With kickoff less than three weeks away, so begins the preseason ranking circus and college football predictions gone mad. After several months of a steady diet of offseason scandals and party-line quotes from coaches about positional battles, fans are salivating for some real structure.
The first major preseason college football poll was released Thursday, and while the Amway Coaches Poll has no pull in the national championship race, it does provide some insight into what those who know college football foresee in the upcoming season.
Some of the rankings were agreeable, some were questionable and others were downright hilarious. Here are the highlights.
That No. 1 Spot
Alabama rolled right into the top spot, understandably, but with teams like Clemson and Florida State right on its heels, the Tide have some nasty competition in the top five. And while every season for Alabama is championship or bust, Nick Saban should make a few glances in the rearview mirror. The Tide has 13 returning starters, but the Seminoles have 11 starters on offense returning and the Tigers have Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson plus seven offensive starters back.
So yeah, the top five is about to be survival of the “litest.”
The Great Michigan-Notre Dame Debate
Seeing these two programs at No. 8 and No. 9 was interesting, not only because they couldn’t be more different yet weirdly alike, but because both feel like dark horses in this year’s championship race. Big Blue loves the media attention garnered by the wacky antics of head coach and savior Jim Harbaugh (including those new threads from Jordan Brand), while the Irish tend to shy away from the spotlight, which hasn’t always been too kind.
But both programs deserve to be talked about. Michigan returns 15 starters and has a survivable schedule that could put it in contention for its first Big Ten title since 2004. Meanwhile, Notre Dame faces a rather daunting schedule, including a grudge rematch with Stanford, who killed any potential playoff dreams last year with one swift kick. When Notre Dame settles on a quarterback and shores up some things on both lines, it will be as formidable as always.
Iowa And Stanford Both Getting Too Much Love…
It’s funny to mention the two teams together after the Rose Bowl smack down, but this year’s version of both squads will look very different than they did in Pasadena. Stanford was picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll for the first time in its 56-year history. But, is it possible to be too high on a guy like Christian McCaffrey? Even head coach David Shaw doesn’t know if the WildCaff is real at times.
— Emily Van Buskirk (@Emilnem) July 15, 2016
Yes, he is amazing, and yes, he can probably leap tall buildings in a single bound, but a big part of his success last season was the offensive dynamic. Senior QB Kevin Hogan was reliable, and offensive linemen Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett made holes through which McCaffrey could move with ease. Now, Stanford has yet to name its starting QB, and both candidates, while talented, have yet to navigate a game at the collegiate level. The O-linemen have also not played together, creating a learning curve that the Cardinal will have to overcome quickly with a game against USC just two weeks in.
As for Iowa, talk about a tale of two seasons. The Hawkeyes rolled to the first 12-win season in school history and then lost a heartbreaking game to Michigan State and got blown out by the aforementioned Cardinal. Yes, senior QB C.J. Beathard is back at the helm, but the loss of center Austin Blythe and right guard Jordan Walsh could be a weakness teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin might expose. But I’ll say this, the Hawkeyes make a hell of a hype video.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) August 4, 2016
… While Washington’s Not Getting Enough Love
A West Coast team not getting respect? Color me not surprised. But really, the Huskies are no joke this year. The problem is they play in a division that once ran through Oregon and now leads straight through the Farm. But with all the attention on McCaffrey & Co., it’s possible Washington could fly by mostly undetected, quietly winning games with a more experienced Jake Browning and 16 starters back, including seven from the Pac-12’s best defense, which only gave up 4.9 yards per play and 18.8 points per game last year.
Washington lost six games last season by an average of just 8.8 points. Those days are gone. Those who know Pac-12 football know, but the rest of the world might try to sleep on Chris Petersen’s squad. We are putting you on official warning, so don’t do it.
Expect Florida To Make A Drake-esque Climb
As in, the Gators are starting at the bottom but will eventually be here. The only problem is that we are not sure exactly where here will be. The SEC is a difficult conference to navigate — I’m not going to say it is the most difficult because that is a debate for another time, but let’s just say the struggle is real down South. Florida faces a tough schedule with teams like Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Florida State on the docket, and the question at quarterback is making everyone in Gainesville nervous.
But the Gators return a solid defense despite the loss of Vernon Hargreaves. Watch out for defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, who notched 29 tackles and three sacks last season, as well as linebacker Jarrad Davis, who contributed 98 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. If Florida can figure out its field goal kicking situation on top of everything else, the Jim McElwain era will continue to soar.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.