On Monday, the Associated Press unveiled its preseason Top 25 poll, with Alabama favorite to finish the season on top.
For the third year in a row, I will be a voter in the weekly AP poll, so I had the task of coming up with my own Top 25 to start the year.
While I’d rather start ranking the teams about a month into the year when we’ve seen everybody play a few games, I see the value in the preseason and early season polls because they are a great talking point for many college football fans.
The preseason poll is always the hardest for me, because we simply haven’t seen anyone play for a while. Every team is different than it was a year ago. Every team lost key starters and every team has somebody new that will emerge. With that, the preseason poll is often based a lot on reputation and recent results.
For me, reputation and recent results are my starting point. I take my final ballot from last year and do research on all the teams on that list (I turn in a top 25 each week, but my weekly spreadsheet has about 40 teams listed). From there, I go through every conference and look at all the teams and see if there’s somebody not on my list from last year that should be considered this year.
At that point, it’s simply slotting the teams where I think they’ll end up this year and doing my best to project the upcoming season. My top four teams, for example, are the teams I project to reach the College Football Playoff.
One thing I will guarantee about the AP poll, my ballot and any other Top 25 you’ll find in magazines or online: We will all be very wrong about several teams. Last year, I did correctly project Clemson as the national champ, but I had Notre Dame (which finished 4-8) at No. 7, Mississippi (5-7) at No. 12, UCLA (4-8) at No. 13, Michigan State (3-9) at No. 14. So, I guarantee somebody on my list is going to have a bad year.
For now, however, these are the teams I view as the 25 best going into the season (with some honorable mentions thrown in at the bottom):
1. Alabama: The Tide have all the tools to run the table, including the best coach in the country.
2. Florida State: The Seminoles have to face the Tide in Week 1, but will have plenty of chances to recover and get into the title game for a rematch.
3. Ohio State: There are 15 starters back from a team that went 11-2 and reached the CFP. Urban Meyers has won at least 11 games in each of his five seasons with the Buckeyes (61-6 overall) and he’ll get there again.
4. USC: With arguably the best QB in the country (Sam Darnold) and a load of talent across the roster, the Trojans should capitalize on their strong finish to 2016.
5. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops’ sudden retirement this summer makes the Sooners tougher to project, but they’ve still got nine starters back on offense, including QB Baker Mayfield. An early loss at Ohio State could leave them out of the top four.
6. Penn State: One of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season, Penn State went 11-3 and now returns 16 starters, including 10 on offense.
7. Washington: I think the Huskies lose to USC in the Pac-12 title game, but they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to get to the CFP again.
8. Oklahoma State: After watching Mason Rudolph and James Washington torch Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, I’m thinking that duo has a huge year. Getting Oklahoma and Kansas State at home helps.
9. LSU: The Tigers have one of the best RBs in the country (Derrius Grice). The last half of the schedule is brutal, but the first five games offer a chance to get into a groove.
10. Clemson: The defending champs will be very good again, but replacing Deshaun Watson at QB will be tough. They can achieve a seventh consecutive 10-win season.
11. Wisconsin: In the last three years, the Badgers have gone 11-3, 10-3 and 11-3. With 17 starters back and a relatively easy schedule (no dates with Ohio State or Penn State, and Michigan comes to Madison), another 10-win season is in store.
12. Stanford: Yeah, Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas are gone, but coach David Shaw is still here. He’s got 16 starters back and should reach 10 wins for the sixth time in his seven seasons.
13. Auburn: The Tigers might be the third-best team in the SEC West, but still among the best in the country. Seven starters are back on both sides of the ball and if QB Jarrett Stidham can play as well as he did at Baylor, they could crack the Top 10.
14. Michigan: Jim Harbaugh is a very good coach, and he’s got a lot of talent to work with, but the Wolverines are replacing most of their defense and most of their skill players on offense.
15. Florida: Two seasons in Gainesville for coach Jim McElwain has produced two SEC East titles. Fill some holes on defense, and the Gators could make it three in a row.
16. Kansas State: Bill Snyder almost always has a good, solid team. The Wildcats play good defense and they’ve got plenty of offense to win games.
17. Miami: The ‘Canes need to find a solid QB, but have a lot of talent back. They also avoid Clemson and Louisville in ACC play.
18. Louisville: Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back, but much of the offense is new. Coming in, the Cardinals don’t appear to be on the same level as Florida State and Clemson in the ACC, but they’re still very good.
19. Georgia: There’s a lot to like about the Bulldogs, including QB Jacob Eason and RB Nick Chubb. However, they’ve come into the last two seasons ranked in the Top 20, and been out of the rankings completely (without returning) by mid season.
20. South Florida: The Bulls have 16 starters back, including exceptional senior QB Quinton Flowers. They could run the table, in large part because the schedule is weak.
21. TCU: Last year (6-7) was a down year, as the Horned Frogs had to replace all but two starters on offense. Now, they have nine returning, giving them a great shot at a bounce-back season.
22. Virginia Tech: The Hokies are a good bet to win 8-10 games just about every year. There are plenty of holes to fill, but this year should be no different.
23. Tennessee: The Volunteers have gone 9-4 in back-to-back years. We’ll know before October if this team is any good, as they play Florida and Georgia early.
24. Colorado: Despite the Buffs going 10-4 and winning the Pac-12 South, it seems most pundits can’t forget the 10 consecutive losing seasons from 2006-15. I get it, but I also think the Buffs did enough last year, and have enough coming back this year, to warrant a spot in the preseason Top 25.
25. Oregon: The Ducks are no longer the national power they were a few years ago, but I think last year (4-8) was just a blip. There are 17 starters back, including RB Royce Freeman and sophomore QB Justin Herbert, who looked great in the second half of the year.
Didn’t quite make the cut – my next 5:
26. Texas: With a bunch of starters back and a new head coach (Tom Herman), the Longhorns are in just about every preseason Top 25. After three consecutive losing seasons, I want to see them prove they belong first.
27. Arkansas: Austin Allen’s return at QB could help the Razorbacks show improvement, from 7-6 a year ago. It’s tough to make up ground in the SEC West, however.
28. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are projected by many to have another great year, but only seven starters are back. QB Will Grier – the transfer from Florida – has to be special to get this team to 10 wins again.
29. Northwestern: The Wildcats have 15 starters back and don’t have to play Ohio State or Michigan. They open Big Ten play with back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Penn State, but after that, the schedule is very manageable.
30. Utah: Kyle Whittingham’s teams always play good defense and they usually run the ball well. That’s typically a recipe for success. If they get better QB play and can capitalize on adding former Oregon WR Darren Carrington this summer, the Utes could be in for a good year.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.