Everyone is chasing Clemson and Alabama as college football begins a new season

Putting together a preseason AP Top 25 ballot started with two easy decisions and quickly grew far more difficult from there.

Clemson and Alabama ended last season as the nation’s top two college football teams. Alabama looked far and away like the best team all season until Clemson pounded the Crimson Tide, 44-16, in the championship game on Jan. 7.

With quarterback Trevor Lawrence back this season leading the Tigers as a sophomore, Clemson is the easy No. 1. Alabama could just as easily replace Clemson as the national champion this season, so the Tide is naturally No. 2.

The next tier of teams are tasked -- and capable -- of knocking off those two kingpins.

Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Michigan have the talent and coaching to make a run. Which one is best? Georgia has the most complete roster and figures to get a shot at Alabama in the SEC title game.

Overall, the SEC is the nation’s deepest league. LSU and Florida are top-10 teams on my ballot, giving the league four of the nation’s top 10.

Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri are worthy of top-25 votes as well, giving the league eight on the ballot.

The ACC and Pac-12 are at the other end of the scale among Power Five teams.

While Clemson is No. 1, the only other ACC team worthy of a preseason ranking is Syracuse all the way down at No. 21. Clemson’s road back to the College Football Playoff looks like an expressway.

The Pac-12 has no teams in the top 10 with Oregon (No. 12), Washington (No. 14) and Utah (No. 15) that league’s top teams. Once again, don’t expect any Pac-12 teams to be in consideration for the playoff.

Filling out the back end of the ballot is always difficult, particularly in the preseason. Teams considered but who ultimately didn’t get a vote include Army, Stanford, Central Florida, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Baylor and Washington State.

Instead, Iowa State, Boise State and Michigan State get some love for now.

The AP top 25 preseason poll will be released on Aug. 19. The next ballot, due Sept. 3, figures to look far different -- with the exception of the top two teams, of course.

Get Sports Pass for ACC football

Follow Joe Giglio, Steve Wiseman, Jonathan Alexander, Chip Alexander and Luke DeCock. Sign up for The N&O's digital sports-only subscription for only $30 per year.

Steve Wiseman’s AP ballot

  1. Clemson

  2. Alabama

  3. Georgia

  4. Ohio State

  5. Oklahoma

  6. Michigan

  7. LSU

  8. Notre Dame

  9. Texas

  10. Florida

  11. Texas A&M

  12. Oregon

  13. Penn State

  14. Washington

  15. Utah

  16. Nebraska

  17. Auburn

  18. Iowa

  19. Wisconsin

  20. Mississippi State

  21. Syracuse

  22. Michigan State

  23. Missouri

  24. Boise State

  25. Iowa State

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.