College Football 2013: Alabama Tops AP Preseason Poll
After back-to-back championships, Alabama is a heavy favorite this year to become the first team to win three straight titles, capturing 58 out of 60 first place votes in the AP’s preseason poll. But Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford and Georgia round out the top 5 and will be gunning for the Crimson Tide. Here is a complete rundown of the preseason Top 25.
Alabama has won titles in three of the last four years and could become the first team ever to win three straight championships. They are loaded with talent as usual and have a very favorable schedule—aside from an early test in Week 3 at #7 Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide will not face another ranked opponent until November and they avoid all the SEC East powers (#5 Georgia, #6 South Carolina and #10 Florida) during the regular season.
#2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes went undefeated last year, but were ineligible for the Big Ten championship or a bowl game due to NCAA probation. This year, Ohio State will be lead by Heisman favorite Braxton Miller as they look to continue their winning ways, but play for a title. The Buckeyes will be tested in late September with back-to-back games against #22 Northwestern and #23 Wisconsin. But otherwise, the schedule looks very favorable until the end-of-season game at archrival #17 Michigan
The Ducks lost do-it-all running back Kenjon Barner (1,767 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns last year), but the offense should once again be loaded with preseason All-American quarterback Marcus Mariota and speedster running back DeAnthony Thomas in the backfield. While head coach Chip Kelly has moved on to the NFL, the offense shouldn’t change much, as offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was promoted to the head job and Scott Frost, who won a national championship as quarterback at Nebraska in 1997, will now be calling the plays.
Stanford returns nine starters to a defensive unit that led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. While Kevin Hogan should continue to improve at quarterback, the rebuilt Cardinal offense could be a question mark as Stanford lost star running back Stepfan Taylor along with more than 80 percent of its receiving yards to graduation. November 7th could determine not just the PAC-12 race but also a national title shot as well when the Cardinal hosts #3 Oregon.
Georgia should have one of the top offenses in the country as they hope to end Alabama’s reign atop the SEC. The running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall accounted for over 2,100 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Quarterback Aaron Murray, already the school’s career passing leader, is back for his senior year after throwing for almost 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns last year.
#6 South Carolina
Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks face a tough test almost immediately, with back-to-back games against North Carolina and at #5 Georgia to start the season. If they can survive that challenge, they could well be undefeated going into late November matchups with #10 Florida and #8 Clemson.
#7 Texas A&M
The obvious wild card here is the status of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel pending the NCAA investigation into allegations “Johnny Football” accepted payment for autographs. If he is not suspended, the Aggies schedule could put them in title contention—aside from the Week 3 game against #1 Alabama, the Aggies only have one other ranked team during the regular season.
Clemson opens with a tough game against #5 Georgia and, despite losing their leading rusher and receiver, the Tigers should still bring in one of the nation’s top offenses. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is back after throwing for almost 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns while also rushing for 725 yards and 10 scores last season.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is one of the early favorites in the Heisman race, and he should be able to post big numbers against a very weak schedule. While Bridgewater may be able to pad his stats, a slate in which the (arguably) toughest game is a Week 1 matchup with Ohio could well keep the Cardinals from getting any serious national title consideration.
The Gators boasted one of the top defenses in the nation last year and the unit should be sold again. But the offense will need to improve to move Florida into serious title contention. Last year’s starting running back Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards and 10 scores) is gone and quarterback Jeff Driskel will need to improve on a season in which he only threw more than one touchdown in two games.
#11 Florida State
The Seminoles featured one of the nation’s best offenses last season and, despite losing quarterback E.J. Manuel to the NFL draft, the unit should be solid again with a very experienced offensive line and the return of two experienced running backs.
#12 Louisiana State
Unlike Alabama and Texas A&M, the Tigers drew the short stick when it came to SEC scheduling. In addition to division games against the Crimson Tide and the Aggies, LSU faces a nonconference contest against #20 TCU and midseason matchups with #5 Georgia and #10 Florida.
#13 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position as the preseason favorite in the Big 12. Despite the loss of star running back Joseph Randle and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, OSU’s offense should still be one of the nation’s best with two experienced quarterbacks coming back. The schedule also racks up very favorably, with all but one of the Cowboys’ toughest tests (Nov. 16 at #15 Texas) coming at home.
#14 Notre Dame
With Manti Teo’s catfishing saga and the academic suspension of starting quarterback Everett Golson, Notre Dame has endured one of the strangest off-seasons in recent memory. But the defense is again solid and, with former starting quarterback Tommy Rees back under center, the offense is not without experience. A September swing that includes games against #16 Oklahoma, #17 Michigan and Michigan State could determine a lot about the fate of the Irish this year.
Texas is still waiting for that breakout season when they get back among the nation’s elite. Quarterback David Ash will need to overcome the inconsistency that has plagued him throughout his young career. Last season, he threw 18 touchdowns in the Longhorns’ nine wins, but he also had three games in which he completed 50 percent or fewer of his passes and threw multiple interceptions.
Despite losing career passing leader Landry Jones, the Sooners’ offense should once again be solid with an experienced running back, solid receivers and one of the nation’s best offensive lines. But the defense will once again be they question mark as Oklahoma tries to improve a unit that gave up 30+ points in five of its last seven games.
Junior quarterback Devin Gardner excelled last year after taking over for the injured Denard Robinson, but he’ll need running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to play well after a gruesome leg injury ended his 2012 season. The Wolverines could well be undefeated going into a rough November schedule in which they play #2 Ohio State, #18 Nebraska and #22 Northwestern in a four-week stretch to close the season.
With quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and the Big Ten’s best receiving corps, the Cornhuskers should again have one of the nation’s top offenses. The question mark, however, will be whether or not Bo Pelini can improve a defense that gave up an average of 53.5 points per game in four losses last year.
#19 Boise State
While there is not a big-name opponent on the schedule this year, the Broncos still have high expectations for a Mountain West championship and their eighth consecutive double digit-win season. Running back Jay Ajayi will need to have a solid year to take some heat off of second-year quarterback Joe Southwick.
#20 Texas Christian
The Horned Frogs are a sleeper pick in the Big 12 this year, but they’ll have to prove it early. They open the season with #12 LSU and then face a gauntlet of three ranked opponents during the month of October.
The Bruins made it to the PAC-12 title game on the strength of an offense that was one of the nation’s most explosive for much of the season before sputtering during a season-ending three-game losing streak. Quarterback Brett Hundley (3,745 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago) is back and will face a tough late-October test with back-to-back road trips to #4 Stanford and #3 Oregon.
The Wildcats were just a couple of last-minute collapses away from going 12-1 last year and are back to prove that their success is no fluke. Star running back Venric Mark and the quarterback duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian are all back for what should be one of the Big Ten’s strongest offenses.
Despite the loss of Montee Ball, the three-time defending conference champs should still boast one of the nation’s strongest running games behind the duo of James White and Melvin Gordon (1,427 yards and 15 touchdowns combined last season). Going into the season, the quarterback position remains a question as the battle between Joel Stave and Curt Phillips has yet to be decided.
#24 Southern Cal
The Trojans return 16 starters, including Biletnikoff winner Marquise Lee. But they must replace Matt Barkley, a four-year starter at quarterback, and new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast must bolster a unit that gave up 33 points per game while losing five of the last six games.
#25 Oregon State
While Oregon and Stanford understandably get all the press in the PAC-12, the Beavers are looking to prove that last year’s mark, in which they won nine games after just three wins the year before, was no fluke. Oregon State boasted one of the nation’s top pass offenses last year and both quarterbacks who played last year are back for 2013.