Ohio State just about has it all this season: A rising head coach in Jason Day, a supportive athletic director, a quarterback who may be the best player in the country and NFL-quality players on both sides of the ball again. But what the Buckeyes don't have: A season to play. The Big Ten has canceled football for this fall. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: And my No. 1 preseason Top 25 team is … Ohio State. Say what?

Posted August 24th, 2020

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Ohio State will win it all.

That’s what I figured. At least back in the first week of August when we voted.

So I put the Buckeyes No. 1.

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The Buckeyes have the second-best quarterback in college football in Justin Fields. They may have the best overall talent of any of the 130 FBS teams even after losing nine NFL draft picks. They’ve got a rising star in coach Ryan Day. They’re hungry after being eliminated in the semifinals last year by Clemson and the best quarterback in college football. The schedule featured seven home games and Ohio State still owns Michigan.

But when we were asked to vote for the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Big Ten had yet to take up its helmets and shoulder pads. Neither had the Pac-12. Nor had a bunch of other Group of Five conferences.

So our votes in early August stood as is.

Clemson tight end Braden Galloway runs across the national championship logo at midfield against LSU in last year’s CFP title game. Clemson is ranked No. 1 in this year’s Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll. (Stephen Lew/USA Today)

The AP powers wanted to show a glimpse of what-if. That’s instead of what-is. We’ll rank only the teams playing after Week 1, thank goodness. Clemson was No. 1 when the preseason poll was released on Monday. Ohio State is No. 2; the Buckeyes garnered 21 first-place votes to Clemson’s 38.

Personally, I wish they would have asked us 62 sportswriters and broadcasters to recast our votes and just publish two polls. One with all 130 teams playing. Another with the 67 remaining teams who still plan to strap it on. 

Heck, we’re supposed to have the poll in the spring, too, if the other teams play then.

If we had done two polls in August, my real one ranking only the teams who are playing would have read like this: No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Georgia.

Instead, the AP opted out of that type of plan. 

“The preseason poll has always been a speculative ranking of teams based on last year’s results and knowledge about the new makeup of teams,” said Michael Giarrusso, AP’s global sports editor. “This year, we think it is crucial to give all the teams and all their fans a snapshot look at what the Top 25 would have been to open the season.”

So my original ballot, the one that included all teams, instead reads like this:

No. 1: Ohio State

No. 2: Clemson

No. 3: Alabama

No. 4: Penn State

No. 5: Florida

Oh well, Such is the craziness that is 2020.

This should be one of the most interesting polls in memory. This marks the 85th year the AP has conducted its poll. I haven’t voted all 85 years, but I have for almost half of them and still consider it a privilege.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has led the Longhorns to three straight bowl games, including last year’s upset over Utah in the Alamo Bowl, is returning for his fourth season as a starter. (Ricardo B. Braziell/American-Statesman)

I’ve got Texas at No. 15, but Tom Herman’s Longhorns have a great chance to strike and reach the next level. Love Sam Ehlinger’s savvy and intangibles and the running back skill and the secondary’s athleticism, but I wonder about the star quality on both lines, beyond offensive tackle Sam Cosmi and defensive disrupter Joseph Ossai.

I voted Texas A&M 19th, lower than most because I’m not yet sold on quarterback Kellen Mond’s ability to avoid turnovers and the Aggies’ ability to rush the passer.

My ballot shows Oklahoma at No. 8 even though Heisman sure thing Spencer Rattler has never started a college game and running back Kennedy Brooks is gone. That’s called giving Lincoln Riley a much-earned benefit of the doubt.

This season, should it go off and continue through completion, offers the best chance ever for the Group of Fives to make hay and gain valuable exposure. My original poll included four such teams. They are No. 17 UCF, No. 18 Cincinnati, No. 22 Appalachian State and No. 25 Memphis. Had we revoted, I would have had to find replacements for six teams. Teams like Boise State, Houston, Navy, SMU and UAB will have great opportunities to climb into the poll and finish with a Top 25 ranking with more spots available.

It will be interesting to evaluate teams this year without the benefit of much — or any — intersectional play. That’s always good for drawing comparisons, but the SEC is playing only conference games, and the Big 12 and ACC are now limited to one nonconference game.

My dark horse to win the national championship was going to be Penn State, which I boldly picked as my No. 1 team in January following the Cotton Bowl win over Memphis. The Nittany Lions, who went 11-2 last year, were going to have seven home games, including dates with Ohio State and Iowa, and were skipping Wisconsin.

Guess I can always say it would have happened with eight offensive starters back and a defense that has always put pressure on opposing quarterbacks although that was long before All-American linebacker Micah Parsons opted out this summer.

Then there’s the likelihood of disruptions, which almost certainly will occur. Say college football goes dark for two weeks; how does a voter examine teams before and after shutdowns?

So how do you rank, say, a 6-1 North Carolina against a 3-1 Tennessee? Does an unbeaten Oklahoma State deserve to be ranked ahead of a one-loss Notre Dame that upsets Clemson but loses to Pittsburgh? Does the ACC get extra consideration because it’s playing 11-game schedules whereas the Big 12 and SEC only play 10 games?

Lots of questions. Let the second-guessing begin.

Me? I just can’t wait until the second poll after Week 1, when we rank only the teams still playing.

One thing I am sure of. Ohio State will not be No. 1 in that poll.

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