- Phil Steele, ESPN Staff Writer
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My preseason All-America team differs from many other preseason All-America teams in that I project how those players will fare in the upcoming season. Many times players that were not All-Americans last season can appear on this list and players that were first-team All-America last season can find themselves behind other great players this season. A great example of this comes at the quarterback spot this year. While I am fully aware that Jameis Winston of Florida State won the Heisman Trophy last year, there has only been one repeat Heisman winner in its history and most of those winners see their stats fall the next season. That is why Winston appears on my second team. Without further ado, here is my preseason All-America team.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota gets the nod over Jameis Winston because he is my pick to win the Heisman. Last year, Mariota became the first-ever Oregon quarterback to top 4,000 yards of total offense (4,380) while accounting for 40 total touchdowns and just four interceptions. He accomplished this despite wearing a knee brace for much of the second half of the season, which limited his mobility. Now 100 percent healthy, he has a solid shot to top even last year's remarkable stats while leading a Ducks team that figures to play a huge role in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Last season, Gurley missed three games with injury but still accounted for 1,430 total yards rushing and receiving and 16 touchdowns. With quarterback Aaron Murray now gone, look for the Bulldogs to rely more on the ground game this year as Gurley has a chance to easily top his sensational freshman season of 2012 when he had 1,385 rush yards and 17 touchdowns.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: After averaging an incredible 10 yards per carry in 2012, Gordon "only" averaged 7.8 last year, but still ran for 1,609 yards. This year his former running mate James White departs and look for Gordon to get even more carries while continuing the great tradition of Badgers running backs as they have had a 1,000-yard rusher in 19 of the last 20 years.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Coming off an outstanding freshman campaign during which he had 1,000 yards receiving, Cooper battled a nagging toe injury last year and only had 100 total yards in the first five games. He did rebound to the lead the Crimson Tide in receiving for the second consecutive year. This season, in Lane Kiffin's wide receiver friendly-offense, which in 2012 featured the Biletnikoff winner in Marqise Lee, look for Cooper to top even his freshman numbers.
Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor: Prior to last season, Baylor head coach Art Briles said Goodley was set for a breakout season and he proved to be quite the prognosticator. Goodley led the Bears with 1,339 receiving yards, including an outstanding 18.9 yards per catch. This season, with Bryce Petty back throwing him the ball, Goodley could lead the nation in receiving.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Last season it was Agholor, not Marqise Lee, who led the Trojans in receiving with 918 yards. He has a career average of 16.8 yards per catch and with Lee now in the NFL, Agholor could be in store for his best season yet, especially with more snaps expected in new head coach Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense.
Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State: The two-time All-ACC selection already has the Florida State career record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 10. Last season, he set single-season school records with 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns and is an old-school throwback player who plays a vital part in both receiving and blocking in the high-powered Seminoles' offense.
Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon: Grasu enters 2014 with 40 career starts and is already a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection. He turned down the NFL this past season and clearly is the leader of an offensive line unit that paved the way for 274 yards rushing per game a year ago and rates as my No. 1 offensive line in 2014.
A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina: Cann has started 38 games in the last three seasons and in 2013 he played a vital role in the Gamecocks having their best rushing yards per game (198), best yards per carry (4.8) and fewest sacks allowed (23) in the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia (nine years).
Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State: Jackson was not highly rated coming out of high school but has clearly exceeded expectations. The two-time All-ACC selection has 28 career starts and rates as my No.1 offensive guard in the country when it comes to the 2015 NFL draft.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: The last two Aggie left tackles have been top 10 picks in the NFL draft and Ogbuehi slides over from right tackle this year to replace Jake Matthews. He is near the top of many early 2015 NFL mock drafts and keys an Aggie offensive line that I rate among the top 10 in the country this year.
Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State: While Erving does not rate as high as Ogbuehi or Iowa's Brandon Scherff when it comes to the NFL draft, the former defensive tackle has started 28 straight games at left tackle for the Seminoles. He is a two-time All-ACC selection while earning All-America honors last season and plays a major role in a Florida State offensive line that I rank No. 4 in the country.
Vic Beasley, DL, Clemson: Beasley had eight sacks as a situational pass rusher in 2012 and followed that up last season with 13 sacks while earning All-America honors. He leads a Clemson defensive line that led the nation in tackles for loss a year ago and returns its entire three-deep. After playing under 240 pounds for much of 2013, Beasley is expected to be playing at 250 pounds by the time August rolls around and that's not good news for opposing quarterbacks.
Shilique Calhoun, DL, Michigan State: Last year Calhoun was named the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year after compiling 7 ½ sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. He also showed a great knack for getting to the end zone with three return touchdowns, which tied for first among all defensive players in the FBS. This year he will be counted on even more as the Spartans lose some of their best defenders from last year's No. 2 overall defense.
Leonard Williams, DL, USC: In 2012, Williams burst onto the scene with eight sacks and was named the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year. He followed it up last season earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors with six more sacks. This year he has a chance to be the best defensive lineman in the country as Todd McShay has him projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
Michael Bennett, DL, Ohio State: Bennett earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2013 after compiling seven sacks. This season he rates as my No. 1 defensive tackle in the country as far as the 2015 NFL draft goes. He, along with returning defensive ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa, are why the Buckeyes rank as my No. 1 defensive line in the country in 2014.
Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami: Perryman led the Hurricanes last year with 108 tackles while earning first-team All-ACC honors. This year he slides over to middle linebacker where he could top even last season's totals as he has bulked up to 245 pounds and rates as my No. 1 inside linebacker for next year's NFL draft.
Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia: In 2013, Wilson easily led the SEC with 133 tackles (20 more tackles than No. 2) and added 11 tackles for loss. This season he heads a Georgia linebacker corps that I rate as the best in the country. Wilson ranks as my No. 2 inside linebacker and could be a first-round draft pick in 2015.
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee: Johnson has led the Volunteers in tackles each of the last two seasons and already has 324 career tackles. The two-time All-SEC performer will be counted on even more this season as the Volunteers lose all four starters on their defensive line, meaning Johnson will need to increase his tackle for loss production (just 21 ½ in career).
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: Last year Jack became the first player in Pac-12 history to be named the conference's freshman of the year on both the offensive and defensive sides. His 75 tackles were the second-most by a UCLA true freshman in school history and on offense he scored seven rushing touchdowns. If he exceeds that type of production this year, he could be a dark horse candidate to get an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida: Hargreaves lived up to his billing as one of the best defensive backs coming out of high school a year ago while notching three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and being named first-team All-SEC. This year he leads a Gators defense that will be a major reason why Florida will be one of the most improved teams in the country.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: Ekpre-Olomu shockingly passed up being a possible first-round draft choice to return for his senior season in Eguene. The two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection has seven career interceptions and 30 career pass breakups. He is clearly the top cornerback in the NCAA and could be a top-10 pick in next year's draft.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama: Last season, Collins had a strong sophomore campaign playing both strong and free safety, notching six pass breakups and two interceptions while being the second-leading tackler for the Crimson Tide. This season, with the loss of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, Collins is the clear leader of the secondary and is my No. 1 free safety in the nation.
Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss: Prewitt has been the Rebels' second-leading tackler in each of the last two seasons and had an outstanding junior season, compiling six interceptions and seven pass breakups while earning first-team All-SEC honors. This season, Prewitt had an outstanding spring game with 10 tackles and two forced fumbles and could be in line for his best season yet.
First-Team Special Teams
Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State: Aguayo's first season as Florida State's kicker could not have gone better as he set the NCAA record for points in a season by a kicker with 157, made 21 of 22 field goals, was a perfect 94-of-94 on PAT's and won the Lou Groza award as the nation's best kicker. It is going to be tough to match those numbers in 2014, but Aguayo is clearly the best in the country.
Drew Kaser, P, Texas A&M: Kaser averaged 47.4 yards per punt with 17 of his 44 punts traveling 50 or more yards in 2013. He notched a solid 39.4 net and had 17 coffin corner kicks while being named first-team All-SEC. This season, he is a leading candidate for the Ray Guy award.
Kermit Whitfield, KR, Florida State: Whitfield broke a 59-year-old ACC record with his 36.4 kick return average in 2013 and, of course, had the 100-yard touchdown return in the BCS Championship Game that gave the Seminoles the lead in the fourth quarter.
Ryan Switzer, PR, North Carolina: Last season, Switzer tied a single-season NCAA record with five punt return touchdowns. He set several single-season North Carolina records including punt return yards (502) and average return (20.9) while becoming the first Tar Heel to be named first-team All-America as a freshman.
Scott Thompson, LS, NC State: Thompson was one of the highest-rated long snappers in the country coming out of high school and has been the starting snapper for the Wolfpack since arriving on campus three years ago. He handles both punts and kickoffs and I named him first-team All-America last season.
Ty Montgomery, All-purpose, Stanford: Montgomery had a sensational junior campaign as he had 958 receiving yards while being named second-team All-Pac-12 at wide receiver. He did most of his damage in the return game averaging 30.3 yards per kick return while being named first-team All-America. He is the NCAA's leading returner in all-purpose yards per game (157.7).
Second Team Offense
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State
WR: DeVante Parker, Louisville
TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn
OG: Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
OG: Laken Tomlinson, Duke
OT: Andrus Peat, Stanford
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Second Team Defense
DL: Randy Gregory, Nebraska
DL: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL: Dante Fowler., Florida
LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
LB: Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
LB: Trey DePriest, Alabama
LB: Hayes Pullard, USC
CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State
CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
S: Anthony Harris, Virginia
S: Jordan Richards, Stanford
Second-Team Special Teams
QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB: Duke Johnson, Miami
WR: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
WR: Devin Funchess, Michigan
TE: Ben Koyack, Notre Dame
C: BJ Finney, Kansas State
OG: Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech
OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
OT: La'el Collins, LSU
OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Cedric Reed, Texas
DL: Carl Davis, Iowa
DL: Christian Covington, Rice
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan
LB: A.J. Tarpley, Stanford
LB: Shaq Thompson, Washington
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
CB: Lorenzo Doss, Tulane
CB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State
S: Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
S: Derron Smith, Fresno State
Third-Team Special Teams
QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
RB: Karlos Williams, Florida State
RB: Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
WR: Deontay Greenberry, Houston
WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke
WR: Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
TE: Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
C: Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State
OG: Cyril Lemon, North Texas
OG: Josue Matias, Florida State
OT: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
OT: Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas
DL: Mario Edwards, Florida State
DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Miss State
LB: Tyler Matakevich, Temple
LB: Eric Kendricks, UCLA
LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson
CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
CB: KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
S: Sam Carter, TCU
S: Su'a Cravens, USC
Fourth-Team Special Teams
Editor's note: The 2014 edition of Phil Steele's College Football Preview is now available. You can download it as an app on iTunes for just $9.99 or you can order a hard copy through our offices at the PhilSteele.com store for $18.99 (includes shipping and handling).