The past five offseasons, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. I do this by taking several different factors into account:
• Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First, they look at the number of starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting quarterback and a combination of its running backs and wide receivers, for example, is often more highly regarded than a team that loses its starting quarterback but returns its entire offensive line.
Similarly, a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers is usually more highly regarded than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill-position players on offense.
• Another factor that is weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them of that team during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what its schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
Using these factors -- and a few others, such as strength of schedule -- I project the preseason AP top 10 every year, usually six months in advance of the poll's release. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between February and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers, but over the past five years, I have been very successful using this method, correctly projecting 46 of 50 teams, including nine of 10 teams last year, which would have been a perfect 10 for 10 if Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson hadn't been suspended in late May.
Before I get to the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is not my preseason top 10 for 2014, but rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. If you're familiar with my college football preview magazine, you will know that every year I tend to go out on a limb for a couple of teams in my top 10, and this year will be no different.
Now let's take a look at this year's projected preseason AP top 10, ranked in order.
The Seminoles were my No. 1 surprise team a year ago, and they would go on to end the SEC's reign of seven straight national championships by winning their first BCS title since 1999. They are poised to stay at the top in 2014 and it starts with the return of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who directed an offense that set the NCAA record for most points scored in a season (723). Despite the early departures of running backs Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the Noles return leading receiver Rashad Greene and Karlos Williams, perhaps their most talented running back. The offensive line also will be one of the best in the country as it returns four starters and a total of 109 career starts.