Alabama … again?
You could almost hear the nation’s collective groan — outside of Tuscaloosa, that is — when The Associated Press released its preseason top 25 rankings. Sure enough, the Crimson Tide were the No. 1 team. Alabama, going for its fifth national title in eight seasons, certainly looms as a major favorite to lift college football’s choice hardware on Jan. 9 in Tampa.
But the preseason is just a starting point.
I’m not feeling a season of Alabama dominance.
I’m not sensing a wire-to-wire performance.
I’m expecting … utter chaos. I think this could be one of the craziest seasons on record.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a two-loss team reached the final four. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a two-loss national champion.
Consider that for a moment: The AP has been doing polls since 1936. Only twice in that span has a two-loss team finished No. 1 — Minnesota (8-2) in 1960, when polls didn’t reflect bowl-game results, and LSU (12-2) in 2007, perhaps the most upset-riddled campaign ever.
The unpredictable possibilities are a product of the College Football Playoff, which has done away with the computer nonsense and placed a priority on the selection committee’s eyeball test.
Whom have you played? Where did you play them? Those are now pertinent questions for everyone, especially unbeaten teams that offer only a cream-puff schedule.
It’s not enough to play in a difficult conference. You have to be up for a challenge.
That’s why we’re rewarded with an opening weekend of unmatched excellence — Alabama-USC, North Carolina-Georgia, LSU-Wisconsin, Clemson-Auburn, Oklahoma-Houston, Notre Dame-Texas and Florida State-Ole Miss.
That’s why we’ll see Tennessee facing Virginia Tech before an expected 150,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway in Week 2, along with Ohio State at Oklahoma in Week 3.
That’s why the Florida Gators — after an incredible 25 consecutive years of never leaving the state for a non-conference game — will open next season against Michigan in a neutral-site matchup.
As delicious as all these great games are for fans, they are bound to provide heartburn for coaches. Invincible, unbeatable teams? Hardly. Every program has its share of formidable challenges.
Power in the sport appears to be widely distributed. Seven teams — from four different conferences — got first-place votes in the AP’s preseason poll. Seven!
After last season’s opening week of games, the SEC had an outrageous 10 teams in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.
This year, the SEC has six teams ranked in the preseason, while the Pac-12 has five. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 each have four, while an independent (Notre Dame) and an American Athletic Conference team (Houston) also are in the opening top 25.
It’s balanced … and a portent of carnage in the coming months.
Alabama has the first No. 1 perch. If it goes the distance, this will be a well-earned national title. Its opener is against USC. There are SEC games against Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and the heated rivalry with Auburn, so trap doors are everywhere.
Which team will be left standing at the end? Alabama? Clemson? Michigan? Ohio State? Oklahoma? LSU? Florida State? Someone not even in the preseason top 10?
It’s anyone’s guess.
Before the first kickoff, this already seems like one of the most exciting college football seasons we have seen.
So much of the landscape will be reshaped … before midnight on Labor Day.
The Tides — some of them Crimson, others wearing different colors — are likely to shift many times before this roller-coaster ride ends in early December.
It is a season of unpredictable excitement. Let it ride.