The college football season is in sight! No, seriously it is. I received my Athlon Sports 2013 season preview magazine a couple weeks ago. Football Study Hall was able to amass a power poll based on all the preseason rankings thus far. Things are happening! And with that, we’re edging closer and closer to late August. Until then, these rankings are just conjecture, but oh well — we all need something to pass the time until kickoff.
1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson’s season is very likely to boil down to the first and last weekends, with 10 trap games in the middle. Vegas obviously likes the Tigers, but will the pressures of being a National Championship contender finally get to the team at some point? That’s why they play the games, of course, but win or lose the opening game against Georgia, it’s worth circling September 19 vs. NC State and October 19 vs. FSU as some potential bumps in the road.
2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Is is ridiculous to say that anything short of an undefeated season will be a disappointment for Louisville? The Cardinals play the 90th-most difficult schedule in the country in 2013 — a nice way of saying “nobody.” Like Clemson, though, they’ll be up against the weight of expectations, which could end up being the toughest opponent they face all season.
3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): Jameis Winston will need a couple of games to adjust as the Seminoles’ starting passer, but until then he’ll have plenty of support from his defense, which is more experienced than the “returning starters” numbers let on. FSU doesn’t face a major-conference team with a winning record until October (Clemson), so there’s ample time for everyone — players and coaches — to get settled in.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 4): North Carolina had one of the top 15 offenses in the country last season, and that was just the first season under Larry Fedora’s system. As he continues to burn up the recruiting trail, this is a team poised to be even better in 2013 as they adapt to Fedora’s spread style. The Heels’ defense may be a trouble spot, but if they’re scoring as they should, it may not matter much.
5. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 5): Miami and UNC appear to be in largely the same boat — potent offense, lackluster defense — but I do think the Heels are further along with regard to improving the latter. Miami’s got a manageable slate, so they’re certainly a threat in the Coastal, and the division could (read: should) ultimately come down to the mid-October matchup between the ‘Canes and Tar Heels.
6. Virginia Tech Hokies (Last: 7): This Virginia Tech team will put in its standout defensive performances — that goes without saying. What it needs in order to win more than seven or eight games, though, is for a non-Logan Thomas contributor on offense. A more-experienced offensive line, plus the return of D.J. Coles helps, but until we see improvement on the field, the offensive unit provides a distinct ceiling for Tech.
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Last: 6): Quarterback Vad Lee can certainly throw the ball — which should provide a major assist to the Jackets’ predictable offensive attack — but who will he be throwing it to? Tech’s returning players (backs and receivers) combined for less than 15 catches total last year, so there’s plenty of work to be done in establishing a receiving hierarchy.
8. Syracuse Orange (Last: 9): Focus has been on turnover for SU regardless of which previews you read, but to do so completely forgets the depth the Orange possess at nearly every position. With veteran returning defensive unit, plus experienced backs and receivers, it should help nullify the learning curve for the offensive line and likely starting quarterback Drew Allen.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Last: 10): In a smart turn of events, Tanner Price is working on his speed this offseason, to better incorporate spread option elements into the Wake offense. And whether that works or not could end up making the difference for a Deacons team that ranked 116th in scoring last year. Given how senior-heavy this group is, I’d be surprised if they can’t scrounge up six wins if healthy.
10. Pittsburgh Panthers (Last: 9): Pitt’s dealing with a lot of unproven commodities on offense, and that’s not the best position to be in when you start your season with Florida State’s daunting defense. We’ll wait until August to see how the quarterback situation shakes out, but between that and the uncertainty at halfback, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Panthers can put it all together in 2013.
11. Duke Blue Devils (Last: 11): While Duke’s offense looked high-powered in the early goings of last season, the Blue Devils were not overly efficient — something that showed glaringly in the late part of the season amidst a five-game losing streak. For what it’s worth, I think a non-traditional passer like Anthony Boone could help that fact for the team, and I’m not expecting them to lose a beat on that side of the ball either.
12. Maryland Terrapins (Last: 12): Quarterback C.J. Brown‘s still unproven — let’s be clear here. But at least this season he’s got a ton of weapons at his disposal (unlike 2011, when he split the starting job for the most part). Stefon Diggs should thrive with a competent passer getting him the ball, with newcomer Deon Long also poised for a big year while taking advantage of the double-coverage Diggs should regularly draw.
13. NC State Wolfpack (Last: 14): The Pack’s quarterback situation was further muddled a month back when Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell entered the fold. Maybe he’s better than what they’ve got, and maybe he’s not. But it can’t hurt for this program to have several options as they look to start the transition to Dave Doeren’s pistol attack — a gradual one, he’s admitted.
14. Virginia Cavaliers (Last: 13): So Phillip Sims is gone, and in his place are question marks about which of David Watford or Greyson Lambert will be running this offense. Both have significant upside, but based on the inverse relationship of Mike London’s recruiting wins to on-filed wins right now, the Hoos may not be able to wait and find out what they develop into. For all the positive London’s done, he’s on a slightly-warm seat right now.
15. Boston College Eagles (Last: 15): Don’t take this ranking as a sign of disrespect — the Eagles will be a much better team in 2013 than they were in 2013. But how much so? If Steve Addazio’s serious about a run-first attack, they’ll need to find someone to carry the ball, while continuing to utilize the respective skill sets of Chase Rettig and Alex Amidon. It won’t happen overnight, but BC may very well be fielding a more balanced, effective attack by mid-season.