DALLAS -- The 2014 season came to a close Monday night as Ohio State capped off a Cinderella run in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.
Much like they received every first-place vote in the final College Football 24/7 top 25 Power Rankings, the Buckeyes are unanimously seen as the favorite to repeat as champions again in 2015 thanks to a remarkable collection of talent that is sticking around for another shot at the sport's ultimate prize. Throw in the game's best coach in Urban Meyer, and it's easy to see why the program has the makings of something special on a yearly basis.
As we turn our attention from one season to the next, here's a look at the contenders on the road to Glendale, Ariz. -- the site of next season's title game.
1. Ohio State
2014 final ranking: 1
Key returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, RB Ezekiel Elliott, DE Joey Bosa
The skinny: Head coach Urban Meyer admitted that the Buckeyes were ahead of schedule in getting to, much less winning, the national title game, and that's evident in how many key players will return in 2015. The quarterback situation might be the best in the land, and the defense doesn't lose much.
2014 final ranking: 3
Key returnees: QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson
The skinny: The Horned Frogs were one of the most improved teams in the country in 2014 and return the bulk of a talented young roster. The offense should continue to be explosive with one of the Heisman favorites in Boykin while the defense will need to replace a few key contributors but should have the best depth in the Big 12. Getting Baylor at home for a revenge game doesn't hurt either.
2014 final ranking: 4
Key returnees: OL Cam Robinson, RB Derrick Henry, DT A'Shawn Robinson
The skinny: Nobody brings in more talent into his program than Nick Saban, and 2015 will once again be a reloading year for the Crimson Tide instead of a rebuilding one. Henry should carry the load for the offense while previously anointed QB Jacob Coker takes over under center. Whatever Alabama loses to the NFL and graduation, it typically makes up for in February by signing the best recruiting class in the country.
2014 final ranking: 9
Key returnees: WR KD Cannon, OL Spencer Drango, DE Shawn Oakman
The skinny: Replacing veterans like QB Bryce Petty won't be easy, but the Bears return the bulk of their lineup and are gunning for a third straight Big 12 title. The offensive line will be deep and nobody in America should have a better receiving corps than what the Bears can throw out on the field. Plus, having a monster pass rusher like Oakman can help cover up a lot of flaws.
5. Michigan State
2014 final ranking: 6
Key returnees: QB Connor Cook, DL Shilique Calhoun, DL Lawrence Thomas
The skinny: Cook returns to East Lansing for his senior year and could emerge as the top prospect at the quarterback position in the country. Throw in a defense that has always been stingy under Mark Dantonio (but must deal with a number of replacements, including at coordinator) and a balanced offense and the Spartans are very likely the only thing standing in Ohio State's way during Big Ten play next season.
2014 final ranking: 2
Key returnees: RB Royce Freeman, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison
The skinny: The Ducks could yo-yo up and down this list based on a few NFL draft decisions, the most notable of which came from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota on Wednesday. Even if the illustrious signal-caller doesn't come back, the skill-position core was one of the youngest in the country in 2014 and no team is better at having the next man step up than the one in Eugene.
7. Ole Miss
2014 final ranking: 19
Key returnees: DL Robert Nkemdiche, WR Laquon Treadwell, OL Laremy Tunsil
The skinny: The Rebels need to find a quarterback to replace the inconsistent Bo Wallace, but the quality recruiting classes coach Hugh Freeze has brought to Oxford should be starting to pay big dividends this upcoming season. There's a ton of talent that will eventually make its way to the draft, but it still might not be enough to get out of the loaded SEC West on top.
8. Florida State
2014 final ranking: 5
Key returnees: RB Dalvin Cook, DE DeMarcus Walker, DL Lorenzo Featherston
The skinny: Jimbo Fisher has been stockpiling talent in Tallahassee, and he'll need some of it to step up after a rash of NFL draft departures. Losing Jameis Winston is the biggest blow, but with the Seminoles' schedule and the amount of players who saw time early on, Florida State should be just fine.
2014 final ranking: 17
Key returnees: QB Cody Kessler, WR/DB Adoree' Jackson, LB Su'a Cravens
The skinny: The Trojans will be as talented as they always have been, but the scholarship limitations that have hampered the program will start to disappear. The young offensive line and underrated Kessler will be the strengths for a team that will be looking to get USC back to the glory days and into title contention.
2014 final ranking: 12
Key returnees: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Artavis Scott, RB Wayne Gallman
The skinny: The Tigers have lost coordinator Chad Morris to SMU, but they should still have the best offense in the ACC thanks to the best young quarterback in the country in Watson. The defense loses a ton, though, so it's a good thing coach Dabo Swinney's team can put up some points.
2014 final ranking: 22
Key returnees: LB Cassanova McKinzy, DE Carl Lawson, WR D'haquille Williams
The skinny: Gus Malzahn hired the hottest candidate of the offseason to fill his defensive coordinator spot in ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp, and that should provide an immediate boost to the Tigers, who will see the return of Lawson off the edge. QB Jeremy Johnson has earned high praise around the program and should have no issues taking over for Nick Marshall in an up-tempo attack.
12. Boise State
2014 final ranking: 15
Key returnees: LB Tanner Vallejo, DT Armand Nance, WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
The skinny: The Broncos have to replace QB Grant Hedrick and productive tailback Jay Ajayi, but there's no reason to think they won't be the class of the Group of Five once again in 2015. Most of the defense returns, as does the entire offensive line, to form a good foundation for coach Bryan Harsin and company.
2014 final ranking: 10
Key returnees: RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, LB Leonard Floyd
The skinny: Last season's crop of freshmen running backs was one of the best ever, and Chubb might have been the ring-leader as the sensational replacement for Todd Gurley. He'll be leaned on heavily, but the defense has enough pieces to make a serious run in the SEC East.
2014 final ranking: N/R
Key returnees: RB Samaje Perine, WR Sterling Shepard, LB Eric Striker
The skinny: All but a handful of players on defense are headed back to Norman, and they should be able to have one of the more active units in the country on that side of the ball. The key question: Can the offense can make a U-turn from a disappointing 2014 to become consistent in moving the ball? There should be an interesting QB battle if nothing else this spring and fall, as Trevor Knight, Cody Thomas and Baker Mayfield compete to start.
15. Arizona State
2014 final ranking: 16
Key returnees: RB D.J. Foster, QB Mike Bercovici, DT Viliami Latu
The skinny: Bercovici takes over for the departed Taylor Kelly at quarterback. The Sun Devils are not expected to miss much of a beat after seeing what the backup did in action when he tore up some Pac-12 defenses. Just about all of the defense returns intact and, while some key contributors like Jaelen Strong and Damarious Randall need to be replaced, this team has a chance to capture the Pac-12 South.
16. Notre Dame
2014 final ranking: 28
Key returnees: WR Will Fuller, QB Malik Zaire, LB Jaylon Smith
The skinny: Nobody knows if quarterback Everett Golson will return to the Irish for his senior season, but either way there will be plenty of talent on the field in South Bend at just about every other spot. The offense should be fine, and the defense, which was so young and inexperienced in 2014, will be a big part of the reason why Notre Dame will be a dark horse to make a lot of noise next season.
2014 final ranking: 23
Key returnees: LB James Burgess, WR James Quick, RB Brandon Radcliff
The skinny: Bobby Petrino is slowly but surely stocking the program with talent, and he'll need it to compete in the suddenly deep ACC. Figuring something out at quarterback is priority one, but there's enough players all over to turn in another good season with the Cardinals.
2014 final ranking: 14
Key returnees: RB Corey Clement, QB Joel Stave, LB Vince Biegel
The skinny:Melvin Gordon will be gone from Madison, but Clement is more than capable of filling his shoes (to some degree) for the Badgers, who will be undertaking their first campaign under native son and former player Paul Chryst. Don't sleep on the defense, which returns all but a handful of players off the two-deep and is very much battle-tested.
2014 final ranking: 31
Key returnees: RB Leonard Fournette, WR Travin Dural, DB Tre'Davious White
The skinny: Les Miles' squad was young last season and will be young again this year. The only difference is those underclassmen received a wealth of experience which could pay off with a big year. Fournette will be a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy given his finish to his first season in Baton Rouge, but the team will have to figure out something at quarterback if the Tigers want to really make noise in the SEC West.
20. Georgia Tech
2014 final ranking: 7
Key returnees: QB Justin Thomas, OT Chris Griffin, DT Adam Gotsis
The skinny: The Yellow Jackets emerged with a surprisingly great year out of the ACC Coastal and should have a team that can repeat with a division title depending on how long it takes the pieces to come together. They do have Thomas under center, however, who is a dynamic threat and a perfect fit for the team's option offense.
2014 final ranking: 20
Key returnees: QB Anu Solomon, WR Cayleb Jones, LB Scooby Wright III
The skinny: The Wildcats came out of nowhere to win the rough and tumble Pac-12 South and have enough coming back to win back-to-back titles given how good a coach Rich Rodriguez is. Solomon should continue to improve, Wright is a stud and the biggest issue for a team full of skill-position talent might come down to the boys in the trenches.
22. Texas A&M
2014 final ranking: N/R
Key returnees: QB Kyle Allen, OT Germain Ifedi, DE Myles Garrett
The skinny: Life after Johnny Football was a little rough for the Aggies, but they managed to find their way as the year went on with a lot of young offensive talent ready to explode in 2015. Both lines should be solid, and there's enough receiver talent to go on for days. Plus, head coach Kevin Sumlin pulled off the coup of the offseason in luring defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU to boost a woeful A&M defense.
2014 final ranking: 8
Key returnees: LB Myles Jack, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, RB Paul Perkins
The skinny: The Bruins will lose their starting quarterback in Brett Hundley and the signal-caller of the defense in Eric Kendricks, but there's a lot coming back to Westwood in terms of young, talented players. The key will come down to finding a quarterback who can handle everything, and Jim Mora's only options are young, inexperienced players or Jerry Neuheisel.
2014 final ranking: N/R
Key returnees: QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, DE Derek Barnett
The skinny: Butch Jones turned around the Vols in a hurry thanks to a big-time freshman class that saw contributors pop up everywhere. A blowout bowl victory to cap off the year caused many to label UT a dark horse in a wide-open SEC East, but the development of Dobbs under center will be key.
2014 final ranking: 26
Key returnees: RB Alex Collins, RB Jonathan Williams, OL Denver Kirkland
The skinny: The Hogs are ready to run over the rest of the SEC and the big improvement in Year Two under Bret Bielema was certainly felt on the field. A good chunk of the team returns, and having one of the best running back tandems in the league certainly helps take the pressure off others.