No. 1 Florida State was only a few hours removed from winning the final BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before ESPN's Mark Schlabach published his way too early top 25 for the 2014 season. Three 2014 Boston College opponents cracked the top 25. Let's take a closer look.
The Seminoles are starting to resemble what former FSU coach Bobby Bowden built during the 1990s. The defending BCS national champions have stockpiled NFL-type talent under coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff, and they might bring back eight starters on offense and six on defense in 2014. FSU will have to wait to see whether a few underclassmen such as left tackle Cam Erving, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O'Leary return to school or enter the NFL draft. But Winston is coming back, along with a stable of capable tailbacks and a plethora of big-play receivers. The biggest personnel losses will occur on defense, where the Seminoles will have to replace linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks. However, the Seminoles figure to be even better in their second season in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's 3-4 scheme. FSU's schedule will be more challenging next season; it opens against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas and also plays Notre Dame (home) and Louisville (road), which joins the ACC next season.
Well, duh. The defending National Champs are #1 on Schlabach's list and for good reason. We'll wait to see which players on the offensive side of the ball jump early, but the Heisman Trophy winner is back and more than a few weapons will be too. Fisher is stockpiling talent as the Seminoles coaching staff looks to parlay a National title and a Heisman Trophy into another top 5 recruiting class.
Boston College avoided the hurting Florida State put on every other division opponent in 2013 (Syracuse, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Maryland and even Clemson). It might prove difficult to replicate that success against the Noles when BC travels to Tallahassee to take on the defending champs.
14. USC Trojans
New Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian inherits enough talent to produce a Pac-12 South contender this coming season. Sarkisian was able to retain USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton, and he brought in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox from Washington. Quarterback Cody Kessler played well at the end of this past season, throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-20 rout of Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Sarkisian figures to open up the quarterback competition, so Kessler will have to hold off Max Browne this spring. Junior receiver Marqise Lee is entering the NFL draft, but Nelson Agholor and tight end Xavier Grimble are coming back. There is also plenty of talent in the backfield, with Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis coming back. Eight starters might be back on defense, including end Leonard Williams and safety Su'a Cravens. The Trojans open the season against Fresno State at home and also play nonconference games against Boston College (road) and Notre Dame (home).
USC makes the return trip to Chestnut Hill to complete the home-and-home with the Eagles in 2014. Gone will be head coach Lane Kiffin, but in his place is former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. Thankfully, Marquise Lee (2 receptions, 90 yards, 1 TD vs. BC) won't be there, having declared for the NFL Draft as a junior. Neither will TE Xavier Grimble, S Dion Bailey, C Marcus Martin or DL George Uko. Still running back Tre Madden (16 carries, 102 yards, 1 TD) returns, as do up to eight starters on a Trojans defense that thoroughly dominated BC last September. That's not good news for an Eagles team that will need to replace starters at QB1, RB1, WR1 and both OTs.
18. Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are going to be hard-pressed to match their success of the past three seasons, when departing quarterback Tajh Boyd guided them to 32 victories and a pair of BCS bowl games. The Tigers won't fall off the map, especially with offensive coordinator Chad Morris coming back for another season on Dabo Swinney's staff, but they'll have to replace their top playmakers. Along with Boyd, Clemson will lose leading rusher Roderick McDowell and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, who are turning pro. Morris will choose a new quarterback from among rising senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson, one of the country's most prized recruits. Clemson's defense performed much better this past season and eight starters might return to that side of the ball, although junior defensive end Vic Beasley might enter the NFL draft. The good news? The Tigers will avoid the top three teams from the ACC's Coastal Division (Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech) during the regular season in 2014.
Much like BC, Clemson will have to start over a bit on offense, having to replace stars Boyd, McDowell, Watkins and Bryant. Depending on when the Clemson game is played, Don Brown's pressure D may have similar success as they did this past season at keeping the Tigers young offense off-balance. The timing of this game will also play a big role in whether BC's young offense can move the ball against the Clemson defensive front. Hope for an early November home date vs. the Tigers.
Curiously absent from Schlabach's top 25 were Virginia Tech, which seemingly cracks every preseason top 25 poll just because, and Louisville, which will be without star QB Teddy Bridgewater (NFL Draft) AND head coach Charlie Strong (Texas). The only other ACC program to crack Schlabach's top 25 was no. 17 North Carolina; yet another reminder that BC is on the wrong side of the Atlantic Coast Conference.