The 2014 college football season is just around the corner, as the schedule will begin in the final week of August.
Florida State looks to defend its national title, while returning its No.1 player. The Seminoles are clearly one of the favorites to compete for a championship this year, but who else is projected to have a big season?
Below is the projected 2014 preseason top 25 rankings.
1) Florida State
After winning the national championship, the Seminoles remain the best team in the country, bringing back Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who should only get better in his second season.
The Crimson Tide is almost always in the national title conversation under Nick Saban, going 72-9 in the last six years. Alabama's defense is particularly strong. On offense, Amari Cooper might be the best wide out in the nation.
The return of quarterback Marcus Mariota and five starting offensive linemen make the Ducks a title contender, though they’ll have to compensate for the loss of their top receivers.
If Trevor Knight can consistently play like he did in last season’s Sugar Bowl, the sky is the limit for the Sooners. Oklahoma may coast in the second half of the season.
With most of the team’s offensive starters returning, the Tigers will have a chance to win the SEC for a second straight year. Expect Auburn to get off to a hot start and win defensive battles.
6) Ohio State
Braxton Miller should lead a top offensive unit, but it’s the team’s improved defense that has a chance to elevate them to the next level. Urban Meyer has Nov. 8 circled on his calendar when the Buckeyes visits Michigan State.
The Cardinal’s ground and pound attack got them to the Rose Bowl last year, and it could do the same for them in 2014. After Stanford likely destroy UC Davis in the season opener, David Shaw's squad will have a big test against USC, a program they have gotten the best of over the years.
With Brett Hundley at quarterback, and an experienced offensive line, the Bruins have a chance to make a lot of noise in 2014. The defense could be a surprise, despite the loss of Anthony Barr.
The Bulldogs might not be as good as Alabama or Auburn, but they’re still the top team in the SEC East. Keep an eye on Todd Gurley, who might be a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
With one season under his belt as Baylor’s starting quarterback, Bryce Petty could perform even better with the nation’s top scoring offense. The Bears will roll through their first few games against SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo, and only have one road game in their last five games.
11) Michigan State
The defense will look a lot different than last year’s unit, but head coach Mark Dantonio will have the Spartans ready to compete at the top of the Big Ten. Watch out for defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who is expected to be a top draft pick.
12) South Carolina
Under Steve Spurrier, the team has won 11 games in three straight years, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again this season. A road game against Auburn will be the Gamecocks biggest test of 2014.
13) Notre Dame
After a nine-win season, the Fighting Irish should be as good, if not better this year. The defense lost Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, but returning players include Sheldon Day, Ishaq Williams, and Matthias Farley.
14) Arizona State
There’s a good chance the poor end to last season was an aberration and the Sun Devils will come back with a strong 2014 campaign. Inexperience on the defensive side might be their biggest hurdle to overcome.
It will be very difficult for the Tigers to win the SEC West, and they won’t have an easy time replacing Zach Mettenberger. LSU has some stars in the secondary like Jalen Collins and Ronald Martin, but Les Miles has a very young squad this year.
Despite losing Tajh Body and Sammy Watkins, the Tigers’ offense should be good enough to make them a top 20 team. Vic Beasley is arguably the best linebacker in the nation.
The Trojans experienced immediate success after Lane Kiffin was fired, but they might not be talented enough to win the Pac-12. Steve Sarkisian will likely have a more focused and energized unit in 2014, particularly with defensive lineman Leonard Williams expected to make a case for the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Badgers will be good, but having so few starters return could force them to struggle at times. While Wisconsin will open the season against LSU in Houston, their only road games are against Northwestern, Rutgers, Purdue and Iowa.
The Cornhuskers lost four games in each of the last six years, and that should be about where they end up this season. Nebraska should roll in their weak non-conference games.
The Wolverines need a much better performance from their offensive line if they hope to win more than seven games for a second straight year. Tight end Devin Funchess should be a top target.
The Longhorns will be better than their 1-3 finish to the 2013 season. Charlie Strong may experience some first-season lumps, but expect a renewed spirit in Austin. Texas only has four road games this season.
The Gators will undoubtedly improve on last year’s 4-8 record, and they have enough talent to finish as a top 25 team. A boost at quarterback should be a major contributing factor.
23) Texas A&M
The loss of Johnny Manziel obviously hurts the team, but the Aggies have enough talent at quarterback to win nine games again.
24) Ole Miss
An improved defense could keep Mississippi in the top 25 throughout the season. A weak nonconference schedule and home dates against some of the tougher SEC opponents likely means that the Rebels will do a little better than most people think.
Maty Mauk will face a lot of pressure as the starting quarterback of the defending SEC East champions. Thankfully, the Tigers have a very weak schedule to start the season.