Mark Schlabach released his pre-season top-25 list Monday. The ranking is one of "most likely to go undefeated." I think pre-season polls, particularly those in April, are profoundly stupid. However, they are interesting, and they do unfortunately shape opinion.
14. Previous rank: 16
There were plenty of changes at FSU this spring: an overhauled coaching staff, new defense and new quarterback. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston looks like the winner at quarterback after he completed 12 of 15 passes for 205 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game. He mastered the offense this spring, despite splitting time with FSU's baseball team. After Winston's spring game performance, junior Clint Trickett announced he's transferring (he's already visited West Virginia and USF and might visit Michigan and Auburn). New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, a former Alabama assistant, installed a defense that looks a lot like the Crimson Tide's. Defensive ends are dropping into coverage, linebackers and defensive backs are blitzing and cornerbacks are jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Pruitt also moved safety Lamarcus Joyner to cornerback, linebacker Karlos Williams to safety and tight end Dan Hicks to defensive end.
I can't disagree with any of that, really. It's difficult to mess up something this generic.
Now for some opponents. Florida:
11. Previous rank: 7
Florida's defense -- ranked fifth best among FBS schools last season -- carried it to an 11-2 record in 2012. The Gators remained a work in progress on offense, averaging only 26.5 points and ranking 118th in passing with 146.3 yards per game. Coach Will Muschamp can't be too encouraged by his offense's progress during spring practice. The Gators had so many injured offensive linemen that they all but had to cancel their spring game; five incoming freshmen join 10 scholarship linemen this spring. While quarterback Jeff Driskel made some strides under offensive coordinator Brent Pease in 2012, he still hasn't taken complete ownership of the offense. There's also a dearth of receivers at UF; Muschamp plans to have cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy play both offense and defense this coming season. With so many defensive stars like tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins moving on to the NFL, can UF's defense carry the load again in 2013?
Seems pretty much spot-on, though I'd mention the important transfers UF has coming in on the offensive line.
12. Previous rank: 11
The Tigers say they'll play even faster on offense in 2013 with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins coming back. But it's Clemson's defense that might make a big difference this coming season. Last season, the Tigers were one of the country's most improved defenses in the second half of the season; they allowed only 4.9 yards per play in their final seven games. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney hopes he's found a star pass-rusher in defensive end Vic Beasley, who had 10 sacks in four spring scrimmages. On offense, receivers Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant emerged as potential playmakers, which would take some pressure off Watkins after star DeAndre Hopkins moved on. The Tigers also have to be more consistent running the football, and "Hot" Rod McDowell, D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks are the top candidates to carry the ball.
While Clemson was improved, it did face some poor offenses in those final games, including LSU, South Carolina (without Lattimore or its starting QB), Duke, N.C. State, Maryland (down three quarterbacks), Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
The craziest thing on the list is Louisville at No. 4. Louisville was 6-1 in single-score games last year. In the Big East. It beat Florida in an exhibition game. This is like 2012 West Virginia after beating Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Except bigger. I guess the schedule being completely awful helps the likelihood of an undefeated season.