The start of the college football season is just weeks away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.
Alabama is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes expected to finish No. 2 nationally.
While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. USC and UCLA should push Arizona State for the Pac-12 title and will be among the top 30 teams in college football this year. This range also finds a handful of teams from the ACC Coastal, including projected division champ Miami.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2013 season
College Football 2013 Preseason Rankings: 26-40
Lane Kiffin is feeling considerable heat after 2012’s disappointing 7–6 finish for a team some ranked No. 1 nationally heading into the season. Now he has the unenviable task of trying to return to prominence with an inexperienced quarterback, a major question mark at left tackle and a defense that could be vulnerable in the secondary.
If nothing else, at least he gets a break in a schedule that doesn’t include national power Oregon and opens with four games that the Trojans should win — three of them at home.
After that, though, things get difficult. The feeling is Kiffin needs nine or 10 victories, or his job could be in serious jeopardy.
2013 USC Trojans Team Preview
The path to a division title is tougher in 2013, especially with a schedule that features road games at USC, Stanford and Oregon. Quarterback Brett Hundley will be better as a sophomore, but the Bruins need to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense, which returns five starters, has room to improve after giving up 415.9 yards per game last year. The Bruins could be a better team, yet fail to repeat as division champs.
2013 UCLA Bruins Team Preview
James Franklin has accomplished something most thought was not possible: He’s made Vanderbilt football relevant in the SEC. The Commodores went 9–4 overall and 5–3 in the SEC. The nine wins were the most since 1915, and the winning record in the league was the school’s first since 1982. And there was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s breakthrough season — the Dores ranked fifth in the league in total defense and a respectable eighth in total offense. While a few key players must be replaced on both sides of the ball, there is more than enough returning talent to take this program to a third straight bowl game.
2013 Vanderbilt Commodores Team Preview
It’s been a decade since Miami last won 10 games in a season, and the lack of success has gradually eroded expectations. But things could be on the upswing in Coral Gables despite a never-ending NCAA investigation that has dogged Al Golden in his two-plus seasons as coach. With eight starters returning for a potentially explosive offense, four starters back on a rebuilding defense and a manageable schedule, the Hurricanes are a legitimate contender for a Coastal Division title and their first trip to the ACC title game.
2013 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview
30. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech made changes to its staff in hopes that the shuffling gets the offense closer to the decades-long success of Bud Foster’s defense. The reality is that with completely new offensive tackles, a revamped receiving corps and question marks at running back, it might be more of the same until the new coaches can get a few recruiting classes under their belts.
Virginia Tech still has quarterback Logan Thomas and a defense that returns nine starters from a group that finished 18th nationally last year. An ACC title isn’t out of the question.
2013 Virginia Tech Hokies Team Preview
31. Kansas State
K-State has improved its record each and every season since coach Bill Snyder came out of retirement in 2009. From six wins his first year back to seven victories and a bowl game to 10 wins and the Cotton Bowl to 11 victories and a Big 12 championship last season — the Wildcats have continually gotten better.
But that upward trend will be difficult to continue with the losses of Heisman finalist quarterback Collin Klein, wideout Chris Harper, linebacker Arthur Brown, and several other key defensive starters.
The Wildcats return enough talent to be a threat in the Big 12, but not enough for another BCS bowl.
2013 Kansas State Wildcats Team Preview
32. Michigan State
Michigan State’s close losses last season (five by four points or fewer) are well documented. But the Spartans also won four games by four points or fewer. The margin for error for this team was razor thin. The 2013 season could look a lot like the ’12 campaign. The Spartans will once again be outstanding on defense, but issues remain on offense. The hope is that the improved offensive line will help the rest of the unit flourish. The schedule is favorable, but on paper it’s tough to project this team to finish higher than Michigan, Nebraska or Northwestern in the division.
2013 Michigan State Spartans Team Preview
33. Ole Miss
Quarterback Bo Wallace can be a star if he cuts down on his interceptions. The Rebels need him to do that to be successful on the road early — they play at Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn — so that they’re not forced to climb uphill in the standings in a late string of home games.
Ole Miss exceeded expectations last year largely because it stayed relatively healthy. A similar dose of good fortune would be helpful again. The starters are talented, but the Rebels do not have quality depth across the board.
2013 Ole Miss Rebels Team Preview
34. Georgia Tech
With 16 returning starters and a team loaded with seniors, the 2013 Yellow Jackets could be coach Paul Johnson’s best team since the 2009 Orange Bowl squad. Much depends on how consistent quarterback Vad Lee can be, and if Georgia Tech can handle a tough schedule in which it will play four Coastal Division opponents in a row, including Virginia Tech on five days’ rest. The Jackets will need to find a way to handle division rivals Miami and Virginia Tech as well. While there have been a number of close calls, Johnson is a combined 2–8 against the Canes and Hokies. Georgia Tech is hardly a favorite, but it has the ingredients to win the division and play for the ACC title.
2013 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Team Preview
The 58-year-old Tommy Tuberville seems energized by his move to Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20–17 at Texas Tech and was never truly embraced by the fans, but Cincinnati boosters are thrilled to have him. UC never has had a coach with anything resembling Tuberville’s national pedigree, which includes an 85–40 record at Auburn from 1999-2008.
There is a solid core of returnees, but the unknown is how much impact to expect from several transfers. Rodriguez Moore (all-purpose back) and Jeff Luc (linebacker), at one point or another, were rated No. 1 nationally at their positions by various recruiting services.
The Bearcats had 10-win seasons in both 2011 and 2012 under Butch Jones, who parlayed his success into the Tennessee job. With a relatively kind schedule, Cincinnati fans could see another season of double-digit wins.
2013 Cincinnati Bearcats Team Preview
Admittedly, coach Art Briles is biased, but he likes his team — a lot: “I feel like we’re going to win (the league title) every year,” he says. Quarterback Bryce Petty seems more than capable of taking the Bears to their fourth straight bowl game. And the Bears are loaded with talent at the skill positions, including running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese. But the offensive line will have to hold up, and the defense has to be much better if Baylor plans on being a factor in the Big 12 title chase.
2013 Baylor Bears Team Preview
With a more imposing Husky Stadium, a new era of Washington football excellence is expected. The Huskies have nearly everyone back, but they need quarterback Keith Price at the top of his game.
Anything short of eight or nine wins and more serious title contention will be disappointing for a program eager to return to the national conversation.
2013 Washington Huskies Team Preview
38. North Carolina
Fans who like offense should get ready for another exciting season in Chapel Hill. Points should be plentiful once again — on both sides of the scoreboard.
The Tar Heels have sufficient firepower on offense as long as the offensive line can hold its own during a transition year up front and quarterback Bryn Renner can stay healthy. The latter, of course, is at least somewhat dependent upon the former.
On the other side of the ball, UNC players and coaches believe that a year of experience will lead to fewer missed assignments and penalties. With little proven talent on defense, the question is whether the Tar Heels can produce enough stops to emerge victorious from shootouts. The answer will go a long way in determining whether UNC can contend for the ACC Coastal Division crown.
2013 North Carolina Tar Heels Team Preview
39. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have the potential to score a lot of points if they’re able to find a reliable quarterback. They averaged just under 30 points per game last season, and that was while everyone was adapting to a radically new offense. This year, the schemes are familiar and players have adjusted to strength coach Craig Fitzgerald’s modernized weight program, so optimism is running high. That said, Penn State may need all the points the offense can muster. An injury or two at linebacker, where depth is precariously low, could create major problems.
2013 Penn State Nittany Lions Team Preview
Somehow Arizona won eight games, including a bowl game, with the worst defense in school history by balancing it with the most prolific offense in school history. Those numbers aren’t likely to be as extreme this year. With Matt Scott gone, the quarterbacking situation is worrisome, but on defense the Wildcats appear to be improved.
Arizona’s most telling advantage is its non-conference schedule; the Wildcats open against Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA. That should allow coach Rich Rodriguez the time to select a starting quarterback for the Pac-12 season, and replace receiver Austin Hill’s pass-catching load from among a group of five capable receivers. This is a veteran team looking for a quarterback to lead it. By November, when Arizona plays powers UCLA and Oregon in Tucson, the Wildcats could be good enough to upset either.
2013 Arizona Wildcats Team Preview
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