Alabama will begin the 2016 college football season with the same ranking as it ended the 2015 season: No. 1.
The Tide, winners of last year’s College Football Playoff, sit atop the Associated Press preseason poll released Sunday. They received 33 first-place votes, more than twice as many as the next team, No. 2 Clemson (16).
This marked the first time since 1992 that two teams that had finished the previous season as Nos. 1 and 2 (Miami and Washington) opened the next season as Nos. 1 and 2.
Alabama as No. 1: The Tide are the fourth consecutive defending national champ to start the next season as No. 1. None of the last three repeated as champ. The last team to start the preseason as No. 1 and finish as No. 1 was Southern Cal in 2004.
It is the fifth time Alabama will start the season as No. 1 and the third time under Nick Saban. Alabama hasn’t finish No. 1 under Saban when it started No. 1.
Who was No. 1 in the preseason last year and how did it do? Ohio State was voted atop last year’s preseason poll with 61 first-place votes (1,525 points). The Buckeyes went 12-1 and finished No. 4.
Alabama started last year at No. 3 (1,322 points) and moved into No. 1 after defeating Michigan State 38-0 in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The Tide defeated Clemson, which had moved up to two spots to No. 1 in Week 11 voting following a victory against Florida State, in the national title game.
Why is Alabama No. 1? The Tide return six starters on offense and five on defense. But they must find replacements for a host of departed stalwarts: quarterback Jake Coker, running back Derrick Henry, who was last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, defensive linemen Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson and linebackers Denzel Devall and Reggie Ragland, among others.
Why is Clemson No. 2? The Tigers return quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Gainesville native who is among the early favorites to win the Heisman this season, among the 10 starters back on a potent offense.
How many SEC teams are ranked? There are six SEC teams in the Top 25, the most of any conference. Joining Alabama are No. 5 LSU, which received one first-place vote, No. 9 Tennessee, No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 18 Georgia and No. 25 Florida.
How many ACC teams? Four. The ACC made conference history by placing two teams in the top 5: the Tigers and No. 4 Florida State. The other ACC teams to be ranked are No. 19 Louisville and No. 22 North Carolina.
Georgia in the poll: The Bulldogs were No. 9 in last year’s preseason poll but didn’t finish in the Top 25. They finished 26th in votes received. Coach Mark Richt was fired and replaced by Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, the former Bulldogs safety. Richt is now the coach at Miami, which is the 26th team in the preseason poll in terms of votes received.
The Bulldogs this season play four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25: No. 22 North Carolina in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 3, at No. 11 Ole Miss on Sept. 24, No. 9 Tennessee on Oct. 1 and No. 25 Florida on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville
Biggest surprise? Michigan received one first-place vote and is No. 6. It is the Wolverines’ highest preseason ranking since opening at No. 5 in 2007.
Second-biggest surprise? Scandal-ridden Baylor, which saw its president, head coach, several assistants and several high-profile recruits leave during the offseason, is No. 23.
What about the other teams who were in last year’s playoff? Oklahoma, which was beaten by Clemson 37-17 in the Orange Bowl, is No. 3 and received four first-place votes. Michigan State is No. 12.
Did Georgia Tech get votes? The Yellow Jackets, which were No. 16 in last year’s preseason poll, received no votes in this year’s poll. The Yellow Jackets will play three teams ranked in the preseason Top 25: Clemson on Sept. 22, at North Carolina on Nov. 5 and at Georgia on Nov. 26.
Rounding up the conferences: The Pac-12 has five teams, led by No. 8 Stanford. The Big Ten and Big 12 added four each. No. 15 Houston, which defeated Florida State 38-24 in the Peach Bowl last season, is the American Athletic Conference’s lone rep.