Preseason College Football Rankings 2015: Winners and Losers from AP Poll
The 2015 college football preseason hit its final major milestone Sunday with the release of the first Associated Press Top 25 poll, the granddaddy of all preseason rankings in college football.
Defending national champion Ohio State took home the top spot by a comfortable margin and was joined by fellow Big Ten East contender Michigan State in the Top Five. Alabama returned to the playoff zone in the poll, along with a pair of Big 12 powerhouses in TCU and Baylor.
Some fanbases will undoubtedly be happy about where their favorite teams wound up in the preseason poll, while others will, of course, be outraged—and not only at where their schools landed. A few conferences stood out in the AP's first Top 25 of the season, and several schools might play the disrespect card heading into the upcoming schedule.
Before we take a look at some winners and losers of the first poll, here's the complete look at the Top 25:
1. Ohio State (61 first-place votes)
5. Michigan State
10. Florida State
11. Notre Dame
15. Arizona State
16. Georgia Tech
17. Ole Miss
23. Boise State
Winner: SEC Teams Coming Off Average Seasons
College football fans who complain of "SEC fatigue" will most likely be groaning louder after the release of the AP poll.
Eight SEC teams are in the Top 25, and they're led by defending conference champion Alabama at No. 3. Four of the league's representatives—No. 6 Auburn, No. 14 LSU, No. 18 Arkansas and No. 25 Tennessee—won just seven or eight games last season.
This offseason has been one of immense hype for Tennessee, which returns the vast majority of its starters from last year's 7-6 team. Not everyone is aboard the Volunteers hype train this season, however. Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press is one of several analysts who believe Tennessee shouldn't be ranked this early.
Another 7-6 team from 2014, Arkansas announced leading rusher Jonathan Williams would be out for the season after the release of the Amway poll, but the Razorbacks are now two spots higher in the AP poll.
Auburn, the preseason pick to win the SEC by the media members who cover the conference, went a disappointing 8-5 last season after starting the year at the same spot in the AP poll. LSU, which returns a few more starters than Auburn, had the nation's No. 80 offense last season and is transitioning to a new defensive regime after the departure of longtime coordinator John Chavis to Texas A&M.
With two seven-win teams getting Top 25 spots and a pair of eight-win teams locking down places in the Top 15, AP pollsters are still high on the SEC.
Loser: The Big Ten
The conference that was pronounced dead early last season rallied back to life, as Ohio State claimed the first national championship in the College Football Playoff era.
But even with the new hardware, the Big Ten is still lagging behind the SEC and the Pac-12 as a complete, quality conference in the eyes of the pollsters.
The Big Ten has a pair of Top Five teams this season in Ohio State and Michigan State—with the Spartans leaping up one spot from their place in the Amway poll—but Wisconsin is the only other member of the league to crack the Top 25. The Badgers come in at No. 20 after an 11-win season in 2014 because of questions on the offensive side of the ball and the transition to new head coach Paul Chryst.
And it's not like the Big Ten had several teams just on the edge of the Top 25, either. Penn State and Nebraska would have been ranked No. 31 and No. 34 if one extended the numbering down to the "receiving votes" category. The only other team in that category, Michigan, seems like a bit of a stretch at this point.
The Big Ten will have plenty of chances to prove itself with plenty of quality matchups in the first few weeks of the season—Wisconsin vs. Alabama, Michigan State vs. Oregon, Minnesota vs. TCU, Nebraska vs. BYU and Michigan vs. Utah, to name a few. If Big Ten schools can emerge victorious in a majority of those high-profile contests, the conference could skyrocket up the polls accordingly.
For the second straight season, the Pac-12 is riding high with six different teams landing in the preseason AP poll—No. 7 Oregon, No. 8 USC, No. 13 UCLA, No. 15 Arizona State, No. 21 Stanford and No. 22 Arizona.
While USC was the Pac-12 media's preseason pick to win the league, defending champion Oregon edged the Trojans for the top spot out West. The Ducks return just 12 starters from their national runner-up campaign in 2014, but they still have plenty of star firepower, including their top five receivers and leading rusher Royce Freeman. The long-awaited addition of former FCS star Vernon Adams to the quarterback competition could push the Ducks back into the playoff.
USC, which now looks to have quality depth again after a few frustrating seasons, leads what looks to be another tight Pac-12 South race. Crosstown rival UCLA is one of the most experienced teams in the country, and Arizona State is a trendy pick with its returning talent on both sides of the ball. Defending division champion Arizona might feel like somewhat of a loser at No. 22, especially with the return of quarterback Anu Solomon and linebacker Scooby Wright, the nation's top defensive player in 2014.
Stanford was somewhat of a surprise selection at No. 21, slightly ahead of 10-win Arizona. The Cardinal return nine starters on an offense that struggled mightily at times last season, and eight new starters on defense must acclimate quickly to continue the tradition of stifling opponents down on the Farm.
Even though it fell short of a national championship last season, the Pac-12 continues to earn tremendous respect nationally. With Utah and Cal also receiving votes in the poll, this will be one of the best top-to-bottom leagues in all of college football.
Loser: Clemson and Georgia Tech
Clemson and Georgia Tech are the favorites to win their respective divisions in the ACC, but both schools will have to feel like they're lower in the AP poll than they should be heading into the 2015 season.
Even after losing plenty of talent to the NFL—including star quarterback Jameis Winston—Florida State still held down a Top 10 spot in the AP poll. The No. 10 Seminoles are returning just four starters on offense, and leading rusher Dalvin Cook's status for the season is in question after being charged with battery this offseason.
No. 12 Clemson, on the other hand, returns star quarterback Deshaun Watson after a stellar, yet injury-filled, true freshman campaign. He has an incredible pair of returning receivers in Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, and if he can repeat the efficiency he had last season, Watson could be a legitimate Heisman contender. Clemson must replace almost all of its top-ranked total defense from last year, but the Tigers still have ace coordinator Brent Venables and plenty of experienced players who can step into the starting lineup.
No. 16 Georgia Tech also has its star signal-caller back this season, as Justin Thomas looks to lead the nation's No. 2 rushing offense to even greater heights in 2014. The Yellow Jackets must replace plenty of skill position talent, but Paul Johnson's offense is as plug-and-play as they come. Tech could also have one of its best defenses in a long time with eight starters back, including several veteran defensive linemen.
Clemson and Georgia Tech are both looking up at teams in this poll who have more questions and fewer wins from a season ago. Both of these ACC clubs recorded double-digit wins last season and deserve more respect heading into 2015.
Winner: TCU and Baylor
Baylor vs. TCU might be the most anticipated matchup in college football this regular season in terms of playoff potential. Judging from the AP poll, this could be a game between two undefeated sides.
TCU is riding high this offseason, edging Alabama and Baylor for the No. 2 spot behind defending champion Ohio State. While the Horned Frogs have some issues to sort out on Gary Patterson's patented 4-2-5 defense, the offense boasts early Heisman front-runner Trevone Boykin and a loaded list of returning rushers and receivers.
No. 4 Baylor has even more returning starters than the Horned Frogs, whom it beat last season in what was one of the best games of the 2014 season. Quarterback Seth Russell is ready to plug into the nation's No. 1 offense in scoring and yardage for the last two seasons, as Art Briles and Co. have a veteran offensive line, top rusher Shock Linwood and a dynamic receiving duo in Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The defense must improve in the back, but the Bears have experience up front with Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings.
The Big 12 just missed out on the College Football Playoff last season—and a good amount of the blame fell squarely on the conference itself. This season, however, this league will most likely produce a "One True Champion" between the Horned Frogs and the Bears.
After they have risen up the charts over the past several seasons, no one is underestimating TCU and Baylor in 2015.
Loser: Boise State
The last time Boise State had at least 17 starters back from a team that won the Fiesta Bowl, the Broncos opened the season as the No. 3 team in the country.
While the 2010 Broncos had a slight advantage in experience over the 2015 version and were fresh off a 14-0 campaign, this year's team likely deserves a higher spot than No. 23 in the AP poll.
Boise State returns starters in every position on offense except for quarterback—where sophomore Ryan Finley will take control, as the program announced Sunday—and running back. On defense, eight starters return, including the top five tacklers from a season ago. Three of those stars—Tanner Vallejo, Kamalei Correa and Darian Thompson—were All-Mountain West selections last season.
The Broncos are the runaway favorites to take the Group of Five spot again in the New Year's Six bowls. If Boise can get past Washington and BYU in the opening two weeks of the season, a perfect season will be well in reach.
With the momentum from last season's victory over Pac-12 South champion Arizona and a new leader at quarterback in Finley, this Boise State team has a great shot at climbing the rankings in a big way this fall.
Winner and Loser: Ohio State
Defending national champion Ohio State made history Sunday by becoming the first team to grab every top vote in the preseason AP poll, according to Russo.
Even though Ohio State didn't win a clean sweep of the Amway poll votes, the AP pollsters got this one correct. Ohio State is the clear-cut favorite to win the national title again this season with the huge amount of talent it has coming back from a championship run.
But Urban Meyer and company will have to make even more history in order to win back-to-back titles.
According to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, running away with the No. 1 votes in the preseason poll doesn't automatically mean championship glory. Since 1976, none of the seven teams who received 90 percent of the top votes went on to win the national title.
For Ohio State, the unanimous No. 1 spot in the AP poll is a double-edged sword. The Buckeyes are hoping they can use it to cut through the immense pressure placed on them this fall.
"We briefly talked about [high expectations], but we created a monster, you've got to feed it... but [the team has had] really zero conversation about that," Meyer told reporters during Ohio State's media day, per Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.