No FBS school has claimed three national championships in a row since Army turned the trick from 1944 through 1946. But if the AP preseason college football rankings are any indication, the Alabama Crimson Tide could very well be celebrating a three-peat of their own at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
'Bama is nearly a unanimous selection for the country's top team heading into the year, and it is certainly easy to see why. A dominant defense that smothered Notre Dame in the title game last season remains largely intact, and two-time defending BCS national champion quarterback AJ McCarron is back for his senior season.
Of course, the Tide also won the title in 2009, so Alabama has an opportunity to win its fourth title in five years this season. In order to do that, however, it will have to deal with plenty of top-flight competition.
Here's a look at how the rest of the Top 25 has taken shape ahead of the upcoming season:
Much like the USA Today rankings, the AP rankings suggest that a small handful of teams can give Alabama a run for its money. Ohio State is coming off an undefeated season, and while being banned from postseason play prevented the Buckeyes from competing for a national title in 2012, they'll look to make up for lost time this year.
A strong Pac-12 duo could potentially crash the BCS party as well in the form of Oregon and Stanford. Both have taken turns dominating the West Coast over the past couple of seasons, and whichever team wins the annual meeting stands a great chance to win the Pac-12 championship and end the regular season undefeated.
If that doesn't come to fruition, a host of SEC teams are hungry to slow the Tide's roll. Georgia is a popular pick due to a great defense and the return of quarterback Aaron Murray. Texas A&M was the only team to beat Alabama last season, behind the arm and legs of signal-caller Johnny Manziel.
Which team is Alabama's closest competition this season?
There are also a couple of SEC dark horses worth considering in the form of South Carolina and Florida. Both teams have major deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball, but their defenses rival Alabama's for best-in-the-country honors.
Luckily for 'Bama, it only has to play Texas A&M and a somewhat mysterious LSU team during the regular season, so there aren't many landmines standing between it and the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, South Carolina or Florida.
Some lesser-hyped teams worth keeping an eye on include the likes of Nebraska and Boise State, as both seem like squads that can rise quickly in the rankings. The Huskers will have a tough road going through the Big Ten, but they reached the Big Ten Championship Game last season. Their biggest offensive weapons are back in the fold, as quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah are ready to run wild.
The Broncos certainly don't have one of the best teams from a talent perspective this season, but that may not stop them from going undefeated and crashing the BCS party. Boise State lost just two games by a combined six points last season, and it was dealing with the departures of quarterback Kellen Moore and running back Doug Martin to the NFL.
Now that the team is another year removed from that, the Broncos seem poised to go undefeated. That may not lead to a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, but a BCS appearance of any kind would be a major accomplishment.
With all of that said, Alabama is still the team to beat until proven otherwise. The pollsters certainly agree, so now it's up to the Tide to show that they deserve their lofty ranking. Teams will undoubtedly be taking aim at them, but they haven't let that stop them in recent years.
Even if Alabama is the clear No. 1 and remains so throughout the season, the battle for No. 2 will be a competitive and interesting one.
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