By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
Georgia will begin its drive for an unprecedented college football championship three-peat as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press preseason Top 25.
The Bulldogs received 60 of 63 first-place votes in the poll released Monday to easily outpoint No. 2 Michigan, which received two first-place votes and has its best preseason rankings since being No. 2 in 1991. The Wolverines’ Big Ten rival, Ohio State, is No. 3 with one first-place vote.
Two more Southeastern Conference teams join Georgia in the top five. Alabama is No. 4, the Crimson Tide’s lowest preseason ranking in more than a decade, and LSU starts at No. 5, its best preseason ranking since 2016.
The Bulldogs have won the last two national titles while going 29-1, but this will be only the second time in program history they have been preseason No. 1. The first was in 2008.
Georgia started the 2021 season No. 5, before going on to win its first national title since 1980. The Bulldogs followed up with a perfect season in 2022 after being preseason No. 3.
The Bulldogs have had 25 players drafted by NFL teams the last two years, including quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America defensive tackle Jalen Carter this past April. Coach Kirby Smart has built a program to rival Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty so voters are now giving Georgia the Crimson Tide treatment.
Alabama had been preseason No. 1 each of the last two seasons, and five of the previous seven. Clemson was preseason No. 1 in the other two seasons, making Georgia the first team other than the Tide or Tigers to be preseason No. 1 since Ohio State in 2015.
Alabama is also the last team to win back-to-back major college football national championships, doing so in 2011 and ’12.
No team has won three straight national titles during the AP poll era, which dates to 1936. For the record, Minnesota, the first official AP champion, was retroactively crowned champion for the 1934 and ’35 seasons by a couple of organizations.
Coach Bernie Bierman’s Gophers from long ago are the closest thing major college football has to a three-peater.
“We have not addressed that with them,” Smart said during SEC media days of chasing college football history. “We’ve certainly looked at some three-peat scenarios of teams like the Bulls and different sports teams that they might actually know about. No offense to the Minnesota 1935 team, but I don’t know if it’s going to resonate with my audience.”
The Bulldogs are reloading on the defensive front and at quarterback, but do not lack for stars. Tight end Brock Bowers is one of the nation’s best players; linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson was a second-team All-American; and center Sedrick Van Pran anchors one of the country’s most talented offensive lines.
Rounding out the top 10 is Southern California at No. 6, which is the Trojans’ best preseason ranking since 2017, followed by Penn State, Florida State, Clemson and Washington.
The Seminoles are back in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2018, and in the top 10 for the first time since 2017.
STARTING ON TOP, STAYING ON TOP
Since the AP preseason poll started in 1950, 11 teams that started No. 1 also finished No. 1. Only two of those have occurred since 2000: Southern California in 2004 and Alabama in 2017.
“The threat for us is complacency,” Smart said. “The first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it’s a threat. Like if you acknowledge the complacency is a threat, it’s the first step towards stomping it out.”
TIDE’S OUT … OF THE TOP THREE
For most schools, a preseason No. 4 ranking would feel pretty good.
For Alabama, it feels like a sign of decline. The last time the Crimson Tide had a lower preseason ranking was 2009. That was Year 3 for Saban in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama went on to win the first of six national championships during his unprecedented run.
This preseason poll is the first since 2015 in which the Tide did not receive at least one first-place vote.
The Tide did run its record streak of top-five preseason rankings to 15. Next best in poll history is 11 for Florida State in 1990-2000. Ohio State has had 11 top-five preseason rankings since 2009.
Over the last three years, schools have been redrawing the conference maps.
This year, the Big 12 has four new members, the American Athletic Conference has six and Conference USA has four.
The really flashy moves come in 2024.
This season will be the last with Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 ( before moving to the SEC ) and maybe the last with a Pac-12 at all. USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will play in the Big Ten next year while Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah move to the Big 12 as major college football moves toward sprawling super conferences.
Heading into this season the breakdown by conference of teams in the Top 25:
SEC — 6 (Nos. 1, 4, 5, 12, 22, 23).
Big Ten — 5 (Nos. 2, 3, 7, 19, 25).
Pac-12 — 5 (Nos. 6, 10, 14, 15, 18).
Big 12 — 4 (Nos. 11, 16, 17, 20).
ACC — 3 (Nos. 8, 9, 21).
American Athletic — 1 (No. 24).
Independent — 1 (No. 13).
If sorted by next season’s conference alignment the breakdown looks like this:
SEC — 8 (Nos. 1, 4, 5, 11, 12, 20, 22, 23).
Big Ten — 8 (Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 15, 19, 25).
Big 12 — 3 (Nos. 14, 16, 17).
ACC — 3 (Nos. 8, 9, 21).
Pac-12 — 1 (No. 18 – counts Oregon State as a Pac-12 team).
American Athletic— 1 (No. 24)
Independent — 1 (No. 13).