The first poll of the season is out, and to nobody's surprise, the defending champs are No. 1 and the SEC is well represented. The top 25 includes a staggering eight SEC teams, while the top 27 encompasses 10 including the entire West Division. Something's gotta give! Right? Let's get into the rankings.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes return loads of talent from their national champion team of a season ago, and with a schedule like this, a record worse than 11-1 would be shocking. No wonder they are the first unanimous preseason AP No. 1 in the poll's history. Urban Meyer's squad has its season-long cupcake-fest interrupted just once - by Michigan State. At this point, that penultimate game appears to be the only realistic obstacle to the Buckeyes posting an undefeated regular season.
Unimpressive schedules is certainly a theme at the top of the preseason rankings, as another team looking to follow up an excellent season faces a slate that isn't particularly daunting aside from its presumptive showdown, rematch, intergalactic championship bout with Baylor to end the season. But that's why they play the games, isn't it? Don't expect much of a letdown out of the Horned Frogs, however, as quarterback Trevone Boykin is a legitimate Heisman contender.
The Tide enter the season overrated in my opinion (gasp), considering they don't even have a quarterback that has taken a college snap. As always, there is top-tier talent all over the field, but the Tide faces about as brutal an SEC slate as it possibly could. Couple that with a testy opener against Wisconsin, and Alabama will have quite a row to hoe if it wants to earn a spot in the playoff at season's end.
Speaking of lack of experience under center, you could make a similar argument against Baylor. In the Bears' case though, a seemingly plug-and-play offense coupled with a schedule that doesn't provide a real opponent until Oct. 17 should be more forgiving to a new quarterback. As previously mentioned, Baylor seems to be on a collision course with TCU for the Big XII title if off-the-field issues don't get in the way. Hey, Art Briles!
5. Michigan State
Sparty faces basically the same laughable Big Ten slate as Ohio State, but they are at least stepping outside the conference for a Week 2 matchup with Oregon *wipes drool off keyboard*. A win in a game like that would go a long way in helping to build a case for a playoff spot, which the Spartans should remain in contention for throughout the season.
Unlike most of the teams in these rankings, we will learn a good bit about Auburn on the season's opening weekend when the Tigers square off against Louisville in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Returns are good on new quarterback Jeremy Johnson, and Gus Malzahn scooped up Will Muschamp to rebuild a defense that has quality pieces in place. Auburn has to run the SEC West gauntlet of course, but its three highest ranked conference opponents all come to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have a real shot at the SEC crown, but can they get there with less than two losses? Can anybody?
The Ducks went quarterback hunting in the FCS and emerged with what appears to be a great fit in former Eastern Washington star Vernon Adams. I mean, he's already got a win over Oregon State on his resume. What's not to love? He faces his former team in Week 1 then has to lead the Ducks on the road at Michigan State. What a way to welcome your new signal-caller. Oregon has built a winning program, but the Pac-12's depth could provide a stiff challenge to the Ducks repeating as conference champs.
Hopes are high in L.A. that the Trojans can reassert themselves as a national power starting this season, but it's hard to know what to expect out of such a volatile program. The hype is warranted though, as Cody Kessler seems poised to throw for a million yards and there is talent to burn on the defensive side. If head coach Steve Sarkisian can stay sober enough, he could potentially lead his talented team to the College Football Playoff.
The Bulldogs drew Alabama in addition to permanent rival Auburn to form a tough crossover schedule with the SEC West this season. The quarterback situation in Athens isn't doing much to help qualify Georgia as a top-10 team, but they do have arguably the best running back in the country in Nick Chubb. The SEC East could come down to Georgia's Oct. 10 trip to Tennessee if the Vols live up to their suddenly lofty expectations.
10. Florida State
Dalvin Cook's not guilty verdict gave Florida State a huge boost in the final weeks of the preseason, and he will be an invaluable asset to whichever quarterback Jimbo Fisher tabs as his starter. The Seminoles' relatively easy schedule largely comes down to two road trips - Georgia Tech and Clemson - that will decide whether the they will be a national contender again this season.
11. Notre Dame
Overrated. Plain and simple. This was a 7-5 team last season, and while the Irish should be better than that, having them on the periphery of the top 10 before proving they belong there seems to be pretty clear name recognition bias. Quarterback Malik Zaire did enough to supplant Everett Golson at the end of last season, but he hasn't played enough for me to buy in to Notre Dame this high in the poll.
This feels about right for the Tigers, although recent transgressions give some reason for pause (paws?). Clemson's offensive ceiling is high with Deshaun Watson at the helm, but time will tell whether the inevitable step back on defense will be minor, or enough to cost them games against top-tier opponents. Depth is an issue at certain spots, but where there is a Deshaun there is a way ... or something.
Poll Problems' arch nemesis from 2014 is apparently back to torture us again with benefit-of-the-doubtedness again. It appears that the general consensus has dubbed the Pac 12 a conference rivaling the SEC in depth and quality, so despite the Bruins tabbing a true freshman as their starting quarterback (a talented one, but still), we once again find them hanging around in the top 15.
LSU is an interesting case entering the season because it's hard to find anyone with a middle-ground opinion on the Tigers. It seems everybody thinks they will either be national title contenders (Looking at you, Kirk Herbstreit), or just some also-ran in the SEC West. I'll reserve judgment at this point, because I have my questions, but Leonard Fournette can cure a lot of ills.
15. Arizona State
Darkhorse alert. The Pac 12 South should be all kinds of entertaining this season, and the Sun Devils could emerge with a playoff berth if things break their way. Quarterback Mike Bercovici hasn't started a full season, but he slung it for 510 yards (including this inexplicable Hail Mary) in a win at Southern Cal last season, so he is certainly capable of putting up big numbers. Couple that with an improved defense, and this is a squad to keep an eye on.
16. Georgia Tech
It may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe Georgia Tech is underrated. Put away your vitriol for the Jackets and appreciate that they will field a tough defense and possess perhaps the best system fit at quarterback in the entire country. Sure, they lost a ton in the backfield, but good quarterback and offensive line play in Paul Johnson's offense makes the production from those spots much easier to replicate. Wide receiver is a concern as they must replace the big bodies of Deandre Smelter and Darren Waller, but if the Jackets find competent pass catchers for Justin Thomas, look out.
17. Ole Miss
Ole Miss was probably a year ahead of schedule with its early surge last season, and it showed as they faded down the stretch. Hugh Freeze's landmark 2013 class - Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche, et al. - are now juniors, and they have none other than Swag Kelly (potentially) trying to lead them to the promised land. They get two warm-up games before heading to Tuscaloosa in Week 3, where they can stake their claim at legitimacy against the revenge-minded Tide.
Pundits are high on the Hog this season, and the Arkansas running game is the reason. Despite losing running back Jonathan Williams to injury, the Razorbacks should still boast one of the most potent ground games in the nation thanks to Alex Collins, who is easily a threat to rush for 2,000 yards. Brandon Allen has improved steadily at quarterback and poses enough of a threat to keep boxes relatively unstacked. The problem (and why the Hogs are overrated) is that a defense that came on strong at the end of 2014 lost too much, and Arkansas may not be able to stop anybody.
We all know how the bowl game went last season, but the Sooners do return a top-flight running back in Samaje Perine and a new (presumably better) quarterback, as Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield beat out Train Wreck Trevor to hopefully put some punch back into the Oklahoma passing game. The Sooners are the clear-cut number three team in the Big XII until they prove otherwise.
Similarly, Sconny is running a distant third in the Big Ten. Fortunately, the Badgers reside in the decidedly weaker division of the conference and don't face Ohio State or Michigan State in the regular season, so if they can hold serve against a soft schedule, they'll get a shot at the Buckeyes or Spartans for all the marbles at season's end. An offense with Joel Stave at the helm can only go so far, but Corey Clement will pick up right where Melvin Gordon left off running the ball. We'll get an immediate assessment of Wisconsin when it opens the season against Alabama.
Desmond Howard's national champion pick (???) will have to navigate a loaded Pac 12 if that bold prediction is ever going to come to fruition. The Cardinal are always stout defensively, but will quarterback Kevin Hogan have enough weapons to put up points with do-it-all playmaker Ty Montgomery gone? They have an interesting game at Northwestern to open the season that will shed some light.
The Wildcats enter the season very underrated after making an appearance in the Pac 12 Championship Game a year ago. They return one of the best quarterback/running back pairings in the country in sophomores Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson, and they boast a legit Heisman candidate defensive player in linebacker Scooby Wright. Winning the loaded Pac 12 South will be difficult, but Arizona should be a top-15 team.
23. Boise State
The only Group of Five team to appear in the first poll, Boise State knocked off Pac 12 runner-up Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl to tie a bow on a 12-2 season in 2014. The Broncos have a tough assignment replacing a star quarterback and running back, but they bring back a ton on defense to ease the transition. Even without Chris Petersen running the program, Boise doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
It's amazing that Missouri has managed to win the SEC East the last two seasons, especially considering how mediocre the Tigers were last season. It's hard to see that reign of terror continuing in 2015, but nobody expected them to do much the last two years either. Still, the talent disparity between Georgia/Tennessee and Missouri is significant, and it's hard to envision the Tigers finishing better than third in that division.
Expectations are high in Knoxville as Butch Jones appears to have the program headed back to prominence. The Vols return plenty of talent and would have you believe they are ready to challenge Georgia (er ... Missouri, technically) for SEC East sumpremacy. Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd should team to make the offense potent, and an explosive front seven should wreak enough havoc to have Tennessee very much in the thick of things in the SEC.