By their very nature, preseason polls are essentially guesses. They’re educated guesses, but since no football has been played, they should never be taken as ultimate predictors of success or failure.
They can, however, be gauges of the anticipation levels in various college towns throughout the country. But first and foremost, they should generate excitement, because their arrival means the season is near.
In that spirit, we present the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll, which features a lot of familiar names at the top but also some programs with truly unprecedented expectations.
Alabama will open at No. 1, claiming 63 of 65 first-place votes despite losing a lot of talent from last year’s title team. The voters clearly believe there are ready replacements to step in for the Crimson Tide, and Nick Saban has earned the benefit of the doubt with many voters thanks to his six national championships won in Tuscaloosa.
Clemson, the preseason No. 1 in each of the past two years, will open at No. 2. That could prove to be good news for Tigers fans, however, as Clemson opened second before its title run in 2018 but came up short in the playoff each of the past two years when starting at the top.
Oklahoma received the remaining two first-place votes but will open at No. 3. Ohio State and Georgia round out the top five. If the top five looks familiar, you shouldn’t be surprised. The quintet has occupied every spot in the top five in the past four preseason polls except when LSU edged Oklahoma for No. 5 last season.
Coming in right behind them are Texas A&M and Notre Dame, two teams that finished in the top five last season.
It is after the top seven that we start to encounter schools that don’t usually get this kind of attention in preseason balloting. Iowa State will enter the campaign ranked eighth, its highest starting position since USA TODAY assumed administration of the coaches poll in 1991. No. 10 Cincinnati also has its best preseason ranking, and No. 17 Indiana is in the preseason poll for the first time. Not to be overlooked, No. 9 North Carolina has its highest starting point since opening at No. 8 in 1997 during Mack Brown’s first coaching stint in Chapel Hill.
The Sun Belt Conference also is worthy of mention. The league has never had a team ranked in the preseason. This year, there are two: No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 24 Coastal Carolina.
On the other side of the coin, a couple of programs accustomed to lofty expectations will begin the season unranked. Michigan and Auburn received votes but not enough to crack The top 25. The Wolverines will open without a number for the first time since 2015, and the Tigers for the first time since 2016.
The SEC has the most representatives in the poll with six teams, thanks to Mississippi edging out Utah for the No. 25 spot. The Big Ten is next with five, followed by the Big 12 with four (Yes, Oklahoma and No. 19 Texas are still there for now). No. 16 Miami (Florida) gives the ACC a third ranked club. The Pac-12 also has a trio headed by No. 12 Oregon.
The preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll Top 25
4. Ohio State
6. Texas A&M
7. Notre Dame
8. Iowa State
9. North Carolina
14. Southern California
16. Miami (FL)
20. Penn State
22. Oklahoma State
24. Coastal Carolina