I’ve already elaborated on these in my top 10 blog, but here they are again, with last year’s final rankings:
- Ohio St. 1
- Baylor 12
- TCU 6
- Alabama 4
- Michigan St. 8
- USC 20
- Oregon 3
- UCLA 7
- Clemson 18
- LSU (30)
I did want to comment on LSU briefly being that both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked the Tigers to make the NATIONAL championship game (I recognize this may be bad news for the Tigers). Desmond Howard picked Texas A&M to win the SEC. I’ll talk more about the Aggies later, but his basis for that was adding John Chavis as the DC to Sumlin’s offense, so I’ll respond to that briefly. Chavis did a good job overall at LSU, but this past year was one of his poorest performances. Even if he’s not losing his touch, I don’t think he’ll suddenly conjure up a good defense in College Station. The panel was unanimous about someone from outside of the state of Alabama winning the SEC West, so I hope they’re right (but if it comes down to Auburn and A&M, I’ll be for Auburn).
11. Ole Miss 15 – staying in the SEC with this one. Even if LSU does fine the rest of the season, it’s going to be awfully hard to win the divisional road games at Oxford and Tuscaloosa. The Rebels have never won the SEC West (unless losing the head-to-head tiebreaker in 2003 counts), but with 16 starters back from a contending team last year, this could be the year. It’s also quite conceivable there could be some sort of tie with the Rebels making the SEC title game this time. Bo Wallace does not return, but that could be a blessing as much as a curse.
12. Florida St. 2 – I don’t know if this is too high for the ’Noles given my deep skepticism of both sides of the ball (as noted in the top 10 blog), but a fall in more than 10 spots for a team that’s been near the top of college football for a couple of years seemed like too much. Don’t be surprised if they finish a bit lower though.
13. Georgia Tech 10 – I had the Wreck as a top 10 team at the end of last year. While they don’t have an overwhelming number of returning starters (13), they were right there with Florida St. last year, so I see no reason to expect otherwise this year.
14.Notre Dame (33)– The Irish will have to play three teams mentioned above (USC, Ga. Tech, and Clemson) as well as Stanford, but I don’t hold schedules against teams in preseason. I don’t think they were actually better than LSU last year, but they did show significant improvement that made the bowl win possible. Also, almost their whole team (19 returning starters) is coming back. I can easily see the Irish in the top 4 even with a loss, but this may depend on the perceived strength of the Pac-12 and the ACC at the end of the year.
15. Arizona St. 19 – The Sun Devils have nearly as good of a chance to win the Pac-12 South as UCLA and USC do, but they never quite seem to have the consistency to do such things. They did make the Pac-12 championship in 2013, but the highest-ranked team they had to beat to do so was #14 UCLA. I don’t think it will be the same type of thing this year. They haven’t beaten a team ranked higher than that since 2002, and they also can’t do things like lose to Oregon St. (as they did last year). ASU does return 16 starters from a top-20 team, however.
16. Boise St. 5 – I always have to remind people that unlike the human polls, I do not routinely just move teams up for not losing. This makes it less problematic to put a team like this in the top 20. The Broncos return 16 starters from what I had as the #5 team last year. Teams like this have been ranked in the top four at the end of the year in the BCS era; and now that four is the magic number, it may just be a matter of time. They do have a new quarterback, but that was also the case in 2012 (11-2) and 2008 (12-1).
17. Georgia 13 – The Bulldogs did well enough at the end of last season to earn this spot even though they don’t have a huge number of returning starters (12). I’m still not quite sure how they managed to lose to Georgia Tech, but the Auburn game and the bowl game were very impressive. They couldn’t win the SEC East in the last couple of years, and it won’t exactly be easy considering they play Alabama and Auburn, but I still give them a slight edge over Missouri.
18. Wisconsin 14 – I see the Badgers as a potential spoiler in the Big Ten championship (Ohio St., Michigan St., and Michigan – none of whom they play in the regular season – are all in the other division). They’ll have a new running back or two, but that’s one area they never seem to struggle in finding new talent. The defense should be strong with 8 returning starters on that side. They might not be fun to watch, but 10 wins or more seems probable.
19. Missouri 11 – The Tigers were a better team overall last year (still not sure what happened with Indiana) than the Badgers, but I don’t know if 13 returning starters is enough. I’ll talk about this more below when I discuss teams that didn’t make the cut. That being said, they could easily go into the season-ending Arkansas game with a chance to make the SEC title game once again.
20. Auburn 21 – Once again with this section of teams, the question is going to be consistency. They had great games (41-7 win over LSU, for instance) and not so great games (34-7 loss to Georgia). I don’t know if that’s suddenly going to turn around with a mediocre number of returning starters, which I mentioned in the top 10 blog. The Plainsmen do supposedly have a good new quarterback, but he’ll have ample opportunity to prove it.
21. Arkansas (38) – Staying in the SEC West, the Hogs seemed to turn the corner late last year and had an excellent chance to finish the SEC schedule with a third straight win after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss. Mizzou upended them late, but I certainly expect the Razorbacks to win some similar games this year with 15 returning starters.
22. Stanford (32) – The Cardinal were supposed to have a great offense line last year, and I didn’t even rank them in the top 30 and the end of the year, so I’m more tepid about them than a lot of the preseason ratings are. They should have a strong offense with 9 returning starters though. I’ve seen some hand-waiving over the lack of experience in the defense, but look at the Pac-12 teams I’ve mentioned above and Notre Dame. I could easily see several games where the defense struggles to keep up.
23. Oklahoma St. (58) – The Cowboys weren’t very good last year, but they won 10 games two years ago and 12 games two years before that. Maybe they just like odd years. They certainly showed flashes of talent last season, and they do return 16 starters. They could be a sleeper/spoiler team in the Big XII. Don’t forget that TCU’s performance last year was after a 4-win season in 2013.
24. Oklahoma (36) – While we’re talking about the Sooner state, why not talk about the Sooners? They were a disappointment to the faithful last season, I’m sure, but nearly beat TCU and Kansas St. and had other good games. Again, it’s just another team that struggled with consistency though. A more modest number of returning starters though (13), so they might not be able to hang in so well against TCU and Baylor and so forth.
25. Texas A&M (31) – The former divisional rivals of those Oklahoma teams will probably struggle to contend in their current division, but they have 15 returning starters evenly distributed on both sides of the ball and apparently some stability at quarterback, so they could be dangerous.
Out of top 25: (9) Marshall, (16) Mississippi St., (17) Arizona, (22) Colorado St., (23) Kansas St., (24) N. Illinois, (25) Memphis
I would understand if people want to stop reading there, but I thought it was worth addressing why certain teams do not appear above.
Despite being a top-10 team most of last season, Mississippi St. only has 9 returning starters, which puts them among the lowest in FBS football. I don’t think they’re a good candidate for the preseason top 25. Just because they had a good year doesn’t mean they had Ohio St. and Alabama level backups standing on the sidelines waiting their turn, but I guess we’ll see against LSU in a couple weeks.
Marshall only had a couple more with 11, and I’m really skeptical they had a great second squad last season.
Another team I wanted to mention who didn’t make the cut is Arizona. I just them as fading at the end of the season, and they don’t have impressive numbers coming back. They could be in the top three of their division with some luck, but I don’t see the upside for them being much better than that. The downside is they could be a low-level bowl team (or worse) who struggles with the likes of Utah.
Kansas St. is pretty much in the same boat. The Wildcats also have 12 returning starters and finished in the top 25 last season, but it’s a similar profile. I don’t think the upside is all that strong even if things go well. The teams I have ranked can win their respective conferences if things fall into place. I just don’t see that with this group.
Colorado St., Northern Illinois, and Memphis were also in my final top 25. Even if they had a lot of returning starters, I probably would not have ranked them. This is a bit of a tangent, but I’ll explain why below.
I don’t think they were better than many of the 26-40 teams that were in major conferences. It’s more that the philosophy of my rankings focuses on top teams so it is set up to remove those with four or five losses from consideration more than a team with a small number of losses who doesn’t play anyone.
I’ll give an example. Team A is in a major conference and is 7-4. Team B is in the MAC and is 10-1. There is a good chance Team A is better than Team B. Two slightly worse teams last year demonstrate that. Northern Illinois lost to Arkansas, 52-14. Arkansas finished 7-6, and NIU finished 11-3.
Going back to the hypothetical, what if the following happens? Team A then beats two top ten teams and goes to 9-4. Team B then beats two top ten teams and goes to 12-1. Team B would be ranked higher for sure. Even though the season will almost never end like that, I still don’t want it to penalize easy schedules so harshly that if you do add a couple of really good wins that the team can’t then be in the top 10.
Anyway, the point is that such a team being ranked last year doesn’t mean they actually would have beaten Stanford, Notre Dame, LSU, Oklahoma, etc.
Finally, Tennessee wasn’t ranked last year and barely made the top 50, but they have almost their whole team back with 18 returning starters. I just think you need to have a better team to start out with for that to matter enough. The Vols were very fortunate to play in a bowl game at all.
The same is technically true of Arkansas; but like I mentioned, Arkansas dominated their last two SEC West opponents and nearly beat the SEC East champions. If Tennessee had played in the West, they probably would have finished last and not made a bowl game. About a month before Arkansas beat Ole Miss 30-0, Tennessee lost to the Rebels 34-3. Also in the last month of the season, the Vols only beat South Carolina by three (in overtime) and Vandy by 7. Tennessee had a respectable performance against Alabama (losing by 14) and dominated Kentucky before beating Iowa in the bowl game, but that’s not enough to change my perception that they’re still an unproven collection of players.
The Week 1 top 25 won’t be until Tuesday, that’s one reason I waited until today; but after that, it should be on Sundays pretty regularly.