My preseason AP Top 25 ballot

Aug. 05, 2014 @ 08:53 AM
1. Florida State
2. Alabama
3. Ohio State
4. Oregon
5. Auburn
6. Oklahoma
7. South Carolina
8. UCLA
9. Georgia
10. Michigan State
11. Stanford
12. LSU
13. Baylor
14. Wisconsin
15. Nebraska
16. Southern Cal
17. Kansas State
18. Clemson
19. Arizona State
20. Ole Miss
21. Duke
22. Notre Dame
23. Missouri
24. Washington
25. Cincinnati
 
The AP doesn't say whether this should be a list of the best 25 teams entering the year or my prediction for what the final poll will look like (basically, should I take schedule into account?). So I did a little of both.
I have a feeling the four playoff teams will all be conference champions, so the top 4 in my poll are my completely original and out-on-a-limb picks for those spots.
Also, for example, I have Cincinnati over a bunch of Power 5 schools (including UNC, which crushed Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl and returns a lot) because I think the Bearcats will win the AAC and get that major bowl berth, which will make them hard to ignore when the final poll comes out. 
While I'm happy to debate these picks with anyone (hgutmann@heraldsun.com or @haroldgut), I'm not going to crazy lengths to explain this ballot here since the preseason poll is the most meaningless one of the season. 
However, I will add a paragraph about ranking Duke 21st and leaving UNC off, both because I write for the local newspaper and because it differs so much with the coaches poll (where UNC is 23rd and Duke is unranked).
If a brand-name Power 5 team won its division (even if it was the worst division in the Power 5, hands down) and returned more than half of its starters (including the QB and four preseason all-conference picks), it would be ranked in a preseason poll, which after all is a combination of what teams did last year and what they have coming back. So I'm not going to punish this Duke team just because Duke teams prior to 2012 were bad.
As for UNC, I think the strong finish was a major product of its front-loaded schedule, which had the South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami games up front and no ranked teams in the second half (except for the home loss vs. Duke). The schedule is even tougher this year, with road games against Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, Duke and ECU, and while the Tar Heels have 16 returning starters, I have questions about both lines and the only preseason all-ACC pick was the punt returner. UNC was in the mix along with Iowa, Marshall, Texas, Florida, Mississippi State and pretty much every other team in the ACC Coastal, but right now I'd pick at least 25 other teams to finish ahead of it.
With that said, here's my preseason AP ballot. No one will be happier than me when it's rendered obsolete by the end of the month because we have actual games to talk about.