1. Ohio State – It’s pretty easy to pick the team that won the National Championship and declare them to reign once again. This season it’s more of the same though. Urban Meyer is the best and most creative coach in college football today and has the best depth in the nation. They’ll make sure teams like Virginia Tech (who beat the Buckeyes last year) and Penn State (who lost to Ohio State in double over time) are dealt with in a quick and efficient manner. Michigan State is the one team in the Big 10 that can hang with them, and even then the Buckeyes should win by two scores.
2. TCU – If the Big 12 Conference had a championship game, they would’ve been represented in the playoff, but because they didn’t they were on the outside looking in. TCU is returning most of their high powered offense including Heisman hopeful, quarterback Trevone Boykin. TCU’s defense may take a step back, but not enough for them to struggle in most games. They finish their season at Oklahoma and against Baylor and those two weeks will most likely define the Big 12.
3. Alabama – It’s evident that it doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback for the Crimson Tide because coach Nick Saban “finds a way.” With that said it’s safe to say that Alabama may be tempted to test the arm strength of senior quarterback Jake Coker, but with a wide receiver like Amari Cooper now in the NFL, expect Bama to play it close to the chest. With running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake – the pressure should not all go on the quarterback. Bama’s defense is packed with NFL talent every year and the front line of the Crimson Tide defense may be one of the best in college football this year. Bama will be challenged by the likes of LSU and Auburn but it’s hard to bet against the Crimson Tide.
4. Baylor – In a nut shell, one could say: “See TCU,” for a breakdown of what to expect from Baylor this season. The loss of quarterback Bryce Petty will soon be forgotten after the first drive orchestrated by quarterback Seth Russell. That’s not a testament to Russell’s ability either. It’s the fact that head coach Art Briles has constructed one of the best offensive systems in recent college football history. They bring back the best receiving core in the nation (watch for KD Cannon to be amongst the nations best). Defensively, last year they were eaten up by opposing pass attacks, but even so – they are confident the opposition isn’t putting up more points than they will so. . .
5. Arizona State – NGSC Writer Antwan Staley told me “ASU has a chance to shock a lot of people” and he is right. Last season they had the misfortune of being on the bad end of a 62-27 blowout win for UCLA – that won’t happen this season. A Pac 12 Championship berth could be in the works considering their week four game against USC and late November match up against Arizona will both be played at Sun Devil Stadium.
6. Auburn – Auburn went 1-4 in their final five games of the season last year (including their three point loss to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl). This season they’ve added Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator (where he belongs) and will also have versatile rusher Carl Lawson back and in good health. Auburn has an uptempo offense, but unlike most uptempo offenses that are more “finesse” they are brutal. Gus Malzahn will look for his offense to exhaust the competition again this year and also he will look to keep the heads straight on a team that lost focus late last season.
7.Clemson – Nobody in their right mind will ever say “this is Clemson’s year” because they seemingly never want it. When there is a big game on their slate, they just don’t show up (much like Georgia and Oklahoma, but we’ll get to them later). Quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the more interesting players this year , he played 8 games last year had two turnovers and threw the ball at a nearly 70% completion rate. Clemson’s defensive unit was the nations best last year but they only return three starters from that group. A drop off is expected, but it shouldn’t be too drastic.
8.Michigan State – Connor Cook is the quarterback all pro scouts will have their eyes on this year as stands as the most “pro ready” to enter the next draft. Before Cook gets ahead of himself though, he must go through this collegiate campaign. In some ways this may be Michigan State’s best chance at winning the Big 10 conference in some time. Cook returns to help give his coach Mark Dantonio another shot. This is the only team in the Big 10 with a legitimate shot at knocking down Ohio State. Last year they hosted Ohio State and lost 49-37; now with the game in Ohio State, not many are expecting ol’ Sparty to come away with the win. An early game against Oregon this season will most likely prove to be important in late season standings.
9. USC – It seems that the USC Trojans were down long enough and they want to reclaim their title. No, we’re not talking about the Pac 12 or National Championship titles – but the title of “the team you love to hate.” Quarterback Cody Kessler returns with his 39 touchdown passes from last year to lead an offense that is putting their receiving corps in the hands of two big junior college transfers (Isacc Whitney and De’Quan Hampton). If the defense doesn’t play as timid as they did last year it could be a world of a difference. Visiting Arizona State early in the season may very well prove to be a problem and also don’t under-estimate the tenacity of teams like Utah and Arizona, who they may take for granted because they play them at home.
10. Oregon – Haven’t teams been watching film? If you blow up the Oregon offensive line up the middle – it tends to destroy all their timing. It’s been like this for years. Obviously, nobody cares so Oregon just continues to do what they do every season. Much like Baylor, this Oregon offense is a machine – even losing an all time great college quarterback like Mariota doesn’t make head coach Mark Helfrich freeze up. The Ducks lost two offensive lineman to the NFL and are depending on a new signal caller to be as in-sync as last year’s offense. That’s a tough go. The Ducks will be in a lot more high powered shoot outs then they’ll care to be in and eventually just get gassed. Sick jerseys though.
11. Tennessee – It’s been a while since the Volunteers were big players in the SEC and that time may be now. Losing by one point to Florida and three points to Georgia was just brutal but this is a talented squad returning a lot of starters on both sides of the ball. An early test will be Oklahoma to see if they are ready to play with the upper echelon of college football yet.
12. N.C. State – Some might think of it as a surprise to see N.C. State so highly regarded in these rankings and you wouldn’t be wrong to doubt it. This year they play Clemson and Louisville at home and this year they visit Florida State, but we all know Florida State doesn’t have that ace up their sleeve anymore. The Wolfpack have an underrated secondary and have a freshman at running back they may end up taking the majority of carries in Johnny Frasier.
13. Arkansas – The strength of the Razorbacks begins and ends with their massive offensive line. This is a group that gave talented defenses like Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss fits last season and that trend will continue in 2015. The problem with Arkansas may lie in their defense which means if you watch any Arkansas games, expect them to be drawn out and “ground and pound” for the most part.
14. Florida State – Florida State won a lot of games they should’ve lost due to late game heroics led by quarterback Jameis Winston. With Winston gone, coach Jimbo Fisher has to find a way to keep his team focused for four quarters because they won’t have their superstar to bail them out. Florida State has recruited better than most under Fisher so the talent will always be there, the question with Florida State is: how much control does Fisher have with these players?
15. Notre Dame – Brian Kelly coaches Notre Dame football the way he sees fit and if you don’t like it, he’ll tell you exactly what to do with your opinion. Notre Dame’s schedule wasn’t too strong in the early goings which led a lot of people to believe they would beat Florida State. It seemed like they were going to, then the wheels fell out from under that joy ride and their season went off-track with it. Notre Dame’s offensive line is a strong point and should help coach Kelly install a punishing brand of offense with some flair in the passing game. The defense returns nine starters, but that’s not necessarily a good thing considering they gave up 40 points a game in their last 8 contests. . .
16. UCLA – Last year was supposed to be the year of Brett Hundley. That proved to be much of an overstatement but the Bruins still plodded along to win 10 games last year. Honestly, they didn’t “wow” anybody – just made most folks scratch their heads with their victories. But they are returning nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense, so it’s easy to assume it’ll be “more of the same” from UCLA this year.
17. Oklahoma – At this point Oklahoma gets a spot on the Top 25 for just “being Oklahoma.” It’s seems wrong, but it is what it is. Oklahoma and Texas are supposed to rule the Big 12 Conference, but as of right now, Texas is clearly rebuilding while Oklahoma is looking up at TCU and Baylor while fighting off Oklahoma State in the recruiting war. Coach Bob Stoops is a coach that has proven time and time again he can only get his team “but so far.” Truth is, Oklahoma will probably look great most of the season then fall flat the final three weeks when they play (watch this): Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State.
18. Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech is a pesky and annoying but at the same time a fun team to watch during the college football season. Coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense has been raising hell in the ACC for seven years now and it will continue to do so. Losing the ACC title game to Florida State by two points was crushing but then rebounding and beating an SEC team like Mississippi State gives them the momentum they need going into this season. Playing at Notre Dame and at Clemson may put a damper on things this year for Georgia Tech though.
19. Wisconsin – Wisconsin is always a one dimensional offense. We all know they are going to run. They will do it again. This will never change. This season though if Joel Stave is still the starting quarterback, there will be no reason for teams to not stack the box. Stave proved to be less than average last season and that trend will surely continue. October 10th at Nebraska may determine who will represent the Big 10 West, and ultimately lose to Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game.
20. Texas A&M – It seemed Texas A&M found the replacement for Johnny Manziel with quarterback Kenny Hill. Hill was an all out monster – until he faced better competition. Then Hill fell apart, A&M suspended him and now Kenny Hill is a TCU transfer student who we will be talking about next season. This year A&M has a five start quarterback recruit in Kyler Murray who may see time early if Kyle Allen slips up or doesn’t execute to the liking of coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin saw his high powered offense get stopped cold by defenses last year, if the same thing happens this season, Sumlin will regret not leaving A&M when he could’ve, on a high note.
21. Ole Miss – Ole Miss saw it all slip through their hands last season. After losing three of their last five regular season games they were thoroughly embarrassed by TCU 42-3 at the Peach Bowl. Quarterback Bo Wallace is gone and there hasn’t been much word on who will be the starter for the Rebels come week one. Coach Hugh Freeze has used two quarterbacks during a season before so keep your eyes open for that disaster. Either way, whoever is quarterback has the pleasure of throwing to Laquon Treadwell, who is returning from last year’s gruesome leg injury and will hopefully be returning in the form of one of the nations best players once again. Speaking of one of the nations best players – defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche leads a defense with seven returning starts, but the way Nkemdiche demands double teams, you can say the Rebels are returning eight starters.
22. LSU – Les Miles coaches the most boring yet consistent program in college football. They have a great young running back in Leonard Fournette, but there is zero help coming from the quarterback position. LSU is another strong SEC defensive team returning seven starters and it’s up to this unit to give the Tigers any chance of doing damage. It took this offense to play against suspect defenses like Texas A&M and Notre Dame to put up 23 and 28 points, respectively.
23. Nebraska – With Bo Pelini out of the picture, Mike Riley begins his reign as head coach of the Cornhuskers. The talent is there on both sides of the ball and the fan base has grown mostly impatient. The quarterback position will hold back Nebraska though, especially when they play aggressive defensive fronts like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State.
24. Boise State – Boise State just doesn’t get how this works. They had an opportunity to move into a competitive conference and decided to go to the Mountain West. Why? Their toughest stretch is a two game road series against Colorado State and Utah State. Yeah. . . Boise should dominate the Mountain West Conference this year and nobody but Boise and their fans will be impressed.
25. Bowling Green – Last season quarterback James Knapke stepped up when starter Matt Johnson went down and did a great job filling in, even led the Falcons to a bowl game victory over South Alabama. This year Knapke has to take a seat and wait his turn again as Matt Johnson is back and ready to lead the fast paced Bowling Green offense. The Falcons have an under-the-radar receiving core with Roger Lewis and Ryan Burbrink – also watch out for Baylor transfer Robbie Rhodes. The MAC Conference isn’t known for great defensive play, so there’s no reason to go there. . . It may start out brutal for the Falcons, but if they focus on the MAC it should be a fun and exciting ride to the Mac Championship Game.