Spring practices have begun at college football programs across the country, and early 2014 projections are shining a spotlight on a handful of teams that have question marks to answer in the coming weeks. Our Football Outsiders preseason projections won't be complete until after spring position battles settle themselves, but some of the key ingredients are already in place, and we've begun to formulate a pecking order for the fall.
Our drive-based FEI ratings include a number of transition factors that remain to be calculated, but the core piece of the formula is the annual program FEI ratings. Program FEI is a measure of five years of drive efficiency data, weighted for more recent seasons, and it has a strong correlation to the next year's success.
At this point in the offseason, we've also included returning starter data and a specific factor that accounts for the replaceability of the quarterback for those teams that are looking for a new starter this fall.
Here is a look at the top 10 teams for 2014 according to our pre-spring FEI projection model, including their likelihood to contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural college football playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
67 percent likelihood to finish 11-1 or better
In the last quarter century, no program has had more sustained elite success over a five-year period than the Crimson Tide. They are 55-7 against FBS opponents since 2009, and their program rating lead over No. 2 Oregon is greater than Oregon's lead over the No. 10 program, Wisconsin. Anything less than a championship is characterized as a major letdown in Tuscaloosa; coach Nick Saban has hoisted the crystal football at season's end in three of the last five years, and early projections mark Alabama as a favorite once again.
Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker is one of a handful of players looking to claim the starting job this fall, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in the fold. Their schedule this fall doesn't get particularly tricky until November, so whoever ends up the starter will have some time to settle into the role.