With Labor Day approaching and the summer coming to an end, the 2014 college football season is less than a week away, following a seven and a half month hiatus. The upcoming year is certain to be different than any other season, as the BCS has finally been done away with and a playoff system has been instituted for the first time.
The 2013 season ended with Florida State topping Auburn in an exciting national title game. As the new season begins, both teams are expected to be championship contenders, along with other familiar names.
Below is a look at the upcoming season, including where the top teams rank, when the biggest games will take place and who will end the year among the best players in all of college football.
Both the AP Top 25 Poll and USA Today Coaches Poll have Florida State atop the preseason rankings. After winning the final BCS National Championship Game, the team brings back the best player in the nation and remains the clear-cut favorite in the ACC. Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and South Carolina also received votes to be No.1 to start the 2014 college football season.
The two polls look largely the same, with a few exceptions. The AP Top 25 Poll has Oklahoma at No.3 and Oregon ranked No.4, while the Coaches Poll has those two teams flipped in the rankings. The same goes with Ohio State and Auburn at No.5 and No.6. The coaches have Texas in the Top 25 at No.24, but Missouri owns that spot in the AP Poll.
No one conference dominates the top of the preseason rankings, as the AP has the first five spots represented by all different conferences. As usual, the SEC is in the lead with eight teams in the Top 25, including five in the top 13. The Pac-12 comes in second with six teams.
The official start to the 2014 college season comes on Wednesday, Aug. 27, as Abilene Christian visits Georgia State. A scheduling issue at the Georgia Dome has allowed Georgia State to become the first FBS team to take the field this year, one day before the season was expected to start with 14 games on the schedule.
The first contest between ranked teams comes on Thursday when Texas A&M visits South Carolina. The top non-conference matchups on the 2014 schedule include Clemson vs. Georgia and Wisconsin vs. LSU on Aug. 30, Oregon vs. Michigan State on Sept. 6 and Florida State vs. Notre Dame on Oct. 18. The Iron Bowl and Michigan vs. Ohio State are both scheduled for Nov. 29.
For the first time in history, this season will feature a college football playoff. The semifinals are scheduled for New Year’s Day 2015, and will involve the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The College Football Championship Game is set for Jan. 12, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Five different bowl games will kick off the 2014 bowl season on Dec. 20.
The last four players to win college football’s highest honor were quarterbacks, and that trend is expected to continue when the 2014 Heisman Trophy is awarded. After leading Florid State to a national championship and winning the award last year, Jameis Winston is the favorite to take the trophy this season. Winston threw for 40 touchdowns as a freshman, and should only improve in his second year.
Winston is joined by a few quarterbacks who have some more experience in college football. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota might be his biggest competition, after totaling 40 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2013. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Bryce Betty of Baylor are expected to be in contention, as well.
The biggest non-quarterback threat to Winston, according to the betting odds at Bovada.lv, is running back Melvin Gordon. The Wisconsin star had a breakout season in 2013, rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 206 attempts. Running backs Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon could also end the year as Heisman Trophy finalists, while UCLA linebacker Myles Jack might be the lone defensive player with a real shot to win the award.