Alabama 1st, Georgia 5th in first AP preseason poll

NEW YORK — Alabama will begin this season the way it ended the last two — No. 1.

Nick Saban’s two-time defending national

champions are top-ranked in The Associated Press preseason college

football poll, with the Crimson Tide trying to become the first team to

win three straight national titles.

Much like the BCS championship game

against Notre Dame, the vote was an Alabama landslide. The Tide received

58 of 60 first-place votes from the media panel Saturday to easily

outdistance No. 2 Ohio State. Alabama matched Florida in 2009 for the

highest percentage of first-place votes received in the 63-year history

of the preseason rankings.

The Buckeyes received one first-place vote.

Oregon is No. 3, followed by Stanford and Georgia, which received the other first-place vote.

Notre Dame, coming off a 42-14 loss in the BCS championship game to Alabama, is No. 14.

Alabama won its record ninth AP national

championship last season, third BCS title in the last four years under

Saban, and became the first team to win back-to-back BCS championships.

The Tide is AP preseason No. 1 for the

fourth time, and first since 2010. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the

preseason poll each of the last two seasons. The only time has Alabama

started and finished No. 1 was 1978, when Bear Bryant led the Crimson

Tide to the fourth of its five national championships with him as coach.

Now Saban’s Tide is trying to accomplish

something Bear’s boys never could. Twice Alabama won back-to-back

championships under Bryant, but couldn’t get the third.

Saban is hoping senior stars such as

quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Ed

Stinson and guard Anthony Steen have enough memories of what went wrong

for the 2010 Alabama team to avoid it happening in 2013.

“You’re in a position here where we

have a lot of players that really haven’t lost much,” Saban said earlier

this week. “They have to really want to be good for the sake of being

good.

Alabama is 49-5 over the past four seasons, with three of those losses coming in `10.

“Most other teams are out there saying

we’ve got something to prove,” Saban said. “Well, this team has

something to prove. It’s a lot more difficult not to be a little bit

complacent, not to keep the same accountability to being successful

that’s necessary. You’ve got to challenge yourself every day. You’ve got

to challenge each other.”

Since the poll started in 1936, 10 times has a school has won consecutive AP championships.

The Tide’s task: complete the hat trick.

Alabama will also be trying to run the

Southeastern Conference’s streak of national championships to eight. For

the second straight year, half the top 10 teams to start the season are

from the SEC. Joining Alabama and Georgia are South Carolina at No. 6,

Texas A&M at No. 7 and Florida at No. 10.

The Tide and Aggies meet Sept. 14 in

College Station, Texas. A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel

handed Alabama its only loss last year. Whether Manziel will be

eligible for the rematch remains in question while the NCAA investigates

the Aggies’ quarterback. ESPN has reported Manziel is under

investigation for being paid to sign autographs.

No. 8 Clemson and No. 9 Louisville, led

by two other Heisman-contender quarterbacks, round out the top 10. Tajh

Boyd and Clemson take on Georgia at home in Week 1 and are the

favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Teddy Bridgewater and

the Cardinals are the heavy favorites to get back to the BCS for the

second straight year out of the newly renamed American Athletic

Conference.

McCarron also makes most of the

preseason Heisman contender lists. He passed for 2,933 yards and 30

touchdowns with only three interceptions last season. Now in his third

season as a starter, McCarron is the face of the Tide.

“Last year there were other people on

the offense that had a lot of leadership qualities about them. So it

really wasn’t quite as important for (McCarron) to always be that guy,

even though his position lends itself to that,” Saban said. “I think

that’s a role he can be very good at and it will be important for our

team that he is good at it.”

The second 10 in the preseason rankings

starts with No. 11 Florida State. No. 12 LSU gives the SEC six teams in

the rankings, more than any other conference. The Big Ten and Pac-12

both have five.

The Big 12 has four teams ranked, all

between Nos. 13-20, starting with Oklahoma State. Texas is No. 15,

Oklahoma is No. 16 and TCU is No. 20.

Michigan is No. 17 and Big Ten rival Nebraska is No. 18.

Boise State is No. 19, the only team from a BCS non-automatic qualifying conference to make the preseason rankings.

The final five are No. 21 UCLA from the

Pac-12; No. 22 Northwestern and No. 23 Wisconsin from the Big Ten; last

year’s preseason No. 1 Southern California is No. 24; and Oregon State

from the Pac-12 at No. 25.