The 2021 college football campaign is nearly upon us, which means one thing: Poll season is here.
The preseason USA Today Coaches Poll dropped Monday, with no particularly shocking results. National champion Alabama held on to the top spot, while Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia rounded out the top five. Arguably the biggest surprises came at spot Nos. 6-10, with Iowa State coming in at No. 8 and Cincinnati, one of just three Group of Five teams ranked, coming in at No. 10.
Next up, it will be the Associated Press Top 25, voted on by college football media members, that releases Monday at 12 p.m. ET. Last year's preseason poll, which was released in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and included teams that at point weren't planning to play their 2020 schedules, had three of the College Football Playoff participants (Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State) ranked in the top three. Notre Dame, the fourth and final CFP team, started the season ranked No. 10.
The poll, which can be found here, is the longest running college football poll in the country.
Alabama Will Remain on the Throne
Let's start by acknowledging the domination Clemson and Alabama have had over college football for the past half-decade. One of the two has been ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 every year since 2016. Except for LSU's national title win in 2019, Alabama and Clemson have also won every national title during that span. Following their championship win over Ohio State last year, expect the Tide to be atop Monday's poll.
However, only 11 teams that have started the season ranked No. 1 in the poll's history have won the national title, with Alabama being the latest to do so in 2017. The Crimson Tide enter this year with as much talent as anyone in college football, but their biggest question mark comes at the most important position on the field: quarterback.
Projected starter Bryce Young has thrown just 22 passes at the college level, and nearly all of his snaps last season came in mop-up duty in relief of Mac Jones. Whether Alabama can become the 12th preseason No. 1 to finish the season as the national champion will largely ride on the sophomore's shoulders.
Cincinnati Will Start Inside the Top 10
There was arguably no bigger snub in last year's College Football Playoff system than undefeated Cincinnati being held out. That's not to say Ohio State wasn't deserving, as the Buckeyes handled Clemson 49-28 before falling to Alabama in the title game. But it's an issue of G5 teams not having easy access to the CFP, one that could be remedied if it expands to 12 teams in the next few years.
But for 2021, Cincinnati has the best shot of any team outside the Power Five at breaking into the final four to date. The Bearcats return 16 starters, and most importantly, they bring back dark-horse Heisman candidate Desmond Ridder at quarterback.
The 6'4", 215-pound Ridder was the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season, throwing for 2,296 yards and 19 touchdowns while also adding 12 rushing touchdowns, the most of any quarterback at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.