Let's be honest—releasing a Top 25 for the 2014 college football season in January is pretty ridiculous. There are still many draft decisions, recruit signings, and coaching hires to be made, and then all of spring football and summer workouts before we can really begin to figure out who the nation's elite teams will be this fall. However, what's the harm in guessing?
Here is College Spun's Top 25 for the 2014 season:
25. North Carolina - After a brutal 1-5 start to 2013, the Tar Heels will look to take momentum from their 6-1 finish into 2014. They return quarterback Marquise Williams, who was surprisingly effective after taking over for Bryn Renner midway through the season, as well as their top wide receiver Quinshad Davis, who should be among the best in the ACC.
24. Texas - New head coach Charlie Strong should bring renewed energy to a roster that, while not perfect, has some serious talent. The Longhorns won’t be ready to win the Big 12, but they should be more exciting than the last few Mack Brown teams.
23. Washington - The Huskies probably upgraded at head coach, bringing in Boise State’s Chris Peterson to replace new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. The offense loses some fire power, but one of the Pac-12’s best defenses remains almost wholly intact.
22. Texas A&M - The Aggies won’t be the same team without the duo of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans. On the bright side, the defense probably can’t be worse than it was this season, as most of the young players on that side of the ball should develop.
21. Clemson - The Tigers lose Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant, but Chad Morris will have some intriguing quarterback options in Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly, and top ranked true freshman Deshaun Watson to chose from as Boyd’s heir. Clemson’s defense should improve with most of its key players returning.
20. Notre Dame - The Irish will be led by 2012 starting quarterback Everett Golson, who returns after a year away due to academic issues, and they’ll need all the help they can get. Notre Dame’s schedule features ten 2013 bowl teams, and the defense will likely experience a step back after losing a number of top front seven players.
19. Oklahoma State - The Cowboys lose a lot of talent on defense, but the offense shouldn’t take a huge hit, even with the graduation of Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has a lot of starting experience, while Desmond Roland should have another big year as Oklahoma State’s featured back.
18. Ole Miss - Bo Wallace’s return should signal good things for the Rebel offense, while the young, talented defense has a year under its belt and should be one of the best units in the country. The SEC West isn’t getting any easier, but the Rebels’ schedule is somewhat manageable, by division standards at least.
17. Arizona State - Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong return for one of the Pac-12’s most exciting offenses. The defense is still an adventure for Todd Graham’s program, so Sun Devil games will be worth the watch for those who like points - on both sides.
16. USC - No matter what you think about the Sarkisian hire, it’s hard to argue against the fact that stability should help the Trojans. Sark brings back greatly improved quarterback Cody Kessler, and most of a strong defense. If the players play as hard for him as they did for Coach O, the Trojans may have something brewing in 2014.
15. Missouri - Maty Mauk may end up being an upgrade over James Franklin as he is handed the keys as starter at quarterback. Dorial Green-Beckham’s (assuming he's available) workload should increase as well, so expect him to improve on an already impressive 883-yard, 12-touchdown season.
14. Wisconsin - The Badgers return over 2,000 rushing yards in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, and a fully capable two-year starting quarterback in Joel Stave. The Badgers’ schedule is also quite favorable, as they avoid Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State in the Big Ten.
13. Georgia - Things probably can’t go as poorly in 2014 as they did in 2013, at least on the injury front, so the Bulldogs have that going for them. If Todd Gurley stays healthy, Mark Richt’s team will be dangerous, even in a post-Aaron Murray world.
12. South Carolina - Connor Shaw was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, but Dylan Thompson, who has some decent experience, should be a very capable replacement in 2014. Running back Mike Davis is an explosive talent, and may be one of the SEC’s breakout stars. The SEC East should be wide open for the Gamecocks.
11. Baylor - The Big 12 champs lose a lot, but they bring back Art Briles and Bryce Petty, so things are still looking up in Waco. The Bears are also moving into a brand new stadium and have to have a bad taste left in their mouths after the Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF.
10. LSU - The Tigers offense will likely take a step back without 2013’s dangerous passing attack (as well as stud running back Jeremy Hill, who recently declared for the NFL draft), but a veteran offensive line paired with what should be a vintage elite LSU defense will make this a team to contend with, as usual.
9. Michigan State - Pat Narduzzi definitely has some work to do to retool a Sparty defense that was revelatory in 2013, but quarterback Connor Cook will only get better, so Michigan State remains a tough out. The Big Ten champs move from the hunter to the hunted as well, which is new territory. If Mark Dantonio's squad can repeat in 2014, they'll probably have a shot at making the CFB playoff.
8. Oklahoma - Trevor Knight turned the Oklahoma quarterback position from a major question mark into a possible strength in 2014 with his incredible Sugar Bowl performance (348 passing yards, four touchdowns) against Alabama. With a strong defense and a solid offensive line returning, 2014 should be a good year for the Sooners.
7. UCLA - There was a time when it looked like star quarterback Brett Hundley might dart for the NFL and head coach Jim Mora could take the job at Texas. A few weeks later, UCLA has held onto both, and the Bruins have one of 2014’s most explosive offenses on paper. The Pac-12 will be loaded in 2014, so they'll have their work cut out for them.
6. Stanford - David Shaw’s Cardinal program is one of the nation’s most consistent. Even with some attrition at running back and both lines, it is hard to count out Stanford’s seemingly plug-and-play brand of power football. To have a chance at playing for a national title in 2014, the Cardinal will need to avoid losing trap games (Utah).
5. Ohio State - With the loss of running back Carlos Hyde and four-fifths of the starting Buckeye offensive line, the return of Braxton Miller, who should be a Heisman Trophy candidate, becomes even more important for Urban Meyer’s club. Miller will look to prove that he is a pro-caliber passer, while the Buckeye defense should take a step forward against the pass. The Bucks will have a shot at redemption against Michigan State on November 8th.
4. Alabama - Back-to-back losses to end 2013 will stick in the craw of Nick Saban, and that’s a bad thing for the rest of college football - well, at least any team in the Tide's way in 2014. The loss of Heisman finalist AJ McCarron will be tough, but a running game led by TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry should terrify the rest of the SEC. Saban has also never lost back-to-back Iron Bowls before...
3. Auburn - Gus Malzahn’s prolific offense is largely intact, including the rapidly improving starting quarterback Nick Marshall. Auburn’s defense proved that it could step up and hang with top talent in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. Tigers fans can’t count on miracles like they saw in 2013, but they may not have to—this team may be better in 2014.
2. Oregon - Marcus Mariota returns for another year at the helm of Oregon’s offense, which is a scary notion for the rest of the Pac-12, especially if he stays healthy. Mark Helfrich has a year of experience under his belt. The defense will be interesting, considering some turnover on the roster and the loss of Nick Aliotti. The offense will be elite and the Ducks will be a popular pick for a National Championship run… more of the same in Eugene.
1. Florida State - Another year with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, another star studded recruiting class, and a whole offseason for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to get any kinks worked out of his already dominant 3-4 scheme. Another ACC title should be more than enough to catapult the Seminoles into next year's playoff, where they'd have the opportunity to prove that yet again, they're the best team in the country. This is an easy choice for the top spot.