that last season were able to end the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year reign as national champions. The ‘Noles were able to hold of the Auburn Tigers in the final Bowl Championship Series Title Game to win the school’s third national championship.

Going into the 2013 college football season I had Florida State ranked as the 22nd best team in the country, but this time around they’re in the catbird’s seat.

Jameis Winston

Last year as a redshirt freshman, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston burst onto the scene with 40 touchdown passes to only 10 interceptions as he became the first Seminole player since Chris Weinke in 2001 to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top football player. This season the bulls eye will be on Winston and the ‘Noles as everyone is looking to knock them off.

Along with Winston, the Seminoles are returning seven starters on offense. Winston’s top target in 2013 was wide receiver Rashad Greene who led the team in receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,128). Greene is entering his senior campaign at Tallahassee and he is a logical candidate to be a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer.

Led by junior defensive end Mario Edwards, the Florida State defense returns seven starters in 2014.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher is entering his fifth season at Florida State and his squad should be in the running to reach the inaugural college football playoff.

2. Oregon Ducks

In the past few years the Oregon Ducks football program has ascended to new heights. From 2010-2013, the Ducks played in four BCS bowl games and they are always in the running to win the Pac-12 Championship.

Last year in his first go round as the head football coach at Oregon, Mark Helfrich led the Ducks to an 11-2 record as they finished the season ranked ninth in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls. Helfrich has a squad this season that is equipped to win the program’s first national championship.

Oregon’s success this season will come down to junior quarterback Marcus Mariota’s play making ability. Last season Mariota accounted for nearly 4,600 yards worth of total offense for the Ducks and he will once again be an unstoppable force in 2014. With all five starters returning on Oregon’s offensive line you can expect junior running back Byron Marshall and junior wide receiver Bralon Addison to have big seasons this fall as well.

Defensively the Ducks return five starters from last year’s squad, but none more important than 6’7″ junior defensive end DeForest Buckner and senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who will both be in the running to be All-Pac-12 performers.

If Oregon is able to survive road games against Washington State, UCLA, and Oregon State, along with the Pac-12 Title Game, they’ll be able to navigate their way to the college football playoff.

3. Baylor Bears

When Art Briles took over as the head football coach of the Baylor University Bears in 2008 he had his hands full. Briles took over a Baylor football program that had not had a winning season since 1995 which was their last season in the Southwest Conference.  By 2010, Briles guided Baylor to a winning season and in the two of the past three seasons the Bears have finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. Now the eyes of a nation are on Baylor as the expectations are high for them this season. After winning the Big 12 Conference last season for the first time in school history, Baylor is looking to contend for a national championship.

Last year as a junior, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty passed for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions as he was in the running for the Heisman Trophy. If Baylor is going to remain in contention, Petty will once again be putting up big numbers. Petty will have his top wide receiver back this season in senior Antwan Goodley who led the team in receptions (71), receiving yards (1,339), and receiving touchdowns (13).

The Bears will return four starters on defense from last season, but it will come down to their offense that scored 60 or more points six times last season.

The Bears will face both Texas and Oklahoma on the road which will be tough tests for them. But if Baylor can pass those tests, then there is a good chance that they’ll win the Big 12.

4. Auburn Tigers

Gus Malzahn

When Gus Malzahn took over as the head football coach of the Auburn University Tigers in 2013, the only way to go was up. Malzahn took over at Auburn after the school only won 3 games in 2012. Malzahn was Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2010 when the Tigers won the national championship so there was a high level of familiarity with the expectations there.

Last year the Tigers came out of nowhere to win the SEC and they were a few precious seconds away from winning the national championship. The SEC has seen what Malzahn and Auburn can do: Now will they be ready for another dose of his non-stop offensive attack?

Last year Auburn had the top rushing attack in the nation as they simply imposed their will onto opponents. Last year running back Tre Mason gained more than 1,800 rushing yards for Malzahn and Auburn, but now he is in the National Football League as a member of the St. Louis Rams. Senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne is expected to be the bell-cow back in Malzahn’s system. Artis-Payne only carried the rock 91 times in 2013, but he is going to get his opportunity to shine this season. Sophomore offensive tackle Avery Brown and senior center Reese Dismukes will lead an offensive line that is one of the best in the country. Auburn’s offensive line will look to protect Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall who will look to improve on the 59.4 completion percentage and when the Tigers do pass the football he will be searching for senior wide receiver Sammie Coates.

The Tigers return seven starters on defense, but they must improve as they were 87th in the nation in total defense and they cannot solely rely on their high octane offense.

For his off-season arrest, Marshall will be held out of Auburn’s season opener against Arkansas and overall the Tigers must find a way to survive the gauntlet that is the SEC.

5. Michigan State Spartans

In 2007 when Mark Dantonio was hired as the head football coach of the Michigan State University Spartans he was brought in to change the culture in East Lansing and he has done that. For years in the Big Ten Conference, the Spartans were considered to be the “little brothers” of the Michigan Wolverines. But since Dantonio has taken over in East Lansing, the Spartans are 5-2 against Michigan. Dantonio’s Spartans are now on to bigger things now as they will enter the 2014 college football season as the defending Big Ten Champions and they’re also fresh off of their first Rose Bowl victory since 1988. Now Michigan State is looking for its first national championship since 1966.

Led by junior quarterback Connor Cook, the Spartans return eight offensive starters from last year’s team. As 2013 went on Cook continued to progress and he has a high level of trust from Dantonio.

With five returning starters on defense you can expect Michigan State to once again stifle opponents as only three Spartan opponents scored more than 20 points against them last season.

This season the Spartans will have a tough non-conference task when they travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks. But in the re-aligned Big Ten, Michigan State will welcome Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska to East Lansing.

When the dust settles Michigan State could win the Big Ten for a second consecutive year.

6. UCLA Bruins

It’s hard to believe, but not since 1998 have the UCLA Bruins finished with consecutive 10-win seasons and top 25 rankings. After a 10-3 campaign in 2013, UCLA head football coach Jim Mora feels that he has a team that can not only win the Pac-12 Conference, but also the national championship.

Brett Hundley

There was sigh of relief earlier this year in Los Angeles when UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley decided to return to school. Hundley is a redshirt junior who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. But the Pac-12 is so deep at quarterback that he might not be the best signal caller in the conference. Mora loves a physical football team and with four starters on the offensive line returning to block for Hundley and senior running back Jordon James, the Bruins will get off of the bus running the football this season.

Expect sophomore linebacker Myles Jack to once again be a versatile player who will also wow you at fullback once again.

The Bruins have non-conference road games against Virginia and Texas before they embark on a tough Pac-12 schedule that includes games against Oregon, Washington, USC, Stanford, and Arizona State. But UCLA should be up for the challenge.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

Since Bob Stoops became the head football coach of the Oklahoma University Sooners he has led a football program that has been the model of consistency. Under Stoops the Sooners have only finished two seasons not ranked in the top 25 and they are always in the running to win the Big 12 Conference.

Last year Stoops was critical of the Southeastern Conference and Oklahoma’s 45-31 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl could be catapult for Boomer Sooner towards a national championship run this season.

Stoops is hopeful that sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight will be able to step in and be the next great Sooners quarterback. Knight played sparingly last season, but he came up big against ‘Bama in the Sugar Bowl. But now it is Knight’s job to lose.

Oklahoma returns nine starters on defense led by junior defensive tackle Jordan Phillips at 6’6″, 334 lbs., who is a load.

The Sooners should not be contested in their non-conference schedule and their Big 12 Conference schedule is something that they could navigate through with an eye on the college football playoff.

8. Alabama Crimson Tide

Since 2008, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been the gold standard in college football. The Tide have a record of 72-9 which has been highlighted by winning three national championships. Alabama head football coach Nick Saban continues to send players to the National Football League, but his domination of the SEC continues.

The Tide bid farewell to quarterback AJ McCarron, but senior quarterback Blake Sims is ready to step in and keep the ‘Bama express going. Sims will have the luxury of playing with a pair of dynamic juniors at the skill positions. Junior running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper are more than capable of picking up the slack in order to keep the Alabama machine in first gear.

The Tide only return five starters on the defensive side of the football and you can expect junior safety Landon Collins to be in the mix for the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year.

The Tide will begin the season at the Georgia Dome when they take on West Virginia, but their season will be defined by their road showdown against LSU and their regular season finale against Auburn.

9. Arizona State Sun Devils

In hasn’t taken head football coach Todd Graham that long to establish his vision for the Arizona State Sun Devils. In just two years under Graham, the Sun Devils won their first Pac-12 South Title and this season they have visions of winning the Pac-12 altogether.

The Sun Devils may have lost tailback Marion Grice to the National Football League, but they’re returning a wealth of talent on offense. Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a season where he passed for more than 3,600 yards. Kelly is a logical candidate to be named Pac-12 Player of the Year and at season’s end he should pass Jake Plummer for third place on Arizona State’s passing yardage list. Junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best receivers in the nation and defenses in the Pac-12 should be ready for him.

Defensively the Sun Devils are only returning two starters from last year’s squad and their defense will be key in the high-scoring Pac-12.

The Sun Devils will play one of the toughest schedules in the Pac-12 as they have road games against USC, Washington, Oregon State, and Arizona, along with home games with Stanford, UCLA, and Washington State. Graham and the gang from Tempe will have their work cut out for them.

10. South Carolina Gamecocks

In his nine years as the head football coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, Steve Spurrier has taken the team to new levels of success. In the last three seasons the Gamecocks are 33-6 and they have become a national championship contender.

The Gamecocks were sad to see quarterback Connor Shaw graduate, but senior quarterback Dylan Thompson has been a patient understudy and he is ready for his opportunity. Thompson will not have to put South Carolina on his back as the team is returning all of their starters from last season at the skill positions along with four offensive lineman. Junior running back Mike Davis rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season along with 11 rushing touchdowns. With the departure of Bruce Ellington, Davis will become more vital this season for South Carolina and he should be able to flirt with gaining 1,500 yards on the ground.

The Gamecocks did lose defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to the National Football League, but they return six defensive starters from a unit that was ranked 19th in the nation in total defense last year.

It won’t that long for us to see what the Gamecocks are made of as two of their first three games are against Southeastern Conference opponents as they’ll host Texas A&M and Georgia.

11. Ohio State Buckeyes

After winning the first 24 games of his career with the Ohio State University Buckeyes, head football coach Urban Meyer enters the 2014 college football season on a two-game losing streak. The Buckeyes lost the Big Ten Championship Game to the Michigan State Spartans which prevented them from playing for the final BCS Championship. The Buckeyes then followed this up by losing to the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. But all is not lost for Meyer and the Buckeyes as they’re seeking a national title in 2014.

Ohio State senior quarterback Braxton Miller was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation last season as he accounted for more than 3,600 yards last season. Miller had off-season shoulder surgery, but he re-injured it and he will miss the upcoming season and thus I had to move the Buckeyes down in the rankings. Miller will be replaced by redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.

Meyer will look to replace workhorse running back Carlos Hyde with a pair of sophomores in Ezekiel Elliot and Dontre Wilson who be vital this season in Columbus as Meyer’s teams are known for running the football with regularity.

Last season the Buckeyes defense held six opponents to 20 points or fewer, but in their two losses, Michigan State and Clemson combined to score 74 points. The Buckeyes defense returns seven starters including all four on the defensive line and you can expect junior defensive end Noah Spence to do plenty of damage off of the edge.

The Buckeyes schedule is not an easy one as they have non-conference games against Navy and Virginia Tech along with conference road games against Penn State and Michigan State as well as their regular season finale versus Michigan.

12. Missouri Tigers

After 16 years in the Big 12 Conference, the University of Missouri Tigers joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012. After a 5-7 season in 2012, the Tigers came on strong last year to win the SEC East. But this season the Tigers will be unable to sneak up on teams in the SEC.

The Tigers only return four offensive starters from last year’s team, but Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel has something at quarterback with sophomore Maty Mauk. Last year Mauk filled in for an injured James Franklin and in four starts Mauk led the Tigers to a 3-1 record over that stretch. Now Mauk is going to be Pinkel’s man all season. Last season the Tigers gained 3,330 yards on the ground and it was mainly between running backs Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough, and Marcus Murphy. Josey is now in the National Football League and Hansbrough is expected to be the feature back in Columbia.

Last season Missouri’s defense totaled 41 sacks which was fourth in the nation. But Pinkel has to replace some talent that is now in the NFL. The Tigers defense will have two dynamic safeties in senior strong safety Braylon Webb and junior free safety Ian Simon who could be All-SEC performers this season.

It will be layup central for Missouri in their non-conference schedule, but in three consecutive SEC games they’ll meet South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida which determine their fate.

13. LSU Tigers

In nine years as the head football coach of the Louisiana State Tigers, Les Miles has been the model of consistency. Under Miles, the Bayou Bengals are 95-24 and they have finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll eight times and you can expect more of the same in 2014.

For LSU senior running back Terrence Magee it is his time to shine after three years as a reserve and he will get his opportunity to showcase his skills as Miles loves to run the football.

Louisiana State will begin the season in Houston versus Wisconsin and their conference schedule will be a brutal one with road games against Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M along with a home game against Alabama on November 8. But if anyone can lead a team through a tough schedule it is Miles.

14. Oklahoma State Cowboys

For the first time in school history the Oklahoma State Cowboys have made an appearance in eight straight bowl games and under the tutelage of head football coach Mike Gundy, the Cowboys are looking for a ninth straight season that culminates with a bowl game appearance.

Last season Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh spent time looking over his shoulder as he was battling for playing time with Clint Chelf, but this year in his senior campaign he will be the big man in Stillwater. Last year running back Desmond Roland gained 811 yards on the ground to go with 13 rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys and he appears ready to flirt with 1,000 yard rushing mark this season for Gundy.

This will be a tough season for Gundy and the Cowboys. Oklahoma State will begin their season on August 30 when they travel to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington,Texas to take on the Florida State Seminoles who are the defending national champions. The Big 12 Conference slate for the Cowboys will see them have road games against TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, and finally the Bedlam Game against Oklahoma. It won’t take Gundy that long to see what kind of football team that he has in 2014.

15. Nebraska Cornhuskers

In four of his six seasons as the head football coach of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, Bo Pelini has seen his squad finish the college football campaign ranked in the top 25, but for the folks in Lincoln that follow the “Big Red”, they are ready to see their beloved ‘Huskers compete for not only the Big Ten Conference Championship, but also for the national title. Under Pelini, Nebraska has been on the cusp of big things, but they have just been unable to get over the hump. Could that change in 2014?

Last year quarterback Tommy Armstrong came off of the bench for an injured Taylor Martinez, but now he is running the show as he looks to be the next great dual-threat quarterback for the Cornhuskers. After rushing for 1,690 yards last season, running back Ameer Abdullah is back for his senior season at Nebraska and if he can get close to the 2,000 yard mark in rushing this year it should symbolize a great season in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers do not throw the football that much, but if there is a big play to be made in the passing game you can expect senior wide receiver Kenny Bell to be a part of it.

The ‘Huskers were 39th in total defense last year, but they are returning seven starters including six in their front seven as they will look to get back to the days of the “black shirts”.

There is no reason to believe the Nebraska will not be in the hunt to win the Big Ten this season. Nebraska has an easy non-conference schedule and their Big Ten campaign will be defined by two tough road games against Michigan State and Wisconsin. If Pelini’s bunch is able to survive those two games this may be the year that they finally win the Big Ten.

16. USC Trojans

The University of Southern California Trojans are finally removed from NCAA sanctions and they are once again ready to proceed as contenders in the Pac-12 Conference. After spending the last five seasons as the head football coach the University of Washington, Steve Sarkisian has taken over as the head football coach at USC where he was an assistant coach from 2004-2008. But unlike when Sarkisian took over at Washington, he has plenty of talent to work with at Southern California.

Last year the Trojans were 63rd in the nation in rushing offense while Sarkisian’s Washington team was 15th. Sarkisian puts a heavy concentration on the run and you can see ‘SC going back to the days of “student body right”; especially since the Trojans are returning three starters on the offensive line. Last season as a sophomore, running back Tre Madden split the carries with Javorius Allen and the folks in Los Angeles should expect to see plenty of them again in 2014. Junior quarterback Cody Kessler asserted himself into a starter last season. Kessler gets lost in the shuffle with so many good quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but he is a player that could be first-team All-Pac 12 this season. Kessler will target junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor  a ton this season who will also double on special teams as a punt returner.

USC’s defense is returning eight starters from last year’s team and senior middle linebacker Hayes Pullard could be the Pac-12′s Defensive Player of the Year.

In spite of tough road games this season against Stanford, Arizona, Washington State, and UCLA, the Men of Troy should still be a factor in the Pac-12 South.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

For the first time since 2006, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished the last two seasons ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll. This season expectations are once again high for the Irish who will remain as an independent, but they’ll begin their football association with the Atlantic Coast Conference. For Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, he will look to a new, but old quarterback to lead his team.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, quarterback Everett Golson led Notre Dame to the BCS Championship Game. But Golson was dismissed from school last year after academic violations and he has returned this year as he looks to once again lead the Fighting Irish. In his one year as a starter at Notre Dame, Golson had a completion percentage of 58.8 and he will look to get it above 60 percent in 2014. Aside from Golson and the passing game, Notre Dame must improve the running game with senior tailback Cam McDaniel and junior running back Amir Carlisle.

The Irish have lost some talent on the defensive side of the football, but you can expect senior safety Austin Collinsworth to have a big impact this season.

With road games against Florida State, Navy, Arizona State, and USC, along with a home tilt against Michigan, the schedule is daunting for Kelly’s bunch who should be up for the challenge.

18. Oregon State Beavers

Expectations were high for the Oregon State Beavers heading into 2013 and they stumbled as they finished with a record of 7-6 in the tough Pac-12 Conference. For Oregon State head football coach Mike Riley, he and his Beavers are using 2013 as a learning tool that they are hopeful will springboard them to bigger things in 2014.

Sean Mannion

Last year Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion passed for more than 4,600 yards to go with 37 touchdown passes. Mannion spurned the National Football League in favor of returning to Corvallis for his senior season and he should be in running for the Heisman Trophy. The Beavers didn’t run the football a ton in 2013, but you can expect a bigger dose of junior running back Storm Woods this season.

Last season Oregon State cornerback Steve Nelson was tied for the team lead in interceptions with 6. Nelson will be a senior this season and if quarterbacks are willing to gamble on his on-ball skills they will pay severely.

The Pac-12 will once again be tough, but the Beavers should be able to navigate their way through it and hang at the top of the conference.

19. Georgia Bulldogs

Under head football coach Mark Richt, the Georgia Bulldogs have had their best seasons when they overachieved and their worst seasons when they underachieved. Last year the Dawgs began the season ranked fifth in the Associated Press’ Poll, but they finished with a record of 8-5. This season the expectations will once again be there for the Bulldogs, but will they be up for the challenge?

Aaron Murray was the starting quarterback in Athens for the past four seasons and he will truly be missed, but Richt is backing on senior quarterback Hutson Mason to lead the way in 2014. Once you factor in the tandem of junior running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall running behind an offense line for the Dawgs that has three seniors, Georgia will once again be a high scoring team.

The Bulldogs return nine defensive starters. Led by senior linebacker Ramik Wilson, this Georgia defense could be fierce as they’ll look to shut down SEC offenses.

Right out of the chute Georgia will face Clemson and South Carolina so it won’t take that long to see what they are made off.

20. Miami Hurricanes

When Al Golden became the head football coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes in 2011, he knew that he was going to have an uphill battle. In Golden’s first two seasons in Coral Gables, the ‘Canes were bowl eligible, but self-imposed sanctions saw them miss out on the bowl bonanza. Last season the Hurricanes started the year with a record of 7-0 before they limped to a 9-4 finish. Now Golden hopes that he has a team that can finally contend for a championship the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Hurricanes offense starts and ends with junior running back Duke Johnson. Last year Johnson was on his way to a monster season before he suffered a broken ankle against the Florida State Seminoles. Johnson is healthy and he should flirt with gaining 1,500 yards on the ground.

If the Hurricanes are going to contend to the ACC Title this season they will indeed earn it. Miami has road games this season against Louisville, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech along with a non-conference road game against Nebraska. The ‘Canes are still a ways away from the glory days of their program, but under Golden they are headed in the right direction.

21. Florida Gators

The Florida Gators would love to omit their 2013 college football season from the record books, but they can still use it as motivation. The Gators finished the season on a seven-game losing streak en route to their first losing season since 1979. The Gators team facilities in Gainesville are second to none and their head football coach Will Muschamp is one of the better recruiters in the nation which is giving their fan base optimism for the upcoming season.

Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is hopeful that he can finally live up to the heavy expectations that have been surrounding him since he arrived in Gainesville. A broken leg ended Driskel’s 2013 season prematurely and he is looking to get on track this season under the Gators new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper spent the last six years as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach with the Duke Blue Devils and he helped the school reach the ACC Title last year for the first time in school history. Roper’s job is to get Driskel to maximize his ability while improving a Florida offense that was 115th in the nation last season in total offense.

Last season the Gators running game only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. The Gators do return three starters on the offensive line from last year’s team. But the onus on Florida’s running game will be on sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor, senior Mack Brown, and junior Matt Jones. One of these tailbacks must emerge as a threat to gain 1,000 yards if the Gators are going to improve on last year’s dismal season.

Before becoming the head coach of the Gators, Muschamp made his living as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation and his defensive units at Florida have always been one of the best in the country. The Gators were 8th in the nation last season in total defense and with nine starters returning on the side of the ball they can once again be a stingy group in 2014.

The Gators return their starting front seven intact, but look out for junior defensive end Dante Fowler who has the potential to be one of the best edge rushers in the SEC this season.

The schedule is not kind to the Gators this season with road games against Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida State along with home games against LSU and South Carolina. The Gators also have their annual tilt with Georgia in Jacksonville. If Muschamp can find a way to knock off Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State then he should be able to save his job.

22. Texas Tech Red Raiders

The Texas Tech Red Raiders are coming off of consecutive 8-5 seasons and their head football coach Kliff Kingsbury is hopeful that he has a team that can contend for the Big 12 Title.

Last season as a freshman, quarterback Davis Webb threw for more than 2,700 to go along with 20 touchdown passes. This season Webb is ready to take the next step and the join the elite quarterbacks in the Big 12.

In 2013, the Red Raiders had the second best passing offense in the nation. Texas Tech lost tight end Jace Amaro and wide receiver Eric Ward to the National Football League, but they still have a good receiving unit with junior wide receiver Jakeem Grant and senior wide receiver Bradley Marquez who combined for 13 receiving touchdowns in 2013.

The Red Raiders first two conference games are road tilts against Oklahoma State and Kansas State as they will look to make some noise in the Big 12.

23. Michigan Wolverines

When it comes to college football there are the expectations that some schools have and then there are the expectations for the Michigan Wolverines. All-time the Wolverines have won 884 games but they have not won the Big Ten Conference since 2003. Brady Hoke is entering his fourth season as the head football coach at the University of Michigan and the pressure is on him. In Hoke’s first season at Michigan, the team went 11-2 which was culminated by a Sugar Bowl victory. But since then Michigan has become a middle of the road team in the Big Ten and in Ann Arbor that is not how business is done there.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is entering his final season in college and he is looking to keep improving as a passer. Gardner’s passing will improve as long as he  will find junior tight end Devin Funchess who has the ability to be an All-American this season. Michigan was 103rd in the nation in rushing last season which is unfathomable there and they must get better this season.

Michigan has road games this season against Michigan State and Ohio State and if the Wolverines lose both of those games, Hoke might be looking for a job.

24. Duke Blue Devils

1960-1961 was the last time that the Duke Blue Devils finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll in consecutive years. The Devils finished last season ranked 23rd and not only are they thinking about finishing 2014 in the top 25, but winning the ACC Title for the first time since 1989.

Duke senior quarterback Anthony Boone is up for the challenge of leading the Blue Devils to the conference crown as he is one of the best passers in the ACC. Duke senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder is coming off of a year in which he had 108 receptions for 1,360, and 8 touchdowns and he’ll be on the radar this year to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. Aside from Boone and Crowder, the Blue Devils will return eight starters on offense and six starters on defense on a team that is ready for the spotlight.

The Blue Devils luck out this season as they will not face Clemson or Florida State in conference play. The Devils do have road games against Miami and Georgia Tech, but for Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, his squad should be up for the challenge in 2014.

25. Wisconsin Badgers

Since 1993, the Wisconsin Badgers have been one of the most consistent football teams in the Big Ten Conference. The Badgers have only had two losing seasons over this stretch along with six Rose Bowl appearances. In his first season as the head football coach at Wisconsin, Gary Anderson guided the Badgers to a 9-4 record and he is ready to have his team contend for the Big Ten Championship this fall.

Under Anderson, quarterback Joel Stave turned into a good passer and he should continue to progress this season. Last year the Badgers had the eighth ranked ground game in the nation as they had more than 3,600 rushing yards and you can expect more of the same with running back Melvin Gordon returning to Madison for his junior season.

Wisconsin will be in the Western Division of the Big Ten Conference this season and they will avoid meeting Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. The Badgers will begin the season with a matchup with the LSU Tigers. But if the Badgers can survive an in-conference road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes then they should win the Big Ten West.

Just missed the list: Stanford Cardinal, Ole Miss Rebels, Navy Midshipmen, Texas Longhorns

Sources: Sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, nationalchamps.net

Collins’ Return In 2015 Will Symbolize Another Losing Season For The Mets

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Terry Collins

According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, barring a nosedive down the stretch of this season, the New York Mets are expected to retain manager Terry Collins for the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Collins is in his fourth season as the Mets skipper and under his watch the team has never won more than 77 games in a season. This season the Mets are on pace to win 75 games and for the eighth consecutive season the Metropolitans will more than likely not make the postseason. The Mets are also on their way to their sixth consecutive losing season and their fan base that is already frustrated will not be satisfied to know that Collins is expected to return for 2015.

What Collins represents is the image of a stuntman for Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and team owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon. We all know that the Wilpons were taken to the cleaners after their dealings with convicted ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff a few years ago which has had a negative affect on the franchise. The same way that the Wilpons have penny pinched in the past few seasons as far as fielding a team is the same way that they have dealt with their managerial staff. If Collins was that good as an MLB manager why had he been out of work in the big leagues since 1999 before the Mets hired him in 2011?

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Sandy Alderson

After being swept this week by the Washington Nationals, the Mets now have a record of 57-65 and they are now 10.5 games behind those same Nats for first place in the National League East. Most people didn’t listen to Alderson’s boast in spring training that the Mets would be able to win 90 games this season and with about six weeks left in the regular season his pipe dream is just that. This season the Mets have only been above .500 for 14 days and under Collins, they have never entered the month of September with a winning record which shows that his teams tune him out down the stretch.

The Mets have not retained a manager that led them to three consecutive losing season since Joe Torre who was fired in 1981. At that point the Mets were a lost cause and fans were tuning the team out: Sound familiar? The Mets will more than likely keep Collins on board when they have former Mets second baseman Wally Backman who is managing their Triple-A affiliate in the Las Vegas 51s and he is more than qualified to be in Queens. Backman has won at every level in the Mets minor-league system and unlike Collins he might actually help the big league club win some games.

Teams such as the Nationals who have won 11 straight games versus the Mets at Citi Field are fearless when they arrive there which is something that a manager like Backman would change. Unlike Collins, Backman asks now quarter and gives no quarter as well. Backman was a member of the Mets last World Series Champion in 1986 and he is no-nonsense guy which is something that the Wipons and Alderson apparently do not want. Instead of presenting future Hall of Famers such as Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera with more gifts after the Mets laid down for them during their careers, Backman would instead lead a team that would look to blast their teeth in. But Backman won’t manage the Mets since the Wilpons obviously do not want to win.

Since their on-the-field product is not currently successful, the Wilpons have been forced to be creative in order to get fans to come to Citi Field which has included concerts from the likes of Nas, 50 Cent, and Huey Lewis and The News as well as sleepovers. But instead of the Wilpons going into their pockets to sweet talk Grammy Award winners to perform at an empty stadium, why not get baseball players on the payroll who will entice people to pack up the family and get on the Grand Central Parkway and watch a few games?

The Mets began this season with the 23rd lowest payroll in MLB and their record reflects that. The Mets are still an offensively challenged team as they are 10th in the National League in runs scored (463), 13th in hits (987) and home runs (89) while they are 14th in batting average (.238) and slugging percentage (.358). On the flip side the Mets pitching staff has the seventh best team earned run average in the NL at 3.57 and they’re fifth in quality starts with (75). But the Mets bullpen has blown 17 games this year which is tied for third in the National League.

Due to the fact that Collins and Alderson are acting as the errand boys for the Wilpons who are financially strapped, we can expect a Mets team in 2015 that will once again be near the bottom of the team payrolls in Major League Baseball. And if the Mets do decide to spend some money it will once again be on a player that is well past his prime. If you build it they will come and in business if you don’t spend money, you will not make any money. With Collins on board the Mets will continue to lose and losing leads to empty seats at the ballpark. The Mets might as well make Citi Field an extension to Flushing Meadow Park and allow the people of Queens to have another picnic area there because it is not worthy to host Major League Baseball.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

House Money Is Still In Effect For The Royals

In 1985, the Kansas City Royals were sitting on top of the baseball world. The Royals won their first and only World Series Championship in franchise history which capped off a string of eight playoff appearances in ten years. But since then the Royals have only had seven winning seasons while never being able to make it back to the postseason which is the longest current streak in Major League Baseball. The Royals won 86 games in 2013 which was their best season since 1989 and because of that their was some optimism that they could make the postseason this year.

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Kansas City Royals

This season the Royals were a sub-.500 team until the month of June when they were able to turn it up a notch. In June, the Royals were 17-10 which was highlighted by a 10-game winning streak. During that period I did a podcast on 300lbsofsportsknowledge.com talking about the Royals surge and whether or not they would be able to sustain it. I then gave Kansas City a puncher’s chance to qualify for the postseason and with about six weeks to go in the MLB regular season, the Royals are playing with house money. But more importantly the Royals are in the hunt for a division title.

For the month of August, the Royals are 10-2 which has been highlighted by an eight-game winning streak that came to an end this past Tuesday. Now the Royals have surpassed the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central and they are hungry for more.

This Royals team is not an offensive juggernaut as they are not going to remind people of the glory days of Bo Jackson and George Brett, but what they are is a team that knows how to manufacture runs. Entering play today Kansas City is 10th in the AL in runs scored (478), last in home runs (71), and 13th in slugging percentage (.377). But on the flip side the Royals are tops in in the AL in stolen bases (102), second in team batting average (.263), and they’re tied for third in sacrifice flies (38). Players on the Royals such as outfielders Alex Gordon and Jarrod Dyson along with first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler embody the blue-collar attitude that Kansas City is all about as they are an extremely scrappy bunch of guys.

The Royals team earned run average of 3.59 is currently fourth in the American League and when you’re manufacturing like their offense is, the pitching must be strong if you’re going to have a competitive team. Throughout his MLB career, Royals starting pitcher James Shields has always been a workhorse. The past seven seasons have seen Shields throw at least 200 innings on each occasion and he is once again on pace for that this season as he is currently 11-6 with a 3.25 earned run average. Aside from their team ERA, the Royals are also fourth in quality starts (67) and their bullpen has only blown 10 saves this year which is tied for first in the American League. 35 of those 37 saves belong to relief pitcher Greg Holland who made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance last summer and he has only surrendered a pair of earned runs since the beginning of July.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost believe that this team can make it to October. Recently the Royals acquired outfielder Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins. WIllingham is 35-years of age, and he will not hit for average, but he still has some pop in his bat that can be a shot in the arm for this Royals club.

At the MLB All-Star break, the Tigers had a 6.5 game lead over the Royals, but they have allowed Kansas City to hang around in the divisional race and over the next six weeks anything can happen. Once the Royals finish their current series with the Oakland Athletics, they have a very favorable schedule for the remainder of the season as they only have 10 games remaining against teams that currently have a winning record; including six games against the Tigers which will be crucial. Along with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Royals are the only Major League Baseball team that has failed to make the playoffs this millennium. The way that things are currently going in the American League Central, the Royals could be ready to change that stat in 2014.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

 

 

The Orioles Are Taking Control Of The AL East

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Buck Showalter

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter has developed a reputation around Major League Baseball as a man who knows how to turn franchises around. In 16 seasons as an MLB manager, Showalter has led the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Orioles all to the postseason while in 2004 he led the Texas Rangers to their first winning season since 1999. Showalter led the Orioles to the American League East Title in 2012 which was their first postseason appearance since 1997. The O’s won 85 games last season  but they fell short of qualifying for the postseason.

This year the Orioles started off slow as they were 27-27 at the end of May. The Orioles went into the MLB All-Star break with a record of 52-42. Since the break the O’s are 15-8 and they are putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the teams in the AL East. The Orioles currently have a five-game lead over the second place Toronto Blue Jays and a six-game lead over the third place Yankees.

The Boston Red Sox came into this season as the defending World Series Champions, but they have been unable to get going this season as they are in last place in the AL East and they recently had a fire sale to symbolize their waving the white flag for 2014. The Tampa Bay Rays were a playoff team in 2013 and like the Red Sox they are currently a sub-.500 team. The Blue Jays were the front runners in the division at the beginning of the season, but injuries have derailed them. The Yankees have hovered around the .500 mark for the majority of the season, but a recent surge has them with a winning record. For the most part the American League East has been wide open all season long and the Orioles appear to be taking charge.

Since the MLB All-Star break, the Orioles have only lost one series. Baltimore began the second half with a 6-4 record on their West Coast trip. In the second half the Orioles have a pair of series wins over potential playoff teams in the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels. Last week the Orioles had a makeup game with the National League East leading Washington Nationals which they won 7-3. The O’s then went on the road and proceed to take two of three from the Jays and further extend their lead. Now the Orioles just completed a series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals who are the defending National League Champs. In the first two games of the series against the Cardinals, the Orioles offense went crazy as they scored 22 runs with 8 home runs.

When Earl Weaver managed the Orioles the team lived and died by the three-run home run and this year’s team in Baltimore has plenty of pop in their bats. The Orioles have hit 147 home runs this season which is tops in the American League and they are never out of a ballgame. Led by left fielder Nelson Cruz who has 30 homers, the Orioles have six players this season that have hit the double-digit mark in home runs. With their home run total it isn’t a surprise that the Orioles have one of the top slugging percentages in the AL as they are third at .418.

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Adam Jones

Cruz might lead the O’s in home runs, but center fielder Adam Jones has been the team’s most consistent hitter. On the season Jones is batting .285 with 22 home runs and 70 runs batted in. At 29-years of age Jones has really come into his own and he is in the mix to be 2014 American League MVP.

The Orioles have enough firepower on offense to win the AL East, but their success down the stretch and potentially into October will come down to their pitching. The Orioles team earned run average of 3.63 is fifth in the AL, but they are 11th in quality starts with just 54. Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chin leads the club in win 12 while starting pitcher Chris Tillman leads the team in ERA with 3.73. Both pitchers still need to be more effective down the stretch. Last Wednesday, Chin allowed four runs in five innings of work in an Orioles loss. Last Friday, Tillman went 6.2 innings while only allowing a pair of runs in a Baltimore victory. Just prior to the start of spring training, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette signed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Duquette and the Orioles were hopeful that Jimenez would resemble the pitcher that he was when he won 19 games in 2010 as a member of the Colorado Rockies, but instead he has looked more like the guy that lost 17 games in 2012 with the Cleveland Indians. In 19 starts this season Jimenez is 4-8 with a 4.51 earned run average. After the rough start to the season Jimenez hasn’t lost a start since June 13, but he has had to become more crafty as a pitcher as his velocity is down nearly 5 miles per hour since 2010.

After relief pitcher Jim Johnson was traded to the Athletics this past off-season, the O’s needed someone to step up and become the closer in the ninth inning. This season that player has been Zach Britton who has 24 saves and he has converted his last 9 save opportunities.

The Orioles are set to embark on a journey for the rest of this month that could see them put some distance between them and the Yankees and Blue Jays. The O’s will begin a three-game series tonight against the Yankees and a series win by Baltimore could put them on cruise control in the American League East. After their series with the Yankees, Baltimore won’t face a team that has a winning record for the rest of the month as they’ll meet the Indians, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Rays, and Minnesota Twins.

If Baltimore can get their starting pitching on point they could be dangerous because anything can happen in October when the MLB Playoffs begin and Showalter and his crew would love to win the Orioles first World Series Championship since 1983.

Source: Baseball-reference.com