The annual ritual of ranking teams in preseason, long since socially accepted even while bananas — it began in 1950 — saw perennial lead actor Ohio State (0-0) come in at No. 2, defending national champion Georgia (0-0) at No. 3 and, with mild curiosity, Clemson (0-0) hold down No. 4. That’s a guess about a return to the fore after Clemson underwent a horrifying 10-3 season in 2021, ending with a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl, not where its fans imagine it even if the food and the school color are similar.
With Notre Dame (0-0) at No. 5, that set up the rankings for a donnybrook in Columbus come Sept. 3, when the No. 5 Fighting Irish will visit the No. 2 Buckeyes for a rare meeting of Midwestern kingdoms. The two have met twice this century, both in Fiesta Bowls, both occasions for Notre Dame to wind up drubbed. Notre Dame, 2-4 vs. Ohio State lifetime, has not beaten the Buckeyes since a 7-2 win in 1936 built evidently on strong pitching.
In homage to a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in some circles, Texas A&M (0-0) claimed the No. 6 ranking, one spot higher than it had gotten in the coaches’ poll the week before. For further speculative merriment for the Aggies, loathed Texas (0-0) did not appear in the AP poll at all, getting stuck down in the “others receiving votes” category just behind Tennessee (0-0), which was the first team mentioned in that bunch. In the coaches’ poll, Texas had gotten a No. 18 ranking partly on the strength of a sole first-place vote by a sole football heretic.
Texas went 5-7 in 2021 and proved an obscure adage that money can’t buy happiness.
In one of the most curious rankings of the bunch, Utah (0-0) finished at No. 7, with the Utes a team to watch this season as they seek a second straight Pac-12 title and aim to spread bad vibes toward conference brethren Southern California and UCLA, which during summer announced plans either to move their universities to the Midwest and join the Big Ten, or to have their athletes fly an awful lot and join the Big Ten.
Respect went to Michigan (0-0) at No. 8, following the Wolverines’ 2021 season that saw them maul Ohio State, win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Last season, they had no preseason ranking at all, unless you count burial in seventh among others receiving votes.
The Big 12 then turned up at Nos. 9 and 10, with four-time playoff qualifier Oklahoma (0-0) at No. 9 and defending conference champion Baylor (0-0) at No. 10, a reflection of the work of one of the best fresh coaches going, second-year head man Dave Aranda.
Oregon (0-0), set both to battle and join Utah — battling for the Pac-12 title, joining in resentment of USC and UCLA — ranked No. 11, with Oklahoma State (0-0) at No. 12, a hopeful North Carolina State (0-0) at No. 13, USC (0-0) at No. 14 and Michigan State (0-0) at No. 15 after its heady 10-2 season under first-year coach Mel Tucker ended with a major bowl game win at the Peach. From No. 16 on, it went Miami, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU.
All 10 of those teams stood at 0-0 at the time of voting. They didn’t include LSU, which famously fell from its 15-0 perch of 2019 and starts under new coach Brian Kelly, whom it lured from Notre Dame.
In that mix, Cincinnati’s No. 23 ranking showed a respect for a program that in 2021 became the first non-Power Five sort to reach the College Football Playoff.
The placement of Alabama at the top proved as inarguable as it gets in a sport of arguments, even if Ohio State did get six first-place votes and Georgia, whose previous team beat Alabama in the national title game, did get three. The Crimson Tide got 54, and it reflected that it returns its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, the native Californian Bryce Young, and that it returns a player many college football intellectuals rate as superior to the excellent Young as well as to all other college players, linebacker Will Anderson Jr.
The Crimson Tide, whose non-title last year owed heavily to the late-season knee injuries of two frightening receivers, reached six of the first eight College Football Playoffs since the concept began in 2014-15, winning three times and finishing twice as runner-up, including in January. This time, it joins five other teams from the towering SEC in this speculative top 25.
From among those, it will play at No. 19 Arkansas on Oct. 1, at No. 21 Ole Miss on Nov. 12 and, in the most relished meeting, No. 6 Texas A&M on Oct. 8, months after Saban’s comments about A&M’s gaudy recruiting class led to a rift between him and A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher, who has never lost fewer than four games in a full A&M season, and whose blasting of Saban made his trip to Tuscaloosa look very much like potential comeuppance.