Newsday's Top 25 college football teams

The Oregon Ducks run onto the field before

The Oregon Ducks run onto the field before the game against of the UCLA Bruins. (Oct. 26, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

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1 OREGON

Coach: Mark Helfrich, 2nd year (11-2)

Last year: 11-2, 7-2 Pac-12, def. Texas, 30-7, Alamo Bowl

Outlook: Hobbled by a sprained MCL late last season, junior QB Marcus Mariota turned his back on NFL millions to pursue a national title and Heisman Trophy with the Ducks. They return nine offensive starters, NFL prospects on defense in CB Ifo Ekpre-Olumo and DT Arik Armstead. Key test is Oct. 11 at UCLA, a team they might see again in the Pac-12 title game.

 

2 FLORIDA STATE

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 5th year (45-10)

Last year: 14-0, 8-0 ACC, def. Auburn, 34-31, BCS title game

Outlook: Sophomore QB Jameis Winston seeks to repeat as national champion and Heisman Trophy winner with consensus preseason No. 1, but it will be hard to top 4,057 passing yards and 44 total TDs. Seminoles' top-ranked scoring defense must fill holes against tougher schedule with road tests vs. Oklahoma State and Louisville, but they get Clemson and Notre Dame at home.

3 AUBURN

Coach: Gus Malzahn, 2nd year (12-2)

Last year: 12-2, 7-1 SEC, lost to Florida State, 34-31, BCS title game

Outlook: Temptation is to say the Tigers can't repeat a miracle season that fell 13 seconds shy of the BCS title, but while SEC West rival Alabama searches for a QB, Nick Marshall returns to lead an explosive offense with WRs Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and WR D'haquille Williams. The schedule is a minefield, but LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M visit the Tigers before they finish at Bama.

4 BAYLOR

Coach: Art Briles, 7th year (78-61)

Last year: 11-2, 8-1 Big 12, lost to UCF, 52-42, Fiesta Bowl

Outlook: Add senior QB Bryce Petty to the Heisman derby after he passed for 4,200 yards and 32 TDs. Starting WRs Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood and Corey Coleman return. Achilles' heel is defense, with two starters back plus Boise State transfer DE Sam Ukwuachu. Bears should dominate schedule except for Nov. 8 at Oklahoma and home finale vs. Kansas State.

5 ALABAMA

Coach: Nick Saban, 8th year (79-15)

Last year: 11-2, 7-1 SEC, lost to Oklahoma, 45-31, Sugar Bowl

Outlook:Saban shrouded in secrecy the preseason QB battle between Florida State transfer Jacob Coker and senior Blake Sims. The winner can hand off to RB T.J. Yeldon and target WR Amari Cooper. Only four defensive starters return, led by LB Trey DePriest, but frosh CB Tony Brown helps secondary. Toughest spot before Auburn home finale is Nov. 8 at LSU.

6 MICHIGAN STATE

Coach: Mark Dantonio, 8th year (64-29)

Last year: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten, def. Stanford, 24-20, Rose Bowl

Outlook: Brilliant defense was the key for the Spartans last season, and they return just five starters, including DE Shilique Calhoun and CB Trae Waynes. But QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford lead a solid offense that blew out Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. A Sept. 6 test at Oregon will be tough, but Spartans get Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State at home.

7 UCLA

Coach: Jim Mora, 3rd year (19-8)

Last year: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12, def. Va. Tech, 42-12, Sun Bowl

Outlook: Expect junior QB Brett Hundley to be in the thick of the Heisman race working behind a veteran OL and firing to WRs Devin Fuller, Devin Lucien and Jordan Payton. Defense returns eight, including two-way LB/RB Myles Jack, adds top LB recruit Zach Whitley. Bruins open with three of four on road, including Texas and Arizona State, but get Oregon, USC, Stanford at home.

8 OKLAHOMA

Coach: Bob Stoops, 16th year (160-39)

Last year: 11-2, 7-2 Big 12, def. Alabama, 45-31, Sugar Bowl

Outlook: QB Trevor Knight tore up Alabama's defense with four TD passes in Sugar Bowl win in fifth start and has WR Sterling Shepard. But season suspension of five-star frosh RB Joe Mixon was major blow. Big 12's best defense returns eight starters, including LBs Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon. Key four-game stretch includes Texas in Dallas and K-State and Baylor at home.

9 OHIO STATE

Coach: Urban Meyer, 3rd year (24-2)

Last year: 12-2, 8-0 Big Ten, lost to Clemson, 40-35, Orange Bowl

Outlook: Meyer's 24-game win streak ended with losses in the Big Ten title game and Orange Bowl. This season began with loss of Heisman QB candidate Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury. Offense now in hands of redshirt frosh QB J.T. Barrett and adds frosh RB Curtis Samuel from Brooklyn. DL is among nation's best with Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington.

10 SOUTH CAROLINA

Coach: Steve Spurrier, 10th year (77-39)

Last year: 11-2, 6-2 SEC, def. Wisconsin, 34-24, Capital One Bowl

Outlook: Senior Dylan Thompson starts at QB for departed Connor Shaw, but he's surrounded by eight returning starters, including RB Mike Davis, WR Shaq Roland and a quality OL. Defense can't replace No. 1 NFL draft pick, DE Jadeveon Clowney, and secondary is weak. Gamecocks face tough SEC foes Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri early but all at home.

11 LSU

Coach: Les Miles, 10th year (95-24)

Last year: 10-3, 5-3 SEC, def. Iowa, 21-14, Outback Bowl

Outlook: If LSU contends for the SEC title, it likely will depend on the rapid development of two freshmen, QB Brandon Harris and RB Leonard Fournette. Harris must beat out soph Anthony Jennings, and Fournette shares the rushing with senior Terrence Magee. Their inexperience makes tough Wisconsin opener an important hurdle before games at Auburn and home vs. Alabama.

12 WISCONSIN

Coach: Gary Anderson, 2nd year (9-4)

Last year: 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten, lost to S. Carolina, 34-24, Capital One Bowl

Outlook: RB Melvin Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 TDs last season and could get in Heisman mix behind another huge Badgers OL. Except for a veteran secondary led by CB Sojourn Shelton and SS Michael Caputo, defense is a question mark. After neutral-site LSU opener, schedule is tissue-soft until key Big Ten West game vs. Nebraska on Nov. 15.

13 KANSAS STATE

Coach: Bill Snyder, 23rd year (178-90-1)

Last year: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12, def. Michigan, 31-14, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Outlook: Wildcats won six of last seven last year and should carry momentum into this season with QB Jake Waters, brilliant WR/KR Tyler Lockett (81 catches, 1,262 yards, 11 TDs) and freshman RB Dalvin Womack. Pass-rushing DE Ryan Mueller (11.5 sacks) leads so-so defense. Wildcats host SEC power Auburn on Sept. 18, but travel to Oklahoma and Baylor.

14 STANFORD

Coach: David Shaw, 4th year (34-7)

Last year: 11-3, 7-2 Pac-12, lost to Michigan State, 24-20, Rose Bowl

Outlook: Junior QB Kevin Hogan and WR Ty Montgomery are proven, but running game is rebuilding as soph Barry Sanders Jr., juniors Kelsey Young and Remound Wright and senior Ricky Seale compete at RB behind OL that returns only LT Andrus Peat. Road schedule is brutal: at Washington, Notre Dame, ASU, Oregon and UCLA.

15 BOISE STATE

Coach: Bryan Harsin, 1st year

Last year: 8-5, 6-2 Mountain West, lost to Oregon State, 38-23, Hawaii Bowl

Outlook: Harsin has big shoes to fill replacing Chris Peterson, who accepted a power conference job at Washington. But Broncs return QB Grant Hedrick, RB Jay Ajayi (1,425 rushing, 19 TDs) and WR Matt Miller (1,140 yards, 12 TDs). CB Donte Deayon (6 interceptions) leads secondary. If Broncs upend Ole Miss in Atlanta opener, they might run the table in MWC.

16 USC

Coach: Steve Sarkisian, 1st year

Last year: 10-4, 6-3 Pac-12, def. Fresno State, 45-20, Las Vegas Bowl

Outlook: Sarkisian established head-coaching chops in rebuild at Washington but couldn't pass up return to SC, where he was Pete Carroll's offensive coordinator. He inherits QB Cody Kessler, RB Javorius Allen, top NFL DT prospect Leonard Williams and scored recruiting haul including frosh WRs Steven Mitchell, "Juju'' Smith and WR/CB Adore Jackson. Life is good.

17 CLEMSON

Coach: Dabo Swinney, 7th season (51-23)

Last year: 11-2, 7-1 ACC, def. Ohio State, 40-35, Orange Bowl

Outlook: Swinney faces major offensive rebuild. Senior Cole Stoudt replaces Tajh Boyd at QB but frosh Deshaun Watson is looking over his shoulder. Backup WR Mike Williams replaces Sammy Watkins. DE Vic Beasley (13 sacks, 23 TFL) is an All-American and LB Stephone Anthony lead a defense with six returning starters.

18 MISSOURI

Coach: Gary Pinkel, 14th year (102-63)

Last year: 12-2, 7-1 SEC, def. Oklahoma State, 41-31, Cotton Bowl

Outlook: Most expect Tigers to recede after breakout season for SEC East title and dismissal of WR Dorial Green-Beckham. But QB Maty Mauk replaced injured James Franklin in four SEC wins. Redshirt frosh J'Mon Moore is set to replace Green-Beckham, and DEs Markus Golden and Shane Ray totaled 11 sacks.

19 ARIZONA STATE

Coach: Todd Graham, 3rd year, (18-9)

Last year: 10-4, 8-1 Pac-12, lost to Texas Tech, 37-23, Holiday Bowl

Outlook: Sun Devils return QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster and WR Jaelen Strong from offense that averaged 39.7 points. Defense lost nine starters and will be young, so, expect shootouts. Six-game midseason stretch includes UCLA, Stanford, Notre Dame at home, USC and Washington on road.

20 GEORGIA

Coach: Mark Richt, 14th year, (126-45)

Last year: 8-5, 5-3 SEC, lost to Nebraska, 24-19, Gator Bowl

Outlook: Junior Todd Gurley, rated by many as the top RB in the country, and backup Keith Marshall must carry senior QB Hutson Mason, who replaces departed Aaron Murray. New defensive coordinator Tough opening schedule vs. Clemson and at South Carolina.

21 CINCINNATI

Coach: Tommy Tuberville, 2nd year (9-4)

Last year: 9-4, 6-2 AAC, lost to N. Carolina, 39-17, Belk Bowl

Outlook: Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel takes over at QB with array of weapons, including RB Hosey Williams and WRs Shaq Washington and Chris Moore. Ninth-ranked defense returns seven starters, including DE Silverberry Mouhon (9.5 sacks). Bearcats should breeze in AAC without facing defending champ UCF.

22 NOTRE DAME

Coach: Brian Kelly, 5th year (37-15)

Last year: 9-4, independent, def. Rutgers, 29-16, Pinstripe Bowl

Outlook: Return of senior QB Everett Golson after one-year suspension for academic impropriety figured to set up Irish for return to prominence, but four more key players, including WR DeVaris Daniels and CB KeiVarae Russell were suspended recently for the same reason. Still, Golson is a huge difference-maker vs. tough road dates at Florida State, ASU and USC.

23 MICHIGAN

Coach: Brady Hoke, 4th year (26-13)

Last year: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten, lost to K-State, 31-14, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Outlook: Former Paramus Catholic and Don Bosco CB Jabrill Peppers joins an improved defense with eight returning starters. Prolific senior QB Devin Gardner and soph RB Derrick Green, last year's top recruit, and huge possession WR Devin Funchess (6-5, 230) lead offense. Hoke is on hot seat and faces road tests at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

24 TEXAS A&M

Coach: Kevin Sumlin, 3rd year (20-6)

Last year: 9-4, 4-4 SEC, def. Duke, 52-48, Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Outlook: Soph QB Kenny Hill succeeds Johnny Manziel as Aggies QB. Loss to NFL of WR Mike Evans might be more damaging unless frosh Speedy Noil steps up, but OL is solid. Defense ranked 109th but returns nine starters, adds five-star DE Myles Garrett.Tough opener at South Carolina followed by Alabama and Auburn.

25 TEXAS

Coach: Charlie Strong, 1st year

Last year: 8-5, 7-2 Big 12, lost to Oregon, 30-7, Alamo Bowl

Outlook: Ex-Louisville coach Strong applied firm hand, dismissing seven players for violations and suspending three starters. Seven returning offensive starters include QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown and WR Jaxon Shipley. DE Cedric Reed and CB Quandre Diggs lead defense with eight returnees. Brutal schedule has back-to-backs vs. BYU-UCLA and Baylor-Oklahoma.

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