Preseason polls may be meaningless in college football, especially now that the College Football Playoff supposedly eliminates the importance of any such poll like the Associated Press Top 25 or the coaches poll. That said, observing the AP Top 25 is a necessary evil of the college football preseason, as it sets the tone for a number of programs for the upcoming season and unfairly places pressure on various programs, coaches, and even players.
Reacting to preseason polls should always be taken with a grain of salt because we have yet to witness any of these teams in action. We may have lasting memories of teams from last year and we can make some educated guesses about how a number of these teams will perform this season. That is exactly what a preseason poll is: an educated guess. Or in the case of some poll voters, just simply a guess.
With all of that said, here are five reactions this college football writer took from the release of the preseason AP Top 25 on Monday afternoon.
1. The usual suspects at the top
Alabama is making some history as the second team in the AP Top 25 history to take the top spot in the preseason poll for three consecutive seasons. Alabama coming in at the top of the poll, or incredibly close to the top spot, is nothing new. Alabama has been a preseason No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 every season since 2010, and they were preseason No. 5 in 2009. Alabama has ascended to No. 1 at some point in the college football season at least once on an annual basis since the 2008 season. We are starting to run out of words to describe just how dominant Alabama has been under Nick Saban.
Aside from Alabama, we are seeing some familiar names at the top of the poll as well. Clemson is in the top five for the third straight preseason, doing so for the first time in school history. Like Alabama, Clemson is making a habit of grabbing the top spot in the AP poll at some point in the season, having done so each of the past three seasons and already in prime position to grab the top spot at some point this fall.
Georgia, as the defending SEC champion and last year’s national championship runner-up, should have been expected to be among the top teams. Georgia’s No. 3 preseason ranking is the highest preseason ranking in the AP poll for the school since starting the 2008 season as the top-ranked team. Georgia is hoping these preseason expectations become the new norm for the Bulldogs, and they could be in a position to make that happen over the next few seasons.
2. The voters really like Wisconsin
Bob Asmussen of The Champaign News-Gazette was the lone AP voter to vote Wisconsin No. 1.
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) August 20, 2018
It is unknown how much of the voting may have been impacted by recent developments at Ohio State with regard to Urban Meyer. Not to take anything away from Wisconsin, but seeing Wisconsin ranked ahead of the Buckeyes is probably not something many expected, especially since Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten this season. Of course, a lot has happened since Big Ten media days and the initial batches of conference championship odds have been released. And sure, Wisconsin is the second-best favorite in the Big Ten, so it’s not like this is out of left field.
But there are reasons to suspect Wisconsin may be a tad overrated here. The running game will be just fine with Jonathan Taylor back for a sophomore campaign, but questions about quarterback and massive turnover on the defense along with an incredibly rough road schedule for a Big Ten team (games at Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern) could all come back to dash any playoff hopes Wisconsin may have. And if Wisconsin is not careful, they could potentially have their shot at a Big Ten title dashed as well.
3. UCF once again playing the no respect card?
UCF just came off the most successful season in school history with an undefeated record and a victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They did lose Scott Frost to Nebraska and replaced him with a first-year head coach, but the Knights also return one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in McKenzie Milton. How do the voters feel about UCF? Well, at least they are starting the year ahead of Boise State?
UCF starts the year at No. 21 in the AP preseason poll, the largest dropoff from the previous season for a team with an undefeated record returning a starting quarterback the following season in decades. However, it is also the first time UCF will begin the season in the AP preseason top 25. There may be some give and take here, but UCF should once again be prepared to play with a chip on their shoulder.
4. On the outside looking in?
Taking a look at the schools appearing in the “Others Receiving Votes” section (no, you are not ranked No. 26, No. 43, No. 37 etc.), there are a handful of teams that should have an excellent opportunity to crack the top 25 within the first few weeks. South Carolina is the first team out and will get a crack against Georgia at home in Week 2. Florida and Utah are on the radar, and Oklahoma State has an excellent chance to string together a good number of wins in the first few months if they can send Boise State home with a loss early in the year.
South Carolina and Oklahoma State probably have the best chances to end the season in the top 25 after starting outside of it.
5. Biggest Wild Cards: Michigan and Mississippi State
West Virginia is a trendy pick, and for good reason. The Mountaineers will have a chance to prove themselves early on and head into the final few weeks of the season with some good momentum that could lift them into the Big 12 championship game. But if you want a real wild card option, it may be Michigan or Mississippi State.
This may be the best team overall Jim Harbaugh has had to work with since his arrival in Ann Arbor. The defense will be fine, and potentially one of the best in the nation. It is the offense that leaves some room for questioning. The addition and naming of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is expected to be an instant upgrade for the entire Michigan offense, but we won’t know for sure just how much improves until we see Patterson in action against live opponents, like Week 1 at Notre Dame. If Patterson does provide some much-needed and long-awaited help to the offense, watch out. Michigan gets Wisconsin and Penn State at home.
Mississippi State is intriguing because new head coach Joe Moorhead appears to be stepping into a solid position for some instant success this season. Having a quarterback like Nick Fitzgerald is a luxury and Dan Mullen leaves behind a program that has grown immensely under his watch. Mississippi State gets Florida and Auburn at home before their bye week, and it should not be impossible to envision Mississippi State potentially arriving in Tuscaloosa in mid-November without a loss on their schedule.
Of course, leaving without a loss is no easy task, but there is a chance Mississippi State (and Michigan) could get off to great starts this year to enter the playoff discussion to some degree.
Feel free to share your reactions to the preseason AP Top 25 in the comment section, or go ahead and just rip the entire idea of a preseason poll as you see fit. It’s your call.