The time to stop talking about college football and actually start watching it is now less than a month away. But in the meantime, talking will have to do, and the preseason Amway Coaches Poll is always a good place to initiate discussion — or arguments, but we prefer to keep matters polite.
Alabama will enter the campaign with the No. 1 ranking, just as it did a year ago. The Crimson Tide were picked first by 49 of the 65 coaches on this year’s panel. Alabama has been ranked in the top five in every preseason poll since 2009.
Washington is ranked No. 7. Neither Oregon, Oregon State or Washington State are ranked, but the Ducks were in the others receiving votes list with 10 votes. Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 25 include No. 4 Southern California, Washington, No. 14 Stanford and No. 25 Utah.
When it comes to top-ranked Alabama, there is some bad news associated with that lofty status. The Tide have been ranked first by the coaches three previous times since 1991, but none of those seasons, including last year, resulted in No. 1 finishes. Alabama did not open the campaign atop the poll in any of the four championship years of the Nick Saban era.
The Southeastern Conference leads the power leagues with six ranked teams. The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference will begin with five teams in Top 25 apiece. The Big Ten has four teams in the poll, as does the Pac-12. No. 22 South Florida of the American Athletic Conference is the lone ranked representative of the Group of Five leagues.
Notable by its absence from the poll is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, coming off a disappointing 4-8 season, received the fourth most points among others receiving votes but will open the campaign outside the Top 25 for the first time since 2010.
Top 25 outlook
1. Alabama (14-1)
- Points: 1,603 (49 first-place votes).
- Previous ranking: 2.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta (ABC, 8).
- Outlook: Dynamic QB Jalen Hurts has a year under his belt, his backfield is loaded, and the defense should be its formidable self. In short, the Crimson Tide are heavy favorites in the SEC once again.
2. Ohio State (11-2)
- Points: 1,512 (5)
- Previous ranking: 6
- Opens: Aug. 31 at Indiana (ESPN, 8).
- Outlook: QB J.T. Barrett and RB Mike Weber will provide the bulk of the yards. Some new defensive starters must perform immediately, but there's enough talent in place for a run at the Big Ten.
3. Florida State (10-3)
- Points: 1,434 (4).
- Previous ranking: 8.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta (ABC, 8).
- Outlook: QB Deondre Francois will see a lot of new faces in his huddle, and he needs better protection than he got a year ago. But the Seminoles defense, led by DB Derwin James, is experienced and always gives the team a chance to win.
4. Southern California (10-3)
- Points: 1,415.
- Previous ranking: 5.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Western Michigan (Pac-12, 5:15).
- Outlook: Sophomore QB Sam Darnold is the biggest reason Trojans’ fans are excited about 2017. He’ll need young receivers to step up, and the USC defense must also deliver to meet their lofty expectations.
5. Clemson (14-1)
- Points: 1,367 (7).
- Previous ranking: 1.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Kent State (ESPN, noon).
- Outlook: With QB Deshaun Watson and many of his teammates off to the next level, the Tigers’ offense has a lot of questions. A dominant defensive line and LB Kendall Joseph give the Tigers their best shot at a repeat title bid.
6. Penn State (11-3)
- Points: 1,257.
- Previous ranking: 7.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Akron (ABC, noon).
- Outlook: RB Saquon Barkley and QB Trace McSorley will provide the star power. If the recent run of recruiting success pays dividends in the form of quality depth, the Nittany Lions could be headed for a special season even after winning the Big Ten last year.
7. Washington (12-2)
- Points: 1,245.
- Previous ranking: 4.
- Opens: Sept. 1 at Rutgers (FS1, 8).
- Outlook: QB Jake Browning and most of his primary weapons are back for the Huskies’ high-scoring attack. But how will Washington respond to wearing the defending Pac-12 champion bullseye?
8. Oklahoma (11-2)
- Points: 1,237.
- Previous ranking: 3.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Texas-El Paso (FOX, 3:30).
- Outlook: The return of QB Baker Mayfield and an outstanding offensive line should ease the transition as Lincoln Riley assumes the coaching reins from Bob Stoops. The defense needs work, though the Sooners are hardly alone in that regard in the Big 12.
9. Michigan (10-3)
- Points: 959.
- Previous ranking: 10.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. No. 16 Florida in Arlington, Texas (ABC, 3:30).
- Outlook: No team was hit harder by personnel losses than the Wolverines. Don't cry for Jim Harbaugh, though. He still will have a lot of talent in Ann Arbor. But many of those expected to play key roles, particularly on defense, are unproven as full-time starters.
10. Wisconsin (11-3)
- Points: 936.
- Previous ranking: 9.
- Opens: Sept. 1 vs. Utah State (ESPN, 9).
- Outlook: In typical Badgers fashion, the offensive line should lead the way. QB Alex Hornibrook could blossom as a sophomore. With TE Troy Fumagalli and WR Jazz Peavy, he has two productive targets. DB D'Cota Dixon and LB T.J. Edwards are two pieces of what should again be a stingy defense.
11. Oklahoma State (10-3)
- Points: 912.
- Previous ranking: 11.
- Opens: Aug. 31 vs. Tulsa (FS1, 7:30).
- Outlook: Scoring points should not be a problem with the combination of QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington leading the offense. To win the Big 12 and contend for the Playoff, the defense must improve. LB Chad Whitener is one part of that puzzle.
12. LSU (8-4)
- Points: 834.
- Previous ranking: 14.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Brigham Young in Houston (ESPN, 9:30).
- Outlook: Ed Orgeron's first full season in Baton Rouge will feature RB Derrius Guice carrying the offensive load. Improvement from QB Danny Etling would bring some needed balance. DE Arden Key and DE Donte Jackson lead a unit that will be difficult for opponents to crack.
13. Auburn (8-5)
- Points: 819.
- Previous ranking: 22.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Georgia Southern (SEC, 7:30).
- Outlook: The arrival of Jarrett Stidham from Baylor should drastically improve the Tigers through the air. Running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson should find more room this year. The defense is young up front, but returns four of its top five tacklers.
14. Stanford (10-3)
- Points: 732.
- Previous ranking: 12.
- Opens: Aug. 26 vs. Rice in Sydney, Australia (ESPN 10).
- Outlook: Coming off six wins to end last season, the Cardinal are hopeful QB Keller Chryst will be healthy for the opener after a knee injury in their bowl game. RB Bryce Love will try to fill the shoes of Christian McCaffrey. DL Harrison Phillips is part of what should be the top defense in the Pac-12.
15. Georgia (8-5)
- Points: 701.
- Previous ranking: not ranked.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Appalachian State (ESPN, 6:15).
- Outlook: The running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be one of the nation's best. QB Jacob Eason will look to improve on an up-and-down freshman season. He will be helped by a defense that returns 10 starters with DL Trenton Thompson and LB Roquan Smith two of the standouts.
16. Florida (9-4)
- Points: 681.
- Previous ranking: 13.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. No. 9 Michigan in Arlington, Texas (ABC, 3:30).
- Outlook: The starting quarterback for the Gators will need to be sorted out with the late transfer of Malik Zaire from Notre Dame. RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway will help make things easier. The defense, which ranked in the top 10 in all the major categories, needs to fill some gaps in the front seven.
17. Louisville (9-4)
- Points: 676.
- Previous ranking: 20.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Purdue in Indianapolis (FOX, 7:30).
- Outlook: With Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson running the show, the Cardinals will be prolific on offense again. Some help from the offensive line could help avoid last year's late swoon. The defense looks to be in great shape with LB James Hearns and DB Jaire Alexander back.
18. Miami (Fla.) (9-4)
- Points: 472.
- Previous ranking: 23.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Bethune-Cookman.
- Outlook: Mark Richt, in his second year, has the program headed in the right direction. The offense can be built around RB Mark Walton and WR Ahmmon Richards, who set the Miami record for receiving yards as a freshman. The defense is full of young talent. The big challenge will be replacing Brad Kaaya at quarterback.
19. Kansas State (9-4)
- Points: 339.
- Previous ranking: not ranked.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Central Arkansas
- Outlook: Bill Snyder, at 77, returns to the sideline. The defense will be stingy, and the offense will rely on the run game and efficient passing. That formula took time to come together last year before Kansas State won six of its last seven. A big key was the play of dual-threat QB Jesse Ertz.
20. West Virginia (10-3)
- Points: 319.
- Previous ranking: 17.
- Opens: Sept. 3 vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech in Landover, Md. (ABC, 7:30).
- Outlook: The Mountaineers, coming off a 10-win season, return only eight starters, the fewest in the Big 12. QB should be a strength, however, with the addition of Florida transfer Will Grier, who was impressive in the spring. RB Justin Crawford’s return leaves the running game on excellent footing. The defensive line loses three starters but Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long form one of the best linebacker duos in the conference.
21. South Florida (11-2)
- Points: 247.
- Previous ranking: 19.
- Opens: Aug. 26 at San Jose State (CBSSN, 7:30).
- Outlook: The Bulls, following their best season in school history, return most of their stars, including QB Quinton Flowers, the AAC's offensive player of the year. They lost head coach Willie Taggart (now at Oregon) but bring in Charlie Strong, who did not get it done at Texas but delivered huge success at Louisville.
22. Virginia Tech (10-4)
- Points: 235.
- Previous ranking: 16.
- Opens: Sept. 3 vs. No. 20 West Virginia in Landover Md. (ABC, 7:30).
- Outlook: In Justin Fuente's first season the Hokies reached the ACC title game and nearly upset Clemson. They will have to make up for several key losses, including quarterback Jerod Evans, and there is little experience at receiver beyond Cam Phillips. The linebacker and secondary groups are loaded.
23. Texas (5-7)
- Points: 193.
- Previous ranking: not ranked.
- Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Maryland (FS1, noon).
- Outlook: There should be new energy this season with new coach Tom Herman. He will have a core of young talent on defense, including 10 returning starters and greater depth. After a promising freshman season, quarterback Shane Buechele has the potential to flourish in Herman’s system if he finds a go-to receiver.
24. Tennessee (9-4)
- Points: 155.
- Previous ranking: 24.
- Opens: Sept. 4 vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta (ESPN, 8).
- Outlook: The Volunteers are coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons and yet the seat might still be hot for coach Butch Jones (14-18 record in the SEC). His recruiting success should help the team handle several key departures. Quinten Dormady appears to have an edge on Jarrett Guarantano in the competition to replace quarterback Joshua Dobbs. The defense must get better against the run after allowing 218.5 yards per game.
25. Utah (9-4)
- Points: 109.
- Previous ranking: 21.
- Opens: Aug. 31 vs. North Dakota (Pac-12, 7:30).
- Outlook: As usual, coach Kyle Whittingham’s defense should be up to the challenge behind another strong front. The questions come on offense, where Troy Taylor takes over as offensive coordinator. Incumbent quarterback Troy Williams, a junior, shows flashes but needs consistency.
© 2017 USATODAY.COM