AJ McCarron

Preseason polls mean nothing, as last year taught us. And yet it’s no surprise that Alabama are close to consensus number one preseason pick to win the national title, leading five teams in the top 13 from the SEC according to the coaches around the league.

Any chances of unseating the rules? Ohio State got three first place votes based on their perfect 2012 season, while Oregon and Stanford will likely finish on top of the Pac-12, but it might not be with an undefeated season, which means they might have to settle for a lesser BCS Bowl, like last year.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (58 first place votes) – The national champions in three of the last four seasons and the defending ones are coming off a 13-1 season, in which their only loss was to Texas A&M. They beat Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS championship game. They open the season playing Virginia Tech, followed by visiting Texas A&M.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (3) – The probation is over, and the Buckeyes are hoping that their perfect season (12-0) with Urban Meyer can develop into more than just Big Ten domination, but hopefully a BCS championship game. Their first big game of the season will be in week 3, playing California.

3. Oregon Ducks  – Without Chip Kelly for the first time in four years, the Ducks are still the best in the Pac-12, even though they didn’t finish with the conference crown last season due to that loss against Stanford. They made up for it in the Fiesta Bowl, beating Kansas State 35-17 and finishing the year at 12-1.

4. Stanford Cardinal – Maybe the best defense in the nation is going to do a bit better than “just” the Rose Bowl next season. They finished 12-2 last year, beating Wisconsin for the Rose Bowl crown.

5. Georgia Bulldogs – Keep losing in the SEC championship game, and last year they were about five yards short from completing a huge upset over Alabama. They’re returning most of their offensive power but lost a lot of pieces on defense. They finished last season at 12-2, beating Nebraska at the Capital One Bowl. They have a tough schedule to try and beat – visiting Clemson and playing LSU, along with their usual SEC East rivals.

6. Texas A&M Aggies (1) – Before all of the problem Johnny Manziel has been causing this offseason, the Aggies were mentioned as national title contenders. Now? Not so much. They finished the season at 12-2 with a devastating win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. This year will be defined by how they do against Alabama in week 2.

7. South Carolina Gamecocks – They were on the crisp of making a BCS game, finally, last season, but finished 11-2, settling for an incredible game against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Their visit to Athens in week 2 might be their biggest and most important game of the season.

8. Clemson Tigers – After beating LSU at the Chick-Fil-A bowl last season, expectations are high for the Tigers. Not just beating Florida State and South Carolina, but actually seeing chances to play for the national title, if they can get by Georgia (at Death Valley) in week 1.

9. Louisville Cardinals – Another team many people are high on after they beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl. With Teddy Bridgewater calling the shots, there are many expecting the Cardinals to finish the season undefeated, as they don’t  play a single team ranked in the top 39 of the preseason coaches poll.

10. Florida Gators – Last season was slightly misleading about the Gators, who did finish 11-2, but lost to Louisville in their BCS game and looked a lot less impressive than other SEC powerhouses. Have to play at LSU and South Carolina this season.

11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – No one expected them to do so well last season, but they finished the regular season undefeated, with a few close calls along the way. Six of their players were taken in the draft, and this team will be weaker this season, with their season ending game, at Stanford, looking like their biggest test.

12. Florida State Seminoles – Each year the Semioles feel they can run the table, and yet a weird loss to some surprising team (North Carolina State last year) ends their dreams of national championships. They did win the Orange Bowl last season, but playing at Clemson and Florida this year means an ACC title is the best they can hope for.

13. LSU Tigers – Not too much expectations from the Tigers to do something meaningful in the SEC this season. The TCU game is trickier than most people think, while playing at Georgia and Alabama smells like a two-loss recipe.

14. Oklahoma State Cowboys – The Cowboys finished last season at 8-5, beating Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl 58-14. Expectations are slightly higher this year, but games at WVU, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Texas make for one brutal schedule.

15. Texas Longhorns – Texas are coming off a 9-4 season which is by no way satisfying in Austin, especially when another blowout loss against Oklahoma (63-21) is still fresh in the memory, making their win over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl less celebratory than usual. Games in Provo are never easy, but the rest of the schedule, if they can get over the Oklahoma hump, is manageable.

16. Oklahoma Sooners – No longer early preseason favorites like in recent years. A new quarterback, and being demolished by strong defenses last season (Kansas State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M),  mean that another 3-loss season isn’t going to be too much of a surprise, or a disappointment.

17. Michigan Wolverines – Another team heading in a new direction with a new quarterback, one that’s a bit more natural at the position than Denard Robinson. The Wolvernies finished 8-5 last season, losing four games to teams that were in the AP top 10. This year, there are no games against Alabama, but playing at Michigan State or against Notre Dame and Ohio State isn’t going to be easy.

18. Nebraska Cornhuskers – The Huskers had a chance to win their first Big Ten title but got crushed by Wisconsin in the conference title game, and outplayed by Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, ending the season with four losses. This year includes five consecutive home games to kick off the season, and not playing Ohio State or Wisconsin should help.

19. Boise State Broncos – Last season two games and losses by 4 and 2 points stopped the Broncos from another perfect season, settling for the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, winning it once more. They open the season at Washington, but away games against the Aggies and BYU are no walk in the park.

20. TCU Horned Frogs – Finished their first Big 12 year at 7-6, including 4-5 in conference play, losing six of their final nine games, including the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Michigan State. Expectations are higher this season, but opening the season against LSU, and a brutal road schedule makes for a very slim chance of doing better than last year by much.

21. UCLA Brunis – Being in a weak division got the Bruins into the Pac-12 title game once again, losing once more. They finished the year at 9-5, being destroyed by Baylor in the bowl game. Road games against Nebraska, Utah, Stanford and Oregon, not to mention USC, mean it’s going to be a very tough road to repeat the “achievement” of last season.

22. Northwestern Wildcats – Northwestern had five consecutive wins last season before losing three times in five weeks, finishing the season in the Gator Bowl, beating Mississippi State. For once, expectations are high in Evanston, but playing Ohio State at home while road trips to California, Wisconsin and Nerbaska don’t bode well for a special season.

23. Wisconsin Badgers – A change of head coach and losing Montee Ball means that the Rose Bowl may be a bit out of reach for the Badgers this season, not to mention road trips to Arizona State and Ohio State.

24. USC Trojans – They were the number one team in the country heading into last season, but finished it at 7-6, not beating a single ranked team, and losing to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Lane Kiffin needs something better to keep his job, but playing in South Bend and Oregon State seem like pretty big tests.

25. Oregon State Beavers – They were in the mix for a BCS berth until losing to Washington and Stanford in the space of two weeks, finishing the season at 9-4, losing to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. They have USC and Stanford at home, but also have to play the Civil War on the road.

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