The 2014 football season is finally in the books, which means that now it's time to start looking ahead to next year's slate. The good news for Ohio State fans is that they project to return a ton of valuable contributors, have another stellar recruiting class to work into the mix, and have a manageable 2015 schedule, so another run to the playoffs should be an expectation. But what about everybody else?
We took a shot at a stupid early projection for next year's Top 25. We realize that NFL declarations, injuries, transfers, coaching changes and more could potentially change this list, so we'll give it some tweaks throughout the offseason. For now though, here's our best guess for the 2015 top 25.
1. Ohio State
Call this a homer pick if you want, but with the Buckeyes returning almost everybody of consequence from this year's national title game team, plus a more than manageable schedule, it's hard not to see them near the top of the title conversation. Many of their best players, from Bosa, to Barrett, to Elliot, to Marshall, were all underclassmen, and there are plenty more four star guys ready for playing time.
TCU married the defensive physicality that Gary Patterson is famous for with some high flying offense, and oh yeah, basically that entire offense is back for next season. If their coaching staff remains intact, they should be right there, competing for another playoff spot.
Sure, Alabama loses essentially their entire offense. Yup, they'll be looking for another quarterback, and Lane Kiffin is still around. But with how this program has recruited and developed talent, and with what they return on defense, the Tide deserve the benefit of the doubt, and the SEC title should still run through them.
Oregon is going to have to replace the best player in college football this season in Marcus Mariota, but they're returning an awful lot of experience on that offense, starting with Royce Freeman, who could be a future Heisman candidate himself. There are some tricky road games on that schedule, but the Ducks should still project to be the class of the Pac-12 North
5. Florida State
Florida State has a big question at quarterback after Winston left for the NFL, and they'll have to replace a lot of starters on defense, but outside of Alabama, very few programs have recruited like the Noles, and it looks like they have a star at running back with Delvin Cook. Road trips to Clemson and Florida loom, but Florida State has the talent and coaching to compete for a playoff spot again.
Superstar QB Bryce Petty departs, but Baylor returns multiple important cogs on defense, and still has one of the best coaches in the game. Their nonconference schedule is still pillow soft, but that end of season showdown at TCU will still likely have a big say in who wins the conference championship.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is gone, but judging from Nick Chubb's performance this season, the Bulldogs will still have plenty of reasons to "run the dang ball". The Bulldogs draw a tough pair from the SEC West, but return some intriguing pieces up front, and should be the favorites in the SEC East.
The Trojans may have some coaching questions, but now they're free to build depth back to their sanction damaged program, and Cody Kessler should be the top quarterback in the Pac-12. USC's starters are as talented as anybody in the country. As they mature and finally start to have strong backups, this could be the year when the Trojans are finally "back".
We love Deshaun Watson, who has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football. They need to replace Chad Morris and lots of pieces on one of the best defenses in the country, but they'll get their two toughest games, Clemson and Florida State, at home, and have recruited really well. If Watson turns the corner, the ACC is going to get a lot more interesting.
The Tigers made a big time hire in bringing Will Muschamp in as DC to repair a leaky unit, and should have a strong offensive line, with plenty of blue chip recruits to fill in the gaps. Nick Marshall is gone, but betting against a Gus Malzhan offense doesn't seem like a smart bet. The Tigers get Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia at home as well.
11. Arizona State
Arizona State replaced most of their team last year and still competed for a conference title. Now, all of that experience, especially on defense, could lead to a huge step forward. Mike Bercovici looks like a solid quarterback, and even though Jalen Strong is gone, D.J Foster and an attacking defense will make the Pac-12 South very interesting. Getting USC and Oregon at home helps as well.
12. Ole Miss
A promising season ended with a thud, thanks in part to a slew of injuries. But Laquon Treadwell returns, along with the entire offensive line, and most of a great defensive line. Ole Miss will need to find a new QB, but if they can get consistency there, they could be a major SEC threat.
LSU didn't look great for all of 2014, but with a potential Heisman threat at running back in Leonard Fournette and some young talent at wideout, the Tigers should take a step forward on offense, especially if Brandon Harris takes a step forward and lives up to his recruiting hype.
14. Michigan State
Michigan State loses an excellent defensive coordinator, and depending on how some declarations go, could lose a lot of their defense that already took a step back last season. But they may have the best quarterback in the Big Ten outside of Ohio State's with Connor Cook, and they're exceptionally well coached. With Michigan and Penn State likely to improve, plus a visit from Oregon, we'll see exactly what kind of staying power the Spartans have this season.
15. Notre Dame
We may not know who will quarterback the Irish next year, but we know four starters are coming back on the line, their best rushers, and plenty of talent on defense. Their schedule isn't too bad by Notre Dame standards, and if they can cut down on turnovers and get some QB play, they could be a big threat.
Everybody's big sleeper team improved a ton over the course of the season, complete with a dismantling of Iowa in their bowl, and they're bringing virtually everybody back. A tough schedule and youth all over the football might mean this is a bit too high, but the future is very bright for the Vols.
Another SEC breakout candidate, Arkansas's defense and spectacular running game will make them a huge threat against anybody they play. We're not sure about their passing game, but in the rugged SEC West, BERT should be able to grab a few big wins.
Fresh off an unexpected Pac-12 South title, the Wildcats should be right in the mix to compete again this season. Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson will pilot a dangerous backfield for opposing defenses, but the offensive line will replace multiple starters. Scooby Wright will be back for another All-American season, and the Wildcats won't have to play Oregon next year. There are question marks, but plenty of talent.
We're headed to the part of the list where we're just throwing darts, but why not bet on the team that's won double digit SEC games two years in a row, in two very different ways? Maty Mauk will need to rebound from a rough 2014 campaign, but he'll have an experienced linebacking corps and secondary to ease that transition. The Tigers have holes to fill, but they get most of their biggest games at home.
20. Boise State
On paper, next year's Group of Five crop looks better than the 2014 group, and Boise State should be the cream of the crop. The Broncos return 16 starters from last season, and even though they need to replace a QB and running back, have some depth at both spots. It's entirely possible that Boise State is favored in every game they play this year, and if they aren't, it should be close.
21. Texas A&M
The Aggies had a somewhat forgettable season, but with LSU's John Chavis coming to boost a lagging defense, and with an offense led by super recruit Kyle Allen, it's not hard to imagine improvement from last year's slate, especially given the high recruiting rankings all over the offense. A tough game with Arizona State, and the SEC West slog, will make those wins hard to come by though.
Bret Hundley is gone, but Paul Perkins and the offensive line return, along with depth all over wideout. They'll need to improve from last season, the Bruins have some holes to fill on defense, but have recruited well. If their young talent takes a step forward like it should, UCLA should have a say in the Pac-12 South race this season.
It's been a few years to forget for Michigan, but talent shouldn't be an issue. If Jim Harbaugh can get his highly rated recruits to play to how they were regarded in high school, Michigan could have an overpowering offensive line and rushing attack next season. They'll still need a quarterback, but don't be shocked if Michigan wins at least nine games next season.
24. Georgia Tech
This might be a little low for Georgia Tech, who returns the trigger man for their devastating option attack in Justin Thomas, and with most of the defense coming back. Tech's recruiting has improved, and while the schedule has some tough games, Georgia Tech should remain the ACC Coastal favorite, and may shock some big teams against if they can get that rushing attack cooking.
Darts at the ol' dart board at this point, but given the parity within the Big Ten West, why not Wisconsin, who after Alabama, once again has a soft schedule that should set them up for nine wins or more. Paul Chryst steps in as the head coach, and should find ways to get Corey Clement involved in a big way for the Badgers. If Wisconsin can get anything from their passing game, they're a Big Ten threat. If not, they should still compete for a Top 25 spot.
Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), Florida, Nebraska, Memphis, Utah State, BYU, Western Michigan, Louisville