It’s that wonderful time of year again: The Associated Press released its preseason college football rankings Monday, ushering in the unofficial start of the 2018 season. The AP poll is filled with familiar names, led by defending national champion Alabama.
AP Poll:— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) August 20, 2018
5. Ohio St
10. Penn St
11. Mich St
12. Notre Dame
18. Miss St
19. Florida St
20. Va Tech
22. Boise St
So throw on a fight song and prepare for a barrage of donation requests from your alumni association. Here are three takeaways from this season’s initial Top 25.
1. Alabama Is the Team to Beat … Again
Some things in life are undeniable: the inevitability of death, the inescapability of taxes, the likelihood that CBS Sports reporter Jon Rothstein will fire off a handful of tweets referencing death and taxes, and Alabama football’s appearance at the top of the preseason AP poll.
For the third consecutive fall, the Crimson Tide enter the season as college football’s no. 1 team. That’s for good reason: The last time we checked in with Alabama, the Tide were busy riding true freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a thrilling national championship triumph that cemented head coach Nick Saban as the unimpeachable center around which the NCAA universe revolves. Now, Tagovailoa, fellow quarterback Jalen Hurts, offensive lineman Jonah Williams, linebacker Mack Wilson, and defensive end Raekwon Davis will return to Tuscaloosa in hopes of defending their crown. And if recent history is any indication, doubt Bama at your own peril: Saban’s squad has won five—five!—of the last nine national titles.
2. Clemson and Georgia Aren’t Going Away
Checking in at no. 2 and 3 in the AP poll are Clemson and Georgia, which both recently challenged Bama on the sport’s biggest stage and return a number of key starters from teams that made last season’s College Football Playoff. Yet whereas the Bulldogs enter this fall with Jake Fromm firmly entrenched as their starting QB, the Tigers may be tempted to give their heralded newcomer a shot. Incumbent Clemson starter Kelly Bryant threw just 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions in 2017; if he struggles early this fall, head coach Dabo Swinney could turn to prized true freshman and amateur Fabio impersonator Trevor Lawrence, who wowed onlookers with his performance in the spring game.
Of course, Clemson owes its lofty ranking primarily to its defense, a unit that finished last fall ranked second in Football Outsiders’ S&P+. The Tigers’ line features four potential top-10 NFL draft picks: Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and Austin Bryant.
3. Texas and Notre Dame Are Back (Sound Familiar?)
As is always the case, much attention is being paid to two of college football’s historic powers: Notre Dame and Texas. For what feels like the 100th season in a row, the Longhorns’ resurgence is apparently imminent, with the team coming in at no. 23 in the poll. Last season—the program’s first under head coach Tom Herman—saw Texas enter the year ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2013. The Longhorns proceeded to go 6-6 before defeating Missouri in the Texas Bowl.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, didn’t even appear in last fall’s preseason poll, but rode quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams to a 9-3 record and a win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. This feels almost illegal to type, but there’s a case to be made that voters are still under-hyping the veteran-laden Fighting Irish. South Bend has long been home to unwarranted expectations that don’t match up with the talent on the roster. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario, though, where a Notre Dame group with 15 returning starters will rise from no. 12 to a playoff berth.
The preseason poll is just a rough guideline for order in a sport defined by chaos. With the start of the 2018 campaign upon us, let the arguing begin.