Immediate Reactions to College Football's 2021 AP Preseason Poll
When the preseason AP Top 25 is released, anticipation for the college football season only builds. And in the initial 2021 poll, the usual suspects are leading the way.
Alabama grabbed the No. 1 spot for the fourth time in six years, securing 47 of the 63 first-place votes. Behind the defending national champions are Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia, which all received at least one first-place vote.
As always, remember that a preseason poll is mostly entertainment. The rankings will change very quickly, so we suggest you not be distraught at your favorite team's or biggest rival's standing.
Still, the AP poll provides an excellent look at consensus opinions—and we're exploring some of the most notable results.
Early Attention for the Sun Belt
Traditionally, a Group of Five program will sneak into the Nos. 21-25 range. This year, Sun Belt co-favorites Coastal Carolina (22) and Louisiana-Lafayette (23) each snatched a spot.
Coastal Carolina ended the 2020 season with an 11-1 record, only losing in its bowl game. Given that the Chanticleers return a strong majority of their roster—including 19 starters—they are undoubtedly built for another 10-win campaign.
Louisiana garnered praise when it upset Iowa State last season and has another chance at a marquee win in 2021, opening the schedule at Texas. Similar to CCU, the Ragin' Cajuns have a wealth of experience with 20 returning starters.
In short, both programs deserve the preseason love.
Coastal Carolina and Louisiana made a little history, too. Never before had the Sun Belt landed two teams in the initial AP poll.
Big Ten, Pac-12 Mostly Fill Out Top 25
While it's not necessarily this simple, any team outside of the Top 10 is basically viewed as a good program that isn't a major championship threat. They're respected but not beloved. They might beat an excellent team but have a miserable loss, too.
And in 2021, that's a bunch of Big Ten and Pac-12 schools.
Ohio State (No. 4) is the only program from either conference listed in the Top 10. Oregon (11) and Wisconsin (12) narrowly missed, but they're effectively the lowest Tier 2 and highest Tier 3 program, respectively, when you look at total voting points.
The next batch includes USC (15), Indiana (17), Iowa (18), Penn State (19) and Washington (20). Utah (24) and Arizona State (25) round out the preseason poll.
In total, the final 15 positions have nine programs from either the Big Ten or Pac-12. Depth is a good thing, but the conferences are hoping for more teams than just Ohio State to contend for a national title.
AP Voters Cautious on LSU, Texas
Entering 2021, LSU and Texas are among the most polarizing teams.
LSU had a quarterback carousel, injury problems and a miserable defense last year, plummeting from a national championship to a 5-5 record. Texas lost three-plus Big 12 games for the seventh consecutive season and fired Tom Herman.
Will they be better this fall? Maybe!
Max Johnson will start at quarterback for LSU after Myles Brennan's left arm injury, and Ed Orgeron brought in NFL assistant Daronte Jones to oversee the defense. Texas hired offensive whiz Steve Sarkisian as the head coach, and a roster with 15 returning starters offers some optimism.
However, AP voters are in "see-it-to-believe-it" mode; they placed LSU (16) and Texas (21) in the latter half of the Top 25.
Fortunately, we won't be waiting long for a solid matchup. LSU opens the season at UCLA—which rounded out the "Others Receiving Votes" section—and Texas hosts No. 23 Louisiana.
Cincinnati Soundly in Top 10
After landing at No. 10 in the Amway Coaches Poll, Cincinnati received a bit more respect from AP voters. Luke Fickell's squad checked in eighth, finishing ahead of Notre Dame by five voting points, North Carolina by 15 and Oregon by 46.
Now comes the difficult part.
Last year, Cincinnati ended the regular season 10-0 but didn't get realistically considered for the College Football Playoff. Two-loss Oklahoma and three-loss Florida both finished above the Bearcats, who entered the Peach Bowl as the nation's No. 8 team.
As a result, we're not pretending Cincinnati is a strong CFP challenger. We've traveled this road in the past with UCF, for example, so this is nothing new. Suggesting otherwise would be dishonest.
But a roster that returns a few star players—namely quarterback Desmond Ridder, edge-rusher Myjai Sanders and cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant—merits this attention.
With road contests at 17th-ranked Indiana (Sept. 18) and ninth-ranked Notre Dame (Oct. 2), Cincinnati has two chances to thrive on a national stage and build its reputation. For the Bearcats to rise any higher, those matchups are pivotal.
Alabama, Oklahoma Lead Unsurprising Tier 1 Teams
If you're looking for controversy, the AP Top 25 didn't provide much.
Alabama won the national championship last season and stands atop the preseason poll. Makes sense. Oklahoma (2) and Clemson (3) have both earned six straight conference titles and return a bulk of their production from 2020. Easy enough.
Ohio State (4) is the Big Ten's four-time reigning champ and has boasted a top-10 offense in each of those seasons. Georgia (5) has consistently ranked among the nation's best defenses, and quarterback JT Daniels ended 2020 on a scorching pace. Optimism is understandably high for both programs.
Texas A&M (6) barely missed the College Football Playoff last year and is expected to have an elite defense. Iowa State (7) finished 9-3 in 2020 and is one of the most experienced teams in the country.
Saying their preseason rankings are all justifiable is not dramatic, true. But history tells us one of these seven programs will tumble in the rankings during the regular season.
And, finally, that excitement is just around the corner.