You made it.
That gigantic circle you marked on your calendar back in mid-January has resurfaced, as the first week of the 2015 college football season is finally here.
If you’ve been working underground the last seven months and have missed out on all the haps in between, well, I’m sorry and I hope that you find a different job soon because that is not fun. But don’t worry; we’re here to do you a solid so you’re not completely lost this week.
The Today’s U college football staff has put together—drumroll, please—it’s first ever preseason Top 25 rankings, giving you
an early a last-second look at how we think things will pan out over the next few months.
Naturally, the SEC is well represented with seven teams listed—apparently ESPN isn’t the only outlet prone to southern bias, right Kirk?—but only features two teams (Alabama and Auburn) in the top 10. The Pac-12 comes in second with six—no East Coast bias over here!—with the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 joining with three apiece.
Boise State (21) is the only non-Power Five team to make an appearance, though Toledo and Memphis received votes.
Despite no conference championship game, TCU and Baylor enter the season as our preseason No. 2 and 3. You can bet your bottom dollar that we’re all eagerly awaiting that fateful November 27 primetime matchup at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Clemson (9) is the highest-ranked ACC member, with Florida State (10) and Georgia Tech (14) coming in close behind. Though we’re projecting a down year for the conference, both divisions are extremely volatile and could prove to produce an undefeated product. Whether that be one of the teams listed above or someone else is a complete mystery.
And to no one’s surprise, Ohio State is the undisputed preseason favorite to repeat as the College Football Playoff champion. However, unlike the AP Top 25—which you can view here—the Buckeyes were not the consensus No. 1 overall.
What do you think of the rankings? Let us know in the comment section below, or follow @TodaysUSports to tell us how you really feel.
*A point system was assigned, giving 25 points for a team with a No. 1 vote, 24 points for a No. 2 vote, 23 points for a No. 3 vote, and so on.
NEXT UP: at Virginia Tech, Monday, Sept. 7
WHY: Do we really have to justify this? Toss aside the fact that it is the defending national champion (though there’s a strong argument there, too, considering it returns 15 starters); Ohio State will field the most talented team—by far—in the Big Ten Conference, and there may not be another program in the nation that can boast having four Heisman Trophy candidates. If the Buckeyes can avoid a clunker in Blacksburg next Monday, the path to a second straight College Football Playoff appearance could turn into a cakewalk.
NEXT UP: at Minnesota, Thursday, Sept. 3
WHY: 6,929. That’s the number of total offensive yards TCU’s offense produced in 2014, and with 10 starters back—including top Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin—the Horned Frogs are poised to put up some astronomical numbers this fall. Of course, TCU can’t overlook Minnesota in the opener, and it certainly cannot afford to allow 24 fourth-quarter points to Baylor in November’s rematch of the new era Big 12 heavyweights.
NEXT UP: vs. SMU, Friday, Sept. 4
WHY: You might as well chalk Baylor as No. 2A right next to TCU—one of these two teams are going to emerge undefeated out of the Big 12 and represent the conference as the “one true champion” in the College Football Playoff. Like the ‘Frogs, Baylor is absolutely loaded on offense (don’t even try to question the quarterback position), but needs to address a few things on the other side of the ball. We won’t see those issues against SMU.
NEXT UP: vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Nevermind the whole quarterback quandary; Jake Coker, David Cornwell, or Blake Barnett (maybe all three at some point this season?), Alabama may have the best defense in the nation to back them up this fall and a legitimate Doak Walker Award candidate in the backfield with Derrick Henry. The SEC West is treacherous, but if there’s one thing us pundits have learned over the last few years, it’s to never doubt Nick Saban. Alabama will once again contend for a championship.
NEXT UP: vs. Eastern Washington, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams was recently named the heir to Marcus Mariota’s throne as Oregon’s starting quarterback, and while he has gigantic shoes to fill, he’ll feel right at home sustaining the Ducks’ high-octane offense. He may not finish the season with four interceptions in 445 attempts, but he’s no stranger to the end zone and can keep Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings (and college football’s total offense). You’ll see what I’m talking about when the Ducks host his former team this week.
NEXT UP: at Western Michigan, Friday, Sept. 4
WHY: The time is now. If Mark Dantonio is going to get Michigan State into the College Football Playoff anytime soon, it will have to be in 2015. Hands down, Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten East. But the Spartans need to take advantage of the current state of Michigan and Penn State—two historically proud programs that will be returning to prominence sooner than later. Twenty-four wins over the last two years is a welcomed feat, but the Spartans have the talent to do something more this season.
NEXT UP: vs. Arkansas State, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: More attention on the ridiculously talented roster and less on Steve Sarkisian’s drunken rant, please. USC plays a tough schedule, but by and large is the most dangerous (and volatile) contender in the Pac-12. There’s a chance the Trojans could rip through college football with a 13-0 record, or fall flat their face and continue to fail expectations with eight or nine wins. Nonetheless, this team has potential; so much that it could resemble the 2008 squad. Yeah, we went there.
NEXT UP: vs. Louisville, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Jeremy Johnson is the next closest thing to Cam Newton, both in physique (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) and on-field performance (neither are fun to game plan against; they can make any throw and are deceptively athletic). In other words, defenses beware. Between Johnson, wide receiver D’haquille Williams, and a promising committee backfield, this could be Gus Malzahn’s best—and fastest—offense he’s ever coached. Yes, that includes the 2010 national title team that featured Newton. It also doesn’t hurt that defensive guru Will Muschamp has been working to re-shape the Tigers’ D into something formidable; expect a much more physical (and aggressive) Auburn defense in 2015.
NEXT UP: vs. Wofford, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Clemson returns 11 starters in 2015 (t-100th overall) and only four from a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally in total yards allowed (260.8 per game). It’s inevitable that the Tigers will regress a bit in that category, but head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have added reliable depth over the last few years, and shouldn’t see too much drop off. Sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson—one of the more electryfing players in college football, when healthy—and an always-explosive receiving corps should compensate, anyway, and keep Clemson in the playoff hunt as the ACC favorite.
NEXT UP: vs. Texas State, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Florida State probably won’t be starting another 29-game winning streak anytime soon, but despite a ton of key offseason departures (including the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in quarterback Jameis Winston), the ‘Noles still have plenty of juice to contend for another ACC championship. A lot rides on Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson, though, who will need to revert to 2012 form in order for FSU to reach its ceiling and compete with both Clemson and a slew of up-and-comers in the Atlantic.
NEXT UP: vs. Texas A&M, Saturday, September 5
WHY: It’s not the first time you’ve heard that Arizona State is a “sleeper” or a “dark horse” coming out of the Pac-12 South, but it probably won’t be the last, either. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils ready for yet another run at the division, and a third straight 10-win season (or better)—which would be the program’s first time doing so since a four-year stretch in 1970-73—is likely.
NEXT UP: vs. Tennessee-Martin, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Throw Ole Miss into the ACC Coastal, and you have yourself a playoff team. Alas, the Rebels are cursed with fending itself in the SEC West, and will fight for position with other middle-tier (for the SEC, that is) teams such as LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. A healthy defense—one worthy of top-five mention—will keep Ole Miss in any game, but the quarterback position is what will make or break the ‘Rebs if they want to be more than a nine-win team.
NEXT UP: vs. Texas, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Our own Kyle Kensing is selling Notre Dame as an early College Football Playoff contender, and by the looks of things, so is the rest of our staff. Malik Zaire is probably an upgrade at quarterback (replacing now-Florida State QB Everett Golson), and an injury-prone defense is now ready to go. But take one look at that awfully scary schedule and tell me that the Irish finish 12-0 or 11-1. Can’t do it, can you? Neither can we.
NEXT UP: vs. Alcorn State, Thursday, Sept. 3
WHY: Paul Johnson had a few key players to replace this offseason after a surprising ACC Coastal Division run in 2014, but returns arguably the best quarterback he’s ever had in Justin Thomas and an experienced defense that should vastly improve. The Yellow Jackets are the only ranked team from the Coastal.
NEXT UP: vs. Virginia, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: If true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen lives up to his five-star (and No. 1 overall QB) billing early in his career, then the stars could align for coach Jim Mora, Jr. and company and UCLA will undoubtedly be a Pac-12 contender. Oh, and there’s that whole offensive line thing; the Bruins’ big hefties allowed 40 sacks in 2014 (113th overall), but return all five starters. We’ll see what kind of progression was made this offseason when UCLA hosts Virginia this weekend … the Cavaliers sacked former Bruin QB Brett Hundley five times in last year’s opener.
NEXT UP: vs. McNeese State, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: It’s difficult to get a read on the 2015 LSU Tigers. Plenty of starters return (nine offense, six* defense) after an up-and-down 2014 campaign, including Heisman candidate running back Leonard Fournette. Even without injured Jalen Mills for the first few weeks, the defense could prove to be exceptional (which is no surprise for a Les Miles unit). Whether LSU contends with Alabama and Auburn for the SEC West rests on the shoulders of the quarterback; Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes last season, and a repeat performance could mean another disappointing year for the Tigers.
*Starting safety Jalen Mills will miss the first four-to-six weeks of the season
NEXT UP: vs. Alabama, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Wisconsin welcomed its third coach in four years with Paul Chyst this offseason, but don’t expect anything different from the Badgers in terms of identity; it’s going to be the same old win with the running game, defense, and field position approach in 2015. And it’ll work, too, as Bucky is the favorite to win the Big Ten West.
NEXT UP: vs. UTSA, Thursday, Sept. 3
WHY: It’s possible that we’re not giving Rich Rodriguez enough credit here. With the return of quarterback Anu Solomon, running back Nick Wilson, and receiver Cayleb Jones (among others), Arizona may be slightly underrated as the reigning Pac-12 South champion. However, the expected emergence of USC could play as a major factor against the ‘Cats, not to mention the real potential of Arizona State and UCLA.
NEXT UP: at Northwestern, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Welcome back, Stanford—we missed you. Vying for the top spot in the Pac-12 North will be the Cardinal, who return a veteran offensive unit (nine starters from 2014) and a defense filled with plenty of new faces that are eager to restore fear back into opposing offenses. We’ll know just how real of a contender Stanford is early in the season, thanks to a Week 3 trip to the Coliseum.
NEXT UP: vs. Bowling Green, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: If Tennessee were to end up No. 20 in the final College Football Playoff standings here in a few months, it would be the program’s first Top 25 finish since 2007; the Volunteers went 10-4, won the Outback Bowl, and claimed the No. 12 ranking in Phillip Fulmer’s second-to-last year with the program. Butch Jones’ incredibly young roster showed a ton of promise in 2014, and with 18 starters returning (t-6th nationally), expectations have returned to Knoxville. Per usual, the SEC East should be unpredictable, but UT has a solid chance to come out on (Rocky) top.
NEXT UP: vs. Washington, Friday, Sept. 4
WHY: If Boise State is going to run the Group of Five table and crash the College Football Playoff party this fall, it’s going to do so with an exceptional defense. Beating Washington in the Chris Petersen Homecoming Bowl and following it up with a win in Provo the following week would be a great start for the Broncos, who will need an undefeated season (in convincing fashion, too) to do so.
NEXT UP: vs. Akron, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Former Texas Tech gunslinger Baker Mayfield—not Trevor Knight—will be suiting up under center for Oklahoma in Week 1. While the redshirt sophomore was impressive at times as a true freshman for the Red Raiders in 2013, whether he can keep the Sooners offense competing at a high level (in other words, matching Baylor and TCU punch-for-punch) is in question.
NEXT UP: vs. UTEP, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Bret Bielema has turned Arkansas into a traditional Big Ten team playing in the SEC, and it’s working. Under John L. Smith in 2012, the Razorbacks went 4-8 and lost to Alabama 52-0. Fast forward to 2014 (Bielema’s second season), where the Hogs only lose to Bama 14-13, and claim wins against No. 17 LSU (17-0) and No. 8 Ole Miss (30-0). There may not be much difference in the win column this season—winning eight or nine games would be an incredible accomplishment—but the future is defintely bright in Fayetteville.
NEXT UP: vs. Arizona State, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Alright, so here’s what we know: Texas A&M is going to be really, really good on the offensive side of the ball. That’s nothing new. Kyle Allen might be the best quarterback in the SEC, and the Aggies quite possibly have the most talented receiving corps in the nation. But just how much will that 77th-ranked scoring defense improve, if at all? A&M will put seven returning defensive starters on the field, and they’ll need to take a few digits off that “28.1 points per game allowed” stat line to stay above water in the unforgiving SEC West.
NEXT UP: Southeast Missouri State, Saturday, Sept. 5
WHY: Back-to-back SEC East championships will tell you that Missouri is vastly underrated (and possibly a little disrespected) heading into the 2015 season, but common sense will tell you that losing your most productive player on defense two years in a row will take a toll. Missouri’s strength has been on the defensive side of the ball—mainly the pass rush—and that is likely to change, swaying in the offense’s (a unit that has proven to be hit-or-miss with Maty Mauk under center) favor.
Other receiving votes (in order): NC State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Penn State, Miami, Utah, Toledo, Memphis, Mississippi State, Kansas State.