The first week of the season sees the team that ended the last game of last season in the top spot back in familiar territory. Auburn seeks to rebound after a disappointing campaign, TCU and Baylor look for revenge after last year’s postseason snubs, and Oregon hopes to keep winning after losing Marcus Mariota.
1. Ohio State—The Buckeyes have Ezekiel Elliot, Joey Bosa, and arguably college football’s two best quarterbacks on their roster surrounded by a throng of returning talent. It’s tough to repeat, but Meyer’s squad is as well positioned as any. It’s rare when it is easier to make an assumption that a program will appear in the Playoffs than project that program’s starting quarterback.
2. Auburn—A “Boom” or “Bust” pick (no pun intended on Will Muschamp’s nickname), the Tigers could see continued strong offense with the talented but unproven Jeremy Johnson, and the D should see significant improvement. The most likely team to be able to take out the Buckeyes, in my view, also has a bad historical track record when they go into the season highly ranked. We shall see.
3. Oregon—No Mariota, no problem? That could be the feeling in Eugene once heralded transfer Vernon Adams gets going. Losing Thomas Tyner really hurts the Ducks, who I might have had at #2 if the back was healthy. However, this is still a loaded roster.
4. TCU—If the Minnesota game was a significant factor, the Horned Frogs might not make it to this lofty spot. However, it can take time for a team to find its groove, and it’s tough to argue against a team that features a Heisman frontrunner on its roster to go along with a host of talented teammates.
5. Alabama—A “down” year for Alabama at this stage is still a top ten team. The team has significant questions at quarterback, and the receiving corps will certainly miss all-world receiver Amari Cooper. Defensively, the team has holes as well. Still, I’ve always been high on Derrick Henry who will carry the load on offense, and defensive stars Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Richardson are nothing short of beastly. The #5 position is a safe spot for the Tide, who could finish better, but could also falter with suspect QB play.
6. Baylor—The Bears and the Horned Frogs find themselves again in similar spots as the toast of the weak Big 12. It is a given that Art Briles’ team will score points, but the team also boasts arguable the best “off the bus” player in Shawn Oakman. The towering defender will wreak havoc this season.
7. UCLA—It’ll be a tight race between the Los Angeles teams for second in the PAC 12, but I’ll give the nod to the team with more stability from the head coach. Jim Mora, Jr. has done a good job with the Bruins, and freshman QB Josh Rosen will take his lumps but is the best pro-style quarterback to come along in a while. Don’t forget about Myles Jack or Eddie Vanderdoes on that Bruin defense. Could be a unit to watch.
8. Florida State—The Seminoles are talented, yes, but they’ve lost a lot in recent years, and they will miss the magic of “Famous Jameis.” Everett Golson has a loaded receiving corps to throw to, and Jalen Ramsey is the best DB in all of college football. This is a team that lacks the talent of ’13 and ’14, but there will not be a huge drop off.
9. Texas A&M—Not getting a lot of buzz, but Kyle Allen is a very talented young quarterback, and he has plenty of weapons on offense. Myles Garrett is one of the best defensive players in the country, and the unit as a whole will at least see modest improvement under Chavis. Not many people are talking about the Aggies, but they are a real dark horse.
10. USC—I’m a little hesitant here because, since the Pete Carroll era, the Trojans are a mirage. Every time we think they are back to glory they manage to disappoint. Still, Cody Kessler and Tre Madden make a strong offensive combo, and Adoree Jackson and Su’a Cravens are some of the top defensive playmakers in the country.
11. Michigan State—The Spartans always manage to exceed expectations, and Connor Cook may be the #1 QB draft prospect in all of college football. Still, it is hard to get past the fact that they will have to get through Oregon and Ohio State (potentially twice) to get to the playoff.
12. LSU—Again, an SEC West team. Once again, the West division far outpaces the East, and LSU’s combination of the talented Leonard Fournette behind a passing game that should be improved with the strong-armed Brandon Harris and solid receivers led by Malachi Dupre has made them a trendy pick. I’m not sold just yet, but the Bayou Bengals will be good.
13. Georgia—Always the beneficiary of a weak SEC East schedule, the Dawgs have it a bit tougher this year, adding Alabama from the West. Auburn is a standard opponent who could be tough, but, outside of maybe Tennessee, is there another team that will give them a scare? Nick Chubb might be the best back in the country, but Greyson Lambert at QB? Yikes!
14. Clemson—Deshaun Watson may be the candidate for breakout performer of the year, and there is talent around him. However, recent Clemson teams have been loaded and still faltered. This team has a tough early stretch against Louisville, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech that could see them stumble early.
15. Georgia Tech—The Yellow Jackets are playing good football right now and really elevated themselves in 2014. Can that continue? Justin Thomas could be a Heisman dark horse, but the team will need to get by Notre Dame, Duke, Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia.
16. Stanford—Don’t sleep on the Cardinal. Kevin Hogan is a very solid quarterback, and the running game should be strong again behind a stellar OL. The defense may not quite live up to its reputation over the last few years, but that is a very good unit. The PAC 12 definitely has a leader in Oregon, but that next tier is very strong.
17. Louisville—Bobby Petrino facing off against Auburn may be one of the most intriguing personal matches of the entire season. The much disliked coach may not have the horses to keep up with the Tigers in Game 1 or the Seminoles later on in the year, but a large number of transfers and arguably the game’s best offensive mind could mean that the Cardinals vie to win 10 games.
18. Ole Miss—I know a lot of folks are rallying behind Arkansas, but I still don’t see them making a rise out of the #7 spot in the West. Ole Miss, taking the #5 ranking in that division, remains too talented. Their new quarterback will need Laquon Treadwell to be healthy, and Robert Nkemdiche will need to look more like the game-changing defender he was projected to be if the Rebels have a shot of rising above this spot.
19. Penn State—James Franklin has to love the schedule he sees. No, his Nittany Lions won’t win road games against the Buckeyes and Spartans, but the rest of the schedule lays out very, very nicely. If Hackenburg elevates his game, this still won’t be a great team, but it could be a 10 win team.
20. Cincinnati—Tommy Tuberville is not a coach who likes a lot of pressure. Therefore, he will love the schedule his Bearcats face. The toughest game could come against Miami, and QB Gunner Kiel is a player we should be talking about more.
21. Mississippi State—Yes, the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent, and yes they play in the loaded West. Still, Dan Mullen is a solid coach, and there is still star power in Starkville (see Prescott, Dak). Chris Jones is also a force on the other side of the ball.
22. Arizona—I love the fit of Rich Rodriguez in Arizona. The Wildcats offense boasts plenty of firepower, and the defense features one of the most impactful players in all of college football. Best of all, they miss out on playing Oregon.
23. Miami—I wouldn’t say I am an Al Golden fan, but the Hurricanes possess a nice assembly of talent this year. They field guys that can get to the quarterback, they field guys who can make plays, and there is some solid depth on this team. They shouldn’t beat Florida State or maybe even Clemson, but, the way the schedule lines up, they really should win 8 or more.
24. Notre Dame—I’m very conflicted about the Irish. I certainly like some aspects of the team, and I think running back Tarean Folston is due for a breakout year. Still, I just get a feeling they will disappoint. Their schedule is challenging, but it does not have Florida State this year, so they do have the potential to get hot and rise above this spot.
25. Boise State—As I round out the top 25, it just wouldn’t make sense to fail to include the Broncos. The team finds a way to win, and there could be tremendous energy if they manage to defeat their old coach in game one.