Heresy, I realize.
It’s akin to denouncing the Easter Bunny or suggesting Beyoncé has a flaw.
But, yes, I did not have Alabama at the top of my preseason Associated Press Top 25 ballot, which almost certainly means the Crimson Tide will run the table, win their sixth national championship in 10 years and Nick Saban will complain about the confetti mussing up his hair in Santa Clara next January.
I root for excellence, but I grow a little weary of Alabama being the sole standard-bearer for college football. It’s just not much fun voting the Crimson Tide No. 1 year after year. It’s like voting for Putin.
Which is why I cast my lot with Clemson. With their entire front seven back on defense, I might have put the Tigers at No. 1 even without any offensive stars. Their defense will dominate.
I stuck Alabama at a lowly No. 2, followed by Georgia and Ohio State.
Last year, of course, Alabama had to beg, borrow and — some might say — steal votes from the College Football Playoff selection committee for a spot in the Final Four because, hey, it wasn’t even the best team in its own conference. Georgia and Auburn settled that SEC debate.
As we know now, the Tide eked into the foursome ahead of Ohio State (much as the Buckeyes unfairly squeezed out Penn State the year before), and you know the rest. But Alabama did deserve it.
Last season was interesting in that we had a CFP interloper in Georgia in the title game under Saban disciple Kirby Smart, not that the Bulldogs are any stranger to prime time. And that championship game in Atlanta was big fun. Only a program like Alabama can literally break in a freshman quarterback after halftime, miss a game-winning field goal try in the final three seconds, give up a humongous sack in overtime after Georgia had scored first and still win the game.
Ho hum. Another title.
Anyone else tired of Alabama?
In truth, Clemson’s either the new Alabama or 1A to Alabama’s 1. The Dallas Cowboys are jealous of Dabo Swinney’s defensive front, which may supply three top 10 picks next spring, and the Tigers have skill personnel out their ears with a freshman quarterback pushing senior Kelly Bryant.
On Clemson’s heels in my Top 25 ballot, I’ve got Alabama, which is breaking in an entirely new secondary and lost both an outside linebacker and an offensive tackle to injuries recently.
Georgia comes in at No. 3 and could well return to the final game if Smart can replace a few dynamic playmakers like Roquan Smith and his great running back tandem. He definitely has the soft, favorable schedule working for him, and sophomore running back D’Andre Swift did average 7.6 yards a carry last year in relief.
Ohio State rounds out my projections for the Final Four, Urban Meyer’s turmoil notwithstanding. Heck, maybe they don’t need a head coach with their two-headed monster of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in the backfield and Nick Bosa spearheading the defensive front.
My next six in the top 10 are Michigan State, Wisconsin, Washington, Miami, Oklahoma and Penn State. No real sleepers there. And I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if those first three squeeze into the Final Four.
Mike Dantonio is a terrific coach who doesn’t get enough credit, and he has a wealth of experience with 19 Spartan starters back.
The Badgers boast one of the best two running backs in college football in Jonathan Taylor, who ran for almost 2,000 yards, and quarterback Alex Hornibrook won MVP honors at the Manning Passing Academy this summer. The line? Huge and angry.
Chris Petersen has remade the Huskies into an annual power, and he has an awesome tandem in four-year starter Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin to go with a stout defensive line.
My ballot includes five Big 12 teams, but not Texas, which made the poll at No. 23 without my vote. I just think the Longhorns need to prove themselves before I buy in. With their front-loaded schedule, we should know the answer by mid-October.
Behind the Sooners (ninth) in my calculation — and I do think it’s very wide open in the Big 12 — are West Virginia (15th), Kansas State (19th), Iowa State (21st) and TCU (23rd). OU lost a ton, but it’s earned trust after winning the league nearly every year.
The Mountaineers have the requisite elite quarterback in Will Grier, who is 7-3 in games he has started and finished. Bill Snyder has a pair of effective quarterbacks. I do not doubt Matt Campbell, who will ride the magic of Kyle Kempt and the muscle of David Montgomery in Ames. Gary Patterson has few peers in coaching, and if he can develop an offensive line the Frogs will certainly be in the mix.
My sleepers include Central Florida at 14th, but I’m not totally sold on rookie head coach Josh Heupel, and Utah at 25th. Don’t sleep on Stanford either with Bryce Love.
In the first four years of the CFP, 10 of the 16 qualifiers showed up ranked fifth or better in the preseason AP Poll. Only four CFP teams have come from outside the top 10 of the initial poll.
So there you have it, a little insight to the upcoming season or more likely just stuff to line your birdcage.
Kirk Bohls’ AP Top 25 preseason ballot. Numbers in parenthesis are where that team ended up on the AP poll:
1. Clemson (2nd)
2. Alabama (1st)
3. Georgia (3rd)
4. Ohio State (5th)
5. Michigan State (11th)
6. Wisconsin (4th)
7. Washington (6th)
8. Miami (8th)
9. Oklahoma (7th)
10. Penn State (10th)
11. Stanford (13th)
12. Auburn (9th)
13. Boise State (22nd)
14. Central Florida (21st)
15. West Virginia (17th)
16. Virginia Tech (20th)
17. Notre Dame (12th)
18. Mississippi State (18th)
19. Kansas State (Not ranked)
20. USC (15th)
21. Iowa State (Not ranked)
22. Florida State (19th)
23. TCU (16th)
24. Michigan (14th)
25. Utah (Not ranked)