Will Gus Malzahn be able to lead the Auburn Tigers to a berth in the College Football Playoff?
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.
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
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.
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.
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