It is finally that time of year again! My social life on Saturdays will officially go by the wayside on August 30th. I have no problem with that, however. College football is the greatest sport in existence. I spend several hours every day thinking about it and its implications, which is thrilling enough until I actually sit spellbound in front of a TV from 9AM-11PM every Saturday witnessing the pageantry and thrill ride of watching 5-10 games at any given time. Last year, I did my comprehensive preview article, which is about to be renewed for a new season, the first in 8 years where an SEC team is not the reigning champion and the first one ever where we have some form of a playoff! This article will rank the Power 5 conferences with my predictions for season-end standings, some top 5-10 lists of individuals and teams to keep an eye on, my preseason top 25, and finally my Bowl/Playoff predictions. Check it out!
Atlantic Coast Conference (#5)
7. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (HC: Dave Clawson, 1st season)
6. Syracuse Orange (HC: Scott Shafer, 2nd season)
5. North Carolina State Wolfpack (HC: Dave Doeren, 2nd season)
4. Boston College (HC: Steve Addazio, 2nd season)
3. Louisville Cardinals (HC: Bobby Petrino, 5th season)
2. Clemson Tigers (HC: Dabo Swinney, 7th season)
1. Florida State Seminoles (HC: Jimbo Fisher, 5th season)
7. Pittsburgh Panthers (HC: Paul Chryst, 2nd season)
6. Virginia Cavaliers (HC: Mike London, 5th season)
5. Miami Hurricane (HC: Al Golden, 4th season)
4. Duke Blue Devils (HC: David Cutcliffe, 7th season)
3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (HC: Paul Johnson, 7th season)
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (HC: Larry Fedora, 3rd season)
1. Virginia Tech Hokies (HC: Frank Beamer, 28th season)
The ACC has gotten been constantly shifting teams throughout the past few years. Adding the best of the AAC in Louisville is interesting. I would have loved to see Teddy Bridgewater vs Florida State last year. Anyway, the Hokies have been sputtering in recent years, but the rest of the teams in their division seem primed for a down year after losing key players. I see them as the unlucky squad who has to face the almost certainly unbeaten Seminoles in the title game. The bottom four teams in the Atlantic have basically no chance at challenging for the conference, so as it has been in the past few years, the Florida State-Clemson game will decide the division/conference. Also, look for North Carolina to have a nice year. Larry Fedora has had a couple years to get his legs under him. They have the talent to take the Coastal with some luck.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Coach of the Year: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Conference Championship Game: Florida State over Virginia Tech
Big Ten Conference (#4)
7. Rutgers Scarlett Knights (HC: Kyle Flood, 3rd season)
6. Indiana Hoosiers (HC: Kevin Wilson, 4th season)
5. Michigan Wolverines (HC: Brady Hoke, 4th season)
4. Maryland Terrapins (HC: Randy Edsall, 4th season)
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (HC: James Franklin, 1st season)
2. Michigan State Spartans (HC: Mark Dantonio, 8th season)
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (HC: Urban Meyer, 3rd season)
7. Purdue Boilermakers (HC: Darrell Hazell, 2nd season)
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (HC: Jerry Kill, 4th season)
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (HC: Tim Beckman, 3rd season)
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (HC: Kirk Ferentz, 16th season)
3. Northwestern Wildcats (HC: Pat Fitzgerald, 9th season)
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (HC: Bo Pelini, 7th season)
1. Wisconsin Badgers (HC: Gary Andersen, 2nd season)
The Big Ten is extremely top heavy and becoming a compelling conference, but the new division realignment is really lopsided. Wisconsin should have very little trouble taking the west, unless Nebraska makes a surprising run with an unproven quarterback. The East is really where the interest lies. Ohio State and Michigan State are the top contenders, and seeing the clash of styles on a more regular basis will be amazing. Michigan looks like they are going to have a slide back this year after losing a lot of offensive talent (their only talent). Maryland appears to be one of the teams that could be a newcomer that no one can really get a read on in year one. They also have Stefon Diggs, one of the most exciting receivers in the nation. Penn State will be great under new coach James Franklin and dynamite QB Christian Hackenberg, but they are still ineligible, sadly.
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Defensive Player of the Year: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Coach of the Year: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Conference Championship Game: Ohio State over Wisconsin
Big 12 Conference (#3)
10. Kansas Jayhawks (HC: Charlie Weis, 3rd season)
9. TCU Horned Frogs (HC: Gary Patterson, 15th season)
8. Iowa State Cyclones (HC: Paul Rhodes, 6th season)
7. West Virginia Mountaineers (HC: Dana Holgorsen, 4th season)
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (HC: Mike Gundy, 10th season)
5. Texas Longhorns (HC: Charlie Strong, 1st season)
4. Kansas State Wildcats (HC: Bill Snyder, 23rd season)
3. Baylor Bears (HC: Art Briles, 7th season)
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders (HC: Kliff Kingsbury, 2nd season)
1. Oklahoma Sooners (HC: Bob Stoops, 16th season)
This conference is always hard to predict. Really, the top 7-8 teams could finish in any order depending on how schedules shape up. The most alarming thing about these rankings is probably seeing Texas Tech finishing second. Last year, they started off extremely hot, only to cool off due to a rookie head coach and a walk on true freshman QB. They will be better prepared for success this year, and Kingsbury is an offensive genius. Texas can take the conference, but I am more confident in the Longhorns underachieving than I am in Charlie Strong turning the program around immediately. Oklahoma is the team with all of the returning talent and definite momentum after taking down Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Never count out offensive power Baylor or a Bill Snyder-coached team either. Who am I kidding…I have no idea how this conference will line up.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Defensive Player of the Year: Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Coach of the Year: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Automatic Bid: Oklahoma
Southeastern Conference (#2)
7. Kentucky Wildcats (HC: Mark Stoops, 2nd season)
6. Vanderbilt Commodores (HC: Derek Mason, 1st season)
5. Tennessee Volunteers (HC: Butch Jones, 2nd season)
4. Florida Gators (HC: Will Muschamp, 4th season)
3. South Carolina Gamecocks (HC: Steve Spurrier, 10th season)
2. Missouri Tigers (HC: Gary Pinkel, 14th season)
1. Georgia Bulldogs (HC: Mark Richt, 14th season)
7. Mississippi Rebels (HC: Hugh Freeze, 3rd season)
6. Arkansas Razorbacks (HC: Bret Bielema, 2nd season)
5. Texas A&M Aggies (HC: Kevin Sumlin, 3rd season)
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs (HC: Dan Mullen, 6th season)
3. LSU Tigers (HC: Les Miles, 10th season)
2. Alabama Crimson Tide (HC: Nick Saban, 8th season)
1. Auburn Tigers (HC: Gus Malzahn, 2nd season)
The SEC West is absurd, almost as much as the Pac-12 North. Everyone is predicting a surprise Ole Miss run or a Mississippi State rise to the top. How is that possibly going to happen with what is ahead of them? I actually think Texas A&M could be a lot better than last year, but they still sit in 5th place? This is crazy. No one is going undefeated in this conference. The Iron Bowl will likely be the game of the year again. In the East, it is a much clearer path. Georgia has a ton of returning talent, even without Aaron Murray. Missouri cannot do what they did in 2013 again. South Carolina is always going to challenge. Florida isn’t quite ready to rise up yet. Whoever takes the East is going to win the SEC Championship, just because the West is such a war zone that they will all be beaten down by that point.
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Defensive Player of the Year: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Coach of the Year: Mark Richt, Georgia
Conference Championship Game: Georgia over Auburn
Pacific-12 Conference (#1)
6. California Golden Bears (HC: Sonny Dykes, 2nd season)
5. Oregon State Beavers (HC: Mike Riley, 14th season)
4. Washington State Cougars (HC: Mike Leach, 3rd season)
3. Stanford Cardinal (HC: David Shaw, 4th season)
2. Washington Huskies (HC: Chris Petersen, 1st season)
1. Oregon Ducks (HC: Mark Helfrich, 2nd season)
6. Utah Utes (HC: Kyle Whittingham, 11th season)
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (HC: Todd Graham, 3rd season)
4. Colorado Buffaloes (HC: Mark MacIntyre, 2nd season)
3. Arizona Wildcats (HC: Rich Rodriguez, 3rd season)
2. USC Trojans (HC: Steve Sarkisian, 1st season)
1. UCLA Bruins (HC: Jim Mora, 3rd season)
Now, to what is unquestionably the best and deepest conference in the land, we have the teams out west. The North is going to be a battle. Oregon, Washington, and Stanford will likely split the games between each other. It all depends on if they can escape their rivalry games and how they play against the top of the South. I suspect Oregon will grade out the best, but maybe that is just a fear of getting my hopes up too far for my Huskies. The South appears to be pretty set with UCLA at the top, but USC has the talent and coaches to take over very soon. The window for the Bruins to keep their crown in LA is closing quickly. Colorado definitely improved at the end of last year, and I suspect that they will be able to fight off a few conference wins this year. I am probably underrating Oregon State again, but that has become a tradition, I guess. They should play South Carolina sometime. They are in the same boat every year.
Offensive Player of the Year: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Defensive Player of the Year: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Coach of the Year: Jim Mora, UCLA
Conference Championship Game: UCLA over Oregon
College Football Playoff Busters
5. Marshall Thundering Herd – They will almost certainly run the table. They do not play anything close to Power 5 talent all season. It depends on how much everyone falls in love with Rakeem Cato if they will even be on the discussion table for the playoff.
Toughest games: vs Ohio, vs Western Kentucky
4. UCF Knights – Yes, Blake Bortles is gone, but they had enough talent to take a BCS bowl last season. Most of it returns, and they have quite the slate of games this year. If they approach another unbeaten season, they might get enough respect to make a run at the top 4.
Toughest games: vs Penn State, at Missouri, vs BYU
3. Wyoming Cowboys – With 3-time defending FCS national champion Craig Bohl calling the plays in an already dynamic spread attack, the Cowboys will soon rise to the top of the non-AQ programs. This year will be tough, but don’t completely count them out.
2. Boise State Broncos – Under new coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos will have a new look. He has been on the staff in the past, however, and their tradition of success will likely not take too much of a hit.
Toughest games: vs Ole Miss, at Nevada, vs Utah State
1. Southern Methodist Mustangs – They have the type of schedule that if they are able to run the table, they will have a good shot at sneaking into the playoff. It is a brutal road, but maybe this is finally their return to national prominence.
Toughest games: at Baylor, at North Texas, vs Texas A&M, vs TCU
Top 5 Defenses
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs – They ranked in the top 20 last year in total defense, and they really hit their stride late. Losses to the draft were minimal, so look for this to be that team in the SEC that is able to spring upsets simply because they make it ugly.
4. USC Trojans – The Trojans quietly had one of the best defenses last season, despite being in an offensive conference. As the sanctions have slowly gotten lifted, we have started to see the talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball. With Justin Wilcox calling the shots, this will be one of the best units in the nation this season.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – They lose a handful of All-Americans to the draft. They also had their fourth straight #1 recruiting class filled with defensive talent and athletes. With Vinnie Sunseri returning from injury, they have their leader and rock that will make this another top 5 defense for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.
2. Florida State Seminoles – They play in a conference without too many challenging offensive attacks, and they return several great players like Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby from their National Championship team. They will be stifling again in 2014.
1. Michigan State Spartans – The Spartans lost a host of NFL players, but they still have the scariest defensive line with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush and one of the best coaches/motivators in the nation. They will be near impossible to move the ball against again this season.
Top 5 Offenses
5. UCLA Bruins – They were clicking on all cylinders by the end of 2013 behind Brett Hundley and Myles Jack. If they continue to use the latter on both sides of the ball, then this offense will roll over almost any defense.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes – Braxton Miller could single-handedly make this a top 20 offense, but he has incoming weapons to replace the likes of Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall. Meyer has slowly remade his Florida offense with even more athletic and impossible-to-guard players. This team should torch most Big Ten defenses.
3. Auburn Tigers – Replacing Greg Robinson and Tre Mason will be difficult, but they have reinforcements in the likes of Cameron Artys-Payne and such. Nick Marshall seemed to develop some passing skills late in the year, so if this can be more than just a running attack, then Auburn should roll over the overrated SEC defenses.
2. Oregon Ducks – Marcus Mariota returning to school did wonders for this program. With returning backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, this offense will be unstoppable again, as long as they let Mariota do his thing. There is no more talented player with the ball in his hands in all of college football.
1. Baylor Bears – Playmakers leave, but seeing how they averaged 600+ YPG and 52+ PPG last year, it is clear that the backups got some time. Shock Linwood is one guy I definitely have my eye on to be the next great one at Baylor, taking his place in the backfield alongside All-American candidate Bryce Petty.
Top 5 Coach of the Year Contenders
5. Chris Petersen, Washington – He is one of the elite coaches in the nation, and if he can get the Huskies over the hump in year one, then he will officially be the best coach in college football.
4. Mark Richt, Georgia – He is constantly on the hot seat, but he has the type of returning talent to make a run at a national title once again.
3. Charlie Strong, Texas – He has all of the talent in the world on his squad, but not even the beloved Mack Brown could make the most of it. If he takes Texas to the top of the conference this soon, then he will officially be anointed as the next great one in Austin.
2. Mark Dantionio, Michigan State – Objectively, he should have won the award last year. If Sparty can continue their string of overachieving, then his votes will come flooding in this time.
1. Jim Mora, UCLA – If the Bruins are able to get out of the gauntlet that is the Pac-12, then look for Jim Mora to start getting national notices and offers to take over one of the top programs in the nation.
Top 5 NFL Draft Prospects
5. Leonard Williams, DE, USC – He was the anchor of the improved Trojan defensive line last season. Under the new regime, look for his talent to be maximized and for him to have an All-America caliber year.
4. Cedric Oguehi, OT, Texas A&M – It is getting a little boring seeing all of these Aggie linemen at the top of drafts, but they just keep pumping them out. Playing RT for Johnny Manziel is just as important as LT, and this year he will get to show off his true talent under a more traditional offense.
3. Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska – He is clearly the best pass rusher in the draft discussion. He had a monster year in his JC transfer season, and he will be essentially unguardable in his last year in college.
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – We will see how he does without most of his receivers from last year, but his poise and decision-making are far beyond his years. I am not 100% sure that he will declare, especially if he can keep his nose clean.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – There is always a hyped up spread QB in the draft discussion, yet most of them need work actually throwing the ball. He has some of the best arm talent in the nation to go with the WR-type speed and elusiveness. He is going to be a game-changer at the next level.
Top 10 Heisman Contenders
10. Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA – His candidacy depends on how much of a role they give him on offense. He was a stub at linebacker, but then he was breathtaking when he took over the full time duties on offense as well. That versatility will bring him votes…if they utilize him as such.
9. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska – His production throughout his career has increased and continued to garner national attention. The passing game is not going to be stellar, so just like the past couple years, it is going to be all Abdullah. Look for an insane year from the tailback.
8. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor – In that offense, anyone can put up 5000 yards passing. He just happens to be a good, maybe even great, one. If the offense is as much of a juggernaut as the past three seasons, then he will get an invite.
7. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina – He had a big year last season, and he will have the backfield basically to himself. In the SEC, if he has a 1400+ yard season, that is normally enough to get national attention.
6. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn – He is going to get a lot more publicity this year with finalist Tre Mason leaving for the NFL and being a target from week one. If he continues to develop his passing, then he is going to put up scary numbers in Gus Malzahn’s offense.
5. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia – He finally has the backfield to himself, so we really can see what he can do. He has grown up so much throughout his career. If Georgia is as good as they can be this season, then he will be the sole reason why.
4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – There is no more important player to his team than Miller is to the Buckeyes. Put the offense on his shoulders, and he will produce. Somehow, he has remained quite underrated throughout his career.
3. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – Winston has the talent and conference to become the second two-time winner ever. If he matures and improves on his stunning freshman year, then he could be right there for another Heisman invite.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – Mariota is going to have stats that are going to blow everyone away. They need to go unbeaten, evidently, for him to have a chance.
1. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA – They are going to be hard to beat, and most of it is going to fall on Hundley’s shoulders, who I believe is the best and most complete QB in the nation. If they have the type of season I am predicting, then this could turn into a no-brainer.
Preseason Top 25
So much of college football these days are dominated by redshirt freshmen and sophomores, seeing how 6 of the last 7 winners of the Heisman trophy were playing in their first or second year of major college football, and four of them played for national championships. If you have the right young core, then your team will succeed. The teams with the top past few recruiting classes and the right talent-maximizing coaches will be the teams to beat at year’s end.
Others receiving votes: Arizona State, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon State, Virginia Tech
25. Mississippi State – They haven’t had a great season in a while, but this year they have all of their key pieces returning. They are probably going to end up with a handful of losses due to their division, but they are as talent-filled as they have been in a long time.
24. Marshall – Rakeem Cato is returning to school, which is about all you need to know. He is the best QB that no one knows about. He could start at most any other school in the nation. They should absolutely roll over the rest of the Conference USA.
23. Texas – They have continued to pipe in the best talent in Texas, yet they underachieve. They finally have what appears to be the right guy for the job in Charlie Strong, who will bring a balance and businessmanlike attitude back to the program.
22. Missouri – They shocked everyone last year (I had them finishing last in the division) by making an SEC Championship appearance, but this year will be slightly more difficult. I do like Maty Mauk, though. That kid can take this team places.
21. Clemson – Losing Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd will be a bigger stumbling block than many are projecting. They will take a step back, but they have enough returning playmakers to still be the second best team in the ACC.
20. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders got off to a quick start last year, and basically all of their pieces are returning, aside from star tight end Jace Amaro. The offense should be borderline unstoppable this year, but they need to get a defense to go along.
19. Kansas State – We should be getting accustomed to seeing K-State overachieve with modest talent. They have a few returning playmakers on offense, and a QB who hit his stride late. Bill Snyder will make this the best coached team in the conference by week 3.
18. USC – Steve Sarkisian was able to turn around Washington immediately, and now he steps into the biggest gig on the west coast. He has all of the talent he needs, and the sanctions are basically gone. He can return this struggling program to the top of the heap in a year or two.
16. Wisconsin – The team, aside from the opener against LSU, has a very manageable schedule. If they survive week one, they could run the table in a slightly down Big Ten.
15. South Carolina – Another season, another case of me probably underrating Steve Spurrier. I do not understand how he does it, but this is probably going to be another boring 11 win campaign.
14. Baylor – Bryce Petty returning to school was key for this program. They will not have the historic offensive output they had last year, but it can be close. Look for another high-flying, no defensive year for the Bears.
13. Washington – There is no better developer of talent than Chris Petersen, and he actually has some serious weapons to play with this year. This team is talented enough to take the conference, but we will see how long it takes for the coaches to implement their system.
12. Notre Dame – They are not a sexy pick to be up this high, but their schedule shapes up nicely and they will likely have their QB Everett Golson back after a season-long suspension.
11. LSU – Week one against Wisconsin will tell a lot about this team, who won’t have another real challenge until October. They were young last year, so this seems like time for the Mad Hatter to rally the troops and get in title contention.
10. Stanford – The Cardinal have become a staple in the top 10 over the past few years. Every year, it seems like they lose too much talent and seem poised for a step back. They reload, and they have a rock at QB. Look for another great year for David Shaw, future coach of the Oakland Raiders.
9. Ohio State – I find it hard to fathom how bad the defenses at Ohio State have been under Urban Meyer. That will likely change this year. Braxton Miller can put up points on his own, but if the defense is still as bad as we saw at the end of last season, then they will not make it out of the Big Ten Championship Game again.
8. Michigan State – The Spartans were undeniably the best team at the end of last season, with Connor Cook becoming one of the most reliable QBs in the nation and a stifling defense that shut down everyone. They return the key members of the defensive line and will likely have another ugly-looking season of double digit wins.
7. Georgia – Aaron Murray has finally graduated, so the Bulldogs might actually have a chance to win a big game or two. Todd Gurley should torch every defense he lines up against, as he has the past two years.
6. Oklahoma – The Sooners finally appeared to solve their QB issue at the end of the season. Their team was really young, and they blossomed late. This team might not lose a game, but the Big 12 schedule is a gauntlet of rivalries and tough environments.
5. Auburn – Tre Mason and a host of talent left in the draft, but Auburn’s past couple recruiting classes under Gus Malzahn have assured that they are back and ready to challenge for national titles on a more regular basis.
4. Oregon – With Marcus Mariota returning and an improving defense rising up the ranks, Oregon should be in position to take the Pac-12 North crown back from Stanford. They will likely get two shots at UCLA as well.
3. Alabama – The Crimson Tide have to replace one of college football’s greatest champions at QB, but weren’t we talking about the same thing when Greg McElroy graduated? This program is a machine.
2. Florida State – Yes, Jameis Winston lost many of his key targets on offense, but the defense is still stout and Winston will be a more mature player his sophomore season. They will almost certainly run the table in a weak ACC.
1. UCLA – The Bruins have probably the best returning quarterback in the nation in Brett Hundley. They have the most versatile player since Charles Woodson in Myles Jack. They have the right coach. This is their year.
Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn over Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon over Wisconsin
Orange Bowl: LSU over Notre Dame
College Football Playoff Semifinal #1 (Rose Bowl): Georgia over Florida State
CFB Playoff Semifinal #2 (Sugar Bowl): UCLA over Alabama
National Championship Game: UCLA over Georgia
The playoff was difficult to figure out in year one without any basis for how the new committee is going to vote. I figured at least a few SEC teams will weasel their way in there. Marshall is going to be undefeated, and the top-ranked non-Power 5 team is guaranteed a spot in the big bowls. Defending champs Florida State really have a cakewalk schedule again, but UCLA is the best and most dynamic team in the nation. They should be the champions when all is said and done. It will be fascinating to follow this race as the season goes along.
So, there you have it. Feel educated and ready for the season? Are you as pumped as I am to finally see some live games? Who do you think will be in the inaugural CFP? Let me know in the comments.