Re­al­ity check: Why each top team could fail

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

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.

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