With two of the best players in the country at the helm — and losing a championship as motivation — Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason college football poll for the second straight season and ninth 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.
Ohio State is No. 2 with six first-place votes (1,506 points) from the media panel, and defending national champion Georgia is third with three first-place votes (1,455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Notre Dame rounds out the top five, hosting a tantalizing opener at Ohio State on Sept. 3.
RJ Young of FOX Sports ranked the Tide and Buckeyes similarly, but had a different SEC lineup at No. 3.
The Tide’s No. 1 preseason ranking is the seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since the preseason rankings began in 1950, only Oklahoma, at 10, has been No. 1 in the initial poll more often than Alabama.
The Crimson Tide started last season as the No. 1 seed and finished as the No. 2 seed after losing the national championship 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 past 13 years. He has a right.
Young was in his first season as a starter last year, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. He was untroubled, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Anderson was a force on the other sideline as Alabama broke through a back week with mostly new starters. The sophomore led the nation in tackles for loss with 33 1/2, 11 1/2 more than No. 2 on the list.
Ohio State returns a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in C.J. Stroud, while at Georgia, most of the key players from one of the best college defenses of the past 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 is seventh, the best preseason ranking in school history. Defending Big Ten champion Michigan is the No. 8 seed after making the playoffs for the first time last season.
No. 9 Oklahoma is the highest-ranked Big 12 school, one spot ahead of defending league champion Baylor.
Alabama has been ranked 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 this year is tied with Ohio State for the most in poll history.
Turning a preseason No. 1 seed into a national championship has historically proven difficult, even for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide managed to win the national championship after starting No. 1 just once under Saban and twice overall.
Since the AP preseason began in 1950, there have been 11 preseason No. 1 teams that also finished the season ranked No. 1. Alabama was the last to do so (2017).
— LSU, with new coach Brian Kelly, will begin the season unranked for the first time in 2000, the first of Saban’s five seasons as the Tigers’ coach.
— Florida and Florida State are both unranked to start the season, which hasn’t happened since 1974.
Five schools ranked in the preseason poll have head coaches entering their first full seasons 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).
For the fourth consecutive season, the Southeastern Conference has three teams in the top 6.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had its best showing in the five-team preseason poll. The ACC has reached that number four times before.
SEC – 6 (#1, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21).
ACC – 5 (No. 4, 13, 16, 17, 22).
Big Ten – 4 (Nos. 2, 8, 15, 18).
Big 12 – 3 (No. 9, 10, 12).
Pac-12 – 3 (#7, 11, 14).
American – 2 (No. 23, 24).
Independents – 2 (No. 5, 25).
The Associated Press reports.
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