With two of the best players in the country at the top — and a championship game loss to motivate them — Alabama is ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press’ preseason college football poll for the second straight year and ninth time overall.
Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, National Defensive Player of the Year Will Anderson Jr. and the Crimson Tide received 54 of 63 first place votes and 1,566 points in the top 25 presented by Regions Bank released Monday became.
Ohio State is No. 2 with six first-place votes (1,506 points) from the media jury and defending champion Georgia is third with three first-place votes (1,455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Rounding out the top five, Notre Dame sets up an enticing opener in Ohio State on September 3.
The Tide preseason No. 1 ranking is seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since preseason rankings began in 1950, only Oklahoma has ranked No. 1 in the first poll with 10 more times than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide started last season at No. 1 and finished at No. 2 after losing the national championship game to Southeastern Conference rivals the Bulldogs.
Alabama coach Nick Saban recently called 2021 a building season for his Tide dynasty, which has won six national titles over the past 13 years. He has an argument.
Young was in his first season as a starter last year, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. He was undeterred, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Anderson was a force on the other side as Alabama broke a chain seven with mostly new starters. The sophomore led the nation in tackles for losses with 33 1/2, 11 1/2 more than No. 2 on the list.
Ohio State is bringing back a Heisman Trophy finalist in CJ Stroud as quarterback, while Georgia’s most key players are one of the best collegiate defenses of the last 25 years in the NFL now. Still, quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America tight end Brock Bowers are returning to a Bulldogs offensive line that could become even more explosive in 2022.
Texas A&M, which finished last season unranked despite giving Alabama its only regular-season loss, begins this season at No. 6.
Reigning Pac-12 champion Utah is seventh, the best preseason finish in school history. Defending Big Ten champions Michigan are No. 8 after making the playoffs for the first time last season.
Oklahoma No. 9 is the top-ranked Big 12 school, one spot ahead of defending champion Baylor.
Alabama has been in the preseason top 5 for each of the last 14 seasons and has been in the preseason top 3 for 13 consecutive seasons. The Tide’s 31st preseason top five ranking this year equals Ohio State for most in poll history.
Converting the No. 1 preseason into a national championship has historically proven difficult, even for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide has won the national championship, having started only once under Saban and twice in 1st place overall.
Since the AP preseason began in 1950, there have been 11 No. 1 preseason teams that also finished the season in the top spots. Alabama was the last to do so (2017).
RARITIES AND STRIPES
— The 13th state of North Carolina is ranked in preseason for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack achieved their best preseason placement. They were also 13th in 1975.
– No. 17 Pitt is in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2010.
– No. 20 Kentucky makes its first preseason poll appearance since 1978.
– No. 22 Wake Forest made it into the preseason rankings for the first time since 2008.
– Ohio State ranks preseason for 34th straight season, breaking with Nebraska (1970-2002) and Penn State (1968-2000) for longest such streak in polling history.
– Texas A&M has the second best preseason finish for a team that finished the previous season unranked. Ohio State was No. 3 in the 1972 preseason poll after not being ranked at the end of the 1971 season, and Notre Dame also started 1983 at No. 6 after not being ranked in 1982.
How did these teams’ seasons work? Ohio State went 9-2 and finished the season 9th. The Irish went 7-5 and again unranked.
– LSU with new coach Brian Kelly will begin the 2000 season unranked for the first time, Saban’s first of five seasons as coach of the Tigers.
— Florida and Florida State are both unranked for the start of the season, which hasn’t happened since 1974.
Five schools ranked in the preseason survey have head coaches beginning their first full seasons and leading their teams: Notre Dame (Marcus Freeman), Oklahoma (Brent Venables), No. 11 Oregon (Dan Lanning), No. 14 USC (Lincoln Riley) and No. 16 Miami (Mario Cristobal).
This is the second time in the last five seasons that five teams with new coaches have been ranked in preseason, according to Sportradar’s research. That’s what happened in 2018, but prior to this season, this type of preseason survey representation was a rarity for teams with new managers.
You have to go back to 1990 when, according to Sportradar, six schools with coaches going into their first full season appeared in the preseason top 25. This list includes a few notable names: Gary Moeller, Michigan; Ken Hatfield, Clemson; Gene Stallings, Alabama; Jack Crowe, Arkansas; Paul Hackett, Pittsburgh; and John Jenkins, Houston.
For the fourth straight season, the Southeastern Conference has three teams in the top six.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had its best preseason poll performance with five teams. The ACC has already reached this number four times.
SEC – 6 (#1, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21).
ACC-5 (#4, 13, 16, 17, 22).
Big Ten – 4 (Nos. 2, 8, 15, 18).
Big 12 – 3 (Nos. 9, 10, 12).
Pac-12 – 3 (#7, 11, 14).
Americans – 2 (No. 23, 24).
Independents – 2 (No. 5, 25).
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
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