Alabama will begin its quest for a second consecutive national championship with a rare three-peat.
The Crimson Tide is just the second team to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll for three straight seasons. Alabama received 42 out of 61 first-place votes.
No. 2 Clemson received 18 first-place votes. Georgia is No. 3 and Wisconsin is fourth. The Badgers received one first-place vote. Ohio State was ranked No. 5.
The preseason AP poll started in 1950 and since then only Oklahoma from 1985-87 had started No. 1 in three straight years until now.
Ring up another milestone for coach Nick Saban’s Tide dynasty. Alabama has won five national championships since 2009 and now has been No. 1 to start the season five times under Saban. Last season was the first time Saban’s team started and finished the season No. 1.
The Tide enter this season with a question at quarterback, but there appears to be two good answers from which Saban has to choose: Tua Tagovailoa won the College Football Playoff championship game for Alabama with a second-half comeback and overtime touchdown pass. Jalen Hurts has led the Tide to the national title game in each of his two seasons as a starter.
Whoever is quarterback, Alabama’s offense should be potent with running back Damien Harris working behind a powerful line anchored by tackle Jonah Williams.
The Tide’s always tough defense will have all new starters in the secondary, but defensive end Raekwon Davis and linebackers Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses are primed to be Alabama’s next All-Americans.
The machine never stops in Tuscaloosa. One again, everybody is chasing Alabama.
NO. 1 AT BEING NO. 1
The AP poll began in 1936 and Alabama is approaching the top of a very storied list:
Ohio State — 105 weeks at No. 1
Alabama — 104
Oklahoma — 101
Notre Dame — 98
Southern California — 91
Florida State — 72
Nebraska — 70
This is Alabama’s seventh time overall being a preseason No. 1, matching USC for fourth most.
Oklahoma — 10 preseason No. 1 rankings
Ohio State — 8
Alabama — 7
USC — 7
Florida State 6
Nebraska — 6
THE OTHER CHAMPS
Central Florida was the only team in the country to go undefeated last season and — you might have heard — the school decided to declare the Knights national champions because why not? This is college football and nobody is really in charge.
UCF is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time to the start the season, coming in 21st in the preseason poll. The Knights are the highest-ranked team not in a Power Five conference, one spot ahead of Boise State from the Mountain West. If that ranking after going unbeaten seems unusually low, it is but it is not unprecedented. In the CFP/BCS era (1998-present), 19 teams have had unbeaten seasons. Three of those teams — 1998 Tulane, 1999 Marshall, 2004 Utah — were unranked in the preseason poll the next season. Not surprisingly, all those teams played outside of what were then called BCS automatic qualifying conferences. Five other teams were ranked outside the top 10, including three from outside BCS-auto bid leagues. Boise State in 2007 was No. 24 in the preseason. Utah in 2009 started 19th. TCU began 2011 at No. 14.
The only so-called power conference team to go unbeaten in the BCS/CFP era and be ranked similarly low the next season was Auburn — twice. After going 13-0 in 2004, the Tigers started 2005 ranked 16th. After Cam Newton led Auburn to the 2010 national title, the Newton-less Tigers were ranked No. 23 to begin 2011.
Urban Meyer’s uncertain status as Ohio State coach cost the Buckeyes some points in the AP poll, and probably at least one rankings spot.
The AP asked voters whether Meyer being on administrative leave as Ohio State investigates what he knew about domestic violence allegations against a former assistant coach influenced how they voted in the preseason poll. Thirteen voters responded saying the uncertainty caused them to move Ohio State down.
“It’s hard not to bump Ohio State down a tick,” said Andy Greder of the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press. “It’s an undoubted distraction. I feel like going through fall camp without your head coach only adds to it. I gave Wisconsin a corresponding slight bump up.”
Ohio State had 1,256 points, 15 behind Wisconsin (1,271). No. 3 Georgia had 1,350 points.
The deadline for voters to submit preseason ballots was Aug. 13. The AP allowed voters to adjust their votes if any major news happened in college football from the deadline until Aug. 15 at noon ET.
— No. 2 Clemson matched its best preseason ranking. The Tigers were No. 2 in 2016 and went on to win the national championship.
— No. 4 Wisconsin has its best preseason ranking since 2000, when it was also No. 4. The Badgers also had one first-place vote that year.
— No. 5 Ohio State is making it 30th straight appearance in the preseason rankings (1989-2018). Only Penn State (34) and Nebraska (33) have had longer streaks.
— No. 6 Washington has its best preseason ranking since 1997, when the Huskies were No. 4.
— No. 8 Miami has its best preseason ranking since being No. 6 to start the 2004 season.
— No. 18 Mississippi State has its best preseason ranking since 1981, when the Bulldogs were No. 14.
Big Ten — 5 (all top 15)
SEC — 5 (3 top 10)
ACC — 4
Big 12 — 4
Pac-12 — 4
American — 1
Mountain West — 1
Independent — 1
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast