With two of the best players in the country leading the way, and a championship game loss as motivation, Alabama is No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason college football poll for the second straight season and ninth time overall. .
Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, National Defensive Player of the Year Will Anderson Jr. and Crimson Tide received 54 of 63 first-place votes and 1,566 points in the Top 25 released Monday.
Ohio State ranks second with six first-place votes (1,506 points) from the media panel, and defending national champion Georgia ranks third with three first-place votes (1,455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Notre Dame rounds out the top five, setting up a tantalizing opener at Ohio State on Sept. 3.
The Tide’s preseason No. 1 ranking is seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since preseason rankings began in 1950, only Oklahoma with 10 has been No. 1 in the initial poll more often than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide began last season as No. 1 and finished as No. 2 after losing the national championship game to the Southeastern Conference rival Bulldogs.
Alabama coach Nick Saban recently called 2021 a rebuilding season for his Tide dynasty, which has won six national titles in the last 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 undeterred, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Anderson was a force on the other side of the ball as Alabama opened seven behind with most of the new starters. The sophomore led the nation with 33½ tackles for a loss, 11½ more than No. 2 on the list.
Ohio State brings back a Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback CJ Stroud, while in Georgia, most of the key players from one of the best college defenses of the last 25 years are now in the NFL. Still, quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America tight end Brock Bowers return to a Bulldogs offense that could be even more explosive in 2022.
Texas A&M, which finished last season unranked despite handing Alabama its only regular-season loss, begins this season ranked No. 6.
Defending Pac-12 champion Utah ranks seventh, the best preseason ranking in school history. Defending Big Ten champion Michigan sits in eighth place after making the playoffs for the first time last season.
No. 9 Oklahoma is the top-ranked Big 12 school, one spot ahead of defending Big 12 champion Baylor.
Alabama has been in the preseason top five in each of the last 14 seasons and in the preseason top three in 13 straight. The Tide’s 31st preseason top-five ranking matches Ohio State for the most in polling history.
Turning the No. 1 preseason ranking into a national championship has been difficult throughout history, even for Alabama.
The Tide have won the national championship after starting No. 1 just once with Saban and twice overall.
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Since the AP preseason poll began in 1950, there have been 11 preseason No. 1 teams that also finished the season among the top seed. Alabama was the last to do so in 2017.
- No. 13 North Carolina State is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack matched his best preseason ranking. They were also 13 in 1975.
- No. 17 Pittsburgh is in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2010.
- No. 20 Kentucky is making its first appearance in preseason polls since 1978.
- The No. 22 Wake Forest made it to the preseason standings for the first time since 2008.
- Ohio State is ranked in the preseason for the 34th straight season, breaking a tie with Nebraska (1970-2002) and Penn State (1968-2000) for the longest streak in polling history.
- Texas A&M has the second-best preseason ranking for a team that finished the previous season unranked. Ohio State was ranked third in the 1972 preseason poll after going unranked at the end of the 1971 season. Notre Dame also started as No. 6 in 1983 after finishing unranked in 1982.
How were the seasons for those teams? Ohio State went 9-2 and finished in ninth place. The Irish went 7-5 and did not qualify again.
- LSU under new coach Brian Kelly will start the season unranked for the first time since 2000, Saban’s first of five seasons as Tigers coach.
- Florida and the state of Florida are not qualified to start the season, which has not happened since 1974.
Five schools ranked in the preseason poll have head coaches starting their first full seasons in charge of 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 managers have qualified in the pre-season, according to research by Sportradar. It happened in 2018, too, but prior to that season that kind of representation in the preseason poll for teams with new coaches was a rarity.
Go back to 1990, when six schools with coaches entering 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 matched their best performance in the preseason poll with five teams. The ACC has reached that number four previous 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)
- Big 12: 3 (Nos. 9, 10, 12)
- Pac-12: 3 (Nos. 7, 11, 14)
- American: 2 (Nos. 23, 24)
- Independents: 2 (#5, 25)