Reality check: Why each top team could fail
Sorry to be a bummer at a time of the year usually reserved for hope and optimism, but there is a decent chance your favorite college team is going to be a big disappointment this season.
The preseason AP Top 25 poll is out. There were no real surprises at the top. Defending champion Clemson is No. 1 and Alabama is No. 2. The Tigers and Crimson Tide have alternated winning the last four national championships.
Georgia, which has had its national championship hopes dashed byB`ama the past two seasons, is No. 3. Oklahoma, working on a string of four straight Big 12 championships, is No. 4. Ohio State, with three Big Ten titles and a national championship in the last five years, landed at No. 5.
Over the last 10 years, about 40 percent of the teams that have started the season ranked end it unranked. Obviously, the better the start the more likely it is a team stays in the rankings, but 19 preseason top-10 teams have finished the season unranked in that span. And seven of those were in the top five. Three times in the last 10 seasons, including last year, three top-10 teams finished unranked.
So give a look at that top 10, rounded out by No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Michigan, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 10 Texas. At least one of them is fixin’ to break some hearts.
The first reality check of the season assesses the chances for each in the top 15 to tank.
No. 1 Clemson (15-0), vs. Ga. Tech, Thursday: The preseason poll started in 1950. Only two preseason No. 1 teams have failed to be in the final rankings (USC in 2012 was the last). The Tigers have history and, more importantly, Trevor Lawrence on their side.
No. 2 Alabama (14-1), vs. Duke in Atlanta, Aug. 31: The Crimson Tide have not finished outside the top 10 since Nick Saban’s first season. And he’s still the coach.
No. 3 Georgia (11-3), at Vanderbilt, Saturday: In 2013 and `15, Mark Richt’s Georgia teams were preseason top 10 and finished unranked. Kirby Smart was brought in to stop that nonsense.
No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2), vs. Houston, Sept. 1: The Sooners’ path to ruin: The offense regresses from historically great to merely good with Jalen Hurts and the defense remains bad.
No. 5 Ohio State (13-1) vs. FAU, Aug. 31: If Georgia transfer QB Justin Fields is a bust the Buckeyes aren’t in position to bail him out.
No. 6 LSU (10-3) vs. Georgia Southern, Aug. 31: OK, THIS is the year the Tigers open up the offense. What if that’s a bad idea?
No. 7 Michigan (10-3) vs. Middle Tennessee, Aug. 31: The optimism about the Wolverines has a lot to do with the uncertainty at Ohio State.
No. 8 Florida (10-3) vs. Miami in Orlando, Fla., Saturday: The Gators’ surge last season was inflated by a bowl victory against a Michigan team that sort of checked out.
No. 9 Notre Dame (12-1) at Louisville, Sept. 2: The Irish expect offensive improvement to compensate for some defensive regression. Or, it doesn’t and some of last season’s one-score victories against so-so opposition go the other way this year.
No. 10 Texas (10-4) vs. Louisiana Tech, Aug. 31: It wouldn’t be the first time “Texas is Back!” went bad.
No. 11 Oregon (9-4) vs. No. 16 Auburn in Arlington, Texas., Aug. 31: High expectations for a team that scored seven points in the RedBox Bowl and went 2-3 on the road last year.
No. 12 Texas A&M (9-4) vs Texas State, Thursday: The Aggies, along with South Carolina, are the first team in 44 years to have preseason Nos. 1-3 on the schedule. They are a little bad luck away from a 6-6 season.
No. 13 Washington (10-4) vs Eastern Washington, Aug. 31: New QB Jacob Eason has not played in a game in two years. He was a five-star recruit. But is he still?
No. 14 Utah (9-5) at BYU, Thursday: The Utes have been great at exceeding modest expectations. Meeting high ones can be a different deal.
No. 15 Penn State (9-4) vs. Idaho, Aug. 31: The Nittany Lions need lots of relatively inexperienced players, including at quarterback, to become stars and leaders.