Here is this year’s Associated Press Top 25 college football pre-season picks. The top 10 picks are exactly the same teams in the Top 25 Coaches Poll, but in a slightly different order (numbers 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are in the exact same order in the Coaches Poll).
Some commentary is added on my part to stir the pot and elicit response from you the reader. You can email me at:
If you see things differently and want to spout off with a clever comment like “I’ll be dead before Tulane wins a national football championship” (that would make two of us), send me an email. I may publish it so watch what you say.
So here’s how the nation’s sportswriters and sportscasters see the upcoming top picks:
1) Florida State – This is hardly a surprise. Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles ran the table last year at 14-0, winning the national championship 34-31over Auburn with 13 seconds left on a 2-yard touchdown pass, breaking the SEC’s 7-year grip on the national title. Florida won in 2006 and 2008, LSU won in 2007, Alabama won in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and Auburn won in 2010. Florida State set a national record last year by scoring 723 points (51+ PPG), and returns 13 starters and the Heisman Trophy winner, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, now a sophomore.
2) Alabama – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has won 3 national titles in 5 years. The 2 years they did not win the title they were the AP pre-season #1 favorite. Saban has lost only 7 games in 5 years and, yes, Alabama is a powerhouse that attracts players like bees to honey.
3) Oregon – Former Coach Chip Kelly won 46 games in 4 years and turned Oregon into a national contender before bolting to the NFL and Philadelphia Eagles. His replacement, Mark Helfrich, inherited 15 starters his first year and went 11-2 with a team that thought they should have been in the national championship game. Oregon lost to Stanford and Arizona last year and barely beat Oregon State. The Ducks may have a higher opinion of themselves than they deserve. Helfrich and his Ducks host Michigan State after opening against South Dakota, a double-A team that went 4-8 last year. We will see how Oregon holds up against Michigan State.
4) Oklahoma – Bob Stoops and his Sooners went 11-2 last year and beat Alabama 45-31 in the BCS Sugar Bowl. The BCS system is over this year, replaced by a 4-team playoff selected by a panel of real people and not polls and computer rankings. Oklahoma just may have a shot to be in the Top 4 when the regular season ends. The Sooners have won 41 straight games when leading at the half; only Oregon has a longer streak at 60.
5) Ohio State – Coach Urban Meyer won 24 straight games at Ohio State over two seasons before the Buckeyes lost their last two last year to Michigan State 34-24 for the Big Ten title, and to Clemson 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. The season has started badly for the Buckeyes as senior quarterback Braxton Miller will be out for the rest of the year after reinjuring his shoulder. Meyer is a great coach (he won 2 national titles at Florida), but it hurts to lose your star quarterback.
6) Auburn – Coach Gus Malzahn was 13 seconds from winning the national title last year in his first year at Auburn. He went 12-2, beating Alabama and losing to LSU before taking Florida State to the limit in the national championship game. Can he get that close again? He returns 14 starters, but will be on the road against both Georgia and Alabama. Good luck with that, especially since Auburn is in the SEC West Division with Alabama.
7) UCLA – Jim Mora starts his 3rd year as coach of the Bruins. Last year marked the first time in 16 years that the Bruins beat Southern Cal (USC) and won a bowl game in their last two games (42-12 over Virginia in the Sun Bowl). Mora returns 17 starters, 9 on offense and 8 on defense, and he aims to win the Pac-12 South Division ahead of USC. UCLA might do exactly that.
8) Michigan State – Disclaimer: I have competed for Michigan State in the Big Ten, and I graduated from Michigan State on time (within 4 years) with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this about Michigan State: The Spartans have flirted with becoming a premier national power in the hunt for the national title, and now they are high enough up the AP Top 25 Pre-Season Poll to make a bid to be 1 of the final 4 teams in this year’s first 4-team playoff system (the BCS system is no more). Michigan State was ranked #2 nationally in Total Defense last year and #3 in Scoring Defense.
Given their prior performance over the years, I would not have bet even 10 cents that the Spartans would go 13-1 last season, beat Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in the regular season, win the Big Ten title, beat #5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and finish the season ranked #3 in the nation, ahead of #4 South Carolina, #5 Missouri, #6 Oklahoma, #7 Alabama, #8 Clemson and #9 Oregon. But there it is.
I am not the least surprised that they start this year ranked #8 in the pre-season poll, behind Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn and UCLA, all schools that enjoy the perception of having more prestigious football programs. Only the Michigan State Spartans and Coach Mark Dantonio can change this perception.
9) South Carolina – Coach Steve Spurrier returns 14 starters to an 11-2 team that beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl last year. The Gamecocks must get by Georgia and Missouri in the SEC East, and play away games at Auburn and Clemson before even getting shot at Alabama, Auburn or LSU for the SEC title. This is a little like taking on a tiger with one hand tied behind your back.
10) Baylor – The Bears were 11-2 last year, beat Texas, got waxed by Oklahoma State, and lost to #15 Central Florida 52-42 in a Fiesta Bowl game with no defense. Here is all you need to know about the Bears: They don’t recruit defenders and coach defense at Baylor, only offense. Baylor was #1 nationally in Total Offense last year, #2 in Scoring Offense and #2 in Team Passing Efficiency, and #28 in Total Defense and #36 in Scoring Defense. In other words, Baylor is all offense and not enough defense, and until Coach Art Briles does something about it, the Bears will be going nowhere 98 miles an hour.
Note: The chances of any team ranked #11 or lower winning the national title is slim to none. The exceptions are few; that’s why I am not wasting ink on any of them. The team with the best chance may be Georgia. The team not even in the Top 25 with a totally unexpected chance just might be Florida. Florida State from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) may have won the national title last year, but you do not want to get into a bragging contest with the SEC (that’s the Southeastern Conference for the uninitiated).
17) Notre Dame
18) Ole Miss
19) Arizona State
20) Kansas State
21) Texas A&M
23) North Carolina