With two of the best players in the country leading the way — and a loss of a championship game as motivation — Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason college football poll for the second consecutive season and the ninth time overall.
Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, National Defender of the Year Will Anderson Jr. and the Crimson Tide got 54 out of 63 votes in first place and 1,566 points in the Top 25 presented by the Regiobank released Monday.
Ohio State is No. 2 with six votes in first place (1,506 points) from the media panel and defending champion Georgia is third with three votes in first place (1455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Notre Dame rounds out the top five, setting up a tantalizing opener in the state of Ohio on September 3.
The Tide’s preseason #1 is the seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since the preseason rankings began in 1950, only Oklahoma with 10 was more often number 1 in the first poll than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide started at No. 1 last season and finished No. 2 after losing the National Championship game to the rival Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference.
Alabama coach Nick Saban recently called 2021 a rebuilding season for his Tide dynasty, which has won six national titles in the past 13 years. He has a point.
Young was in his first season as a starter last year, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. He was unfazed and threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Anderson was a force on the other side of the ball as Alabama broke a back seven with mostly new starters. The sophomore led the nation in tackles for losses with 33 1/2, 11 1/2 more than #2 on the list.
Ohio State brings back a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in CJ Stroud, while Georgia has most of the protagonists from one of the greatest defenses of the past 25 years in the NFL. Still, quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America tight-end Brock Bowers return to a Bulldogs attack that could be even more explosive in 2022.
Texas A&M, which failed to finish in the rankings last season despite Alabama having its only regular season loss, will start this season at number 6.
Defending Pac-12 Champion Utah is seventh, the best preseason ranking in school history. Defending Big Ten champion Michigan is No. 8 after making the playoff for the first time last season.
No. 9 Oklahoma is the highest-ranked Big 12 school, one spot ahead of defending champion Baylor.
Alabama has been in the top five preseason in each of the last 14 seasons and in the preseason top three in 13 consecutive seasons. The Tide’s 31st preseason top-five rankings this year matches the state of Ohio for the most in poll history.
It has proven difficult throughout history to turn preseason #1 into a National Championship, even for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide has gone on to win the National Championship after starting as No. 1 only once under Saban and twice overall.
Since the AP preseason began in 1950, there have been 11 No. 1 preseason teams that also finished the season as best. Alabama was the last to do it (2017).
RARES AND STRIPES
— No. 13 North Carolina State is in preseason for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack equaled their best preseason rankings. 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 poll for the season since 1978.
— No. 22 Wake Forest made it to the preseason rankings for the first time since 2008.
— Ohio State has been ranked in the preseason for the 34th straight season, breaking a tie with Nebraska (1970-2002) and Penn State (1968-2000) for the longest run in poll history.
— Texas A&M has the second-best preseason rankings for a team that finished the previous season without a ranking. Ohio State was number 3 in the 1972 preseason poll after being eliminated at the end of the 1971 season, and Notre Dame also started at number 6 in 1983 after failing to finish in 1982.
How did those teams’ seasons go? Ohio State went 9-2 to finish the season No. 9. The Irish went 7-5 and out of the league again.
— LSU with new coach Brian Kelly will start the season unranked for the first time in 2000, Saban’s first of five seasons as coach of the Tigers.
— Florida and Florida State are both not ranked to start the season, which hasn’t happened since 1974.
Five schools ranked in the preseason poll have head coaches starting their first full season 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).
It is the second time in the past five seasons that five teams with new coaches have been ranked in the preseason, according to research by Sportradar. It also happened in 2018, but before that season, that kind of representation in the preseason poll for teams with new coaches was a rarity.
You have to go all the way back to 1990 when six schools with coaches going into their first full season appeared in the preseason Top 25, according to Sportradar. That list includes some notable names: Gary Moeller, Michigan; Ken Hatfield, Clemson; Gene Stallings, Alabama; Jack Crowe, Arkansas; Paul Hackett, Pittsburgh; and John Jenkins, Houston.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Southeastern Conference has three teams in the top six.
The Atlantic Coast Conference tied its best result in the five-team preseason poll. The ACC has already reached that number four times.
SEC – 6 (Nos. 1, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21).
ACC – 5 (Nos. 4, 13, 16, 17, 22).
Big Ten – 4 (Nos. 2, 8, 15, 18).
Large 12 – 3 (Nos. 9, 10, 12).
Pac-12 – 3 (Nos. 7, 11, 14).
American – 2 (Nos. 23, 24).
Independents – 2 (Nos. 5, 25).
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