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My preseason AP Top 25 poll: The first two teams were easy

Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers are out to defend their national championship. (AP file)
Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers are out to defend their national championship. (AP file)
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For the eighth straight season, I will serve as one of the 61 voters in the weekly Associated Press Top 25 football poll. The full preseason AP Top 25 will be released Monday at 9 a.m. Pacific time. Here is my ballot.

1. Clemson: For the first time in a long time, Alabama doesn’t top my list. But Clemson returns QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne, has a great receiving corps and a veteran offensive line. The Tigers lost an all-time great defensive line (three to-17 picks in the 2019 NFL draft), so there are question marks.

2. Alabama: I did consider Alabama for the top spot thanks to the duo of QB Tua Tagovailoa and WR Jerry Jeudy, but the Tide lost enough on both lines to keep them from starting the season at the top line.

3. Georgia: Like the top two teams on my ballot, Georgia has an elite quarterback in Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs also avoid Alabama and LSU in SEC play, so I wouldn’t be shocked by a perfect regular season.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes suffered major changes at the two most important spots in the field (head coach and quarterback), so this season could go in a number of directions, but the top talent remains.

5. Texas: This will probably end up being a little high considering the Longhorns return only eight starters from a 10-4 team. We should learn a ton about Texas early on in a game Sept. 7 against LSU.

6. Oklahoma: After posting back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback, Oklahoma lured Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts. It’d be really cool to see Hurts play the Tide in the College Football Playoff.

7. LSU: The Tigers have plenty of experience with eight starters returning on both sides of the ball, but LSU has to be better in the big games against the best opponents to live up to this position.

8. Notre Dame: The Irish’s best seasons in recent years were largely built against weaker schedules, but that won’t be the case this season with games at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford. That’s not easy.

9. Florida: Year one under Dan Mullen was a success as Florida jumped from four wins to 10. The Gators return most of its defense and efficient QB Feleipe Franks is also back, so I’d expect another jump.

10. Michigan: It feels like it is now or never for Jim Harbaugh, who has been a disappointment despite a 38-14 record (26-9 in the Big Ten). The Wolverines return eight offensive starters and a solid defense.

11. Washington: You know Chris Petersen’s teams will be well coached, but the Huskies lose four-year starting QB Jake Browning and nine defensive starters. Washington’s schedule, though, isn’t too tough.

12. Oregon: Everybody is expecting a huge year out of QB Justin Herbert and he has an excellent line to play behind. In all, 17 starters return, so it’d be a surprise if Oregon doesn’t compete for a Pac-12 title.

13. Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher’s first season ended with four straight wins and the offense should be strong. But the Aggies play four of our top-seven teams (Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU). Good luck.

14. Utah: Perpetually underrated, Utah returns seven starters on offense and seven more on defense. Senior QB Tyler Huntley must take a step forward for the Utes to win the Pac-12, but the schedule’s easy.

15. Auburn: Gus Malzahn keeps chugging along despite constant “hot seat” murmurs. The Tigers bring back 14 starters (seven on both sides of the ball) but has to sort out its quarterback situation.

16. Penn State: The Nittany Lions return only 11 seniors and the roster is painfully young. Gone is trusted quarterback Trace McSorley, and this team has to grow up quickly. Thankfully, the tough games are late.

17. Wisconsin: Last year, Wisconsin failed to finish in the final AP Top 25 for the first time since 2012, so a bounce-back is required. The Badgers scored only 15.5 ppg in its five losses. Improving on offense is key.

18. UCF: The Knights’ 25-game winning streak was snapped in a Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, but I expect UCF to remain elite, although it must figure out how to replace QB McKenzie Milton’s elite production.

19. Michigan State: The Spartans are 20-18 over the last three seasons (after averaging just shy of 11 wins per season from 2010-2015), so is this still a top-level program? This season will answer that.

20. Washington State: Mike Leach keeps running out quality teams and that shouldn’t change with this version of the Cougars, who are expected to start Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gubrud at quarterback.

21. Iowa: The Hawkeyes return only 10 starters, but one of those is QB Nate Stanley, one of the more underrated players in the nation. DT A.J. Epenesa and OT Tristan Wirfs are All-American candidates.

22. Stanford: The Cardinal has been ranked in each of the last 10 seasons (after not being ranked in any of the seven before that), so you can bank on this program. Only nine starters return, however.

23. Syracuse: One of the nation's biggest surprises last season, Syracuse brings back 13 starters from a 10-win team. Coach Dino Babers is a proven winner and has this program on the right track.

24. Boise State: The Broncos lost a lot of play-making ability off its offense, but the offensive line is good, the defense should be excellent and the schedule sets up for a potential undefeated season if the quarterback play is solid.

25. USC: It wouldn’t be a preseason Top 25 if USC wasn’t overrated (only once in the last five seasons has USC finished higher in the final AP poll as it did in the preseason AP poll).

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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