Saturday, Jul 21, 2018
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David Briggs

Crimson Tide still flowing as college football season nears

Blade sports columnist David Briggs unveils his top 25 with Alabama No. 1

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    Alabama coach Nick Saban has the team to beat in college football, despite losing the national championship to Clemson last season.


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    Running back Saquon Barkley is part of a Penn State team expected to contend for the Big Ten title this season.


On the same day next week as the solar eclipse, the Associated Press will release its top 25 preseason college football rankings. 

Which is perfect, really. 

As one of the 62 writers and broadcasters with a ballot in the 81-year-old poll, I can assure readers and emailers that you are right. None of us have ever seen the light. 

With that in mind, here’s my latest shot-in-the-dark vote. As an annual reminder, yes, I strive to stick it to your favorite team! Every one of them. 

1. Alabama: Like when Tiger Woods reigned over golf, college football has become Alabama against the field. With Nick Saban fresh off signing his seventh straight top-ranked recruiting class, the Crimson Tide are unlikely to give the country a pardon anytime soon. 

2. Ohio State: Blessed and burdened with an address in the same gated aeries as Saban’s chateau, the Buckeyes have reached the point under Urban Meyer where anything short of a national title is viewed as a disappointment. 

Meyer got so mad after a 31-0 loss to Clemson in last year’s playoff semifinal that he dumped his top two offensive assistants. Now he’s ready to get even. With an entire offseason to wear the scarlet letter of the biggest goose egg in school history, an Ohio State team that returns 15 starters is stalking its second trip to the White House in four years. The Buckeyes opened as at least an eight-point favorite in every game this season. 

3. Southern California: Let the Swoon for Sam sweepstakes begin.

Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold has said he hopes no self-respecting NFL team tanks for his services, but the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft might be overstating the shame of a desperate franchise. 

Darnold — a 6-foot-4, 225-pound prototype with GPS accuracy who led USC to its first Rose Bowl win in eight years last season — is that good. 

4. Florida State: If Woody Hayes was right that nothing cleanses the soul like getting the hell kicked out of you, the Seminoles could enjoy a good Tide scrubbing — no detergent needed — on opening night in Atlanta. Florida State is a touchdown underdog to an Alabama team that has rolled its past five curtain-raising opponents — Michigan, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and USC — by a combined score of 196-70. 

5. Penn State: A year after the unexpected peak of a Big Ten title, will the Nittany Lions return to solid ground in Happy Valley, or are they really all that and a scoop of butter pecan ice cream from the famed Penn State Creamery? 

With nine starters back from an offense that averaged 37.6 points per game — including Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley — expect league supremacy to be settled Oct. 28 in Columbus. 

6. Clemson: The defending champions might have lost quarterback Deshaun Watson, the best player in school history, but remember the terrorizing defense that was in Ohio State’s backfield before the Buckeyes could say “One Mississ ... ?” This year’s group is better. 

7. Oklahoma: The last time a blue-blood program lost its coach in late spring — Ohio State in 2011 — the season careened off the rails. Expect the passing of the headset from longtime Oklahoma boss Bob Stoops to 33-year-old whiz Lincoln Riley to feature less rubbernecking. With the Heisman-gazing Baker Mayfield slinging it behind the nation’s best offensive line, the Sooners should again roll through the JV Big 12. The real question is if they can make any noise beyond. OU will get its chance Week 2 at Ohio State. 

8. Washington: After solidifying Boise State as the big fish in the Group of Five pond, coach Chris Petersen has the Huskies challenging the biggest dogs anywhere. 

9. Wisconsin: The Badgers remain the white bread of the sport, replete with a coach in Paul Chryst who looks like the cameo actor listed “Football Coach” in the credits of a made-for-TV movie set in the 1950s. With another tougher-than-burnt-steak defense and a land-clearing offensive line — a veteran group that includes Genoa’s Michael Deiter — count on a fourth straight double-digit win season. 

One big edge for the heavy Big Ten West favorites: The Badgers play only one preseason top 25 team — Michigan at home in November.

10. Michigan: You hear it with any new coach: Wait until he gets his guys in there. Well, Jim Harbaugh has his guys, including the yield from back-to-back top-five classes. Time to see what they’ve got. Never mind the Wolverines’ roster turned over like the autumn soil. They have enough talent to contend a year ahead of schedule. 

Here’s the best of the rest: 11. LSU; 12. Auburn; 13. Georgia; 14. Oklahoma State; 15. Stanford; 16. Louisville; 17. Miami; 18. Texas; 19. Florida; 20. South Florida; 21. Kansas State; 22. Washington State; 23. Pittsburgh; 24. West Virginia; 25. Tennessee.

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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