Top-25 lists attempt to rank quality, and if you have 125 teams in a single sport, you can't possibly be all that truly concerned with quality.
College football is much closer to cable television than it's ever been, and not just because of the amount of money coursing from one to the other. You buy packages and sort through them as best you can. You want Alabama, LSU, and Florida? Congratulations, consumer: you also get Mizzou at no extra charge even if you will never watch them. You like Oklahoma? Please accept this Baylor as a part of our "Big, Dusty, and Lusty" Big 12 package.
That you end up sometimes liking the add-ons, extras, and strange bonuses more than the premium channels is a unique perk. Baylor is a perfect example: not the greatest team in college football for talent and consistency, but certainly among the most fearless.
So this is not a Top 25 based on talent, value, or potential finishing position. This is a Top 25 of the teams I care about watching. These are teams I like to watch for reasons, and not all of them good, noble, or explicable. It leans toward teams that encourage the most disorder on both sides of the ball and favors teams with a distinct lack of concern for their own well-being.
I repeat: the teams are on here based strictly on personal interest. BUT HOW CAN YOU HAVE FLORIDA NUMBER ONE? Because I'm a Florida fan, and I'd rather you know how deeply subjective and logic-free this is from the start. (Would a sane person watch Florida's offense willingly? Exactly.) WHY'S CLEMSON AHEAD OF ALABAMA? Because they're way more fun to watch, and much less predictable. I know how Alabama is going to plow people like so much cheap topsoil. I have no idea what Clemson's going to do other than score points and go fast, and that is much more fun to behold than Nick Saban's Death March 2013 for someone who is not an Alabama fan. BYU? They're not as nice as advertised, and thus more fun than you'd imagine.
So consider yourself warned, and if it's not apparent from the start just how unbalanced, biased, and completely arbitrary this list is, consider that the first entry uses a vomiting robot as a metaphor.
I'm personally biased/invested/addicted, so if you don't want to read about said personal bias, skip to No. 2 (which is the real No. 1 for pure interest.) This year's Florida team will be the most mature version of Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football yet, and that means MORE SPECTACULAR PERSONAL FOULS followed by EIGHT OFFENSIVE LINEMEN ON THE FIELD AT A TIME and perhaps accompanied by QUARTERBACK PLAY PROVEN TO HEIGHTEN THE RISK OF ANEURYSM.
When teams say they do not care about the scoreboard, they're usually lying. This team is not, because Big Dumb Will Muschamp football is less about amassing a certain number of points on the board, and more about unorchestrated violence pointed mostly in one direction. Is there a player who wears chains, has a Chucky Doll, and allegedly gets in fights after big losses with former players in the tunnel? This is Florida, so yes. His name is Dominique Easley. He plays defensive line, is from Staten Island, and is all 193 members of Wu-Tang melted into a single person.
You might want to know something about the offense. Here you go:
I can't wait! [/puts brain in crock pot with three onions, some thyme, and four freshman wide receivers in the starting rotation for next five months]
Please remember that this list is merely about interesting teams, not teams who are going to win the national title, because be honest with yourself: the national title campaign tunnels down as the season goes on, involves increasingly fewer teams, and in recent years has meant following Alabama's crashing bore of a killing machine to its inevitable two quarters of murder against an outmanned opponent.
Baylor will not win the national title, but Baylor is screamingly fun, terrifyingly aggressive, and blessed* with two indefensible running backs (Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin) and a quarterback you've barely heard of who will throw for a minimum of 3,000 yards and run for 500 yards. (Because every Art Briles quarterback at Baylor does this, and will for eternity.) The defense ... well, they try really hard, and sometimes it goes into a fugue state and rages the doors off teams like Kansas State and UCLA, and that's about the best you can hope for when you play more snaps than any other team except for NIU and Arizona.
*Baptist school previews require use of appropriate terminology.
It's not just post-Chip Kelly rubbernecking if it's De'Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff, Colt Lyerla, Marcus Mariota, and various other fast-twitch mercenaries running roughshod over winded competition. Did you know Mark Helfrich actually wants to go faster than Kelly did? Have you looked at the Ducks' first five games, a rolling buffet of lambs waiting to be conveyor-belted into the mouth of this beast? Nicholls State, Virginia, Tennessee, California, and Colorado?
Do you know how outrageously overrated they'll be if people don't account for the gigantic point differentials in September and just focus on all the blood left in their wake? Which they'll do, until they drop a game at Washington, or perhaps at Stanford on November 7th, meaning new Oregon will, in large part, look a lot like old Oregon (I.e. Must-watch, volatile, ALL CAPS football).
4. Texas A&M
The Aggies would be pretty high on this list without Jonathan Footballworth Manziel the Third, because Kevin Sumlin teams are innovative, as aggressive as a cornered cassowary, and just as exotic in terms of what they do on both sides of the ball. With Johnny Manziel they're way up here, and only because of sweet football, which shouldn't care what consenting adults do with a Sharpie in the privacy of a Miami hotel room. (Note: still appropriately ahead of Alabama.)
The most shaded-on team ever to come off of two 10-win seasons, a bowl victory over an SEC team, and an offseason where much of its offensive talent -- its lifeblood -- returned to spring practice instead of graduating or hitting the draft.
Part of the suspicion of Clemson is the middling defense, part of it is the superstition surrounding a team so historically mercurial it has its own verb, and part of it is the refusal to believe an ACC team coached by a grown man named Dabo can compete for not only conference titles, but beyond. I'm not saying these are not legitimate concerns. I'm also not saying they won't be immensely entertaining, because if you can run 100 plays in a game on LSU, you are capable of dark wizardry.
Alabama now works in football the way plate tectonics does. It's crushing, incremental, inevitable, and still sort of fascinating in the initial stages of disaster.
This year's variation may include more measured volcanic activity, with the best offense Alabama has had under Nick Saban, and the best wide receiving threat since Julio Jones in Amari Cooper, who is a.) fast and b.) actually known by name to Alabama football fans. Watching him sprint under play-action passes is fun enough, particularly if preceded by dazzling T.J. Yeldon runs.
The rest is crushing power applied to the skull of the opponent, and Nick Saban is the Lord of All Gravity.
Illustration: Alabama football at work. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
P.S. They do this from time to time, and that is interesting in the most ghoulish way possible.
7. South Carolina
Come to watch Jadeveon Clowney feed, stay for the rest of the defense and Spurrier juggling quarterbacks like scorned mistresses. They play at Central Florida on September 28th, a very dangerous game for the Gamecocks because it is UCF, and there is no way in hell Blake Bortles isn't going down without a fight. Blake Bortles is a real name of a real person who plays quarterback pretty well.
Full disclosure: we lean towards chaos-enabling teams of any ilk, and it just so happens that offensive teams happen to be a bit more willing to turn the chess match of football into chess boxing. Enter TCU, a team of a defensive bent capable of shattering order on either side of the football, especially if Casey Pachall stays on pace to return at quarterback and the extremely young secondary continues to mature into something of real terror.
The Frogs play LSU in week one, an underplayed matchup of one weird coach capable of creating designed havoc, and another weird coach who just emanates it from strange glands only he possesses.
Here's Gary Patterson's playbook. Use it correctly and you can turn a team of AFL dropouts into the best team in the Mountain West overnight. Use it incorrectly, and you will suffer blistering all over your body and see everything tinged with blue for a month, because the contents are caustic and to be handled by professionals only.
As long as the Warhawks play two quarterbacks at the same time, take every impossible shot against an AQ school they can get, and play every game like it's the last football game before Ragnarok, Funroe belongs on this list. They get a rematch versus Baylor in Waco this year in a game that you should watch while mainlining Monster energy drink and pumping horse adrenaline into your eyeballs with a syringe.
10. Oklahoma State
Scored at least 30 points in all five of their losses last year, earning their title as the Pyromaniac's Backup just in case the store's all out of Baylor. The two teams play on November 23rd in Stillwater. Bystanders are advised to leave a three- to four-mile blast radius surrounding the site and to watch through cobalt glass and filtered binoculars.
Meerkats. Small, outmanned by every other animal on the savannah, and devoid of any real obvious weapons. You would assume they would be the prewrapped meat burrito for every predator on the prowl, and sure, you almost had one down your throat.
Then its friends appeared, and more friends, and at first the bites weren't quite so sharp, but in aggregate you realized: blood loss. Your lunch turned on you in the worst way possible, and in your final moments you saw the silhouettes of their heads peering at you, and your last thought creeping through the misfiring neurons of your dying brain: I never should have underestimated the noble meerkat, or Kain Colter, or the ability of Northwestern to take any game to the bleeding edge of the wire.
12. Florida State
Mostly for quarterback Jameis Winston, who can do some incredible things as long as he doesn't play within the constraints of Jimbo Fisher's offense. Jameis Winston is a first-year starter and a freshman, so there is zero percent he will even know the whole playbook and a negative percentage of him not improvising at will once the ball is snapped.
This is good for you the viewer, and realistically bodes well for Florida State, because somewhere along the way Fisher joined Steve Spurrier in contracting Brian Billick Fever. (The virus that turns an offensive coach into one best left to standing on the sidelines, running the ball, and clapping for the mauling defense.)
Additionally, there are cheese balls involved.
If he would give up a national championship for a lifetime supply of cheeseballs: "I would not, BUT I'm gonna get some cheeseballs anyway"— Perry Kostidakis (@perrykos) August 11, 2013
The 2013 Seminoles: They're gonna get some cheeseballs anyway. Oh, the whole defense is awesome, and they play in the ACC so they're a.) good for entertaining carnage, and b.) will lose a shocker at one point in excruciating fashion because history never lies, but perennial preseason national title predictions for FSU do.
The Ragin' Cajuns' Terrance Broadway is really, really good, and capable of being a 3,000/1,000 quarterback if he stays upright for all 13 games.
But yet there's more: they nearly beat Florida at home (see R2D2 graphic for Florida's offense above), could beat Kansas State or Arkansas this year straight up, and do it all under the auspices of a coach who can bench 225 pounds more times than many NFL Draft prospects. They also play breakneck-paced Sun Belt ball with the extremely talented trimmings LSU can't take in Baton Rouge and have a giant demonic pepper as their mascot. Love them, or face a spicy doom at their hands.
14. Boise State
The enduring charms of Boise State remain: the unfolding hellboxes of shifts and motions that make their offense so maddening, the random Dutch dudes on the roster (hello, Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe) the defense that rotates no fewer than 23 different defensive linemen and linebackers in on a single series, and the inevitable progression of every quarterback who takes a snap under center from clueless n00b to computerized and ruthless avatar of Chris Petersen's football soul. This year's is Joe Southwick. He's going to be a brilliant Las Vegas Bowl MVP.
15. Arizona State
NO TODD GRAHAM JOKES. Only defensive tackle Will Sutton, who had the same number of tackles for loss as Clowney while playing at nose tackle. This year, he'll be playing fullback in select situations, because Todd Graham is a friend of horror. Also, ASU's defense features a position called the "Devilbacker."
After a gimme against Sacramento State, they walk teeth-first into a four-game streak of Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame, because bravery is entertaining, and also because even Arizona State knows how funny it would be if it tore the hide off Notre Dame in the soulless, shiny expanse of the JerryDome. Dear Todd Graham: please tear the hide off Notre Dame in the JerryDome just so we can read the spluttering rage of old columnists bemoaning the satanic, sordid present of college football.
16. Kansas State
Like watching an old man walk into the gym in khakis and an old T-shirt and pause beneath the pullup bar for a moment, and then standing in awe as he bangs out 40 in a row without pause.
You have no idea how Kansas State works. The Wildcats appear to be running a high school offense, their defense is stocked with discards and mismatched parts from various community colleges, and their coach is 73. He perversely enjoys making a team out of football odds and ends year after year. They'll have a ridiculous turnover margin and a misplaced tight end at quarterback. They'll win nine games despite your doubts.
Late on a Saturday night, you hear a knock at the door. You open that door and find a bag of Werther's butterscotches on the doorstep, wrapped in a purple bow. A man in a K-State windbreaker with flowing white hair waves from the sidewalk.
"Check the note!" he says. You read it: "They'll never believe you no matter how many times you tell them."
And then he's gone, into the night, probably to pick up a bowl trophy and a three-star JuCo linebacker who'll be an all-Big 12 selection in a year. He'll stop by the store for some whole milk, too. Just like they had on the family farm.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
17. Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury and the wide-open spaces of the Big 12 and ... pretty decent personnel, actually, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Did you know Texas Tech, due to the distortion rendered by all that empty space in Lubbock, actually plays on a field that is 60 yards long but 200 yards wide? Football's not different in Lubbock; reality is, and no one's better equipped for that than a man who slapped Kevin Sumlin on the ass and lived to talk about it. (Plus: ladies? Ladieeeeees.)
Would be higher up the list for sheer aggression, but a new offensive coordinator in James Coley is an unknown quantity. Running back Duke Johnson isn't, and destroys most of what is stupid enough to step in his way with extreme prejudice.
They're still uneven as hell, but they're fast, cruel, and sort of like a Miami team is supposed to be. WELCOME BACK, TROPICAL VILLAINS. We missed you.
19. Northern Illinois
This is a gateway drug. We hide the drug inside the visage of Jordan Lynch and his handy Heisman-insulating promotional bags. We sell you on NIU being a small miracle of a program, somehow getting talent to come to DeKalb, Illinois and then getting it into places like the Orange Bowl and the MAC championship game. One of those went a lot better than the other, but still, the point is getting you hooked on MACtion, and the entry point is Northern Illinois.
Congrats! You're now watching football on Wednesday nights forever.
QB Brett Hundley is worth it alone, but additional benefits include the sudden, inexplicable collapses all growing teams have, and their counterpart: the blindside upset out of nowhere.
Plus: if USC's season comes down to a do-or-die game, it'll be at UCLA for Lane Kiffin's job! Rivalry! Buyouts! College football! Kiffin taking the Fresno State job! UCLA could ruin a lot of lives this year, and that's all we really want out of the Pac-12: round-table ruin in all directions, and an endless buffet of locally sourced upsets on the television on a late fall evening.
I'm not saying interesting means "successful." But Gus Unchained will be enough fun to watch by itself, particularly because he'll have to strap the offense together with baling wire and happy thoughts and bridge the gap between aspiration and ability with fake punts, trick plays, and all the other entertaining foolishness teams making it up as they go have to use. The defense isn't bad and could be even better now that it should be playing less than 48 minutes a game. Offensively, there is nowhere to go but up: Auburn was the worst offense in the nation last year, and presumably that coordinator is now out of football and wait shit really --
Not because Bret Bielema is going to have the Hogs in anything like compelling shape in year one, but mostly because Bielema's cologne is pepper spray, and he wears it wherever he goes. He scored 80 on poor Indiana. Up 41-17 against Minnesota in 2010, he went for a two-point conversion. He openly spars with random strangers on Twitter, and pointed out his record in the Big Ten was about the same as Nick Saban's. Jokingly. JOKINGLY.
The man called BERT knows it's about the fight, and not who ends up on the barfloor, and that's what will make them fun this year. (The dude on the floor will be Arkansas, and he will be talking shit even as he's thrown through the plate glass front of the bar.)
Willie Taggart made Western Kentucky football interesting, so he's more than capable of undoing whatever Skip Holtz did to the Bulls. Louisiana Tech would have made this list easily last year, but it just hired Skip Holtz, who keeps getting jobs because , and also because . Plus, Taggart is Harbaugh Mafia, and they do fun things like go for two in inappropriate situations.
For that fierce defense. For Kyle Van Noy, one of those hoovering linebackers who sucks up every runner off the line of scrimmage like the world's most malicious vacuum cleaner. For the Holy War, one of the most underrated running feuds in college football. Frankly, between us (and in language they wouldn't appreciate, but that is accurate and necessary), BYU is just plain damn mean, and makes up for any lack of top-end speed with the kind of malice you can only muster with a roster full of grown men with children. (Living with preschoolers makes a man angry, and only BYU has been smart enough to take advantage of that.)
Bonus: the mountains of the Wasatch look real pretty on the TV at sunset.
25. Georgia State
Really just to see if they survive the most lopsided and mismatched football schedule of 2013.
|1||Aug 29, 2013||Thu||Georgia State||Samford||Non-Major|
|2||Sep 7, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||Chattanooga||Non-Major|
|3||Sep 14, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||@||West Virginia||Big 12|
|4||Sep 21, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||Jacksonville State||Non-Major|
|5||Oct 5, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||@||Alabama||SEC|
|6||Oct 12, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||Troy||Sun Belt|
|7||Oct 19, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||@||Texas State||Sun Belt|
|8||Oct 26, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||@||Louisiana-Monroe||Sun Belt|
|9||Nov 2, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||Western Kentucky||Sun Belt|
|10||Nov 16, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||Louisiana-Lafayette||Sun Belt|
|11||Nov 23, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||@||Arkansas State||Sun Belt|
|12||Nov 30, 2013||Sat||Georgia State||South Alabama||Sun Belt|
"Are you breathing?" is now a legitimate point of interest for a football team, since Georgia State enters its first year in FBS play against a full schedule of hyperactive Sun Belt schools and also West Virginia and Alabama on the road. There might not be a win on the schedule, and that includes Samford. I don't always watch football for the right reasons, and taking an interest in Georgia State in 2013 is downright evil.
I'm also still going to watch, because you wouldn't be watching college football if a small part of you didn't crave at least a little evil. (And the very definition of evil is West Virginia getting to play Georgia State for 60 minutes of American football.)