Alabama has won five national championships under coach Nick Saban since 2009. But the Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll before only one of those five titles (last season’s).
Georgia’s No. 3 ranking marks its highest start to a season in the AP poll since 2008, when the Bulldogs began at No. 1. They finished that season with three losses and a No. 13 ranking.
Georgia was No. 15 in last year’s preseason poll, vaulting from there to an SEC championship and a playoff berth.
Joining Alabama, Clemson and Georgia in this year’s preseason top 10 are No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Washington, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 8 Miami, No. 9 Auburn and No. 10 Penn State.
The poll confirms that the Washington-Auburn game in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff on Sept. 1 will be a matchup of top-10 teams. Washington’s No. 6 ranking is its highest in the preseason poll since 1997.
The SEC and Big Ten lead all conferences with five teams each in the AP’s top 25, including three apiece in the top 10. The ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have four teams each ranked in the top 25.
Of the ranked SEC teams, all except Georgia are from the Western Division. Two of them are on Georgia’s schedule: Auburn and No. 25 LSU. Two other Eastern Division teams, South Carolina and Florida, fell just outside the rankings at Nos. 26 and 27, respectively.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart addressed the high expectations for his team at SEC Media Days in Atlanta last month.
“This season for us is going to be simple. It’s going to be the measure of potential versus effectiveness,” Smart said. “I think effectiveness is what we get out of our potential. ... You should feel privileged to have pressure to win games, to have expectations.”
The preseason coaches’ poll, released earlier this month, also had Alabama No. 1 and Clemson No. 2. Georgia was ranked one notch lower by the coaches at No. 4.
The AP and coaches polls, which are updated weekly throughout the season, won’t have a bearing on which four teams ultimately make the College Football Playoff. But the playoff selection committee won’t release its first set of rankings until Oct. 30.
AP PRESEASON POLL
5. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. Michigan State
12. Notre Dame
17. West Virginia
18. Mississippi State
19. Florida State
20. Virginia Tech
21. Central Florida
22. Boise State