The sun will rise in the east again this morning, despite its brief Monday hiatus. Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press college football poll once again.
So is all right with the world?
The preseason ranking matters from a perception standpoint, if only because it indicates just how entrenched Alabama is in the collective consciousness of college football. The Crimson Tide is perceived as so powerful that it is the default choice as No. 1. The logic, if you can accuse college football reporters of being logical, is that any other team that wants to be No. 1 is going to have to go through Alabama at some point. Florida State, which starts out at No. 3, gets its chance a week from Saturday. Others will get the opportunity later, although the Crimson Tide’s SEC schedule contains only three ranked teams: No. 12 Auburn, No. 13 LSU and No. 23 Tennessee. That’s less daunting than the league schedule usually is, but it could always turn tougher. If Auburn beats Clemson, it probably becomes a Top 5 team in the ensuing poll. Plus, the post-season — Alabama’s annual goal — would include, if all goes as UA hopes, three more ranked teams.
The most impressive outcome of Alabama being ranked at the top of the no-one-has-played-yet poll is that it extends the Nick Saban streak of being ranked No. 1 at some point to an entire decade. The achievement is staggering. No other dynasty in college football history since 1950 (the start of “modern” polling) comes close. The great Miami Hurricane run of the late ’80s-early ’90s — you remember, the run that Alabama ended in New Orleans — had seven such seasons, and won the title four times. Alabama has four titles in its nine-year run and is looking for a fifth. The AP poll is only one data point among many. But expect this statistic to be cited in all future “greatest coach of all time” debates.
There were a few other interesting aspects in the first poll.
Alabama was the only SEC team in the Top 10. The Big Ten, despite its dismal postseason performance in 2016, had three (Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, plus Michigan at No. 11), an indication of just how the winds of perception have changed in two years. It’s also why, aside from Alabama-Florida State, the Florida-Michigan game may be the most intriguing matchup of the first weekend.
Oregon didn’t make the preseason poll for the first time in a decade, indicating just how far the Ducks have fallen from a national title appearance just three seasons ago. This year, they aren’t even considered in the Top Three in their own division, so Willie Taggart has a lot of work to do. On the other hand, South Florida — Taggart’s previous job — is the only Group of Five team in the poll and has a chance to go undefeated. So there is hope in Duckland.
Is there the same hope in Knoxville? The Tennessee Volunteers made the poll, even if almost everyone — including a segment of their own fan base — doesn’t expect that will last. If it doesn’t, will Butch Jones last?
Nick Saban, meanwhile, is far from such questions, and is annoyed by the ranking. No topic has pushed his angry button like “expectations” in recent weeks. So he now has a full tank of jet fuel with which to ignite.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.