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CLEMSON RANKED NO. 16 IN PRESEASON TALLY

The University of South Carolina football team enters the 2014 season ranked No. 9 in the nation, according to the coaches.  Meanwhile the Gamecocks season-opening opponent – the Texas A&M Aggies – are ranked No. 20 despite losing their top three offensive players to the National Football League.

The USA Today/ Coaches poll – released this week – has defending national champion Florida State ranked No. 1, followed by SEC powerhouse Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Auburn, Ohio State, UCLA and Michigan State.

The Seminoles – who went undefeated last year – are led by defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, a redshirt sophomore.

“We’re very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told USA Today . “That’s going to be our objective. We’re proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football.”

Florida State received 56 of 62 first place votes in the poll.  Oklahoma got three first place votes, while Oregon, Ohio State and South Carolina received one first place vote apiece.  The SEC – which saw its string of six straight national championships snapped last season – has seven teams including in the poll, all of them in the Top 20 (including five in the top fifteen).

Clemson – which is coming off an Orange Bowl victory over the sixth-ranked Buckeyes – is ranked No. 16 in the poll.  Head coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers (0-0, 0-0 ACC) play the top-ranked Seminoles in Tallahassee on September 20.

Head coach Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks (0-0, 0-0 SEC) are coming off their third straight 11-win season and a school-best No. 4 final ranking – their third consecutive Top Ten finish.

Both USC and Clemson have key losses, though, with the Tigers’ losing starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Gamecocks losing starting quarterback Connor Shaw as well as No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, the best defensive player in school history.  South Carolina kicks off its fall practice schedule at 7:15 p.m. EDT on Friday, August 1.   Its season opener against the No. 20 Aggies is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday, August 28 – the first game ever to be televised on the new SEC Network.

Speaking of new beginnings, this season marks the end of the controversial Bowl Championship Series and the institution of a four-team playoff.  The 2014 national championship will be decided on January 12, 2015 at AT&T Stadium.

Here are the complete rankings …

usa today

1. Florida State 14-0 1543 (56)
2. Alabama 11-2 1455
3. Oklahoma 11-2 1382 (3)
4. Oregon 11-2 1314 (1)
5. Auburn 12-2 1271
6. Ohio State 12-2 1267 (1)
7. UCLA 10-3 1085
8. Michigan State 13-1 1050
9. South Carolina 11-2 1009 (1)
10. Baylor 11-2 965
11. Stanford 11-3 955
12. Georgia 8-5 905
13. LSU 10-3 833
14. Wisconsin 9-4 654
15. Southern Cal 10-4 627
16. Clemson 11-2 535 
17. Notre Dame 9-4 509
18. Arizona State 10-4 358
19. Mississippi 8-5 346
20. Texas A&M 9-4 266
21. Kansas State 8-5 257
22. Nebraska 9-4 228
23. North Carolina 7-6 175
24. Texas 8-5 143
25. Washington 9-4 142

Pic: Travis Bell Photography