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The 10 College Football Programs With The Most Hope Heading Into 2015

The 2014-2015 college football season is officially in the books, which means that fans of all programs are now solely focused on one thing - next year. While Ohio State supporters will have bragging rights for an entire 12 months, fans of a number of other teams are feeling pretty good about the future. 

Remember - hope isn't necessarily quantifiable. Some programs have made big-time coaching hires. Others are killing it on the recruiting trail. And a few just have too many superstars returning to be ignored. Here are the top ten college football programs whose fan bases have the most hope heading into the 2015-2016 season.

Get Started: No. 10 - Auburn >>>

10. Auburn

Sure, Auburn is losing its starting quarterback in Nick Marshall, its best wide receiver in Sammie Coates and its starting running back in Cameron Artis-Payne. But are you really worried about the Tigers, under head coach Gus Malzahn, slowing down on offense? Malzahn's scheme, seemingly run at mach speed, is difficult for opponents regardless of who is lined up, and Auburn returns enough talent to cause problems. 

But the real reason for hope is the hiring of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp at defensive coordinator. The Tigers ranked 63rd in points against in 2014, and gave up over 30 points in seven different games. Muschamp, a defensive guru, will surely improve those numbers. A year ago, Auburn had arguably the hardest schedule in the nation and won eight games. We'll be shocked if they don't return to the College Football Playoff conversation in 2015.

Next: No. 9 - Michigan State >>>

9. Michigan State

Spartans fans have mixed feelings regarding the fact that Ohio State won the national title. On one hand, a hated rival took back control of the conference and accomplished what MSU hasn't been able to. On the other hand, the Buckeyes' victory proved just how close Michigan State is to national prominence. The Spartans, which finished 2014 with one of the most prolific offenses in the country, return their star quarterback, Connor Cook, and a number of other impactful players. On the defensive side of the ball, star defensive end Shilique Calhoun returns as well.

Yes, MSU lost defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to Pitt, and there's no telling how much of an impact that will have. But the Spartans have become known as a defensive powerhouse over the past few years, and that isn't going to change overnight.

Plus, the team's amazing come-from-behind victory against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl has Michigan State fans flying high heading into next year. Will they take the next step and contend for a playoff spot? We think they have a good shot. 

Next: No. 8 - Tennessee >>>

8. Tennessee

No, Tennessee probably won't compete for a national title in 2015. But the Volunteers, under Butch Jones, are certainly trending in the right direction. Jones will be entering his third year at the helm in Knoxville, and considering the program improved from five wins in 2013 to seven victories in 2014, fans are expecting big things this fall. Should they be?

We think so. Tennessee has seemingly found its next quarterback - sophomore Josh Dobbs - who led the team to a 4-2 record as the starter down the stretch despite starting the year as the team's third-stringer. The Vols also return a number of defensive contributors who helped the team finish 36th overall in points against. But it's not just the team's current players who have fans excited.

In 2013, Jones put together the 21st-ranked recruiting class, per Rivals. In 2014, the Vols jumped to No. 5. And in 2015, with just two weeks left until National Signing Day, the program is again ranked No. 5. It's just a matter of time before that talent develops, and Tennessee is a force to be reckoned with in the SEC East.

Next: No. 7 - USC >>>

7. USC

Most college football fan bases would take a nine-win season that ended with a Holiday Bowl victory over another national power. But Trojans supporters, most of whom were around for the program's absolute dominance in the 2000s, expect more. In 2015, it's looking like they could get it.

First and foremost, the Trojans return star quarterback Cody Kessler, a sure-to-be Heisman Trophy candidate, who threw 39 touchdowns against just five interceptions last year. USC also brings back a number of skill players, almost its entire offensive line, and most of its secondary. And if you haven't checked in on the team's recruiting class for 2015, it's currently ranked No. 3.

Remember, USC fans - this past season was just the first of the Steve Sarkisian era. And three of the team's four losses - at Boston College, against Arizona State, and at Utah - came by one score or less. If they can start to learn how to finish games, they could be a College Football Playoff contender next year.

Next: No. 6 - Florida >>>

6. Florida

Most of the frustration that fans had with the Florida football program the past few years came down to the ineffectiveness of two men - head coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jeff Driskel. Well, both are gone from Gainesville, and that fact, at least for now, seems to be enough to make Gators fans content. UF parted ways with Muschamp following the season, then went out and hired away Jim McElwain from Colorado State. Driskel left on his own accord, opting to transfer to Louisiana Tech for his final year.

Florida's fall from grace was swift - the Gators won 11 games in 2012, and in the next two years, combined to win just 12. McElwain's hire, however, has fans pumped. Current players are raving about him. Former players are raving about him. Most Gators supporters truly believe that he's capable of turning around the program.

Plus, it's not like the Gators don't have the players. UF finished in the top ten in Rivals' rankings the past three seasons. If quarterback Treon Harris can figure it all out, Florida could contend in the SEC East as early as next year.

Next: No. 5 - Alabama >>>

5. Alabama

Alabama may have avenged its 2013 Iron Bowl loss this past year, but Alabama fans were still left with an empty feeling at the end of the season. The Crimson Tide, the No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff, were knocked off by Ohio State, which was playing its third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones. Most fan bases would be thrilled just to make the playoff - but the folks in Tuscaloosa have experienced far too much recent success to be satisfied.

Luckily, head coach Nick Saban doesn't appear to be heading anywhere anytime soon, and the Tide has no problem recruiting star players every year. In fact, according to Rivals, Alabama has put together the top recruiting class the past five years in a row. Sure, there is a bit of a question at quarterback in 2015, given Blake Sims' departure, but guess what? We all thought that last year too when AJ McCarron graduated.

Alabama fans, never fear. Your team will be a national title contender until the day Saban announces his retirement.

Next: No. 4 - Michigan >>>

4. Michigan

Remember now, we said that hope isn't necessarily quantifiable. Michigan is not going to contend for the College Football Playoff in 2015 like a number of the other programs on this list. But you can't tell us that Wolverines fans aren't through the roof right now after the school was able to land new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

It's no secret that Michigan supporters (and apparently the higher-ups at the school) had grown tired of Brady Hoke. It's also no secret that fans truly would not have been excited about any other candidate than Harbaugh. The former San Francisco 49ers coach, who is also a "Michigan man", is a proven winner - at both the professional level and the college level. His hard-nosed style has fans believing that it's just a matter of time before Michigan is competing with Ohio State and Michigan State for Big Ten supremacy.

No, Michigan's 2015 recruiting class won't wind up all that impressive, but the Wolverines have a decent amount of talent to work with on their current roster, pulling in a top ten class in two of the last three years. Give Harbaugh a few years and it's hard to imagine he hasn't improved the product in Ann Arbor.

Next: No. 3 - Clemson >>>

3. Clemson

There is a strong chance that 2015 is the year that Clemson finally gets over the hump, and Tigers fans are ecstatic about it. Why is Clemson such a hot pick? Well, the program, under head coach Dabo Swinney, has pumped out four straight double-digit victory seasons, so the Tigers have established themselves as a national power. The Tigers boasted the nation's third-best defense in the country in 2014, and though a number of its stars are moving on, they are seemingly returning just enough to still contend. But the biggest reason? Sophomore-to-be quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson, who was unable to finish the season because of an ACL tear, is looked at as one of the most promising young signal-callers in the nation. He finished the 2014 campaign with 14 touchdowns, just two interceptions, and, on that torn knee, led the team to a rivalry game victory over South Carolina. With Jameis Winston leaving Florida State, he's probably the best quarterback in the ACC.

If Florida State is unable to effectively replace Winston, Clemson could take control of the conference. Tigers supporters would be thrilled.

Next: No. 2 - TCU >>>

2. TCU 

It's hard to argue that Ohio State, which won the College Football Playoff, wasn't deserving of the No. 4 slot in hindsight. But it's also hard to argue that TCU, which blew out Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, didn't belong as well. The Horned Frogs will enter 2015 as perhaps the hungriest team in the nation. And they return their star quarterback, Trevone Boykin, along with the majority of their starters on both offense and defense. 

Gary Patterson seems to have figured out the Big 12 - save for Baylor - and there is no reason to believe that TCU won't have its way with the rest of the conference again in 2015. The Horned Frogs finished in the top ten in both offense and defense last year - an astounding combination. 

The only thing TCU fans have to fear? The playoff committee established last year that the lack of a conference title game is an issue. The Horned Frogs may have to run the table to get an invite.

Next: No. 1 - ??? >>>

1. Ohio State

Yep, fans of the reigning national champion also have the most hope. It's a pretty easy argument, too. Ohio State returns three star quarterbacks, its star running back, and a number of big-time defensive players. The Buckeyes have established that they can compete with the best in both the SEC and the Pac-12. And oh yeah, they've got three-time national champion Urban Meyer as their head coach. 

Sure, Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh. Yes, Michigan State is hungry to regain its status as the Big Ten's top dog. But neither program has the talent pool that Ohio State boasts. Neither team has the resources that Ohio State boasts. And now, neither team has the hardware that Ohio State boasts. 

Will Ohio State repeat in 2015? There are no guarantees, but the Buckeyes have as good a chance as anyone. Their fan base is as hopeful as they've been in quite some time.

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