Colorado, a once-proud program that reached new lows in recent seasons, appears to have made the right hire in Mike MacIntyre, who guided the team to four victories in 2013. OK, that's not a big number, but given how low the Buffaloes were at one point, it's a marked improvement. Colorado, which produced six posters, opens Friday night against rival Colorado State.
That's right, Alabama has lost two games in a row, and the Crimson Tide failed to reach last season's BCS title game, but there's no other way to put it: Alabama is the gold standard of the college game. The Crimson Tide open Saturday against West Virginia.
Any talk of national title contenders has to include Oregon, which returns 12 starters, including quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks are coming off an 11-2 season, but lost two or their last four regular-season games after Mariota was hobbled because of a left knee injury. Mariota is good to go and tops many of the Heisman Trophy watch lists. Perhaps the best nonconference game is the Sept. 6 matchup between Oregon and Michigan State in Eugene.
Stanford was supposed to slide back to being, well, Stanford after Jim Harbaugh left. It didn't happen. David Shaw kept the momentum rolling and the Cardinal is regularly mentioned among elite teams. Beating Oregon twice in a row certainly helps your standing, as does winning 26 of 27 home games, including 16 in a row. Stanford is next to impossible to beat in California, where it has won 33 of 36 games. Key early game to watch: Sept. 6 against USC.
The Pacific 12 has not been kind to Utah, and if the recent trend of losing continues, the Utes could have a coaching vacancy at season's end. Kyle Whittingham is 76-39 since taking over late in 2004, but only 18-19 since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The team hasn't been to a bowl game since 2011 and fans are growing restless.
Michigan State was arguably the nation's best team at the end of last season, but when it came time to select participants in the BCS title game, there wasn't a word mentioned about the Spartans. Yes, politics and reputation play just as big of a role as on-field results. It was said Michigan State's conference wasn't tough enough and besides, who were these Spartans? The bright lights of the national stage would certainly get to them. Michigan State would have none of it. The Spartans held their ground with the nation's best defense and ended Ohio State's 24-game winning streak in the Big Ten title game. Then they toppled Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Spartans enter 2014 having won 10 in a row, second-longest streak to Florida State's 16.