Preseason coaches poll: Gamecocks grab the SEC's only first-place vote

Quarterback Dylan Thompson, left, will lead South Carolina into 2014, starting out ranked No. 9 in the Amway Coaches Poll. (AP Photo/Brett Flashnick)

CLEMSON - In the state of South Carolina, opening week of college football will feature a couple of top-20 matchups, and both major-conference teams face a total of four opponents ranked in the preseason.

Perhaps most importantly, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 16 Clemson will start out on the somewhat-short list of contenders for the coveted four College Football Playoff spots to conclude the 2014 season.

South Carolina finished 2013 ranked fourth, and Clemson seventh, in the final coaches poll. Both teams were 11-2 last year.

The Amway Coaches Poll, released Thursday by USA Today, was predictably capitalized by defending national champion Florida State at the top, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn.

The rest of the top 10 includes Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, the Gamecocks and Baylor.

FSU received 56 of the 62 first-place votes; four other teams split the other six votes, including one for South Carolina, the lowest-ranked team (and the only SEC member) to get a first-place nod. Oklahoma (three), Oregon and Ohio State were the others.

Individual coaches' ballots aren't released until the end of the season. Both Clemson's Dabo Swinney and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier are among the 62 voters.

Both the Gamecocks and Tigers have four teams - two home, two road - on their respective schedules ranked in the preseason coaches' poll.

South Carolina opens by hosting No. 20 Texas A&M on Aug. 28 (a Thursday night), while Clemson travels to face No. 12 Georgia the evening of Aug. 30.

In all, USC will tangle with No. 5 Auburn, No. 12 Georgia, No. 16 Clemson and No. 20 Texas A&M - additionally, Missouri and Florida are the first two teams left out of the top 25 with the most votes. Clemson has dates with No. 1 Florida State, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia and No. 23 North Carolina, plus Louisville and Georgia Tech from the "receiving votes" section.

USA Today writes in South Carolina's preseason outlook: "If the Gamecocks can successfully negotiate a front-loaded schedule, they should live up to their status as projected SEC East favorites. With Connor Shaw gone, Dylan Thompson takes over at QB. In the backfield with him will be talented TB Mike Davis, and WRs Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland figure to be his main targets. All-everything DE Jadeveon Clowney will be missed, of course, as will DT Kelcy Quarles. Much will be expected of Sharrod Golightly to lead a deep but inexperienced LB group."

USA Today writes in Clemson's preseason outlook: "The Tigers' 2013 season had its highlights at the beginning against Georgia and at the conclusion with the Orange Bowl triumph against Ohio State. Clemson must hit the ground running again, and must do it without QB Tajh Boyd, WRs Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, and TB Roderick McDowell. New signal caller Cole Stoudt is a senior who's been in the system but never started a game. WR Mike Williams could emerge as the new deep threat. There's better news on defense, where DEs Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford and DT Grady Jarrett will create havoc in opposing backfields."

The Associated Press preseason poll will be released Aug. 17.