Here are my top 25 teams for the 2013 college football season with a brief breakdown of each team.
1. Alabama – Alabama was one game circled since last year, and that is on September 14th vs. Texas A&M in College Station. If A&M doesn’t beat them on September 14th, I don’t know who The Tide could lose to in the regular season. LSU at home appears to be the only remaining regular season test, but the Tigers should be slightly down this year.
2. Oregon – If Oregon can win at Stanford, I think they’ll be in the national title game. Marcus Mariota is a serious Heisman contender, especially if the Ducks go undefeated in the regular season. The 2 toughest home tests are UCLA and Oregon State, and the Ducks travel will to Washington in addition to the aforementioned Stanford trip.
3. Ohio State – The Buckeyes will NOT go undefeated through their first 13 games this year. The most likely games for them to lose are road games against NW and Michigan, or the Big Ten title game. Take your pick on which one they lose because they will lose one of those games.
4 Stanford –The defense will be elite with 8 returning starters including Shayne Skov, and the offense should be better with a more seasoned Kevin Hogan under center. Even though the schedule is slightly more difficult than Oregon’s, they get the Ducks at home on November 7th. If it’s not Oregon in the National Championship game, I would put the Cardinal to take their spot.
5. Georgia – You can flip a coin between a few of the East schools, but instead of that, I choose to look at schedules. And I think Georgia’s schedule sets up best in the East. For starters, they get South Carolina at home in the 2nd week of the season…a game that could very well determine the East champion. They also get LSU at home in September, and, of course, the Florida game is a neutral site game. The 3 road games are tricky but manageable (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Auburn). A lot of talent is gone off that defense, but with Murray back, along with Gurley and Marshall, the offense will make up for some of the defensive regression. Andy Murray is my Heisman Pick for this season.
6. South Carolina – The Gamecocks start and end with ACC home games. The opener comes against an improved North Carolina team in the first game of the college football season on August 29th. Then they travel to Georgia, get Vandy at home, and close out September by traveling to play a secretly dangerous UCF team. The schedule closes with a home game against Clemson. In between, Steve Spurrier and company get Florida at home and also have back-to-back-to-back road games in October against Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. You could make an argument that South Carolina’s schedule is easier than Georgia’s, but with that game being in Athens, I give Georgia the edge in the East and in the rankings, especially with the quarterback advantage that Georgia obviously has.
7. Texas –There were major issues on defense last year. Offensively, they’ll go as far as QB DavidAsh will take them. He’s a good QB but lacks the ‘Vince” or “Colt” factor. Everybody knows the RBs are really good, and the offensive line should be the best it’s been in many years with everybody back. The starting receivers are good, but depth is a major issue should injuries happen. Texas still can’t find a TE to save its life. This team can surprise people this year.
8. Clemson – The conference schedule could be their easiest in year. FSU is the only opponent that will strike fear into anyone in the ACC. I already like Clemson as the best team in the ACC with Tajh Boyd returning at QB, and the schedule just makes it even easier. Thankfully, they do face the 2 teams above them as bookends on the schedule. Georgia is at home to open the season and at South Carolina to close the season. They should win the ACC easily.
9. Louisville –The Louisville team that looked great against Florida is the same team that got blown out by Syracuse and got beat by UCONN in consecutive games in November. However, the schedule is even easier this year, and with the talent they have returning, they will have failed if they finish with anything less than a 12-0 record. Charlie Strong is a great coach, and Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal.
10. Florida State –This team, and ACC teams in general, always seem to underperform. Jameis Winston looks like he could be a star, but we won’t know until he sees live action against a tough opponent. Of course they always seem to lose a game they have no business losing, but looking at the schedule, it is more than manageable. Only 3 games stand out as possible losses. @Clemson, vs Miami, and @Florida. FSU has athletes galore but never live up to their expectations.
11. Oklahoma State – The Big 12 is of course a coin toss this year, but Oklahoma State is in line for a bounce back year. After all the QB injury issues last year, a little stability should go a long way. Jeremy Smith looks to be the next stud RB for OSU, but until we see him as the feature back, we won’t know how Randle’s early departure will affect the Cowboys. Defense has some great individual players, including the best defensive tackle in the conference in Calvin Barnett, but will that equal defensive success. The Cowboys will be the best team in Oklahoma and possibly the Big 12 should they knock off Texas.
12. Notre Dame – Tommy Rees actually played ok when he played last year, so how will the loss of Everrett Golson affect wins and losses this year? The defense loses Manti, but there is plenty of NFL talent left on the roster. I don’t think there will be much of a drop off from last year’s team, but last year’s team over-achieved and won some close games they shouldn’t have. The problem is, when I look at their schedule, I see 9-3 as being a really good season. I said the same thing last season, but this year will be tougher for the Irish.
13. Texas A&M – I don’t see the Aggies beating Alabama two years in a row, and I have a feeling they will probably drop at least one more game as well. The trip to Baton Rouge looms large, but the 3 other road games are tricky as well. Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Missouri should all be better than they were in 2012. There’s talent there, but how will the defense respond after losing Demontre Moore among other starters? Only injury will slow down Manziel and the Aggies’ offense. Or a suspension. The RBs are studs with big-time play-making ability. This season all hangs on Manziel’s eligibility.
14. Nebraska –I have the Huskers at 7-0 going into a tough November. vs Northwestern, at Michigan, vs Michigan St, at Penn St, vs Iowa. I think Nebraska loses at Michigan, beats Penn St and Iowa, and the other 2 are toss-ups. But the Huskers at home are tough, so 11-1 or 10-2 appears to be a realistic expectation. The offense will be really, really good if they can improve in the discipline department (turnovers and penalties). The defense is shaky, but there just aren’t enough teams on the schedule who can take advantage of that.
15. LSU – I don’t know for a fact, but I would guess that no team has ever had as many early departures to the NFL as LSU had last year (10). The offense will be improved, but can the defense manage the personnel losses? I think the Tigers take a step back this year. Plus, the rest of the West will be improved. Death Valley is still a tough place to play at night. The Aggies will have to face that this year. Welcome to the SEC.
16. Michigan – Brady Hoke is a great coach, and Michigan will be really good, but I don’t like the way the schedule sets up, which is why I think they beat Nebraska and still lose the Legends division to the Huskers. The loss of a leader like Dernard Robinson is tough to replace, but they’re fully capable to returning to a BCS bowl out of the Big 10.
17. Oregon State – One of the biggest surprise teams in 2012, and they should be good again this year. I have a sense that 18 might be a little high as I look at their schedule (6 road games), but they handled some tough games last year, and I think Mike Reilly, who could be the most underrated head coach in all of football, has this program in a good spot.
18. Baylor – Kansas State is the key game of the season in my eyes. Win in Manhattan and 7-0 should happen. Go 7-0 and 9-0 all of a sudden looks like a decent possibility if OU is in fact slightly down this year. The games at OSU and TCU are the toughest of the season and the 2 most likely losses. I like Baylor’s chances of closing Floyd Casey Stadium out in style by beating Texas, but it’ll obviously be a tough game. Baylor is improving every year and getting a lot of Blue Chip recruits.
19. Florida – This will be lower than most have the Gators, but the schedule is just absolutely brutal. They won’t be good enough to overcome it. They travel to an improved Miami, LSU, and South Carolina. They have home games against Georgia and Florida State, plus a few games against teams that could easily pull the upset. The offense will be better with Driskel still under center, and the defense should be close to last year, so they’ll be a good team. But last year they over-achieved. This year, they’ll come back down to Earth a bit.
20. Michigan State – Another team that will be up for the bounce back award. The offense was bad last year and they lose Le’Veon Bell, but I still think they’ll be improved on that side of the ball. The defense is always solid and will be again this year. The biggest reason for the bounce back is simply the way they lost games last year. 5 losses by a total of 13 pts. Which means they are really close of putting things together. They flat out lost games they should’ve won and will win this year. D’antoni is too good a coach to let last year happen again and should be a motivating factor going into this season.
21. Miami – I like Al Golden and think he’s a great coach. 10 returning starters on offense. 8 on defense. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson are a very good QB/RB duo and should lead the ‘Canes to their best season in awhile. They’re my pick to win the Coastal. “It’s a Cane Thing.” Thanks for that Warren Sapp.
22. Oklahoma – It feels wrong to have OU this low, but I think they take a step back this year. They’ll come back strong in 2014, but I think this is an 8-4 football team. There are too many question marks on defense and at QB. They’re big game will be vs. Texas in Dallas. And could be their bowl game because a BCS or New Year’s Day Bowl is highly unlikely this year.
23. TCU –Going to a new conference is always a lot harder than teams and fans want to admit before that first season. Getting QB Pachall back will be huge. The receivers and running backs will be very good, and you know the defense will be the best in the Big 12 again. It will not surprise me at all if TCU wins the Big 12. Tough road games include the Oklahomas, Kansas State, and Tech. The Big 12 could really use a TCU victory in week 1 over LSU. With all the SEC/Big 12 talk this off-season, every Big 12 fan should be rooting for the Frogs in week 1. If only Devonte Fields wouldn’t have been an idiot in getting himself suspended for that game, they’d have a better chance of pulling out that victory
24. Wisconsin – Gary Anderson tries to keep the streak of 3 straight Rose Bowl appearances going. It will come to an end this year. The schedule is manageable as I think 9-3 is the floor for this team, but they’re not good enough to win at Ohio State. They probably drop their game at Arizona State early in the year as well. Other than a home game against Northwestern, there doesn’t appear to be much else on the schedule. The schedule is easier than OSU’s, so it’s possible they could lose in Columbus, go 7-1 in the conference, and finish above OSU if the Bucks drop 2 games. QB is still a weakness, and you can count on the OL being a strength again as they block for 2 really good RBs. The defense gets Chris Borland back at ILB, so that alone should tell you they won’t drop off from last year.
25. Northwestern – Northwestern will be better than last year, but the schedule is tougher and I don’t think the Wildcats will duplicate last year’s 10 wins. Penn State and Indiana are off the schedule, and in comes Wisconsin and Ohio State to open Big Ten play. Uh-oh. Throw in back-to-back-to-back November contests at Nebraska, vs Michigan, and vs Michigan State, and if they can find a way to go 9-3 in the regular season, that will be a huge accomplishment. It’s possible, but I think 8-4 is much more likely.
Others: Fresno State, Vanderbilt, USC, North Carolina, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Ole Miss, Kansas State, UCF, Bowling Green, Auburn, Indiana.