Never-Too-Early 2014 CFB Preseason Top 25
25. Texas A&M
It’s never too early to predict the 2014 college football campaign, even with what’s sure to be a chaotic offseason ahead of us. Here is our Never-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.
(Editor’s Note: Players expected to or who have declared to go pro early indicated with *)
Key Returnees: RB Tre Williams, WR Malcome Kennedy, LB Darian Claiborne
Key Losses: QB Johnny Manziel*, WR Mike Evans*, OL Jake Matthews
The nation’s fifth highest-scoring offense loses a ton of talent to the NFL. Thankfully, head coach Kevin Sumlin is staying in College Station. The nation’s top QB recruit, Kyle Allen, has the potential put up huge stats in the Aggies’ Air Raid.
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Key Returnees: LB Vic Beasley, CB Bashaud Breeland
Key Losses: QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins*, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Martavis Bryant*
The Tigers’ underrated stout defense (17th in PPG) might have to carry them for the early part of 2014 until replacements for Boyd, Watkins, Bryant and McDowell can emerge. That’d be made all the more difficult in Beasley, a Second Team All-American and fringe first-round NFL draft prospect, forgoes his senior season. Will Jim Kelly’s nephew, Chad, or Cole Stoudt be able to fill Boyd’s shoes?
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Key Returnees: RB Dominique Brown, WR DeVante Parker, DB Calvin Pryor
Key Losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Marcus Smith, DB Akeem Smith
Also among the Cardinals’ losses is their Texas-bound head coach, Charlie Strong. Whoever succeeds Bridgewater at QB will have Brown and Parker to work with, while the nation’s second stingiest scoring defense has to find a replacement for Smith, who accounted for 14.5 sacks and 18.5 TFL in 2013.
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Key Returnees: WR J.J. Worton, LB Terrance Plummer
Key Losses: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, OL Jordan McCray, OL Justin McCray
Fresh off a Fiesta Bowl upset of Baylor, UCF’s confidence is at an all-time high. Bortles’ and Johnson’s early departure for the NFL will be made easier by the return of RB Williams Stanback, while the defense returns three starters who were either First or Second Team All-AAC.
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Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, WR Jamison Crowder, LB Kelby Brown
Key Losses: OL Perry Simmons, CB Ross Cockrell, DE Kenny Anunike
Head coach David Cutcliffe created a very effective, dual QB system with Boone and Brandon Connette (14 rushing TDs), both of whom return for their senior seasons along with a 1,360-yard receiver in Crowder. Brown and fellow First Team All-ACC selection Jeremy Cash anchor a defense that should be effective again in 2014.
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20. Notre Dame
Key Returnees: QB Everett Golson, WR Davaris Daniels, LB Jaylon Smith
Key Losses: DT Stephon Tuitt*, DT Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo
Having served his season-long suspension, Golson is now back on the field and ready to inject the same type of life he brought to the offense in 2012, which should open things up for RBs Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III. With Nix and Tuitt gone, Smith will be the standout player on a defense that will deal with some significant losses.
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Key Returnees: RB Jerron Seymour, DE Caleb Azubike, DE Kyle Woestmann
Key Losses: WR Jordan Matthews, S Kenny Ladler, CB Andre Hal
QB Patton Robinette looked solid in relief of injured starter Austyn Carta-Samuels and now takes the reins in Nashville. He’ll have to find a new go-to target with the departure of Matthews but has a rising star RB to hand off to in Seymour. On defense, the Commodores boast a deep defensive line led by Azubike and Woestmann (combined 16 TFL in 2013).
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18. Ole Miss
Key Returnees: QB Bo Wallace, WR Laquon Treadwell, DE Robert Nkemdiche
Key Losses: WR Donte Moncrief
The Rebels lost a lot of close games in the SEC but pummeled Texas on the road, beat LSU and nearly beat Auburn on The Plains. There’s a world of young talent on this roster and even though Ole Miss is in the brutal SEC West, they can make some major noise in 2014.
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17. South Carolina
Key Returnees: RB Mike Davis, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Sharrod Golightly
Key Losses: QB Connor Shaw, DE Jadeveon Clowney*
Like many of Spurrier’s Gamecocks teams in the past, his 2014 squad is going to play shutdown defense and run the ball a lot. Davis was a 2013 Doak Walker Award semifinalist, while Quarles (and not Clowney) led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss. Shaw leaves some big shoes to fill for Dylan Thompson after a virtuoso bowl game performance.
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16. Oklahoma State
Key Returnees: RB Desmond Roland, LB Ryan Simmons
Key Losses: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart*, LB Caleb Lavey, CB Justin Gilbert
Rising junior J.W. Walsh has what it takes to replace Chelf. The other side of the ball, however, is another matter, as the Cowboys lose five defensive players who were either First or Second Team All-Big 12, including their leading tackler (Lavey) and shutdown cover corner (Gilbert).
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15. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong
Key Losses: RB Marion Grice, C Evan Finkenberg, DT Will Sutton*
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, Sutton could return to Tempe for his senior year. If he does, it would be to the great relief of a Sun Devils defense graduating two First Team All-Pac-12 DBs in Alden Darby and Robert Nelson. The Kelly-led offense, on the other hand, should experience no such drop-off.
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Key Returnees: QB Anthony Jennings, RB Jeremy Hill, OL Trai Turner
Key Losses: QB Zach Mettenberger, WR Jarvis Landry*, WR Odell Beckham Jr.*
The Bayou Bengals offense has a handful of playmakers at running back, but with Mettenberger graduating they need a new field general to bring it all together. Expect a lot of running the ball with uber recruit RB Leonard Fournette arriving and WRs Landry and Beckham Jr. off to the NFL.
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Key Returnees: QB Joel Stave, RB Melvin Gordon, S Michael Caputo
Key Losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, LB Chris Borland
Both Stave and Gordon are just sophomores, meaning that a Badgers offense premised on a thumping rushing attack and play-action passing will continue to hum along. Whether the nation’s sixth-ranked scoring defense can do so depends on who will step up in place of Borland, the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
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Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, WR Ty Montgomery, S Ed Reynolds
Key Losses: RB Tyler Gaffney, DE Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov
After four straight BCS bowl appearances, shouldn’t it be fair to say that the Cardinal don’t rebuild but, rather, reload? The biggest threat to that sustained excellence wouldn’t be a loss in player personnel but rather the potential departure of defensive coordinator Derek Mason if he accepts a head coaching offer elsewhere.
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Key Returnees: QB Cody Kessler, RB Buck Allen, DE Leonard Williams
Key Losses: WR Marqise Lee*, OT Kevin Graf, LB Devon Kennard
Having done big things with runnings backs at Washington, first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will love working with Allen and fellow rising junior Tre Madden. The defense made big improvements in 2013 and returns arguably its top two players in Williams, a First Team All-Pac-10 defensive lineman, and heat-seeking LB Hayes Pullard.
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Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB/LB Myles Jack
Key Losses: OL Xavier Su’a-Filo*, DE Anthony Barr, WR Shaq Evans
Hundley’s decision to return for his redshirt junior year ensures that the Bruins will continue to be a Pac-12 contender. Head coach Jim L. Mora and his high-profile assistant coaches are also luring enough talented recruits to Westwood to replace the likes of Su’a-Filo, Barr and Evans.
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Key Returnees: QB Maty Mauk, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, LB Markus Golden
Key Losses: QB James Franklin, DE Michael Sam, CB E.J. Gaines, DE Kony Ealy
Mauk was a more than capable fill-in when Franklin went down with a shoulder injury and will continue to progress with a fleet of playmakers around him. Sam, Ealy and Gaines are big losses for a defense that made big strides in 2013, so the Tigers will have to just keep outscoring opponents in 2014.
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8. Ohio State
Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Devin Smith, DL Noah Spence
Key Losses: RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier*, CB Bradley Roby*
Miller will attempt to match the 32 TDs he accounted for in 2013 without both Hyde and three First Team All-Big Ten offensive linemen. Meanwhile, a defense that has been inconsistent during Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus loses arguably its best player in Shazier.
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Key Returnees: RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, DB Landon Collins
Key Losses: QB AJ McCarron, OL Cyrus Kouandjio*, LB C.J. Mosley
Yeldon and speedster Kenyan Drake (7.5 YPC) will have to hold down the fort on offense before incoming freshman David Cornwell or another QB proves he can fill the void left by McCarron. On defense, incoming DE Da’Shawn Hand - the nation’s top overall recruit - will be asked to shine right away for a unit that loses Mosley as well as DBs Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri.
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Key Returnees: QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley
Key Losses: OL Cyril Richardson, RB Glasco Martin, LB Eddie Lackey, RB Lache Seastrunk
The Bears are one of the early favorites to lead the nation in scoring for the second year in a row. Whether Art Briles and company can stay atop the Big 12 standings, however, depends just as much on whether a defense that loses its leading tackler (Lackey) and other key contributors can avoid regressing to its past, porous ways - like it did in the Fiesta Bowl.
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5. Michigan State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford, DE Shilique Calhoun
Key Losses: CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Max Bullough, S Isaiah Lewis
The defense loses a number of standouts to graduation, but time and again Mark Dantonio has shown an ability to reload on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, the offense should only get better; the heady Cook showed a lot of growth as the 2013 season progressed, and Langford is perhaps the Big Ten’s best returning running back.
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Key Returnees: QB Trevor Knight, WR Sterling Shepard, LB Dominique Alexander
Key Losses: RB Brennan Clay, FB Trey Millard, OL Gabe Ikard
The Sooners are officially back. Oklahoma’s offense exploded for 45 points in the Sugar Bowl and Knight could be in for a huge sophomore season. On the other side of the ball, Alexander - the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year - should lead another strong unit.
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Key Returnees: QB Nick Marshall, C Reese Dismukes, WR Sammie Coates
Key Losses: RB Tre Mason*, DL Dee Ford, CB Chris Davis
The nation’s top rushing team returns its triggerman in Marshall and plenty of talented playmakers around him, even with Tre Mason likely off to the NFL. Despite the losses of Ford and Davis, expect a relatively young Tigers defense to only get better.
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Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, DL Tony Washington, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Key Losses: RB De’Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, DL Taylor Hart
The Ducks return their two leading rushers from a year ago, RBs Marshall and Thomas Tyner, while Hart is the only key losses from a big-play defense. With Mariota back, the table is seemingly set for Oregon to reach the inaugural four-team playoff; anything less would be a disappointment.
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1. Florida State
Key Returnees: QB Jameis Winston, RB Devonta Freeman, DE Mario Edwards
Key Losses: WR Kelvin Benjamin*, OL Cameron Erving, CB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan*
Here’s a scary thought for Seminoles opponents: An offense that averaged 53.0 PPG returns a Heisman-winning QB, its top three rushers and at least two of its top four receivers. With that kind of firepower, a defense that loses its top two leading tacklers in Joyner and Smith will have plenty of wiggle room and time to replace them. After a prolonged absence from the top of the college football world, FSU is back in a very big way.
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