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Bohls: Sooners sit atop my AP Top 25 football ballot in a push for variety

Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have taken 16 of the last 28 CFP spots and won six of seven national championships.

  • Alabama remains a clear runaway leader on most football polls, but six teams got first-place votes.
  • Oklahoma got six first-place votes and deserves its high ranking with strong QB, WR, RB and coach.

And the No. 1 team on my ballot was …

Not Alabama.

Not Clemson.

And not Ohio State.

No, that’s not a typo.

It’s just time for some other team to win the national championship. Please. Can we have some variety already?

Pick a team. Any team. Heck, I’ll even settle for a Pac-12 team if we have to.

So my Top 25 Associated Press ballot has Oklahoma at the top.

Again, not a misprint, but also very deserving.

I realize the Crimson Tide got 63 of 65 votes in the USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. But OU got the only other two.

That’s a start.

It makes one wonder if Nick Saban had retired and any other mortal had replaced him, would Bama still have gotten 63 of 65 votes? I don’t think so.

Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden celebrates a touchdown catch against Ohio State in last season's College Football Playoff championship game. The Crimson Tide again are the preseason pick to win it all in this year's initial Associated Press Top 25 poll.

The AP Poll was not all that different, but six teams in all got first-place votes. Alabama was still a runaway leader with 47 first-place votes, but OU got six.

Several other teams have a shot, too. At least in theory, Georgia’s right there on the doorstep as Kirby Smart has learned how to beat Alabama. OK, he’s learned to at least lead Alabama for two or three quarters. Iowa State might be a bit of a stretch, but who saw teams like Liberty and Coastal Carolina cracking the Top 25 last season?

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Texas A&M could well be in the hunt with a soft schedule, a strong defense and dynamic playmakers, if its pick at quarterback pans out. USC could either win it all or implode because, let’s face it, Clay Helton starts every year on the hot seat. Even Cincinnati, Utah, North Carolina and maybe Indiana have shots.

That’s hardly the only reason to change the top, but the combination of Alabama losing six first-round NFL draft picks and four assistant coaches, including new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, Clemson losing the Goldilocked Trevor Lawrence and the versatile Travis Etienne and Ohio State losing Justin Fields and some friends gave me enough reason to throw a curveball and pick somebody new.

Oklahoma fans have seen their Sooners make it to the College Football Playoff in recent years, but the team has been unable to get out of the national semifinals. Could this be the year OU puts it all together?

So I’ve got Oklahoma as my No. 1 team.

Because it may have the best quarterback in the land, a top five coach, killer running backs, perhaps the best receiving corps in the nation, a solid tight end, a strong as always offensive line, a strong defensive front and a friendly enough schedule that includes Tulane, Western Carolina and the program formerly known as Nebraska.

Now the usual suspects are not far behind, of course.

Rounding out my top five are Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and relative newcomer and ascending Iowa State.

My 6 through 10 are Texas A&M, Ohio State, USC, Cincinnati and Utah. Couple newbies there.

Remember, this is a prediction column about the best teams in college football. Hereafter, it’s all about rewarding teams for impressive wins.

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I’ve got the Longhorns at No. 17, which might be a tad higher than they deserve. Maybe giving Sarkisian too much credit. My dark horse is Indiana at No. 13, which might be lower than they might deserve. Maybe not even giving Tom Allen enough credit.

My real long shot contender is Louisiana at No. 12, which might be way too high. We’ll see on Sept. 4.

But the preseason poll should be fun. How much fun is the exact same Top 25 by every media outlet under the sun? This ain’t China.

First, I just think it’d be better for college football if we had some new blood in the playoff. Attendance has been in decline for some time now. Including 2020 when the pandemic wiped out large crowds at stadiums, the gate had been decreasing regularly between 2014 and 2018, dipping to a dropoff of 683,000 in 2017 and declining by an average of 7.6% over that five-year span.

The NCAA also cited a 2018 Wall Street Journal report that found just 71% of ticket-buyers for FBS games actually go to the games. Yikes.

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There are as many reasons given for the hurting gates as there are players. Millennials are often blamed with their addiction to their phones and, for many, they’re in the library or following other social pursuits on Saturdays. Ticket prices have been raised. My best friend can still remember buying knothole tickets in the north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium for 50 cents in 1960. Parking is a nightmare. Televisions are so high-tech, you almost feel you’re in the stadium anyway from your living-room couch.

But new teams in the CFP would likely help, too.

And the strong possibility of a 12-team CFP in the near future should provide a boost in attendance as well by making late-season games more relevant for more teams. OU, one could argue, wouldn’t exactly be new to the neighborhood.

The Sooners, you might point out, have been there recently enough, but they’d been here and gone almost as soon as they got there. Lincoln Riley’s 0-3 CFP record says all you need to know, but at least he gets there.

Secondly, the Sooners should be damn good. Again. When are they not? If you overlook last year’s rare bad start but still strong 9-2 final record, the previous five seasons ended with 11, 11, 12, 12 and 12 wins. Not too shabby.

This year it might be 15 wins.

The schedule’s soft. The running backs and wide receivers are really good. The quarterback is really good. So is the defensive front. The coaching ain’t bad either.

So for the sake of variety, let’s subconsciously pull for one of those non-three familiar names to give us a little extra spice. No offense, Bama, Clemson and Ohio State.

Like the Milwaukee Bucks winning an NBA title.

Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning an NFL title.

Like the Baylor Bears winning a college basketball title.

Like Mississippi State winning a College World Series.

Like somebody besides Stanford winning the Director’s Cup. Go Longhorns.

We like dynasties, but enough is enough.

Consider that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have swallowed up 16 of the 28 College Football Playoff berths the last seven years. That leaves very little room for many of the other 127 FBS teams. They’ve also taken home six of the last seven natties, and Clemson fell to LSU in the other.

Boring.

The AP poll is almost always a great indicator of who probably will reach the Final Four at the end of the season. Teams that were ranked among the top seven in the preseason poll snagged a whopping 22 of the 28 CFP bids, so usually the voters get it right.

Of last year’s grouping of eventual national champion Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame, those were ranked 1, 2 and 3 in the preseason with the Irish coming in at No. 10. 

As for teams ranked outside the top 10, those are lucky enough to claim a CFP spot on average once every four years. Those teams include No. 12 Notre Dame in 2018, No. 12 Clemson in 2015, No. 15 Georgia in 2017 and No. 19 OU in 2015.

So it can be done, but you’d better be a top brand. The Aggies learned that the hard way last season, getting squeezed out of the Final Four by household name Notre Dame.

No offense, but if the Tide, Tigers and Buckeyes didn’t even qualify for this year’s CFP, would it matter? Would it kill television ratings? Would it not sell out?

I’d like to think as big as college football is, it’d be just as watched, if not more so. After all, it’s America’s Game.

If I could choose this year’s Final Four, I’d probably go Texas, OU, Texas A&M and Cincinnati for selfish reasons and a little bit of new.

That’d be different.

That’d be fun.

And, for sure, it’d make the SEC league office happy.

Bohls' AP ballot

1. Oklahoma

2. Clemson

3. Alabama

4. Georgia

5. Iowa State

6. Texas A&M

7. Ohio State

8. USC

9. Cincinnati

10. Utah

11. Miami

12. Louisiana

13. Indiana

14. Notre Dame

15. Penn State

16. Oregon

17. Texas

18. North Carolina

19. Coastal Carolina

20. Oklahoma State

21. Washington

22. Ball State

23. LSU

24. Iowa

25. Northwestern