By RALPH D. RUSSO
The Associated Press
Cross off another milestone for Clemson, college football’s newest superpower.
For the first time, the defending national champion Tigers are No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 presented by Regions Bank. The Tigers won the program’s second national title in three seasons behind freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in January. Clemson now can claim equal standing with Alabama at the top of the sport.
The Crimson Tide, coming off a 44-16 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship, is No. 2. Clemson received 52 first-place votes and Alabama received the other 10 from the media. Clemson snaps a record-tying string of three straight years in which Alabama was preseason No. 1.
Georgia, Alabama’s Southeastern Conference rival, is No. 3, followed by No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Ohio State.
Clemson’s rise under coach Dabo Swinney has been uncommon in college football. The school won the national championship in 1981, but mostly it had resided on a tier well below the traditional national powers. Clemson football was usually good and sometimes excellent, but never this.
Last season’s championship made Clemson just the 12th school with at least three AP titles since the poll started in 1936.
Clemson’s latest accomplishment is not much of an accomplishment at all to Swinney.
“It just doesn’t matter,” he said Monday after practice about being preseason No. 1. “Unless they bring us a trophy.”
The Tigers enter 2019 with a 15-game winning streak and eight straight double-digit victory seasons. Since 2015, when they lost the national championship game to Alabama, the Tigers are 55-4.
Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty, with five national titles in a 10-year span, has finally met its match. The Tide is also 55-4 in the last four seasons.
Clemson and Alabama have split the last four national championships, played in the last four playoffs and are poised to make it five straight. This will be the third time since 2016 the Tigers and Tide have started the season Nos. 1 and 2 in the Top 25. Beginning with 2015, when Alabama and Clemson occupied the top two spots in the last four AP polls of the season, the Tide and Tigers have been Nos. 1 and 2 in some order 22 times.
Last year’s Clemson team was highlighted by a defensive line that had three starters selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and a fourth taken in round four.
The Tigers have some rebuilding to do on that side of the ball, but recent history suggests reinforcements are ready. This year Lawrence and the offense will be the headliners. The first freshman quarterback in more than three decades to lead a team to a national championship, Lawrence will be joined by star receivers Tee Higgins (12 touchdowns) and Justyn Ross (nine touchdowns) and game-breaking running back Travis Etienne (8.1 yards per carry).
Alabama returns quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, and an array of weapons, too. As a new season starts, college football fans best be prepared for Tide vs. Tigers V.
The Top 25 is sponsored by Regions Bank this season, the first time the poll has ever had a presenting sponsor.
We’re No. 1!
Clemson is the 23rd team to be preseason No. 1 and the first first-timer since Georgia in 2008. The Tigers will try to become the 12th team to start No. 1 and finish No. 1 since the preseason poll started in 1950. The last to do it was Alabama in 2017. Only two teams have gone wire-to-wire as No. 1: Florida State in 1999 and Southern California in 2004. Alabama has now been No. 2 to start the season nine times, matching Oklahoma for the most in AP poll history. Just as many teams (11) have started No. 2 and won the title as No. 1.
Ohio State is ranked in the preseason for the 31st consecutive season (1989-2019), the third best all-time streak behind only Penn State (34 years, 1968-2002) and Nebraska (33 years, 1970-2002). The Buckeyes have been ranked in 66 of 70 preseason polls, most of any school. The Buckeyes were unranked in 1966-67, 1979 and 1988.
No. 12 Texas A&M and South Carolina will each play the preseason top three. Only three times previously has a team had the entire preseason top three on its schedule:
— In 1968, Northwestern faced Purdue, USC and Notre Dame and went 0-3.
— In 1972, Minnesota faced Nebraska, Colorado and Ohio State and went 0-3.
— In 1975, Missouri faced Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan and went 1-2, beating No. 2 Alabama to open the season.
Been a while
— No. 14 Utah has been a regular in the rankings for most of the last five seasons, but the Utes have not been ranked in the preseason since 2011 when they started No. 19. That was the season after coach Kyle Whittingham’s team went unbeaten. In 2014, ‘15, and ‘16, the Utes finished the season ranked after starting unranked.
— No. 21 Iowa State is making its second appearance in the preseason poll. The Cyclones were No. 20 in 1978.
— No. 22 Syracuse is in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1998 when the Orange were No. 17.
— No. 24 Nebraska has not been ranked in the preseason since 2014, the program’s longest drought since 1955-59. The ranking also ends a string of 32 straight polls in which Nebraska has not been ranked, dating back to the final one of the 2016 season. That is also the longest run of unranked teams the Huskers have had since the late ‘50s.
Big Ten — 7
SEC — 6
Pac 12 — 5
Big 12 — 3
ACC — 2
American — 1
Independent — 1
Ranked vs. Ranked
The first week of the season with a full schedule of games is lacking marquee matchups.
No. 16 Auburn faces No. 11 Oregon at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. It’s the only Week 1 game with two ranked teams. The first regular-season Top 25 will be released Sept. 3, the Tuesday after Labor Day. The rest of the regular-season rankings will be released on Sundays.